I feel like it has been the tale of two different kinds of “three”. There were the first three days in Fairbanks and then the second three days after we left Fairbanks. The first three days were marked by business, hustle and bustle, and noise. The second three days were marked by tranquility, quietness, solitude, and peace and quiet. As you can guess the second three days were much more enjoyable.
It wasn’t like Fairbanks was any noisier or busier than any other city, but coming on the heels of the prior six days we had spent in the country since leaving Anchorage it just seemed to be too much. While Fairbanks is the second largest city in Alaska, it is considered by many to still have a very frontier town atmosphere and character. We found it to be well laid out and easy to get anywhere we wanted to go. It takes less than 15 minutes to get from one end of town to the other. Even with its character and ease of access I still couldn’t wait to leave. Maybe the need to get out of town had something to do with the squirrels and jack hammers.
The first two nights we stayed at Chena River Wayside at a campground right on the Chena River. This campground is within the city limits and is located in the trees just to the east of the north/south University Avenue and north of the east/west Airport Road. These are busy roads and carry a lot of traffic. With the sun not setting until 11:30PM each night it feels like the city never sleeps. We had lots of traffic and airplane noise all the time – makes getting to sleep even more difficult!
To make matters more interesting (worse?) we had a red squirrel decide to find a way to make a home for itself somewhere in the bowels of the bus. We woke up to gnawing sounds Saturday morning. This is never good when they are coming from within your home. Upon further inspection I found what I believe to be the point where the squirrel was trying to get into the bus and found red fiberglass insulation it had pulled out laying on the ground. Unfortunately, the place it was getting into the bus is not easy to access unless the engine is out of the bus. Knowing that it would be difficult for me to find a way to prevent the squirrel’s access, we decided to do the next best thing, which was to relocate ourselves away from the squirrels.
We moved a few miles down the road to the large paved parking lot of the Pioneer Village. The Village is open until midnight everyday and is also located right on Airport Road. Additionally, the cross street was under construction with the bulk of the work being done over the nighttime hours. Just as we were lying down to sleep the construction workers decided it was time to do some jack hammering! Yeah (not!) – it was hard to go to sleep with all the traffic and construction noise. I couldn’t wait to get out of town!
Camp Pioneer Village:
It wasn’t all aggravation while we were in Fairbanks. We were able to find stores to get all the supplies we needed, got our laundry washed and also spent some time having fun. Breann and Hannah went to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Large Animal Research Center for a tour. The research center is focused on learning about some of the larger animals in Alaska including Moose and Caribou. Breann later said it was interesting, but a bit disappointing compared to what she had hoped to see.
Hilary and I went to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum. Part of the university’s charter mandates they maintain a museum. The museum was well done including Alaska history, Alaska Native Peoples culture and history, as well as a fairly extensive gallery of art. We really enjoyed the museum spending over four hours going through the exhibits. The exhibit that impacted us the most was the exhibit describing how the people who lived on the Aleutian Islands were mistreated at both the hands of the Japanese as well as their fellow Americans. The forced relocation by the US Navy and subsequent internment of these people for three years in the most awful of conditions is truly horrific. This was not our best moment as Americans!
View out the 2nd floor vestibule at the Museum:
On Sunday, (7/24), we visited a little museum in downtown Fairbanks dedicated to the history of the city and dog mushing. While the combination is odd, we found the exhibits and memorabilia to be interesting. As a free museum it was not as well organized and presented as it could have been, but that did not distract from the information presented. Just like many other cities struggling to grow from wild frontier town to a more mature city Fairbanks has had its share of tragedy. Most notable among these tragedies was a serious fire in 1906 and widespread flooding in 1967. Both events caused significant changes with city codes and altered the development of the city. The large Moose dam on the Chena River is a positive outcome of the 1967 flood. The exhibits mentioned that the Moose dam has prevented several additional large floods since it has been put into service surely saving the city from widespread destruction several times in the past 30 years.
After our museum visit we packed up and headed out the Steese Highway going north to mile 5. At mile 5 we headed east on Chena Hot Springs Road. At mile 45.5 is a stocked pond with an unofficial camping spot. We were able to get this unofficial camping spot just ten feet from the pond. The view out our windows is fantastic and without almost no traffic on the highway at night it has been very peaceful. We have had excellent weather the past three days, calm winds, and plenty of time to explore.
The highlight of our stay undoubtedly is the visit of a moose cow and her calf to the pond yesterday. Hilary and I were sitting outside after lunch when we heard a lot of splashing off to our left. We looked over and were surprised to see the moose and her calf coming out of the trees down to the pond. Over the next 30 minutes or so the moose cow grazed on the water weeds in about of three feet of water while her calf followed along eating bits of leaves from Willow trees and other low lying shrubs. After awhile they disappeared into the woods slipping away as quietly as they had arrived. Even with less than ideal lighting conditions we still got some very nice pictures:
True to what we had been told the Chena Hot Springs Road is a great area to see moose. In all we have seen four moose during our three days here.
Additionally we hiked up the Angle Rocks trail and spent over four hours in the Chena Hot Springs. We hiked the loop:
It has been a fantastic three days.
With more sun than clouds these past few days the solar panels have been working hard to keep up with our power usage. With the panels being shaded over by 3PM by the tall trees we are parked under, our demands have been greater than what the solar panels have been providing, but only by a small amount. Each day the batteries have been a bit more discharged than the prior day. Thanks to our large battery bank I have been able to avoid running the generator knowing we are leaving soon and will be able to recharge the batteries as we drive down the road. While the cost of the solar system has not been offset by avoided generator run time, the intangibles of peace and quiet from not having to run the generator have more than made up for the cost. I’m so glad I was able to install this solar system before leaving since we have avoided many hours of generator run time – up to 3 hours per day.
Thursday we plan to drive back into Fairbanks and pick up a few groceries and what not. Then we turn right around and head back north and east on the Steese Highway. We will likely drive out at least 100 plus miles exploring this area. Hopefully we’ll find another good hike or two along the way.
Sunday, 7/24: 52 (Mile 45.5 Pond, Chena Hot Springs Road)