Day 104, July 14, 2019, Sunday. Fairbanks, AK
We visited the University of Alaska Fairbanks Large Animal Research Station (LARS). LARS has herds of reindeer and muskox and the student giving the tour had a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm. The muskox went extinct in North Alaska in the early 1800's. In 1930, 34 muskoxen were transported from Greenland (the closest relative of the former North Alaska muskox). The muskoxen now number 4,000 in Alaska. The animals can withstand -90 degrees with their 2 coats of fur. The inner coat is harvested and made into cold weather garments that are really soft in addition to being warm. After lunch and a haircut, we visited a section of the Alaska pipeline about 5 miles north of Fairbanks. This section allows you to see the pipeline up close including touching it. We then drove downtown Fairbanks which on this Sunday seemed small and fairly deserted. A trip to Fred Meyer grocery found king crab on sale for $19.99/lb. We bought 1.6 lbs and took it home. Although we do not have any shell crackers on board, our Tracy’s Crab Shack experience in Juneau showed me that just cutting one side is all that is needed to open the shell and get the meat out. With our cleaver knife it was easier than I expected. With Rosemary’s famous salad and a nice Riesling, we had a great dinner. After dinner, we went to an historical comedy show at the Palace Theater in Pioneer Park and with much laughter we enjoyed the showed.
Day 103, July 13, 2019, Saturday. Fairbanks, AK
We picked up our bagels from Bagels and Brew, an amazing $23 for a dozen bagels. But at least they are good bagels. Smoked salmon for lunch. Bubble teas in the afternoon at Sipping Streams Tea Company where not good. The boba were not cooked enough and we ended up having them removed. Visited Pioneer Park which had a collection of old houses, occupied by various shops, and which were moved to the site arranged as in a gold rush town. Many interesting conversations with the local vendors. Also a pioneer museum. Next we visited the Georgeson Botanical Gardens at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Day 102, July 12, 2019, Friday. Fairbanks, AK (60 miles).
We drove back to Fairbanks and Walmart. Went to Bagels and Brew but had to place an order for tomorrow as all the sesame bagels were gone. Spent some time in Barnes and Noble for its wifi but apparently high speed wifi has not made it to Alaska. Dinner at Lemongrass Thai Cuisine was fantastic. Green curry halibut with eggplant and avocado was among the best green curries I have had. Also had pad tom yum salmon which was also very good.
Day 101, July 11, 2019, Thursday. Chena Hot Springs, AK (60 miles)
Although there was a thunderstorm overnight, the smoke was worse today. We decided to leave Fairbanks for an overnight at the Chena Hot Springs Resort, a 60 mile trip northeast. The first 25 miles was full of frost heaves but then the road was good. The resort had a small rv park with no hookups which begs the question why no electrical hookups since the resort operates a geothermal power plant. We got the lone pull through as there were only 2 other rv’s in the 25 spaces. In the afternoon, we took a dip in the hot springs. The temp coming out of the ground is 165 degrees but is cooled to 104 in the swimming area. Very relaxing. There were also several hot tubs with jets which we took advantage of. An indoor pool was cool and a welcome diversion from the hot water. We went on a tour of the resort’s ice museum. It is kept at a temperature of 25 degrees and lasts 45 minutes so we took our thicker down jackets. The thicker jackets were needed. The ice sculptures were beautiful and included a pair of knights jousting on horseback, a bar, an igloo, a naked lady and four different themed rooms which are available for rent for anyone crazy enough to do that. Dinner was hot smoked salmon from Solomon’s which I found good but Rosemary not so much.
Day 100, July 10, 2019, Wednesday. Fairbanks, AK (137 miles).
We continued north on the Richardson Highway and stopped at a pull off that featured the pipeline. The pipeline went under the road at that point. I had thought the pipeline was elevated for protection from earthquakes. Although that is one factor, the main reason is the soil. When there was stable soil, the pipeline was buried. Where there was permafrost, the pipeline was elevated because the flow of oil heats the pipeline and if it melted the permafrost, that would make the soil unstable and cause problems. We continued northward and the smoke got pretty bad. We went through mountain passes and were unable to see the mountains. We made a stop in North Pole, AK, to visit Santa Claus House and met Mr. and Mrs. Claus. We arrived in Fairbanks, AK, and parked at the Walmart which hosted probably a couple dozen rv’s. Our first stop was a trip to the camera store to buy a new camera to replace the one that took a fall at the end of the Lu-Lu Belle trip on day 97. We talked to another customer in the store who told us of a place handing out air protection masks so our next stop was to there. We picked up 6 masks but our thoughts were not to spend much time outdoors. Then we went to the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center. While getting info, we attended a show of young native Americans from many different tribes all across Alaska featuring native songs and dances. We also watched a film on the Aurora Borealis.
Day 99, July 9, 2019, Tuesday. Milepost 225 on the Richardson Highway, AK (228 miles)
After a wonderful few days in Valdez, it was time to hit the road and head north along the Richardson Highway. It was a good thing we took our helicopter ride when we first got to Valdez as Alaska has some 30 wild fires burning and the smoke made it hazy and impaired the view of the mountains. We stopped in Copper Center for lunch and drove the Copper Center Loop to see the “historic buildings” which turned out to be a couple old log cabins. We stopped again at the Wrangel-St.Elias Visitor Center, this time well before closing time. Although the mountains were not viewable due to smoke, there was a nice display in the visitor center including two very interesting films, one on the park and one on the history of the Kennecott Copper Mine. We continued north and saw much of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline before we stopped for the night in a pull off at milepost 225. Leftovers of our grilled salmon for dinner was delicious again.
Day 98, July 8, 2019, Monday. Valdez, AK
After two days in Valdez, we finally got a chance to see the town as we drove around. We visited Peter Pan Seafoods Market Place and asked how fresh the sockeye salmon in the display case was. We were told it was swimming that morning so we bought a filet and some packages of hot smoked salmon. Back to the coach to put dinner in the fridge. We visited Solomon Falls Seafoods and bought some more smoked salmon and back to the coach’s fridge. We then visited the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery. We saw the pink salmon running in the river. They were mostly near the shoreline to take advantage of small areas were the river was not as forceful. We took the self guided tour of the fishery which was not yet operating for the season. This is because the beginning of the salmon run is mostly males and the hatchery uses 3 females to every one male so it waits until the females catch up. The hatchery collects 2.7 million eggs and the hatch rate is an incredible 98%. These are not farm raised salmon as they are released into the wild to fully mature. We watched these poor males swimming upstream only to be met by a dead end and numerous sea lions. The sea lions had a feast. Some swallowing the salmon whole and some biting them in half and leaving pieces for the seagulls to swoop in and grab. That evening I grilled up our fresh sockeye. It was the best salmon I have ever tasted!