Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thurs, Aug 27: Fairbanks

Dick is up at 6:30AM. It was raining when we went to bed last night but there is not a cloud in the sky this morning! After a light breakfast, we make reservations to take the 2:00PM cruise on the “Riverboat Discovery” and also make our reservations to take the three day, two night trip to Prudhoe Bay and back.

After renewing our lease on our camping spot through Friday night, we spend the rest of the morning working this blog and trying to get the first volume our Trip Around the World book ready to go to the printers. About 12:45PM, we finally come to a decision as to where to leave the rig and the car while we take our Arctic Adventure trip up to Prudhoe Bay. We have to move out of our current space by Saturday due to the arrival of a caravan. We decide to move to an available Chena River-front space now and book it through next Wednesday. We will leave both the car and the rig in that space with the rig hooked up to electricity. The tour group will pick us up here at 5:45AM on Monday morning and return us here on Wednesday evening. Carolyn takes care of the paperwork and we make the move before leaving for our “Riverboat Discovery” trip.

We make the short drive to the pier from which the riverboat sails. There are, ultimately, 14 tour buses from the various cruise lines who drop off passengers for the trip. The boat will hold 800+ passengers on four decks. Shortly after 2:00PM we head down the Chena River at a dead slow pace. We are treated to the first of the well thought out and well coordinated events of our trip. We have not gone 200 yards when we drift to a stop and watch a small float plane take off, landand take off again just for our benefit. The pilot talks to us through the PA system about the plane, flying in Alaska and his life as a bush pilot and mechanic.

Our moderator discusses the various houses that we see on both sides of the Chena River. They range from Alaskan Mansions with manicured lawns to shacks with yards full of junk. He says that river front property goes for $100,000 an acre and construction costs are about $150 per square foot. He also points out that Alaskans to not judge you by how much money you have but "by how much stuff you have piled in yyour yard!"A little further down river, we float to a stop at the Trail Breaker Kennel,the kennel of Iditarod Champion and Alaska legend, Susan Butcher and her husband Dave Monson. We see a wonderful demonstration by the dogs under owner, Dave Monson. Susan won the Iditarod four times, 1986,1987, 1988 and 1990. She died from Leukemia in 2006. When she won the first time, bumper stickers and T-shirts were produced that said: "ALASKA; Where men are men and women win the Iditarod". Her husband is also a well known dog team racer.

The next stop is to see some reindeer, or domesticated caribou, and then we have a quick stop to watch a fishwheel at workand a salmon drying demonstration at the Chena Indian Village. The young lady doing the talk is a local high school student and Alutiiq Eskimo.

We travel a little farther down river to the mouth of the Chena River and look out over the Tanana River
as we turn around. Here we are entertained by a young Bald Eagle and then get a fast look at an adult soaring through the blue sky and into the trees.
On the way back up river we stop for a tour of the Chena Village with talks on the Native Alaskan life style past and present. There are three”stations” and we are split into three large groups each lead by Native Alaskan young people.

Our group goes to the Athabascan clothing and hide display first and our guide, with help of a friend, explains how furs and skins are preparedand made into clothing and what the different bead work means. Then the guide models the “sun bonnet coat”,an absolutely beautiful piece of handmade work!The next stop is for a talk on ancient life with a display of several types of structures used then; the fur hut made on a frame of young birch trees,a temporary structure made of fir branches and a hut made of woven birch bark.There is also a birch bark canoe on display.
The last stop is for a log cabin, a trapper cabin and a food cache and fur pelt display.Here we learn about the different furs and how they are used in clothing and also a little about the changes in lifestyle after the Western culture was encountered. Our guide explains how the native people are maintaining the old ways and living a modern life style.It is a great tour...each demonstration area has plenty of log bench seating and the guides speak very clearly into a microphone so everyone can hear. The grounds are large and well laid out with several other demonstration areas one can visit... the dog team pen,the salmon drying area and several structures from the original Chena Athabascan Indian village which was located near by. The setting is wooded and bounded on two sides by the Chena and Tanana Rivers. The hour we spend there goes by fast.

Back on the river boat, we have a 30 minute ride back to the landing and enjoy the beautiful afternoon the whole way. Then we head back to the rig. One of the sites we passed on the tour was the Pump House which dates to the gold mining days. It pumped water from the Chena River to a gold field up in the hills. Now it is a restaurant. We go there for dinner and have a good hot spinach and bacon salad with blueberry vinaigrette and prawns with a crab meat stuffing.

Right on cue the sun slides below the horizon for a while and we have the pitter patter of rain on the roof.

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