We spent our last day in Alaska at Fairbanks. We were supposed to catch the flight at 1 AM or so from Fairbanks. So we decided to explore places in and around Fairbanks.
We started our day with me having a breakfast buffet and husband having sourdough pancakes (he just loved them!) at the hotel. I had booked ourselves the Gold Dredge 8 tour. When the tour started, it was raining heavily. We first got to see the alaska pipeline. This time we were able to take a closer look at the pipeline. We took some photos with it and then boarded a train.
Aboard the train, a narrator told us how gold was dredged in those days and they displayed the various equipment and machinery used. The tour was interesting as they showed some old videos illustrating how gold dredging was done.
A gold dredge is a placer mining machine that extracts gold from sand, gravel, and dirt using water and mechanical methods. A large gold dredge uses a mechanical method to excavate material (sand, gravel, dirt, etc.) using steel “buckets” on a circular, continuous “bucketline” at the front end of the dredge. The material is then sorted/sifted using water. On large gold dredges, the buckets dump the material into a steel rotating cylinder (a specific type of trommel called “the screen”) that is sloped downward toward a rubber belt (the stacker) that carries away oversize material (rocks) and dumps the rocks behind the dredge. The cylinder has many holes in it to allow undersized material (including gold) to fall into a sluice box. The material that is washed or sorted away is called tailings. The rocks deposited behind the dredge (by the stacker) are called “tailing piles.” The holes in the screen were intended to screen out rocks (e.g., 3/4 inch holes in the screen sent anything larger than 3/4 inch to the stacker). Source: Wiki.
After taking the tour of gold dredge, we were given a demonstration on how to pan for gold from mud. And then the most exciting part of the tour came. We were asked to pan for gold from a handful of mud. It was fun. I took help from some lady (who was there to help us) and she helped me remove lot of mud and unwanted stones from it. And then as I panned, we saw lot of gold nuggets in mine. Hubby did not find as many as I did in his mud sample. We then went to the gift shop, got the nuggets weighed and then put them in gold lockets to preserve them as souvenirs. The tour ended at the gift shop and we again boarded the train to get back to the parking lot. I got to know about this awesome tour thanks to someone who had blogged about the tour. These days I feel blogs are very helpful in planning a trip.
Our next stop was Chena hot springs where saw the hot springs. We had awesome yummy pasta and french fries for lunch and then took the Ice museum tour. Ice museum was simply too great. There were two ice sculptors at work inside the museum. Everything inside the museum was made of ice. Everything from beds to bar stools to igloo was made with ice. There is an ice carving competition that is held annually at Fairbanks and the duo working at Chena seem to have won it multiple times. Hubby bought martini in a ice glass at the bar (made of ice) and the ice glass was ours. We also saw the artist make ice glasses right in front of our eyes. It just looked so cool. You can even spend a night in the museum, since they have bedrooms made of ice too!
Then we went to North Pole city, situated close to Fairbanks. They say that Santa Claus resides in this city. I again heard about this city, thanks to some of the travel blogs out there. Our travel guide book did not even mention this city. We saw the North Pole there (just a pole on the road, but still cute). Then went to see Santa Claus’ house which is full of Christmas tree decorations, toys etc. The store is too awesome. Another cool thing (which I read in a blog) is that you can send anybody you want a letter from Santa. We also saw some reindeer there. Just the previous week all the celebrations had ended and Santa Claus had left this house it seems. 😦
We then headed towards the Pioneer park. Thanks to the travel blogs, I heard about this place called 40 minus fairbanks, where you can experience -40 degrees. Once we were there, we got to know that the shop was probably shut down. They had not opened this 2013 summer it seems. Disappointed, we left to catch a glimpse of Denali and Mt. McKinley near University of Alaska, Fairbanks. It is located near the museum of the north. There are no signs, nothing and after going in circles, we came to the viewpoint finally. But we could not see Mt. McKinley. It is supposed to appear at the right most corner of the view. But when we inquired, a person there told us that only very rarely can we see Mt. McKinley from there. So we had two disappointments back to back.
We still had plenty of time left so we went to Ice museum in downtown Fairbanks. I had read some bad reviews about the museum, saying it is not that good. We decided to go for the Aurora show there. It was a very nice video and I am glad we saw it. The video was full of some wide angle shots of Aurora caught from multiple locations, multiple times of the year. Most of them seemed to have been taken on top of a hill or behind hills and forests, somewhere in the outskirts of the city. They also looked like time lapse videos (series of photos stitched into a video). We did not get to see the ice sculptures there.
After that, it was time to have some dinner (Pizza) and then head back to the airport to catch our return flight. Alaska is so beautiful that I want to visit it again sometime. It is definitely the most beautiful place I have seen so far.