If you are interested in an independent, carefree vacation, consider Fairbanks, Alaska in the summertime. Alaska has always attracted people from the lower forty-eight and the rest of the world who have craved adventure and independence.
Alaskans, all over the state, including Fairbanks are very proud of their past. Alaska became America’s forty-ninth state in 1959; however, to this day the citizens work hard to maintain their distinctive character they established from their rugged beginnings. Last year I visited Fairbanks after being talked into it by a college student.
The University of Alaska Museum of the North is a great place to learn about Indian and Alaskan History. It is located on the campus of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF). At the entrance of the exhibit, Otto, a nine foot stuffed bear, greets visitors. Otto is a popular photo opportunity for visitors. The museum has exhibits of other stuffed game animals, totem poles, native tools and boats. In other parts of the museum there are exhibits of famous Alaskans who influenced the culture, technology and politics of the territory and the state. Upstairs there is a gallery where Alaskan artists display their works. From the upstairs window there is a panoramic view of the untamed landscape with mountains and plains.
After exploring the museum, a good follow-up expedition would be a three hour boat ride on the Chena River. Guests can learn the importance of the river in bringing supplies to the area by a native tour director. Near the river is the site of a now defunct gold mining facility which attracted adventurers to the area in the early twentieth century.
On this tour is an Iditarod dog practice demonstration. During the summer and off-season, husky and malamute dogs are trained to compete in the annual race held in March. The training takes many years as the dogs need to develop the stamina to race long distances in hazardous blizzard conditions with subfreezing temperatures. A pack of twelve to sixteen trained dogs hitched to a motorless all-terrain vehicle demonstrate the excitement of the unique Iditarod event. There are professional mushers who work full-time to train these dogs.
The river cruise also highlights a replica of an Athabascan village, similar to the ones the Indians lived in when Alaska was a territory and it was imperative that the people plan for the long cold winter by having sufficient amounts of food and warm clothing for survival. On the tour, a UAF college student, who was an Athabascan descendent, demonstrated how her grandmother cooked and preserved salmon so that it could be stored and eaten during the winter. The college student also modeled a beautiful fur coat made from the animals of the region.
Another attraction near Fairbanks is Denali National Park and Preserve, home to Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America. Start your tour at the visitor’s center where a friendly park ranger can discuss the various tours available. There are tours for outdoorsy folks as well as tours for people who wish to view the park from a bus. Whatever, tour you chose you will see spindly trees that reach to the heavens and vast canyons with “tiny” wildlife. The visitor’s center offers a short film on the history of the park. I would recommend a full day to see this attraction. But you can check into a hotel if you wish to stay longer.
To relax on your Fairbanks vacation, I recommend a visit to Chena Hot Springs. The springs are located about an hour from Fairbanks, in the North Star Borough. The road to the springs is a bucolic road with trees and lakes. I urge you to take the time and drive carefully and stop to look and take pictures of the wildlife. On my travels, I saw a mother moose with her baby wading in swallow pond and an eagle perched on a dead tree. These sights could have been shot by National Geographic magazine photographers.
When you arrive at the springs, there is a resort area complete with a hotel, a restaurant, a snack bar, an ice museum and hiking facilities. The outdoor hot tub is one of a kind; the waters have healing qualities. If it rains when you are in the hot tub, there is an indoor pool nearby to swim in. But you can still enjoy the hot tub in a light rain. After several hours of soaking, you can enjoy a nice meal in the restaurant with fresh vegetables that are grown on the premises.
After a few days of my Fairbanks vacation, I realized the vastness of the United States and understood freedom. I found it a worthwhile adventure and I think you will too.