Our first excursion was to Chena Hot Springs Resort. We had a tour of the geo-hydro plant that provides most of the heat and electricity for the resort.
This resort is very remote (requiring onsite employee housing) and their ability to be mostly self sufficient is impressive. Nice, but we came here for The Ice Museum and a soak in the hot springs!
The Ice Museum has a number of impressive art carvings and a few “rooms”to rent to stay the night. They give you a room in the lodge as back up. Very few make it through the night!
After getting chilled in the ice museum – we were ready for a soak in the hot springs!
Another adventure took us on a return trip to Denali National Park. We were there ten years ago, taking the school bus tour 89 miles into the heart of the park, and seeing a variety of animals. We also saw a cloud obscured Mount Denali. That was then.
We knew we weren’t seeing Denali this time either because of heavy cloud cover but we were hoping to see animals. (After seeing two distant moose, a porcupine and a fox right after we arrived in Alaska, we hadn’t seen anything since!)
Usually, personal vehicles are allowed to only go fifteen miles into the park. With no bus tours offered, we were allowed to drive 30 miles in on the only road in Denali National Park.
It wasn’t the wildlife viewing experience we had hoped for but we learned a few things. Denali National Park’s original preserve was formed to protect the Dall Sheep from excessive hunting. It was later expanded to include the mountain. Alaska has sixteen national parks and their combined acreage equals two thirds of all United States National Park holdings.
Our last big adventure away from Fairbanks was to fly to Coldfoot, Alaska – landing above the arctic circle!
After landing in Coldfoot, we took a 30 minute van ride to Wiseman, 63 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
In Wiseman, we met Jack who told us about living in the arctic. He has lived in the arctic region since he was a small child. He and his wife, a few members of his extended family and a handful of others live in Wiseman year round. They live off the grid – as you must up here – using solar power and Honda generators. They rely on subsistence living and plan to use every single scrap of the moose his wife had killed the day prior. They must get a caribou to have enough meat to last the winter. Fishing opportunities are rare this far inland.
Jack uses cues from the trees to know when to put seeds or seedings in his garden. He uses plastic sheeting to warm the ground maximizing their 100 day growing season.
Our impression was that Jack was one of the smartest people we have ever encountered. It wasn’t clear if he had formal education beyond the arctic but it was very clear he knew a lot about a lot of things! Jack reads everything and serves on government boards for fish and wildlife management.
It was fascinating and impressive that a handful of people survive out here with just their own tenacity. It is also humbling to know that I would never (could never?) want to live this way.
We did, however, do what only two percent of visitors to Alaska do. We crossed the arctic circle!
Most visitors cross by vehicle (at least one way) and have a photo op at this famous sign. We saved ourselves many, many hours by flying both ways – but missed the photo op!