It was a beautiful sunny day as we set up at the Elks Lodge on the Chena River. We watched as Fairbanksians perched themselves atop every type of floatation device known to man and drift lazily downriver. What surprised us, however, was seeing speed boats and jet skis simultaneously buzz upriver narrowly missing the floaters. In our eyes, the Chena just wasn't wide enough to support floaters, kayakers, canoes and motorized boats as well. It was kind of scary watching all this, but thankfully we didn't see any kind of collision.
The Elks Lodge has a great outdoor deck right on the river, which is another fun place to wile away the hours watching river activities. We sat out with a couple of Elk members and Sandy, the bartender. Sandy had a super cute haircut, so I asked for the number of her stylist and made an appointment for myself. That's pretty much how I roll these days. I see someone with a cut I like and walk right up to them and say, "Cuuuuute! Who's your stylist?" They are usually happy to share the name and number of the salon.
The rate for the Fairbanks Elks Lodge camping is listed at $25 per night, but they do have a weekly rate of $125. This includes electric only, which is typical in Alaska, as winters are harsh on water facilities. They also have a washer and dryer which is free to campers, so it was a perfect place for us. There are a few Sourdough truck stops that have both dump stations and potable water at no charge, which we used on our way out of Fairbanks.
We had been in touch with Missy and Rowdy Stowell, a couple from Fairbanks known to many in the RVing community. Our mutual friend Debbie Kendall introduced us. They have long welcomed travelers to their property as part of the Boondockers Welcome website, and are happy to show folks around their community. Rowdy was born in Fairbanks and had just retired from the fire department and Missy, who moved here in the 70s, is still working for the North Star Borough Parks and Recreation department. They have just purchased a new truck and toyhauler and will begin their semi-fulltiming journey in October. As such, they have sold their house in Fairbanks and moved everything they plan to keep out to their awesome cabin in the woods where they will spend their summers.
In spite of all they had going on, including a massive weekend-long retirement bash, Rowdy and Missy made time to introduce us to a couple of eating establishments around town, show us around the beautiful county park that Missy has poured her heart and soul into, and invite us to an impromptu dinner with family and friends at their cabin about an hour outside Fairbanks. I was frankly exhausted and told them I wasn't sure how they were going to make it through the retirement bash weekend, but they assured us this was their "normal."
While in Fairbanks, we also enjoyed a Happy Hour with fellow travelers Dave and Kathy Scranton, whom we had met through RVillage. They crossed the border into Canada a couple of days before us, but we soon zoomed right by them and didn't cross paths again until Fairbanks. It was great to meet them face-to-face and time flew by as we yakked for nearly three hours. Kathy & Dave drove up the Cassiar Highway to reach Alaska so, of course, we were very interested in their thoughts on the route as that is how we plan to return to the lower 48.
We had no sooner driven away when we realized we forgot to get a selfie of the four of us, but as luck would have it, we met again the next day at Chena Hot Springs, home to the Aurora Ice Museum. We had signed up for the 3:00 pm tour of the Ice Museum and thus managed to get our selfie at 25 degrees F. Notice in the photo below we are all bundled up for the occassion. The ice museum also offers a souvenier of sorts. Along with admission, you can also purchase an Appletini which is served in an ice glass that you may keep. haha. Kathy took one for the team and ponied up $15 for the full Appletini experience. She just about froze her fingers off waiting for Dave and Steven to get her photo.
The Chena Hot Springs grounds had an eclectic mix of vintage cars and reindeer!
In spite of the frigid inside temperature, I was wearing shorts. During our stay in Fairbanks there were definitely a few warm days. In fact, we ran our aircon several times. So for our trip to Chena Hot Springs, I decided to be comfortable. Funny enough, my legs never did get cold, but my hands sure did! Though we are not terribly prone to do the touristy stuff as we travel, we really enjoyed the Ice Museum. We did not stay for a soak in the hot springs as we were meeting up with Rowdy and Missy. Their awesome cabin in the woods is just a mile or so from the Chena Hot Springs.
At Rowdy's suggestion, we also visited the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center which has interesting and unique displays of life in the far north. Well worth a visit. Our favorite stop, by far, was The University of Alaska Museum of the North. The Milepost describes this museum as "world-class" and it truly is. Both Steven and I commented that this was among the best we had ever visited. There are several sections, one being so stuffed with displays there was just no way to take it all in. Upstairs, the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery displays over 2,000 years of Alaska art and it was fantastic. The collection is thoughtfully curated and beautifully displayed. We spent most of our time here. There is also "The Place Where You Go to Listen", where sounds and light are made to reflect earth's day and night cycles, seismic and electromagnetic activity. It was a very cool place, but honestly, those sounds could be used as torture. Steven really enjoyed it but I couldn't stay in there for long.
As we travel through Alaska, most of the towns and communities we visit are small and lack the amenities of a larger town. Usually when we roll into a place that has Walmart, Fred Meyer, McDonalds, etc. we are expecting the vibe of "Anytown, USA". We were pleasantly surprised to find that Fairbanks still has a rustic charm to it. That said, I don't think I had a conversation with a single local who wasn't looking forward to the day when they "get out". Everyone, it seems, wants to live somewhere else. Life is not easy in the far north. While you might think Fairbanks gets tons of snow, it's actually an arctic desert. There is so little humidity there my skin looked like an alligator. But Missy warned me, don't use product, because it will attract the mesquitos. So, alligator skin it was. :(
After eight days, we packed up and headed to our next stop - Denali!