Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Fairbanks, first day

Friday morning a big group of us went on the Discovery Riverboat cruise--a very well done excursion that is a wonderful tour, very informative with lots of information about the history of Alaska and the many pioneers who came here.  They have a demonstration of float planes, with a bush pilot taking off just in front of the boat, making a big circle and then landing right by the boat.  He drives right up alongside the boat and the commentator's mike is connected to the pilot's, so they can have a conversation that we all can hear.  The commentator asks questions to set him up to explain how the bush pilots have done their part in shaping the history of Alaska, how they can take the pontoons off once the river freezes and replace them with skis to land on snow or ice, plus they can also put wheels on the plane for conventional landings on land.  Very interesting way to get this information across rather than just a dry explanation.

We also passed the home and kennels of Susan Butcher, who was a pioneering dog musher, winning the Iditarod several times, blazing the trail for women mushers who followed.  She died of leukemia in 2006, but her husband and two daughters still run the kennel, right on the banks of the river, and race them as well.  Her daughter also had the same mike set up, so she explained a lot about dog sledding, and even hooked up a team to a 4 wheeler and had them pull her around the land where the kennels are.  Even though the combined weight of her and the four wheeler was 500 pounds, they still got it up to 20 mph.  What was so interesting was to watch how excited the dogs were when they realized they were going to run--they were just jumping and straining at the harness and barking their heads off with anticipation and excitement--really interesting.  And when she got back from the run and the dogs were unhooked, they all dashed down to the river for a cooling off swim!  Later on we got to meet her and she autographed copies of the children's book her mother had written about her favorite lead dog, Granite.

Then we passed by a restoration of an Athabaskan fishing village, with a young Athabaskan woman--now a University of Alaska student, giving us a demonstration of how they cleaned, gutted and carved up the fish to dry and smoke to put away for winter food supplies.  We later had the chance to go visit the village for more demonstrations, as the boat docked and we all got off.  It was really informative and very well done.  She showed us one of the huge coats made out of several different kinds of fur, decorated with lots of intricate beadwork--took a woman 6 months of working full days every day to make it--valued at over $20,000!  Amazing, but this is representative of how the ancient people were able to use everything to some advantage.  She talked a lot about how they never let anything go to waste, but finding uses for every part of every animal they killed for food.

Also saw some pretty amazing houses along the river, some made from huge logs that were really beautiful.  That evening we went to Pioneer Park for the Alaskan Salmon Bake, another tradition in Fairbanks.  They also had parts of it set up to look like the old gold mines and villages from the turn of the century, plus the famous salmon bake supper.  They did have lots of salad and sides for us vegans, though I'll admit we did have to declare one piece of salmon to be vegan--couldn't come all the way to Alaska and not eat any salmon, right?  It was very, very good.  All in all, a very good day in Fairbanks!

Coming up to the Riverboat cruise
While the summer is here, they really take advantage of the extra hours of daylight to grow these beautiful flowers all around
That's our boat!
While we were waiting to leave the dock, we saw mama and some little chicks
Heading down the river
Looking back at the buildings at the dock
This is the sign from the original shipping company whose descendants still run the cruise.  Two of the original founder's grandchildren were captains on the boat we were on.
Looking back down on Sally, Lorrin and Chuck, who didn't go on the cruise with us, as they had things to do in the town
Some of the ground crew, wishing us a good trip!
The bush pilot's float plane, preparing for take off
And there he goes!!

Touching down for landing
One of the first riverboats
The Pump House restaurant, on the banks of the river--we ate dinner there one night and it was wonderful!  If you enlarge the picture, you can see that the lamppost is an old firehose nozzle!
A couple of the smaller houses along the river, but how beautiful!

Susan Butcher's house and kennel
Susan Butcher's daughter, Tekla, in the right foreground
Tekla's giving us a brief rundown of their kennels and dogs

Here they are, getting harnessed up and raring to go!

And taking a well earned dip in the river when they returned
One of the more substantial houses on the river!

A fish wheel at the fishing village.  The native people built these devices, that would scoop up fish as they turned through the water
The young Athabaskan woman showing us the fish she would later use to demonstrate how they cut and cured it
My peeps!!  Some reindeer in the village!!

Here she shows how they filet the fish, then make a series of cuts that leave strips attached to the skin, so when they hang it up to air dry, there is more air circulation around the pieces, making it go faster and get more uniform drying

the first air drying racks
and then into the smokehouse
Some of the fish they cut into these long strips, for snacking
A cache, high up on stilts, to protect the food supply from the animals
a typical Athabaskan cabin

Another university student is sitting up on the small deck of the cache, showing us the pelts of various animals they hunted

When they would move from location to location, following their food supplies, they used this big fungus to hold coals from the fire, wrap it in a skin, and then use it to start new fires at the next campsite
One of their temporary huts for when they were migrating to follow the food
beautiful bark canoe
Some of their traditional clothing
The beautiful, warm--on this day she was really hot--overcoat for when it is 70 below!!

Wonderful quote from Susan Butcher

Statue of her beloved lead dog, Granite, outside this little cabin where her daughter signed the books
Demonstration of some of the dog training techniques by one of the other mushers from the Butcher/Monson kennels

Trisha thought this moose hide was really soft!

The riverboat's paddle wheel
Trisha with her signed copy of the book and two of the crew members
Lots of solar power here!
Not too shabby, huh?
This is the matriarch of the family that runs the cruises, waving from her front yard of her house on the river
Inside the gift shop, two moose having it out--she's mine; no she's mine!!
At the Salmon Bake
Walked through a mockup of a mine car tunnel

Where we ate
Some old mining equipment

the folks next to us really liked their Alaskan crab legs!!
Ann, riding the wild salmon
Larry and Sharon
Dee and Ray
Arctic wolf
"Hi there Santa."  "Well hello St. Nick!"  This is the Santa from the Santa Claus house

We stopped into the art gallery they had--this singing group was warming up for a concert
Beautiful etched stoneware--two bears kissing!
 This woman was playing the mandolin and singing as we walked around the gallery.  She, like so many people we met, came here to see firsthand the Last Frontier, in her case 35 years ago, and stayed
 More gorgeous beadwork--whaddya think, Ronald Midkiff?

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