June 27, 2018

6/23/18 - Denali National Park

Spoiler Alert:  We went to Denali National Park twice, but didn’t see the mountain either time.  Apparently only 30% of the visitors who come to Alaska ever get to see it.  I was thinking about inserting a picture of Mt. Rainier here, because after all, a volcano is a volcano.  But even I can see they’re not similar, you’ll have to go on your own trip—then let me know if you fall into the 30th or 70th percentile.  

On the way from the campground to the park, we drove along the Nenana River.  We stopped and watched the show for awhile.  Watching is way cheaper (and warmer and dryer) than actually getting in one of these rafts.
One of the big things on everyone’s bucket list is to see the wildlife in the park.  This is the first wild animal we saw that day!  I’m sure you’re as excited about him as I am. 
There are two Denali National Park signs.  The one above is the second sign, inside the park.  This one is just before you get to the entrance.  I like the other one better.  I have no idea why they need two.
We went to the Wilderness Access Center to buy bus tickets for Monday, thinking that would be the best day for weather.  We opted for the 8-9 hour trip on a tour bus because "tour bus" sounds more comfortable than "park school bus".  (More details about this on the next post.)

Next up was the Visitor Center.  This is a topography map of the park.  The line at the bottom, going past Healy, then turning up and going Cantwell is the highway from Fairbanks to Anchorage.  If you squint a little, maybe you can make this 3-D map flattened into a 2-D photo, you can probably figure out which part of the white section is Denali. The orange line is the ONLY road into the park, and you can only drive 15 miles into the park—anything beyond is on a tour bus on a gravel road.
When I was standing in line waiting to talk to a ranger, I overheard him give someone info about the Sled Dog Demonstration.  After watching the movie, we headed for the bus stop--they're really big on buses here.  Demo was at 2:00, and they kept bringing in more buses until everyone was on the way.

Sled dogs are kenneled differently than the family pet.  They have their own house and are chained to the area.  They have enough slack to get inside, up on the roof and to play with a friend.  A lot of them seemed to like napping up on the sundeck, but not all. 
A few are in bigger runs.
They smushed us up into the bleachers, then the ranger who was narrating started talking to us about the dogs--not quite as cute as she thought she was, not as bad as some.  These dogs are not just tourist attractions. They’re actual canine rangers that patrol the park during the winter.  This run around the trees once several times a day is child’s play to these working dogs. 
When the demo was over, and we’d extricated ourselves from the crowd, we wandered until the buses were ready to take us back.  In the sled building, George got stamps for his NP Passport book.  I went back to watching the dogs.  Steward seems to be watching something else.
Back in the truck we headed for one of the stores in the park.  I had it in my head that I would actually be able to buy a sweatshirt that says DENALI NATIONAL PARK on it in Denali National Park.  I could find t-shirts.  I could find hats.  I could find a whole lot of junk but no sweatshirts...  (Couldn't find bear spray either, but that was okay for now.)

I’m excited about the bus tour in a few days.  Come back and check it out.

In the meantime, here are more pictures from our first day in the park:  Denali Natl Park

6/20/18 – Fairbanks

We didn’t just go on tours while we were in Fairbanks; we wandered around on our own too.  Here’s some stuff too good not to share.
Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center near downtown not only has visitor info but also has exhibits from the University of Alaska’s museum.  

I’ve never seen so much beading in my life as I’ve seen in this state!  You can probably tell I’m impressed, because (a) it’s a traditional native form of art and (b) because I know if I ever tried to do it I’d have zillions of tiny little beads all over the house. 
As you wander thru the exhibits, there’s a passageway from one area to another.  To prove Alaskans have a sense of humor, this is painted on the walls:
Near the Visitor Center is a city park with an arch made out of moose antlers, which I think is cool.  What I don't like is that people have written their names on the antlers.  How rude.
I kept seeing brochures about the Dog Mushing Museum downtown.  I wanted to be more impressed than I was, but I wasn't.
The University of Alaska Museum of the North is divided into regions of the state.  The building is supposed “to convey a sense of Alaska…evoking images of alpine ridges, glaciers, breakup on the Yukon River and the aurora.”  (I’m quoting here; apparently I’m not familiar enough with this state to identify anything except blocks of ice.  I definitely don’t see the aurora!) 
Otto Bear has been greeting visitors since 1980
The very ugly table is made with Caribou legs,
Dall sheep horns, bear fur, and local wood
Blue Babe - a mummified steppe bison found in permafrost
Not too far away is the Robert G. White Large Animal Research Station (called LARS by the locals.)  The university is studying muskox and reindeer.  We didn’t take the tour, but wandered out to where we could see some of the muskox.  (We've already seen reindeer.) The baby one wandered over to get a drink but I think he was actually checking us out.  
Creamer’s Field National Wildlife Refuge is on an old dairy farm.  Supposed to be really famous for sandhill cranes.  The only ones we saw were taxidermy specimens. Think we got here a little too late for the migration.

More of Fairbanks here: Fairbanks

June 26, 2018

6/19/18 - Gold Dredge 8 Tour

Another 2 for 1 coupon, another tour from the same company as the Riverboat Discovery Cruise.  This one was north of Fairbanks in gold rush country.

You walk under the Alyeska Pipeline as you head to the train to the dredge.  Here the pipeline is above ground but sometimes it's buried.  Those pipes on the left keep the permafrost from melting by transferring ground heat into the air. 
They're big on mileage posts around here.  I think they're fun.
We rode out to the dredge on a replica of the Tanana Valley RR narrow guage train like they used when they were mining here.  Cute little thing, feels a lot like a ride in an amusement park.  Sort of looked like it too.  
Our Engineer was a local high school history teacher, and he gave us a crash course in Alaska gold mining history.  There were stops along the way where there were demos of various mining techniques, like using a sluice box.
And placer mining…dumping the dirt out onto the pile was the best part.
Then there's dredging, which is what we came here for.  When we got to the Gold Dredge, a woman was on it and she explained how the dredge and the extraction process worked.  (Sometimes this stuff is really interesting, but apparently gold mining how-tos weren't sinking into my brain today.  I think I got the basics though:  gold...gold-rush...rivers...panning, sluicing, dredging...lots of dirt...lots of water...environmental mess!)
Wash tubs, like in the last picture, were placed where each train car would stop and we were shown how to pan for gold.  The tiny little shiny flecks in the bottom of the pan are real gold!
We continued around the back of the dredge and past the Gold Dredge buildings.
They handed each one of us a little bag of dirt.  There were troughs of water where you could either sit or stand to pan for gold.  I thought I’d do better if I were standing than trying to do it sitting down.  At least I wouldn't dump a pan full of water into my lap.
George is panning.  That’s my pan next to him with dirt but no water in it yet.  You have to pick up a little water and slosh some of it out.  Some of the dirt will go out, but the gold is heavier and will fall back to the lowest part of the pan.  Eventually you get all the mud and water out and what’s left is gold.  
I had help from one of the Alaska miners so I finished first--I think he took pity on me because I was worried I'd tip it too much and dump ALL the dirt, so I wasn't doing a very good job of shaking the water and dirt out of the pan.  If you look closely, you’ll see some color in the pan. ("Color" is what prospectors called the gold left in the pan after you get rid of the dirt and rocks.)

You put the gold into a little plastic bottle, take it inside where they weigh it and tell you how much it’s worth.  (Our combined total was about $15.)  However much it is, you get to keep the gold. You can have it put into jewelry right there if you want.  Since the value of the gold we got was less than the cost of the necklace, we just brought it home with us.

There’s a souvenir shop and a jewelry shop inside where they have a 19 ounce gold nugget you can pick up and hold.  I was asking the kid some questions and he was very knowledgeable...turns out he's a geology major at UAF.  His job is to answer questions and NEVER take his eyes off the gold!  When a group of 4 people came over and started passing it around, he still talked, but the only eye contact he had was with the nugget.  I told him the job would screw up his social skills forever.

They also have have fresh cookies and drinks.  The cookies were good, but I wasn’t in the mood for more of the same Alaska t-shirts I'd seen the day before.  (Actually, the cookies were really good, so I had another.  I think George had more than that--every time I looked for him he was dawdling around the nearby t-shirts!)

We wandered outside to the dredge.  You can go inside and see all the old rusty equipment, abandoned when it was no longer profitable to mine.  There’s still an active gold mine nearby but this one probably makes plenty of money with the tours.
After we got back to the station, our Engineer gave us a little talk about the history of the pipeline.  Those things inside this cutaway are called "pigs" that are used to clean the pipes.  
When he finished, most of the crowd headed out to the tour buses that were waiting for the cruise ship people.        
The rest of us went home in these four vehicles.
Just in case you're wondering, I didn't get hit with gold fever, so this is probably my first and last attempt at gold mining.  It's really rather more work than I'm interested in doing. 

More pictures of gold mining here:  Gold Dredge 8