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Carson's Alaska Newsletter #20
Location: Fairbanks, Alaska Date: July 28-Aug. 5,2003
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On the Road with Fred and Barb - Newsletter #20

July 28-Aug. 5 Fairbanks

Rain, rain go away! With the exception of 1 day, it has continued to rain everyday. Very hard to plan activities, especially since so many are outdoors. According to the paper, this is the rainiest July in Fairbanks history. Great!

Despite the weather, we have been going out to see the sites, raingear and umbrellas at the ready. Really enjoyed the tour of the Eldorado Gold Mine.Gold panning demo Everyone gets on a narrow gauge train that takes you into a working gold mine. Local miners demonstrate both old and modern mining techniques. Guess they are used to it raining here because they handed out large umbrellas to everyone. Then they teach you how to pan for gold and give you a bag of dirt from the riverbed for you to extract the gold. If you don't find at least $5.00 worth, you get to try again. Barb's GoldBarb's first try only yielded a few grains but the second bag got $12 worth. She had it (along with Fred's $7 flakes) put into some drop earrings which the gift shop conveniently has at the ready.

The University of Alaska at Fairbanks has a really nice museum with exhibits on life and history of each of the regional areas. Of particular interest to me were the photos and stories about the women of Alaska. Would you believe one woman crossed the Chilkoot Trail on crutches carrying her sewing machine and featherbed when she was 54 years old! Tough women. Also on the University campus is a botanical garden where they research growing methods. Because of the long hours of daylight during the summer, the flowers grow larger and are more colorful and the vegetables are huge.

Another really interesting and different museum was the Ice Museum. Every March,
Fairbanks hosts an international ice sculpture competition. Artists from around the world come to carve huge and intricate sculptures out of blocks of ice. The ice blocks are cut from the frozen lakes around Fairbanks. The Ice Museum shows a 25 minute film about the whole process and competition. They also have a large display of some ice sculptures. When we were there, it was a scene from Cinderella, complete with an oversize glass slipper, carriage and horsemen. They are currently in the process of building an ice hotel and were carving the bed posts and furniture. Everything in the hotel, including the building itself, will be made of ice and they were taking reservations to stay in it when completed. A room will cost $400/night. Evidently they give you animal hides to keep you warm in the ice bed!

One day we took a flight up to Barrow which is the northern most incorporated city in the US. It is literally at the "top of the world". We put our hands in the arctic ocean and got certificates that we had crossed the arctic circle.Some people even joined the polar bear club by taking a plunge into the arctic ocean. Brr, not me. Barrow is the most desolate place we have ever seen. There is not a single tree or flower to be seen. Barrow Palm Trees(Except for these two palm trees someone made of whale bones and baleen.) Barrow housesThe streets are all dirt/gravel. Houses are small.Flying into Barrow all you see is flat brown earth with hundreds of huge puddles/lakes. Flying into BarrowEvidently when the snow and ice melt, the earth can't absorb the water due to the permafrost so it just lays there until the winter when it freezes again. Our guide was a native Eskimo who really gave us a good feel for life in Barrow. In the spring at break up, they go out whaling using small aluminum boats and it takes over 300 people to haul the 100,000 pound bowhead whale onto the ice. They camp out on the ice flow for a couple months in tents while they are whaling. Then the whole town celebrates and everyone shares in the catch. We went to the cultural center where we were entertained with native dances. They showed us some of the toys and games the children play (very simple hand made toys) and then did a blanket toss. A very interesting day but definitely not a place where we would like to live.

We have been camped at the Elks Club and were enjoying their steak dinner one night when we discovered that the couple at the next table were friends from our ski club in San Diego. Bob and Suzanne Bradbury have also been traveling around Alaska in their RV and we have finally caught up with each other. It's been fun visiting with them and sharing experiences. Plus we got to play some six handed Jokers and Mexican Train (the women kicked butt!)

The sun peaked thru a little on Monday and we all drove up to Chena Hot Springs. Trans-Alaska PipelineStopped on the way to view the pipeline, a real engineering feat. It was completed in 1977 and stretches 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. Heat from buried pipeline could melt the permafrost making the soil in the area unstable. So almost half of the pipeline is above ground. The ground is also kept frozen by heat transfer pipes and radiators installed on top of the supports. The support beams sit on Teflon pads so that the pipe can move due to expansion or earthquakes.

The Chena Hot Springs are about 50 miles from Fairbanks and the drive runs along the Chena River most of the way. With all the rain lately, the river overflowed in spots and we had to drive thru 4-6 inches of water at one point. But we made it thru safely and really enjoyed a dip in the hot springs. This is a much nicer facility than the Laird Hot Springs as it has lockers and showers. Chena Hot SpringsThere are several large Jacuzzi tubs, an indoor pool and an outdoor rock pool which has a gravel bottom and is very nicely landscaped. The resort has cute cabins for rent and an RV park and if we come up again we will bring the RV and stay a night or two.

Since the sun was out when we got back we decided to take advantage of the nice weather and go to the local fair which is being held this week. It's a typical fair with food booths, amusements, farm animals and crafts. The big difference is the size of some of the prize vegetables being shown. We saw a 24 pound cabbage and a 9 pound zucchini.

Sadly, we received some bad news yesterday when our friends called from Las Vegas. While they were on vacation, the GFI flipped off on their freezer where they had stored our fish. They had stored some of our fish in the the freezer section of their refrigerator but all the fish in the garage freezer has been lost. Plus they had it full with their own meat as well. What a mess to clean up. Not sure they'll ever get the smell out. We know because it happened to us once as well.

We have one more day in Fairbanks before moving on to the North Pole and then heading south on the Alaskan Highway to start the journey towards home.

Barb and Fred

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