Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Clear & sunny to overcast, high 60s, very breezy
We ate breakfast at the Cookie Jar, featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives; good but not extraordinary.
Afterwards we toured the excellent Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center, getting useful information about the area. As we left, Sandy stopped to sign the guest register and noticed that the previous signature was by Betty & Leavitt from Rhorerstown, PA. Bill located them in the parking lot just as they were preparing to get back on their motorcycle. Nice folks, it turns out that they live just a mile from our house!
Afterwards we headed for the Farmer’s Market. There was some early season produce but the market mostly offered local craft items. Actually there were many very fine offerings. Bill especially enjoyed talking to a local photographer who specialized in wildlife. Sandy found a stand that offered massage and just couldn’t resist.
A visit to the University of Alaska’s Large Animal Research Center was next on our list. Muskoxen, reindeer and caribou are the featured animals at this facility. Tours are offered but we were too late for those. The animals are housed in pens and there is a trail around the pens. We walked a good bit of the trail but most of the animals were too far away to see and the mosquitoes were pretty bad. Better luck next time!
Pioneer Park is located downtown along the Chena River. A popular place, there are many exhibits as well as picnic areas. Among the exhibits is the huge paddle wheeler, Nenana, the railroad car used by President Harding when he visited to drive golden spike for the Alaska Railroad, a museum of Alaskan artifacts and Pioneer Village, a collection of relocated historic buildings that house many small vendor businesses. We rode the Crooked Creek Whisky Island Railroad around park and talked with one of the guys who cares for the original equipment including the restored original engine for the actual railroad.
After dinner we visited with Bonnie & Leonard.
Thursday, July 4, 2013
Sunny to mostly cloudy, 60s, breezy & cool
It’s July Fourth but we won’t see any fireworks displays tonight. There are two reasons. First, there’s a burn ban in effect. No one wants to start any more wildfires in the area. Second, what time would they get set off? Since it never really gets dark here this time of year the effect of fireworks would be largely moot. For the record, sunset on this night was 12:31 am and sunrise on July 5 was at 3:22 am, just 2 hrs and 51 min later!
First on the agenda was the University of Alaska’s Museum of North. The museum’s main exhibit does a superb job of tracing the history of the people who’ve populated the region through history. The second exhibit documented the first successful ascent of Mount McKinley. It was an amazingly difficult feat, especially given that an earthquake had recently disturbed the glacier they used as a path requiring weeks to simply hack steps into the ice to use for the ascent.
Just for giggles, we drove to Murphy Dome, about 20 miles west of the city. The road was mostly gravel; did I mention grit? Topped by an Air Force RADAR station, a parking area branches off into multiple recreational roads. Joining a couple of local women, we hiked a mile or two out one of the roads and across tundra to a prominent rock outcropping. The views were great and the wilderness seemed to stretch on to forever. New to us, the tundra hiking part was pretty interesting. Thick, spongy growth alternated with rock outcroppings and well-hidden potholes making footing tricky and hazardous.
On recommendation of friends, we also stopped at the Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center to see the display of First Nation Art & Crafts. (First Nation is the Alaskan term that refers to the native Americans population of the region.) The new building we found was striking and the collection was impressive.
We celebrated the July 4 holiday with a campground picnic with Leonard & Bonnie. The menu consisted of snacks, burgers, corn, salad and stir fried veggies. The traditional fireworks existed only in our imaginations.
Fairbanks to Denali, AK
Friday, July 5, 2013
Sunny, 60s, then cooled off
We had reservations to camp inside Denali National Park beginning July 6. We decided to drive to the area a day early to go through the visitor center and orientation part of the experience a day early. It was a chilly morning. We did our laundry, took care of grocery shopping and left the campground about 11:00. Given the time, we decided on lunch at a place called Del Ray’s in Fairbanks that advertized gluten free offerings for Sandy.
The drive to Denali Park was uneventful. We set up the Tin Tent at Denali RV Park & Motel, outside the park and headed for the Visitor’s Center. There, we watched the introductory film. It was superb, not much talk, excellent photography, cinematography and background music. Only one road goes in to the park and most private vehicles are only permitted to drive the first 15 miles of the road. We took that drive, saw moose on the way in and walked the short Savage River loop trail. The trail traced through what was the first resort in the area from 1923 to 1928. Now the resort remains are completely gone and the park interior is almost completely dedicated to preserving wildlife with only a minimal human presence.
Dinner, back at the campground, was grilled sockeye salmon, roasted potatoes and stir fried veggies.