|August 10 – 14, 2011 – Fairbanks, AK
Glass Park, Ft. Wainwright, Fairbanks, AK
We stopped at the small town of Nenana (population 553) on our way north toward Fairbanks. Nenana is known for the Nenana Ice Classic. This event awards cash prizes to the winners who guess the exact time that the ice will break up on the Tanana River. In mid March the Nenanans drag a 26-foot tall tripod out onto the thick river ice and wire it to a clock. When the ice breaks up, a cable trips the clock. People spend $2.50 per ticket trying to guess the exact day, hour and minute the ice will go out on the river. Those who share the closest time split the pot. The contest has taken place each year since 1917. The 2011 cash prize was just over 322,000 dollars; a prize worth winning. Tickets are sold throughout Alaska from February 1st through April 15th.
We visited the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska. This museum was included in the charter for the University in 1917 and held its first exhibit in 1929. The museum opened it new wing in 2005 doubling its size. The museum contains exhibits that tell about the culture, the wildlife, and the geography and history of each of the five geographic regions of Alaska. The museum has Alaska’s largest display of gold, lots of displays of Native cultures. Also at the museum is “Blue Babe” which is the world’s only mummified Ice Age bison mummy. The mummy is kind of like a deflated balloon but it is obviously a baby bison. It is weird and fascinating. There are, of course, art galleries there and they have three or four half hour Alaskan movies that are available. We spent about two hours in the museum and enjoyed our time there. It is well worth a visit.
On Friday morning we went aboard the Riverboat Discovery for a cruise along the Chena
and Tanana Rivers. The Riverboat Discovery is a stern wheeler paddle boat. These riverboat tours have been in operation since 1950. The cruise is 3 to 31/2 hours and stops along the river to visit several different Alaskan experiences. The stops we made were: 1. The home of Iditarod Champion Susan Butcher. Susan Butcher has passed away but the home and dogs are still there and raced by her husband who gave us a demonstration. Once he starts hooking up the dog they go wild, you can really tell how much the dogs want to get going. 2. We stopped to watch a small plane takeoff and land on the river. It is amazing what little space these small planes need to take off and land. Let’s go flying! 3. We saw where the Chena (clear-water) and the Tanana (glacial-fed) rivers flow together creating dark and light patterns formed by the amount of silt in the Tanana River. 4. We visited an Athabascan Indian Village where we saw how the Indians filleted salmon. Also demonstrations on the types of houses they lived in and the pelts from the animals they hunted. One of our speakers was a junior in college and was ready to hunt moose with a bow and arrow next season. These are tough people out here. The cruise was fun and informative, plus it was finally a beautiful day with the temperature in the high 60’s. Sunshine at last!
On Sunday we made a quick 13 mile trip to North Pole Alaska. This is a small town known for mostly for its name. In addition to a visitor’s center there is a large gift shop that has some reindeer on display. The shop is covered with Christmas murals and inside has every kind of Christmas merchandise you might want. There is also a real pole in North Pole AK. The plaque in front of the pole reads:
The North Pole
This pole is one of two poles manufactured in 1951 as part of a campaign to properly mark the top of the earth. After a grand tour of the United States, its twin was pushed out of the tail hatch of an Alaska Airlines DC-4 over the geographic North Pole on the artic night of December 11th. After being rediscovered in 1972 (in an old junkyard), this pole has been prominently displayed in its current location since the dedication of the park on July 4th, 1976, by the North Pole Jaycees.