Fantastical Fairbanks!


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July 7th 2012
Published: July 8th 2012
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View from our motel at 5 past midnight and the sun's still shining!
5th-7th July ’12 Fairbanks

So we left Denali and drove along the highway past more forests and over rivers, leaving the big mountains behind. We stopped off for a break at the settlement of Nenana, which was really just one road with a few small houses, an RV park and a couple of tourist shops, at the end of the road was the railway station/museum. It was a very strange place, there was hardly a soul about, I guess it was like a pioneer camp without the pioneers. This seems to be the norm for Alaska though, these tiny little ramshackle settlements. When we arrived in Fairbanks that felt like a larger version of the same thing. Obviously Fairbanks – The Golden Heart City, is a city and so has a substantial population and has all the large stores and eating places, it even has an Imax, but it feels like a very small town and you still don’t see that many people.

We are staying at the Golden North Motel, which is a fair way out of the historic main town and at the end of a rough road, we overlook the compound for off road vehicles and
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The park
have a great view of the small airport and planes regularly skim the power lines outside. Our nearest neighbour is the Lonely Lady Saloon which features showgirls nightly and is only a two minute walk from us! Very handy for those lonesome truckers staying here no doubt!!

Our first stop on the sightseeing trail was the Visitors Centre, which had lots of information on what to see and do in the area – which seemed to feature fishing, dogs and hunting mainly. Still they had an original pioneer cabin in the grounds (which was closed for renovation) and you could walk through the pretty little park up to the historic quarter, which we did. They had a massive Antler Arch, made of donated Antlers, given by various hunters across the interior of Alaska and supposed to symbolise linking together and sharing stories and experiences……… well we did pass a car with a bumper sticker that read – Piss off a liberal Buy a Gun!

There were a couple of interesting monuments and plenty of information about the founding families and pioneers of Fairbanks. We then had to make a short detour to avoid the drunken man who was taking his jeans down and came out at the tall post welcoming us to Fairbanks – The Golden Heart City and showing how far it was to various places around the world. We were busy looking for London when a couple of local Athabascans (the indigenous people) came up to help, showed us how to spin the pole around and asked us where we were from and what we thought of Alaska. They did explain that they were drunk and did a lot of laughing but were really friendly and just wanted to chat.

By now we have sussed out that the pretty little park is the place where all the locals go to get drunk, well it was about 2pm!

So onwards to locate the ‘Historic Downtown’, which turns out to be two roads which look like they must have done back in the 1800s but with the addition of a boarded up hotel with a big sign saying ‘Looking for Love’. There was a saloon, a theatre, an Ice Museum, a couple of eating places, a few souvenir shops and fur/hunting shops. We went into the old Co-op building which held a few shops selling arts
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Inside the Co-op
and crafts, a couple of bizarre shops selling souvenirs, second hand videos and second hand magazines and had a pianola sat in the corridor.

So after all this excitement we returned to the Motel for a rest! That night we went to the Imax to see Prometheus which was really good and saw a preview for Rock of Ages which I must go to see! We hadn’t quite finished with the strangeness of Fairbanks yet however, as we drove back and pulled up to some traffic lights, there in front of us was a woman on a scooter with a small, yappy dog tucked into a basket behind her back – well I had to get a photo of that, much to the amusement of the people in the truck alongside us!

So another night, another full sun at midnight and its baking hot, I don’t think I could ever adjust to living like this permanently.

Today was another sightseeing day in the city of Fairbanks, we started off by driving to the Farmer’s Market and on the way discovered a whole other area of the city. There were wide roads, lined with the small one storey
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Historic downtown!
houses and yet more shops. The Farmer’s market was really nice, lots of stalls selling home grown veg sold by real farmers in dungarees, buttoned up shirts, cowboy hats and bushy beards. Local people selling homemade arts and crafts, jars of jams and pickles, jewellery and strange items of clothing that looked like they would have been worn back in the 1800s. More professional artists selling pictures and jewellery for really, really high prices and other stalls trying to tempt you with their reindeer or moose sausages. It was an experience in itself.

From here we headed into the university complex where we visited the excellent University of Alaska Museum of the North. We spent about two hours here looking at the various displays and exhibits which cover the ‘cultures, wildlife, geography and history of each of Alaska’s five major geographical regions’. I particularly liked the histories of various women from these different areas, focussing on their achievements and the hardships (mainly due to bloody men!) that they had endured. I also like Otto the 8’9’’ brown bear – despite the fact I am not keen on stuffed animals. They also have the mummy of Blue Babe, the Ice
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The Antler Arch
Age steppe bison. There were excellent exhibits of ‘Eskimo’ culture and a moving exhibition about the Aleut and their forced internment during world war ll of which I knew nothing about previously.

I would really recommend visiting this museum if you ever go to Fairbanks!

The afternoon was spent at Pioneer Park, another great find and well worth a visit. It was all free – you could make donations in the various museums if you wanted too. There were small streets made up of original cabins and historic homes which had been moved here from various locations around the town, some of them had shops inside and others were museums, all were interesting. Everything was themed around the pioneer days and the gold rush. (There were also lots of children’s playgrounds and activities as well.) Once people found out we were from England they were delighted and insisted we signed the visitor’s books and wanted to know how come we had come all this way and what we thought of Alaska and wished us well.

By now our feet were aching so we decided to call it a day but had to make one last stop at a nearby supermarket to buy a tin opener as I managed to snap the last one!

So we experienced our first Fred Meyer, which was like an upmarket Walmart but with ridiculously expensive clothes. We headed off down the bakery aisle when suddenly we heard the sound of bagpipes, I turned round and there coming towards us were six men all in full Scottish regalia playing the pipes! I grabbed the camera and took a pic but it was blurry so I zoomed around the back of a few cake displays and jumped out in front of them and got a great picture. I can honestly say I have never come across anything like it before!! Ha ha the strangeness of Fairbanks, you have got to love the place!!

I have really enjoyed my time here, the people are great – so friendly and really interested in you and why you chose to visit and what you think of Alaska. It is a very unusual place – maybe all of Alaska is this quirky?, I have no doubt we will soon find out!


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The Lonely Lady Saloon
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Our motel
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Bagpipes in the buns!!


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