Like an ALL YOU CAN EAT Buffet, Fairbanks (and North Pole) get a second shot at the pages in this blog…and not just because we came BACK a second time and stayed at Pioneer Park for a few more days! Lot’s to see and Love about the area, and we don’t want to give it short-shrift!
First, the Summer Solstice Festival. The city closes the streets downtown, and there are LOTS of vendors and several stages for Music. All of this immensely entertaining. As with most festivals, crowds of people and lots of stuff no one needs, available for sale.
There was even a pretty functional local Blues Band, to my surprise! And, while discussing Music, Rick suggested we take in “Shagg,” which is one of his favorite groups at the “BIG I” which is one of his favorite local clubs. Shagg was a VERY ENTERTAINING 70’s-era Funkadelic Band, heavy on Horns. Their lead vocalists (one Male and One Female, or so they seemed to identify themselves – one cannot be too politically correct these days!) HAD massive VOICES. Too much fun! Even the Trombone Player was cool – most aren’t (right, Tillman?!).
Next, let me describe the Fountainhead Antique Car Museum. Well, to be clear, the museum is indescribable! MOST EXCELLENT…one of the BEST museums I have ever seen! In addition to the FANTASTIC collection of Cars – from the 18oo’s to about the 1930s, including some very interesting and Avante Garde engineering specimens, each vehicle was displayed with a mannequin wearing clothing of the period. This helps with creating the atmosphere that the particular automobile might have lived in and breathed. Made the museum about a TIME, not just some machines on display.
From an engineering standpoint, there was a LOT of information on powerplants in the vehicles and other design elements. For example, the first HYBRID vehicles were built VERY early on; with gasoline engines turning generators and even one with REGENERATIVE BREAKING. Think Toyota Prius in 1910!!!! There were Steam-power vehicles with steam generated by coal, wood, gasoine and diesel. All of these vehicles were MAGNIFICENTLY restored; most of them still operate. There are several that were “best in show” at really premier Antique Car Shows such as the one in Pebble Beach. I cannot overstate the range of vehicles and the magnificent presentation.
This museum is a REASON for going to Fairbanks!
And, here is another reason: The Chena Hot Springs Resort. About an hour outside of Fairbanks on an excellent road, this is a very relaxing, and I am sure, healthful place in the summer.
We parked in their parking area and bought a day pass for the hot springs. The Resort (outside of the spring itself) was pretty average, though new owners have big plans.
The springs were VERY NICE – HOT for sure, and a bit sulfur-y. A worker told us the water is naturally 130F+ and has to be cooled down so guests don’t cook like lobster. I am SURE good for what ails us – I have not slept so well for a long time after several soaks in the spring.
But, we learned, summer is the SLOW TIME for Chena Hot Springs. It seems people come here in the winter for viewing the AURORA BOREALIS. I can just imagine what it would be like to sit in the same hot spring, snow all around (possibly -50F) and enjoy the magnificence that is the Aurora flashing overhead! We have long wanted to see the Aurora – and Fairbanks is reachable without a passport by direct flites from several US Cities. WE WILL BE BACK, sans RV WHERE YET some January upcoming!
And, the Museum of the North, located on the Campus of the University of Alaska was spectacular as well! This is part natural history museum and part art museum, right on the campus of the University of Alaska. And, just down the road in the Student Center was a PUB!!!
On our way to the latter (purely for liberal arts and educational reasons, of course), we met a fella in the lobby who said, “Would you like a Free Sandwich?” WHY YES. WE WOULD! In the pub! Not that Alaska and Alaskans are not VERY generous(they are), but the reason was there had been a business seminar and the attendees had not finished the catered lunch. We looked like we could help, and we did!
Some more random notes and thoughts about Fairbanks and the surrounding area…
We took a Riverboat tour which was mostly a construct to separate Cruise Ship Passengers and other tourists from their money. But there were a FEW redeeming moments. As the boat floated just offshore, we saw a training base for Sled Dogs – The Dogs that win the Iditarod are bred and trained here. We saw a new and EXUBERANT team being trained – pulling an engineless ATV at absolutely BREAKNECK speeds around the camp. No engine was required – but the brakes were definitely necessary…These dogs LOVE to run…they are not forced to run, that is for sure!
There was also a representative Native Village, with several cultural presentations. These were quite interesting, actually, even though some of the effort was clearly intended to sell merchandise. Especially fascinating was the demonstration IN REAL ACTION of a fish wheel, catching salmon which was prepared and smoked on the spot. Because only CHUM Salmon were running (the least tasty, according to the locals), the results of this effort would be used to feed the dogs. And possibly the tourists who attend a thing called the “Salmon Bake” at Pioneer Park – an ACTUAL Fairbanks all-you-can-eat extravaganza of excess.
Here is an interesting phenomenon we observed: In Both Chena and Fairbanks there are ICE MUSEUMS. The region gets -40F or colder temps with regularity in a winter that lasts 7 months AT LEAST, yet, they somehow feel the need to have a MUSEUM to remember ICE!!! This is hard to explain, until you see a bus disgorge a load of tourists into loaner parkas at the door of the museum!
We had several Barbeques in Fairbanks – hosted by Peggy at her charming Log-Cabin-Style home. For each, we divided up cooking responsibilities and shared the enjoyment.
I pre-cooked stuff on our new grill (still trying to earn its place in Liz’s eyes); once Pork Tenderloin and Once Chicken. On the latter, I used a spice rub Peggy gave us that featured her imported Brazilian Coffee.
Peggy and Rick prepared other things, including Halibut and Blueberry Cobbler. YUM! Steve and Kathy chipped in with salad and fixins, etc.
Awesome hospitality, food and frivolity!
Pioneer Park was hosting an event our second pass through, for which we needed to move our bus, they told us. This was the “Mutt March”; a benefit for local animal shelters! The security guard asked us (very politely) to move the bus by noon the following day, and recommended a couple spots. One was even nicer than where we had pulled in initially, so we moved immediately.
Experiencing something we have NEVER SEEN BEFORE in our travels – our First EVER unfriendly RVer?
When they told us we needed to move across the lot to make space for the Mutts, we discovered something we have NEVER SEEN BEFORE in our travels – our First EVER unfriendly RVer? As I was moving, he came out of his camper, gave me a look that could kill and said he was now moving too, thank you very much. As far as I knew, I hadn’t done ANYTHING to piss him off. Yet, anyway. Perhaps he knew what was coming?
He announced that his Wife was allergic to diesel exhaust, which we were at the moment emitting. (I noted he drove a diesel pickup truck, so his wife must have perpetual hives…) I Apologized profusely – said the park asked us to move and told us where to move… AND our engine would be OFF (and therefore fume-less) just as soon as we completed the move. We DID belch diesel in the general vicinity of his wife, for all of 5 minutes. I COULD have reminded him that we had no alternative, since he did NOT offer to push RV WHERE YET into place.
Once we turned off the engine, he did NOT cheer up, though he did NOT complete his threatened move.
Just to be EXTRA considerate, I attached our generator smokestack, which we rarely use because the generator does not smoke like the engine – even a puff of a breeze makes this stuff disappear. But I wanted to do everything I could to make sure those noxious fumes weren’t also presented to his wife, so I ran up the chimney to carry fumes away. I even avoided starting the gennie until AFTER I saw them leave for a walk in the morning (Batteries last overnight and coffee can be heated using NO electrons on the propane stove). Despite all this, he spoke NOT TWO WORDS to me, and his wife pointedly glared at us at every opportunity. And they left the next morning, though I assume they had intended to do so anyway.
As it turned out, the “Mutt March” was a complete NO SHOW. No Mutts. No March, and no reason for us to have moved our bus. I think kharma was at work here…I believe that grumpy people are given things to be grumpy about until they learn to go with the flow more so. The universe wanted us to move next to Mr. Grumpy and his ostensibly-diesel-allergic wife to help them become better human beings. I HOPE we don’t follow them for the next 2 months, throughout Alaska as we seem to be doing with the Purcells, but if it turns out that we do, it may be because the universe does NOT feel we are done helping to adjust their attitude!
Our final few days in the Fairbanks area were spent in North Pole, Alaska. This could be considered a “suburb,” a mere 10 miles down the highway. Nothing particularly special about North Pole EXCEPT they may have the ONLY Fourth of July Celebration, which we attended, where Santa Claus is featured prominently and there are NO fireworks (because it doesn’t get dark enough). The parade also featured a marching Llama. To say quirky would be an understatement. And, they had a beautifully paved bike path the entire 10 miles from our RV park to the center of Downtown North Pole.
On the subject of Santa Claus…the town of North Pole makes the absolute MOST out of their most famous resident. Of course, since he is a seasonal worker, the summer finds him walking around his home town in Street Clothes (we saw him ordering a Navajo Taco at a food truck!). Which can be a head-turner on occasion, though everyone should be allowed a poor fashion choice or two while on vacation. Question, though…if a guy wears red and white fuzzy clothes FOR work, what would a “bad vacation fashion choice” even look like?
Santa was REALLY letting it all hang out though; MCing the Fourth of July Parade. TWICE. He was in the lead car (as the only local celebrity SHOULD be) but also in a later vehicle. If it were anyone else, I would assume one was an imposter or a body double, but this is the guy who visits every chimney on Christmas Eve and sits for hours in every shopping mall in the world, so he has some serious “two-places-at-one-time” skills.
North Pole also had a nice RV park with FRIENDLY RVers and an excellent laundry. All things we desparately needed. And, we had some Postal Mailings to do to friends and folks who needed thanking for hospitality – My momma taught me that an emailed “Thank You” may be sincere but is NOT official unless it is WRITTEN on a CARD and DELIVERED by a Postman! We thot it would be fun for those to be postmarked from the North Pole!
We eventually left the Fairbanks area for the Denali area, Talkeetna and eventually Palmer, Anchorage, etc. We are hoping the clear weather holds for our visit to Denali – there was a bumper sticker that pretty much sums up the reason: “I was in the 70% (who never saw Denali).” It has been tragically clear, the better to observe the Firebombers cycling through the airport near North Pole reloading for their efforts nearby, and is projected to remain so – bad for the fire crews, but good for tourists wanting to see the mountain.