Monday, July 7, 2008

Weekend Getaway to Fairbanks

Dan and I went to Fairbanks this past weekend for the 4th of July. We really haven't been on what I would consider a true vacation, especially roadtrip since we have been married. We've gone places, but it's usually been because of family gatherings or medical reasons. So this was a nice 3 and a half days just by ourselvces for the most part. Our mini-vacation started on July 3rd right after work:

Day 1 - (July 3rd) We left Anchorage about 2 p.m and headed north for our 6 our drive. We couldn't have asked for a better day to be driving. The weather was perfect (something we haven't seen alot of lately) and the further we got the prettier it got. It was Dan's first time going to the interior and my 3rd. Since we were getting a late start, Mr. Speedy didn't make much allowances for stops for I took as many from the car as I could while we were driving. Luckily my camera takes pretty good photos through glass and has a great stabilizer on it so I hope most of them turned out. I did talk him into stopping once into a turnout so I could get a picture of Denali State park and one of the prettier views. We got to Fairbanks about 8:30. The place we stayed at is called River's Edge Resort and they have either the lodge you can stay in or individual cottages along the banks of the Nenana river that runs through Fairbanks. They had handicap accessible cottages so we opted to stay there to get the fully unique Alaska experiene. They have patios that you can sit out on and watch the river and sunset (which we didn't really see much of given that Fairbanks has nearly 23 hours of daylight right now) When we got to our cottage, Dan opened up the room to find rose petals and candles lit....courtesy of you know who arranging that beforehand ;) It was very romantic. We decided to go get something to eat after taking a break from driving for six hours so we went over to the Chena restaurant. It's on the restort property and we sat out on the veranda area. Even though Anchorage isn't that big of a city, it's definitely a city with traffic, etc. This was just nice to get away and feel as though we were actually in a different state! The food at Chena's was wonderful. I had a apple and spiced walnut salad and Dan had a chicken dish if I remember right. We had a yummy chocolate mousse for dessert. It was a very peaceful dinner along the river. We got to see a family of ducks swim by that was very cute. We also saw lots of boaters, people in canoes or kayaks or others that were just floating down the river. It was still plenty of daylight out and you can do those types of activities all night long here in Alaska, especially Fairbanks.

Day 2 (July 4th) Happy 4th of July! We got up early and went on the Riverboat Discovery for a three-and-a half hour cruise. The cruise takes you into the heart of Alaska and the heart of a family who has made the rivers of Alaska a way of life for four generations. We got to see a bush plane taking off from a "bush" style runway, visit the home and kennels of the late four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher, and gain insight into the ancient Athabascan Indian culture. Alaskan Native guides who have worked and lived in Alaska took us on a personalized tour of the Chena Indian Village. Our guides were very friendly. One girl was a native Eskimo Indian who has grown up here in Alaska and the other young girl was from Texas and was full-blooded Cherokee up here going to UAA. They were great hostesses and I wasn't bored at all.

After the riverboat experience we headed 10 miles outside of Fairbanks to the town of Fox, Alaska. Here we boarded the Tanana Valley Railroad Engine No. 1 and headed through a Permafrost tunnel to learn about goldmining. Fairbanks got it's start from goldmining so going panning for gold is still alive and well today. The tunnel was interesting, but definitely not for those with claustophobia. I tried to listen to the miner that was telling us about the mine and how to tell the difference between Mica and Gold, but trying to find the right camera setting, I missed alot of what was said! I should have been listening more too when "Yukon" Yonda and her husband Dexter Clark, our hosts for the day explained how to pan for gold because I was so lost when we got to the trough area with our "poke" of pay dirt. We ended up doing pretty well though and between the two of us got about $8 worth of gold. I think we'll just continue to let that appreciate for awhile! Dan was so cute with his goldpanning technique! He sure didn't want to miss even the smallest fleck of gold. I love my OCDish hubby! After we got done finding our gold, we got to go into the tourist trap (aka the gift shop) and treat ourselves to free warm cookies!

On the way back to the restort, we stopped by the Alaska Pipeline viewpoint. It's one of the few viewpoints where you can see the pipeline and touch it. Dan didn't want me to try and even touch it given how hot it pooper! We went back to the room for a bit and rested before going to dinner. I'd heard about this restaurant called The Pump House and we actually passed by it on our cruise so we decided to go back out there. The food was good, but not as good as the review I had read about. We were going to sit outside again, but after being outside all day, the sun was really getting to me. That's the thing about Fairbanks, it's so different weatherwise from Anchorage. It was at least 75-80 every day we were there. It was a nice change of pace! Dan had a chicken dish and I had Chicken Marsala. We topped it off with Boston Cream Pie for dessert....yummy.

Day 3 - (July 5th) Today was one of the highlights of the trip for me. You've heard the phrase "Christmas in July" Well today it pretty much was! We got up and drove to North Pole....Alaska, that is. North Pole, Alaska is about 30 minutes from Fairbanks. The whole town is decorated for Christmas 365 days a year! It is definitely not a place for Christmas Grinches that can't take hearing Christmas music in the heat of the July Sun. We finally found the Santa Claus House which is on St. Nicholas Dr. They also have other streets such as Snowman Dr. and Santa Clause Dr. The Santa Claus House is all decorated for Christmas. Right now there is Dancer and Blitzen grazing the grounds. We were greeted my Santa and Mrs. Claus and I talked Dan into getting his picture taken will all of us. The gift shop is huge and has almost everything you can imagine relating to Christmas. I say almost because there were a couple of things I was looking for for my two best friends in the whole world who love Christmas as much as I do ;) but I managed to find gifts for everyone....even Clarissa and Anthony ;)

We had to hurry back to Fairbanks for lunch with my friend Peggy. She works in our Fairbanks office. After lunch at Pike's landing we got in Peggy's van (finally got to get into an accessible van for the weeken as we came down on Dan's car) and toured the town. Our first stop was St. Matthews Episcopal church. Built back in 1905, it's one of Fairbanks oldest churches. The stain glass windows depict the church's history which also includes the first hospital in Fairbanks. Clarissa, these pictures are for you! We also stopped by to see Peggy's I don't feel so bad about our cramped quarters here in Anchorage! Poor Peggy! We also toured downtown, the botanical gardens that is run mainly by volunteers such as Peggy (we even got to see her flowerbeds, very cool!) and we drove by the Musk Ox farm (kinda hard to see them on the side we were at) and Creamer's Field. At first we didn't see anything at Creamer's Field, but then saw a few ducks, cranes and Canadian geese. It was pretty serene looking out on the field.

We went to dinner at The Turtle Club back out in Fox. This restaurant was recommended by a friend of mine at work and I see why. Dan got the 20 oz. Prime Rib and I got 3 Prawns. Neither of us finished our meals because the entrees were so huge! You wouldn't think prawns could get that big, but I only managed to eat 1, maybe one and half. We were so full this was the one night we didn't get a dessert!

Day 4 (July 6th) We got up and checked out of the resort this morning. There were still several things I wanted to do (the whole trip was about a day too short!). Since Chena Hot Springs is apparently a once in a lifetime experience, we decided to head that direction first and see how long we had afterwards. It was about an hour away. Along the way we passed through Two Rivers, Alaska an unincorporated little town of about 500 or so people. We also finally got to see some wildlife. Along the road was saw two moose. The river passes through that area and the moose were just there chillin taken a bath and drinking in the water. We see moose all the time here in Anchorage, but to see them truly out in the wild is something to see!

We got to Chena Hot Springs just a bit too late as the tour we were trying to make that started at 11 had just barely started and you can't join in late. The tour is for the ice museum. We had to wait around till 1 to go on the tour. IT WAS SO COLD! I think they said the temp. was -20 in there. There are several ice sculptures made of two different kinds of ice and also 4 rooms that if you are brave enough you can stay there overnight for $600 a night. So far only like 1 or 2 couples have gone the whole 12 hours. I did pretty well except for my hands which even with gloves got really cold! Some people got to sit at the bar and enjoy appletini's. Since we don't drink we couldn't get one, not even a virgin one because alcohol is the only beverage that won't freeze in there. I did get to hold one of the ice martini glasses though. Chena Hot Springs was definitely a once in a lifetime experience unless we have visitors because I don't know if I could put up with the cold again at the ice museum and the area around the hot springs was just covered with mosquitos and nats. I didn't find it all that enjoyable.

So we drove back to Fairbanks and stopped at Wal-Mart to stock up for the drive back to Anchorage. We got back to the car just in time because it started to rain really hard! We weren't able to stop at the other places I wanted to but we did drive by Pioneer Park so I could get my picture and mark it off my "odd pictures in Alaska" list. So we headed back to Anchorage. We made it home at 12:30 in the morning. It took longer because we made alot more photo stops on the way back.

So that was our experience in Fairbanks. I definitely would like to go back next summer so someone please come visit so we have another reason to go back! It's definitely a place you have to go to if you come visit Alaska. So now I get to go scrap over 3 gigs of pictures! It may be a day or two before I get them posted here for you to see.

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