During our recent trip to Fairbanks, Alaska, we had the opportunity to take a three hour tour. Thus, I had the Gilligan’s Island theme song stuck in my head the entire day. But despite that, our trip on the Riverboat Discovery III, up the Chena River, was outstanding.
First, we got to see a float plane take off and land right beside the boat, and had the opportunity to hear the pilot tell stories about living life in a place where small planes can often be the only mode of transportation.
Then, we briefly docked right in front of Susan Butcher’s kennels. Before her death, she had won the Iditarod four times. Now her husband runs the kennels, and we got to hear stories from him about Susan and the dogs, and we got to watch him put the dogs through their paces. After their mushing demonstration, the dogs plunged right into the cold river for a refreshing dip, and the puppies cavorted on the bank. So cute.
Then we got to walk around a Chena Indian village. We learned a lot about the Athabascan culture, including their hunting and fishing traditions, and gorgeous displays of fur clothing. We also got to see reindeer close up, and check out the largest, most elaborate taxidermy display I’ve ever seen. It was of two moose that were found dead on the tundra, their horns still locked together in combat.
But I’m not going to lie. My favorite part of the tour was the free samples of salmon mixed with cream cheese that they provided on the boat. I kept coming back for more. I must have eaten two pounds of the stuff. It was even better than the miner’s stew we ate in the dining hall. (I was impressed that they were able to get 800 of us fed and out of there in no time flat, though.)
And of course, you exit through the gift shop. There, you had the opportunity to enter a chamber that shows you what 40 degrees below zero feels like. It’s almost physically painful. Needless to say, we did not linger long.
Recently I experienced the second best museum I’ve ever seen in my life. I wrote about the best museum, Budapest’s House of Terror, here, and that one would be nearly impossible to beat, so calling this one the second best is nothing to sneeze at. It’s on the Fairbanks campus of the University of Alaska, and it’s called the Museum of the North.
There are so many stunning exhibits in this museum that I can only scratch the surface in this little blog post. It’s a natural history museum, an art gallery, and the ultimate place to learn about Alaska’s cultural diversity and unique history all rolled into one. I suspect I could go there every day for a month and still manage to learn something new.
You can see everything from taxidermy that really gives you a sense of what an overwhelming experience it would be to encounter a grizzly bear, to the most amazing fossils I’ve ever seen, including some mammoth tusks that were as big as I am. You can also gaze upon Blue Babe, a 36,000-year-old mummified Steppe Bison. If not for his horrifying wounds, you’d half expect him to jump to his feet and charge, bellowing, through the museum and out into the tundra.
But one of the most profound experiences I had in the museum was in The Place Where You Go to Listen. To quote the website, it is “a unique sound and light environment created by Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams. This ever-changing musical ecosystem gives voice to the rhythms of daylight and darkness, the phases of the moon, the seismic vibrations of the earth, and the dance of the aurora borealis.” The sound that I got to hear was haunting. Check out a few sound samples here.
If you ever get the chance to visit Fairbanks, and can only do one thing while there, I strongly urge you to check out University of Alaska Museum of the North. You’ll be glad you did.
Back in 2013, I wrote about My Four Compass Points. In other words, the farthest North, South, East, and West I’ve ever traveled. (And of course, I was talking latitude and longitude. I’m not going to debate about the curvature of the earth or have an even more absurd discussion to convince you that the earth isn’t flat. It stuns me that people still believe this.)
But I’m proud to announce that this month I broke two of my records: I’ve now been even farther North and farther West in one vacation. My world is expanding. I find that exciting.
Now, the furthest North I’ve ever been is Fairbanks, Alaska. Sadly, we did not see the Northern Lights, and I really hoped to. But it’s still a very cool town, and I’ll be blogging more about it in days to come, so watch this space!
My new Westernmost compass point is Anchorage, Alaska. We weren’t there long. We stayed in a hotel overnight and had a few hours in the morning to explore the fun and artsy shops downtown, so there isn’t much to write about there.
I think the most memorable thing that happened to me in Anchorage was slicing a 4 inch gash in my leg by walking past a chair with an exposed piece of metal sticking out from the corner. So I guess you could say I bled for my Western compass point. I left a little DNA in Anchorage. Thank God for tetanus shots.
Anyway, here are a few Fairbanks and Anchorage photos from our hotel rooms. We’re still organizing our nearly 2000 photos which is bound to take some time. Bear with me, dear reader!