My two week land-sea cruise in Alaska was filled with beautiful, memorable museums, animal sightings, flowers, and panoramas. As I related some of the sights to my family, I realized it’s the people you meet, you remember the most.
A Memorable Character
Fatigue from a long day in Fairbanks prompted me to join my friend for dinner in the hotel restaurant. As we started in on our local specialties, we kept hearing music. As soon as we paid the bill, we walked into the lobby and there was a duo taking requests from a small gathering of hotel guests.
Soon we learned the guitarist was named Earl Hughes and he worked at an attraction called Dredge 8. After he and the pianist took a short break, the audience dwindled to four of us. We kept him busy another set with John Denver, Beatles, and a few country selection requests. It seemed he was ready to pack up, when he asks if we would like a demo tape on CD. Each of us nods an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
He signed and dated a CD for each of us. I’m not much for buying trinkets on trips, but I’ll always treasure this CD.
Seeing him again
The next day, our tour included Dredge 8. Sure enough, there was Earl on the train with his guitar. He even waved to us as the train continued onto the the big attraction, panning for gold. As we took our few flakes of gold to have them weighed, Earl was once again nearby. I smile remembering his joy in having the opportunity to play a few songs and visit with folks.
Lots of friendly people in Alaska
There were many more connections, nearly everyday. Summer experiences shared by vacationers, young and old traveling to Alaska for summer employment, and tour guides who were native or chose to make Alaska their home. However, Earl is one of those people you meet you remember the most.
Come along on my Alaskan adventure as I visit Fairbanks. This isn’t my first trip to Alaska, but this time is very different. I’m on a two-week land and sea cruise, starting on land. During my previous trip, I focused on heading to and past the Arctic Circle.
Fairbanks – Educational and Inspiring
Arriving a day early I started right in on my Alaskan adventure. I was familiar with public transportation in Denver, but you never know how well another system will work out. I’m happy to say, it was great. My companions and I easily traveled everywhere we wanted to go. We felt safe and privileged meeting some local Alyeskans (the native word for Alaska). And a big plus is the price – free for anyone 60 and over. We saw a lot of Fairbanks that we would have missed otherwise.
Fairbanks Visitor Center
Our first stop was the visitor center. I highly recommend spending time at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center. We learned about local history, native culture, how locals have fun all year long, and about native plants and animals.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks
We jumped back onto the MAC blue line bus and stopped at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Two of my group visited the museum and loved it. My friend and I opted to take a walk down the hill to the Georgeson Botanical Garden. It was fabulous! As Master Gardeners in our past lives and loving gardens of all types, we were excited learning about local gardening from fellow gardeners. For instance, we talked to a volunteer working in the perennial beds who told us how hot it’s been. Coming from Florida, we were thrilled with the 80 degree weather and thought it’s pleasantly cool. The volunteer also told us about the weird elongated ‘blueberries’ we’d seen, called honeyberries. Bird netting covered the bushes, saving the super sweet morsels for humans.
Day 2 – On the Tour
The next day we joined our Holland America Tour group, visiting two popular spots. When I looked at the brochures and marketing information, I thought, “This will be touristy and hokey”. Boy was I wrong!
The whole gold rush history was something I missed during my previous visit in 2003. And panning for gold sounded like fun. But Dredge 8 offered so much more.
First, as we exited the parking lot, there stood the Alaskan pipeline, right in front of us. A group gathered around a demonstration section of the pipeline with an opening to see the mechanism that keeps the interior of the pipe clean. Our experience began with a detailed explanation how the pipeline benefits Alaska, all residents, and eliminates concerns for wildlife and the environment.
Next, we took a ride along the rails, moving us through the history of gold mining in the area up to the dredges used until the 1950’s. It was fascinating to hear about the dredge, and later we climbed up to the third level and ‘manned’ the controls of this huge mechanical artifact of Alaskan history.
But I can’t forget the panning for gold! Amazingly, I could actually do it, thanks to the patience and expertise of our gold panning expert. My bag of tailing gravel produced $12 of gold for my efforts. What fun! Above all, don’t miss the delicious complimentary coffee and cookies.
This tour is a treasure. It truly is a multi-generational family running an enterprise with the son at the helm and the 90+ matriarch waving to us both from the landing and at her home along the Tanana River.
One of the highlights of the tour was time spent at the sight of an Athabaskan Indian Village. Our young hosts first explained their personal native culture heritage and then demonstrated and explained every facet of their 10,000 year tradition in Alyeska, including how they view their place in the web of life.
Once again, the snack bars on the riverboat offered complimentary coffee sweetened with tasty blueberry doughnuts at the beginning of the riverboat trip and then with salmon dip on a cracker as we headed back to the landing.
The Thread that Wove Through My Days
Wherever I pursued my Alaskan adventure in Fairbanks, I saw smiling, enthusiastic, respectful, and friendly young people spending their summer vacations, working in Alaska. Furthermore, full time residents had the same character. There is something in the summer Alaskan air that lifts spirits and brings smiles to everyone’s face, residents and visitors alike.