Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Pair of Elks with a River View

Elks Lodge #1551, Fairbanks, AK – June 22 through 29, 2014

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After three days of waiting we were finally able to get one of the coveted Elks Lodge river front camp sites. The screen shelter is set up not to combat mosquitoes, but to dry out from the rain on our last day at the North Fork of the Chena boondocking site. A little sun did the trick. Later in the day Nancy, Steve, Mark, Wendy, EJ and I used it as a sun blocker so we could play a game called “Fast Track”.

Since Midnight Sun celebrations were in full swing, we took advantage of one right downtown.

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And there was a little sumthin’ for everyone.

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This particular festival was well attended. We were disappointed because it was mostly about food and politics and not arts & crafts and music.

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The crew had signed up for the Dredge #8 tour. Naturally we used our Toursaver coupon book. It has already paid for itself, so we’re glad we got it.

You’ve been quizzed on this before, but here we go again. Which one is the PIG?

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Another view of the Alaska pipe line. Those posts on either side of the pipe have cooling fins on top. The posts contain a refrigerant that helps to cool the ground surrounding the posts so that it doesn’t thaw the permafrost. Thawing the permafrost would throw the pipe line out of kilter and really screw things up.

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This was our “Don’t mess with me!” conductor. Actually he was a guitar player and signer who preformed a nice tribute to Johnny Cash.

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Some of the sights on the way to the dredge and gold panning.

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The Dredge #8. We’ve explained how dredges work in earlier posts so we won’t bore you with the details again. This one required an enormous amount of water that was provided by the Davidson Ditch. More on that later.

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Frank got to play with the controls. I don’t think anybody got hurt.

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But of course the big attraction was the gold panning. EJ was anxious to try it and Frank was very ambivalent about it. Kinda like gambling, you may as well through your money on the floor and walk away. This is what you start with. A little pile of dirt.

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Steve and Frank getting ready to swirl the pans.

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Wait! Is that a speck of gold? By golly, it looks like several specks. Frank ended up with the most out of our group.

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Goldpanners assayers say it was worth $71. Yeah, right! We later found out the dirt with a few gold sprinkles comes from the lower 48. But still, the thrill of finding some gold specs was fun. It would be interesting to have it assayed by someone not associated with the attraction. Oh, and when I offered to sell them my gold for what they said it was worth, they weren’t interested. Imagine that!

EJ asked how come I couldn’t find a nugget this big.

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On a new day, we decided to explore downtime some more now that the Midnight Sun craziness had died down. We start at The Diner for breakfast.

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Lend – Lease program statue. The US lent planes to Russia. We ferried them to Alaska, Russia flew them across the Bering Straight.

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Indigenous People statue.

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EJ stops to smell some flowers.

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Whew, all that walking has worked up a pretty good thirst. Time to stop for some coffee.

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No, it’s not a soufflĂ©. It’s a cup of coffee (latte dah!).

The rest of the crew has headed to Denali to camp in the wilderness. We have reservations to go also, but we think spending 9 days in Denali would be too much of a good thing. On the advice of James at the National Park Service office at the visitor center, we decide to explore north east of Fairbanks instead.

One of our goals on this trip is to explore areas we haven’t seen and to indulge in some activities we bypassed last time. With that in mind we decide to travel the Steese Highway between Fox and Circle, Alaska.

Our first stop on the Steese is some property owned by one of the Native tribes. They will even let anyone gold pan in the creek. But there rules make it pretty clear they don’t want any serious gold retrieval operations going on. Here is a group that has gathered for the day to try their luck.

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Then we find the old Chanaka Gold camp which unfortunately is no longer in business. It even had a hotel.

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Soon we come across the Chatanika Lodge. Frank wanted to check this out because they have a ‘56 Thunderbird in the lobby complete with James Dean, Elvis and Marilyn cut outs.

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Their other claim to fame is that their property contains the remains of another huge gold dredge. But over the years, fire has destroyed it and only the skeleton remains. Turns out it was a nice hike to get to it.

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A little further up the highway we turn down a narrow road to find the Davidson Ditch. This project consists of both ditches and pipes that act as siphons to move the water down and up the hills on the way to Fox. Where the land was relatively flat they dug a ditch to transport the water. Altogether, the Davidson ditch is 90 miles long. Construction of the ditch in the 1920’s utilized 6 power shovels, 3 diesel and 3 steam. The steam shovels were originally used in the construction of the Panama Canal.

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Along the road to the pipe EJ spies a pile of moose droppings and laments that this is as close to a moose as she is going to get. Up to this point we’ve seen no moose.

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At last we reach our destination, Twelvemile summit. Although the highway continues another 70 miles or so, we decide to end our journey here and spend a few hours hiking and having lunch.

The trail is over frozen tundra and consists of a series of 2 x 8s laid end to end. Some of them sturdy and some pretty much rotted away. This makes for an interesting balancing act.

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In the above picture, see the little spec of rocks to the right. That is our destination.

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Along the way EJ spots plenty of small flowers.

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As we finally approached the top of the hill, they trail began to veer away from our intended destination. The wind died down and the mosquitoes started to attack with a vengeance. We hurried back to the car for some lunch.

On our last day in Fairbanks we decided to take a side trip to Ester, another old mining town. The little community has evolved over the years into a bedroom suburb of Fairbanks proper. There is still some gold mining going on, but it is all on private property so we couldn’t get in to see it. But we found this neat house and a stilt structure. Apparently someone wanted a better view.

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Tomorrow we begin our journey towards Denali. It’s only 120 miles, but since we are averaging just under 70 miles per day, we gotta’ get going!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Fairbanks–The Longest Day

Camp Walmart & The Summer Solstice , Fairbanks, AK – June 19 – 21, 2014

The rising water at our MM38.2 boondocking spot on Chena Hot Springs Road began to concern us. It had rained all day yesterday and was continuing to rain today. The North Fork of the Chena River rose about 3 foot overnight and rose another 6 – 8 inches while we were preparing to leave.

We were concerned that with all of the debris that was being swept downstream it would jam under one of the bridges causing the river to immediately backup.

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There used to be a gravel road here.

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Our babbling stream was turned into a muddy torrent of rushing water.

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The drive into Fairbanks was uneventful except for negotiating the frost heaves. Chena Road is a fairly busy road serving lots of residential communities. Our plodding 35MPH speed was not appreciated, I’m sure, but it’s what you have to do in a motorhome on this kind of road.

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On the way our MiFi was once again able to connect to the internet so EJ found us a free dump station at Sourdough Fuel on the intersection of Wembly and Danby. It was a strange layout, the second we’ve encountered, where the dump station is one side of the parking lot and the fresh water is located on the other side behind the station building. But it got the job done.

We landed in the Walmart parking lot next to the tire shop where parking spaces marked for four RVs are located. We thought about moving to the Elks Lodge, but by the time we got in gear, they were full and had with road construction all around. We were glad we chose parking on the side ‘cause the front was pretty full.

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We once again met up with several Loosey Goosey folks. Friday, our small group had reservations to take a tour on the river boat Discovery.

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Looks like everyone got the word about not sitting on the right (starboard) side of the boat. We had heard most of the stuff would be better viewed from the left side.

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Our ride begins with a float plane landing right next to us.

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The tour took us down the Chena River to where it intersects with the Tanana River.

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Along the way we paused at Susan Butcher’s (Iditarod Champion) property, or rather her family's property since Susan passed away, to see some huskies in action.

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On our way back up the Chena River we stopped at a replica Athabasca village. There we learned about Athabasca life, furs and how to smoke fish. We were entertained by some cute narrators.

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A cabin typical of back woods living. Actually it’s quite a bit fancier than what you would find out in the wilds.

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Frank’s opinion of the smoked Chum Salmon used to feed the dogs.

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If we remember correctly, they call this the Sunrise hood on a fur jacket. The detail and craftsmanship were incredible.

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I think I prefer the modern light weight tents to these. But in a pinch….

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On the way back, we saw how the other half lives….

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The adventure ends and we all depart the paddle boat.

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We did check out the local farmer’s market on Saturday morning,

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where EJ signed up for a shoulder massage.

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We’ve been trying to get a camping spot at the local Elks Lodge for several days now with no luck. But while we were checking it out we spotted this “Hot Shot” which is an old Crosley. These were used as race cars back when racing was still for small garages and back yard mechanics.

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We got together with the rest of the group for the Midnight Baseball game. The local team, the Goldpanners vs a team from the “outside” the Monarchs. Outside means not in Alaska.

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This has been going on for 109 years. It’s played on the longest day of the year, begins at 10:30PM, and ends around 1 or 2AM. It’s also played without artificial lighting since it’s so bright outside. (I think EJ’s making the “I’ll kill you if you take my picture” sign). We had some showers, but most came prepared. And then the National Anthem and “Play Ball”.

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Wait! Is that some of the Loosey Goosey crowd on the other side? There’s an awful lot of orange!

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The home team won and everyone was happy. It’s 2AM, it’s still bright outside, and it’s way past our bedtime. But we got to experience the longest day in Alaska.

Tomorrow we hope to snag an empty spot at the Elks Lodge.