Mission

MISSION:
To spend quality time in at least one area of every state. Quality time means exploring the area; rest stops, gas stations, airports or train stations do not count. The goal is to explore the natural and cultural environments of these regions. Each location visited has a story, pictures for my amateur hobby addiction, and maybe a piece of jewelry/art.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Fairbanks and the Circle

I finally made it past Denali... in fact, I did not even stop.  The plane flew over, giving me fantastic views of Mt McKinley.  Sometimes I have to admit that work travel can spoil me.  I have been fortunate enough to travel to Alaska a handful of times.  This trip was special (and more than made up for the pain of the last excursion).


This was my first trip to Fairbanks.  For some reason, I have wanted to see it.  I know, I know - WHY?  I have been warned... it was small, it was nothing exciting... it was skippable... but if it was the 2nd biggest city in Alaska, I wanted to compare.  I wanted to see the sights,  I wanted to use it as a point to visit some of the northern sites.

My journey started months in advance... I contacted a few tour operators for guidance and reservations.  Since this is a about as north as you go on the paved roads, I was interested in what the tours offered.  I also talked with a new colleague that had lived up north to get some recommendations.

Unfortunately, over those some months (and until the day before the trip), I learned that nothing was open... I was coming too early.  The cheesy tourist activities closed... the tours, both bus and flights not running yet... UGH!

Yet, Alaska luck was on my side... while at work, after animated stories of my failed tour contacts, a "new" friend offered to act as my tour guide.  In fact, several people offered to hang out and show me around.  Maybe there was and advantage to being a new face in a community just coming out of the winter freeze!



My first tour day in Fairbanks, I managed to find fashion... yep, fashion!  The shop came highly recommended from a Alaska Airlines flight attendant.  The store was nothing like I expected, and way better than anything that could be found in the 6 store grouping they called a mall.  The Exchange was co located with a yoga studio and a coffee/breakfast shop.  The owners we still setting up (aka opening for the season), so I was able to pick over the new stuff.  After getting my shop on, I was able to head to the University and spend hours at the Museum of Alaska.  Located on the UofA Fairbanks campus, the museum highlighted both Alaska history, geology, ecology and regional specifics; the second floor touched on local art, both folk and native creations.

I then headed "downtown" - and I use that term loosely.  It is dead.  The locals admit that once Walmart moved into town, downtown died.  I found only a few places open that were not bars... I visited the Ice Museum and watched a movie about the annual ice carving festival.  I still can't wrap my head around the ice harvesting where they cut a local pond into 3x3ft cubes of perfectly clear water.  The creations made from those cubes are pure art...

I made my way to the North Pole, on a mission to speak to Santa on behalf of my nieces.  I had clear visions of what the North Pole would look like, none of which was the true vision.  Beware wiery traveler, the North Pole is a lonely town less than 15 miles from Fairbanks.  It housed a store of holiday decorations, and Santa was "resting" before tourist season.  I did reserve a few letters to be sent out to my little ladies - hoping to surprise them with a piece of Santa's land.

Other excitement to note in Fairbanks... Creamer's Field, where I saw sandhill cranes one time (the other visits only brought be Canadian Geese), and the Guiness World Record Holder for the messiest front year... Yikes!!!

That evening, I spent with a Fairbanks local... dinner, a late night movie and a tour of the local neighborhoods.  She explained the utility issues outside of town... 80% of Fairbanks residents did not have running water, and how there was no trash removal outside of town.
I seriously questioned why people choose to live there!

Day 2 I spent with my second tour guide... and we were headed to the Arctic Circle.  After getting supplies, we headed to breakfast at the last stop before the Dalton.  We were headed up the road made infamous from Ice Road Truckers... AWESOME and I did not even have to drive!

I had a laundry list of things I wanted to see, touch, smell... I wanted to walk on Arctic tundra, I wanted to see the pipeline meander the landscape, I wanted to touch the waters of the Yukon...  I had hopes to see wildlife, and I wanted to see that namesake sign.

Did it!  Did it all. And more!  My new friend patiently drove me up the Dalton, stopping every time I asked.  We stopped at a small creek that was just beginning to thaw, and there I was able to feel the frigid waters (and trust me, it is cold).  We saw bear, birds, and small mammals.  Honestly, the Arctic was nothing like I expected.  It reminded me soooo much of the tops of the Rockies.  There were black spruce trees, aspens that had yet to bloom, creeks blocked by beaver dams with the foothills and mountains in the background.  Spring was just starting... fireweed had yet to bloom, but wildlife was arriving/waking up.


The Yukon was really starting to break up... and I paid the price.  Ever been in quick sand... well, I can say I have now!  Yep, I got sucked into the riverbed.  My friend was taking my picture by the river when I took a step into ground that was not quite ground... I sunk, and I sunk fast.  Mid Thigh... one minute I am 5 9, the next I lost at least a foot and a half.  I was prepping myself for a shot of cold (I had felt the stream), but instead, I felt nothing but pressure and sucking... luckily, only one leg went in... I was at an odd angle but still able to pull myself out (with the help of the friend).  And when all was said and done, the couple on the moared boat by the river announced that one of them did that the day before -THANKS!!!

So, my crazy trip experience behind me... I rolled in the dirt laughing hysterically... my friend was not warned what a magnet I could be for "adventure".  He was impressed.  I just laughed.  Well, laughed and whined about my now very messy state - my leg was solid black... and the day had only begun.  At least my shoe wasn't sucked into obvilian

Well, the Arctic is pretty dry - my leg dried before be made it to the Circle mark.  We picniced at the sign... and my second adventure almost took off... warning, when you hear grumbling/roaring in the woods, do not enter.  We stayed put, and played with the birds.  And when we finished we did not go back to the site... a bear was obviously looking to check it out.  I, for one, did not want that "experience."

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