Fairbanks was also the first place we really took advantage of our TourSaver 2-for-1 coupon book. It has already paid for its initial $100 cost in ticket savings for the four formal tours we did in Fairbanks.
UAF Museum of the North
Our first stop was the University of Alaska, Fairbanks campus Museum. This very modern looking 2-story structure sits atop the tallest hill and, so they say, on a clear day you can see Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park. Unfortunately, for us, the clouds blocked that view. Nevertheless, it was an impressive building and collection.
Gloria and Frank tried some hands-on activities in a special energy display area.
I especially liked the “found art” rustic outhouse with lots of reference materials to “study”. Click to enlarge.
Swinging door closed Doors open
El Dorado Gold Mine Tour
Next we were off to make our fortune at the El Dorado Gold Mine. (For those that don’t know this, we live in El Dorado County in California – just down the road from where the California Gold Rush started in 1849.)Our adventure started on a narrated train ride (with a musical prelude of Johnny Cash tunes and a “North to Alaska” sing-along). Along the way “miners” demonstrated how the gold was mined during the brief Alaska Gold Rush. We were then show how the El Dorado Gold Mine Company still makes money – on tourism.
We were shown how to pan for gold and then each given a small bag of dirt, a gold pan, and directed to row after row of HEATED water troughs so we could all strike it rich.
At the end of the session I was the big winner in our group!
My gold pan yielded approximately $17 in today’s market place. You definitely need to look closely in the bottom of the pan to see my retirement fund. (The others weighed in with gold valued from $5-7 each.) They don’t actually pay you for your gold, but “for just $29.95” you can buy a piece of jewelry so you can wear your wealth. Our gold went home in the black film-style canisters with a gold label. Just to make you feel like you struck it rich, they also allow everyone to hold a “nugget” valued at $60,000.
Hmmm, do you really think they let everyone hold a “real” nugget worth $60,000 that was on a counter by the door?
Riverboat Discovery Cruise
We used our TourSaver coupon again for the 3.5 hour Riverboat Discovery Tour along the Chena River. It truly deserves the claim they make that this is “rated the #1 boat tour in North America”. With the advice from Boomers who took the tour the day before us, we sat on the LEFT side of the boat and had an unobstructed view of almost all the highlights. This cruise has been operated since 1950 by same Alaskan family for four generations. The sternwheeler has four decks, all equipped with TV monitors, an excellent sound system, a good narrator, and microphoned interaction with a number of on-shore participants.
This float plane pilot took off in front of us, circled, and landed along side while talking live to the group over the PA system about life as a bush pilot.
We then stopped along shore of the late Susan Butcher’s (famous Iditatrod sled dog racer) family estate where the family still trains racing dogs. Her husband then took the dogs for a training run pulling a quad runner that we were able to watch from the boat. Later on we were able to see some of the dogs up close and meet the family’s young daughter who chatted about their racing farm.
The boat then traveled downstream to the Chena Indian Village were we disembarked and had an hour filled with cultural information and demonstrations by young local Alaskan Natives.
Common fish wheel. Alaskan Native preparing salmon for hanging.
Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
Following our cruise we were off to an antique auto museum that featured cars that the collectors thought demonstrated “unique” qualities worth noting. The cars dated from a 1899 Hertel (on left below) to a 1936 Packard (right). There was also a special collection of Alaskan vehicles and an interesting counter display of mints – including “Sarah’s Embarrassmints”.
NEXT: Playing Tourist in Fairbanks – Part 2