Final installment of a three-part series on the recent Yadkin County Chamber of Commerce trip to Alaska.
Breakfast at Denali Park Village was again excellent. One thing we noticed was the number of young people working the Summer Work Travel program. Primarily European college students, they provide much-needed labor during the busy tourism season. We also had a young person come up to us and ask, “Where y’all from?” — so immediately knew she was either from the Carolinas or Texas — and turned out she was from Charlotte. We enjoyed our conversations, students were very pleasant to talk with and learn what they were studying back home.
On the coach after breakfast, we traveled through the Tanana Valley on the way to Fairbanks. Fairbanks is known for its annual temperature extreme — average low in January is -17° F, and average high is 1°F, but summer temperatures can exceed 90°F! We arrived at lunchtime and had preordered lunch from the Cookie Jar Restaurant. Our service and meal was once again excellent! We had a conversation with one of our servers, who told us her grandmother lived in a little place in North Carolina we probably never heard of — Purlear! We told her we were neighbors of her grandmother’s.
After lunch, we visited the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and learned about this engineering icon. Traveling some 800 miles from Alaska’s North Slope to Valdez, Alaska, the pipeline was completed in 1977. Built both above and below ground, the project is one of the first that addressed construction techniques dealing with permafrost.
We then rode a narrow gauge railcar through Fairbanks’ gold mining history and visited Gold Dredge 8. The Gold Dredge, a huge mechanical gold pan, extracted millions of ounces of gold from the frozen Alaskan ground. We saw a sluice box demonstrating and then got our own poke of pay dirt to pan for gold. While no one struck it rich, everyone did find some gold, which you could bring home or have made into jewelry on site.
We traveled to our hotel, Pike’s Waterfront Lodge, where we had a few hours of downtime before dinner. The lodge overlooks the Chena River, and is the alternate restarting point for the annual Iditarod 10,000-mile dogsled race to Nome when snow conditions are poor in the Alaskan Range, most recently this year.
We traveled to historic Pioneer Park for the Alaska Salmon Bake dinner, and enjoyed delicious Alaskan Salmon, prime rib, and all the trimmings. Back to our hotel, and enjoyed the rest of the evening. The lodge had seating areas by the river and other activities to enjoy — and since the sun didn’t set until almost midnight with almost 20 hours of daylight! — plenty of time to enjoy.
After a good night’s rest, up for breakfast and over to the Riverboat Discovery. This stern-wheeler traveled up and back on the Chena River while learning more about Alaska. A restored floatplane took off and landed beside the riverboat, and we were able to hear the pilot via radio tell us about his plane and the restorations. The boat also stopped alongside Trailbreaker Kennels, where we heard from the daughter of Susan Butcher, who won the Iditarod four times! We were able to see a training run for the dogs, using a four-wheeler without an engine since there was no snow.
Further down the river, we disembarked the boat to visit a replicated Athabascan Indian Village and see how true frontier Alaskans lived and provided for their families. We saw a demonstration of a fish wheel and how to prepare fish for drying. Our group sailed back to the dock for lunch, and could have a photo made inside a room cooled to -50° F to show how cold the area could be in the wintertime!
Our next stop was North Pole, Alaska, where we visited the Santa Claus House where the holiday season is celebrated year-round. Some of the group got early requests in to Santa!
We then did a short tour of Fairbanks, and some of our group explored downtown while others went to our hotel to relax before dinner. Our guide had arranged a farewell dinner at one of the nicest restaurants in Fairbanks, The Pump House, to wrap up our visit to Alaska. Back to the hotel to pack up, freshen up, and get ready for our return flight. Our flight back from Fairbanks to Raleigh via Seattle was uneventful — with lots of naps on the flights! It was very nice to have our H&R Tours coach waiting for us in Raleigh, and a restful trip back to Yadkinville.
Our group of 40 had a great time in Alaska, traveled well together, and made many new and renewed friendships. We had a fantastic, energetic tour guide and coach driver, which greatly added to our adventure, and the people of Alaska are very approachable and friendly. The scenic views, wildlife and nature are like nowhere else!
Next up for the Chamber — Treasures of Portugal and Spain, a nine-day adventure coming up in May. Call the Yadkin County Chamber of Commerce office for more information if interested. As always, we appreciate the staff of The Yadkin Ripple for allowing us to share our adventures!
Bobby Todd is the executive director of the Yadkin County Chamber of Commerce.