As we have completed our quarantine in the quiet cabin of Salcha, Alaska we decided to head first to Fairbanks– a rugged city that serves as the gateway to the great interior of Alaska.
Along the way we stopped in North Pole, Alaska.
This touristy and quirky town is (obviously) not really the North Pole, but they have themed their little outpost to a degree only Disney could rival….
You can’t visit North Pole without a stop at Santa’s House where you will find an enormous statue of an angry blue eyed Santa surrounded by a chain link fence.
Additionally, Santa has sad looking reindeer you can visit. They are double fenced and though beautiful to look at I didn’t get the impression they really wanted to look back at us so the pictures are a bit sketchy. This was the most festive picture I could muster up.
Inside Santa’s house you will find an overabundance of Christmas themed items with just the right feel you would expect from a cheesy road trip stop.
Please don’t take my sarcasm to mean I didn’t enjoy our stop in North Pole. Quite the contrary. I loved it. Stops like this produce an abundance of laughter and create the best memories. Even my teenagers enjoyed it. North Pole is perfect quirky family fun.
Now on to Fairbanks…..
As we continued along the way to Fairbanks the weather seemed to grow colder by the hour. One thing about autumn in the sub arctic– it goes really fast. In the two weeks we were in quarantine it seemed we went from full fledged summer in t-shirts and jeans to beautiful fall foliage with a slight chill in the air to mostly barren trees with loads of leaves on the ground. Now it seemed we were driving head first into winter.
Obviously, the people of Fairbanks are used to extreme cold and I am sure they found our interpretation of 40 degree weather as “winter” laughable (although they were too kind to mock us), but we dug out our winter coats. Coming from DC, we were cold.
Fairbanks itself is a mish mash of historical, industrial and practical buildings all designed to handle the weather and to get people what they need to survive in an extreme climate. It’s not “charming” but it is interesting.
Our hotel was wonderful. You can read the full review of Pike’s Waterfront Lodge here, but in sum it captured the essence of Alaska in it’s decor and offered a variety of amenities and activities all designed to ensure families have a great time. And they accepted dogs– which for us mattered.
Visiting during hunting season….
As it was hunting season the hotel was packed and it was fascinating. The parking lot was filled with large vehicles and gun toting rugged Alaskans in camouflage. One thing I have learned here is that hunting is part of life. A single moose will feed a family for the entire winter and families here love the moose meat.
And if I think about it, which I really don’t like to do, but when you are surrounded by hunters you can’t help it– if that moose wasn’t killed by a hunter’s single shot or two it would more likely die at the hands of a pack of wild wolves tearing the flesh off it’s bones. Or worse a wolverine will jump on it’s back and crush it’s skull. Nature is brutal.
On some level, I am not going to lie, the idea of killing an animal any which way disturbs me greatly, but since I’m not vegan material (boy do I love a good steak) I can’t really judge. One thing I have come to accept is that for us meat eaters out there what these hunters are doing in so many ways is far more humane than me grabbing my little square formed package of ground beef at the local grocery store.
Random Thoughts on Fairbanks
Anyway, walking around the town of Fairbanks a few things really stuck out in my mind.
- The people of Fairbanks love Thai Food. There are 33 Thai restaurants in a city of just over 30,000 people. It’s fantastic Thai food too!
- They also don’t like to get our of their cars for coffee. Virtually every corner has a tiny drive thru coffee shack.
- The Girl Scout Council in Fairbanks is the farthest north of any Girl Scout council in the United States
- Just because a road is on google maps doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a road in real life Fairbanks. We decided to drive out on what appeared to be a long road along the river only the “road” turned out to be a terrifyingly narrow trail likely built for ATVs. Or aliens trying to get to the airport.
- You can eat Hawaiian food in Fairbanks. 50th state food in the 49th state. Bwhahaha. I am really funny.
- Fairbanks has it’s own National Park Ranger stationed at the visitor center even though the closest National Park is about 200 miles away. He was extremely helpful though so I am super glad he was there. (He’s actually the one who explained why there are so many Thai restaurants)
- The best views (and the coolest majors) are at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. I swear the entire campus looks like an outpost on another planet. I loved it.
- If you love airplanes there is no shortage of variety overhead in Fairbanks. Float planes, bush planes, and even Alaska airlines 737’s are always flying overhead.
- The Chena River becomes a road in winter that people regularly drive on. Every spring the one last car that drives too late on the river and ends up breaking the ice gets a picture in the local paper.
- There’s a beach at Chena Lakes Recreation Area! Who even knew you could go to the beach in the sub-arctic interior of Alaska during the summer.
- You can also swim in winter at Chena Hot Springs!
One last word of advice, If you ever find yourself in Fairbanks don’t do the walking tour on the pamphlet from the Visitor Center. It’s totally outdated. Some of the stops listed on the pamphlet don’t even exist anymore and others were just falling apart. My favorite were the houses in front of the gate to the historic cemetery with signs threatening to shoot you if you park your car there.
If you do spend time downtown just visit the statue of the Unknown First Alaskan Family at Golden Heart Plaza. Take a picture, read the poem on the memorial and move on to the great outdoors.
“Who are these,
That seem to see,
Beyond the winds?
What brought them here
— weary, alert, unafraid–
Beside a frozen river,
Saying, ‘Our place is here.’?
Unknown Family…. Family Unknown….”by William Ransom Wood
Fairbanks is not about the town. Fairbanks is about experiencing the Great North. It’s about immersing yourself in a different way of life and touching nature in a way that is only possible here, in this remote part of the globe.