Today marked the start of the organized portion of our Alaskan Adventure - as it turned out, our arrival in the middle of the night essentially gave us a "pre-day" on our own before the guide arrived. And though yesterday seemed pretty jam-packed, well, it was nothing compared to today. We were on the go for a full 12 hours (starting at 8:00 a.m.) with scarce little downtime. We started out with a boat ride up the Chena River, where a bush pilot showed off his water-based take-off and landing skills:
After we cruised along a bit more, we stopped for a few minutes at a sled-dog training facility owned by the husband of the late Susan Butcher, where we got to see the dogs run on their practice track. There were also puppies. Very, very cute puppies.
The river itself was very calm and pretty:
Our final stop along the river was at Chena Village, a recreation of an Athabascan Indian village where we learned about the tribe local to the Fairbanks area, and I've got to say, it was really well done. I've been to this type of site in other places where they seem extraordinarily exploitative, but this was staffed by college students working for the summer by sharing their heritage - and they were clearly having a good time.
Once we finished at Chena Village, it was time for lunch at a local place called the Pump House. We missed the rain by seconds...
We then drove through the rain to take a little train to a gold mine. On the way to the train, we stopped to take a quick look at the Alaskan Pipeline:
Once we were on the train, we stopped along to the way to see demonstrations of various ways gold was mined in Alaska over the years, culminating in a stop at Dredge #8, a ginormous machine designed to pan for gold.
On the inside, it looked like this:
(The picture of the outside is on my real camera, not my phone, so that'll have to wait until whatever "outtakes from Alaska" post I do when I get home. It's a pretty damn big machine, though, I'll tell you that now.)
The true gimmick of the gold mine, however, is not the dredge... it's that every visitor gets a little bag of dirt and gets to pan for gold of their very own.
Panning for gold kind of exceeded my attention span in the same way that a pitchers' duel sometimes will in baseball. I get that it's cool and interesting, but it's not cool and interesting for as long as it takes to actually finish. I let one of the workers help me, and then I helped Mom.
We ended up with about $12 in gold flakes each, which were then put into a little pendant for display. (File under gimmick, part two, but it does make a pretty and unusual necklace.)
All this, and it was still only 4:00.
We ran a quick errand - the whole busload of us - to a local supermarket to pick up snacks for tomorrow's all-day excursion to Denali, and then headed to Pioneer Park, where we went yesterday. As luck would have it, the two final items on the agenda for today just happened to be the two activities we had skipped: the Alaska Salmon Bake and the "A True Alaskan Experience" revue at the Palace Theater.
The show was cute and funny - frankly, better than it needed to be, given that it seems mostly to cater to busloads of cruise-bound tourists such as ourselves. As for the salmon bake... well, time for the uncomfortable confession: I don't really like salmon all that much. There's a lot of it up here, though, so I doubt tonight will be the last time it's on the menu.
And so we come to the end of the day. I'd take a picture to show you how still not dark it is right now (10:30 p.m.) but it would look just like yesterday's. Still disconcerted by this.