Friday, March 21, 2008

Trip to Fairbanks - March 15-16, 2008

We drove to Fairbanks to see the Ice Sculptures. Fairbanks has an international ice-carving contest. It lasts for about 3 weeks. I will tell you some more about our experience there later. If you would like to see what goes on there, check out this website: .

We had hopes of seeing the Northern Lights too. Although it was bright and sunny on some of our drive north on Saturday and the same on the way home Sunday, Saturday night was completely cloudy. We got up several times during the night to see if the clouds had lifted, but…no such luck.

We did see some unbelievable scenery and some wildlife on our drive. It was a seven-hour drive. You cannot drive through here without imagining what it was like when there was no road and what it must have been like for earlier people to live in this rugged land and survive the winters.

Here are a few pictures from our drive on the Parks Highway. Remember, Alaska only has 11 highways. This is state highway number 3, if you are looking for it on map. I did not take very many pictures along the way because I know that pictures cannot do justice to the awesome expanse and beauty. We have been living here for a few months now and we stopped many times to enjoy the view. Over and over we said “WOW!” We had packed a lunch (because people had cautioned us that there was not much open along the way this time of year). We stopped at one of those “WOW’ places and ate our lunch. We saw Mt. McKinley several times along the way, but there is just no way to get a picture that would do it justice, as it is so far away.

The folks were right about things not being open. Services (i.e. restrooms & food) were pretty hard to find. Things do not open up until tourist season (mid-May through Labor Day).

This is a view overlooking the Tanana River. The large rock to the left is a monument in honor of George Alexander Parks (for whom the parks highway is named). He was the territorial governor of Alaska from 1925-1933.

We saw 6 moose, some ptarmigans and a small herd of caribou on the way to Fairbanks. We only saw one moose on the way home Sunday. Ptarmigans are the Alaska state bird. They sort of resemble grouse. We didn’t get any pictures of them. They were just too fast for us! I did just about run over a couple as they ran out into the highway.

The moose is in the middle of the picture, running away from us in the snow.

The big activity along the way was snow machining. There was still plenty of snow north of us and the outdoor enthusiasts were taking advantage of it. We passed 250-300 snow machines on our drive. There are pull-outs all the way along the highway and there were LOTS of cars and RV with snow machines parked in the pull-outs. I cannot describe the open expanse and the perfect snow machining conditions. It made us wish that we had one to ride also.

We drove through the town of Nenana, home of the Nenana Ice Classic. The town of Nenana is located at the convergence of the Nenana and Tanana Rivers. Every year since 1917 they build a large tripod out of PVC pipe and set it on the frozen river. Then they sell lottery tickets and people can guess the date and time that “break-up” will happen on the river. The structure resembles a mini-Eiffel Tower. A cable runs from top of the structure and to a clock and a siren on the shore. When the ice on the river breaks apart, the structure tips over. The cable pulls a switch that shuts the clock off and turns the siren on. If you guessed correctly, you win the lottery money. The ice usually goes out between April 20th and May 20th.

You can see in the pictures that there are tons of trees. I was especially amazed at the groves of white birch trees. There are millions of them along the way. They are a very beautiful tree. They grow so straight and tall and the white bark makes them especially pretty.