Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Day 2 Fairbanks

A pipeline, a bowl factory and a riverboat trip.

Fairbanks is the 2nd largest city in Alaska and located close to the confluence of the Chena and Tanana Rivers. It is about 100 miles from the Arctic Circle and 350 from the Gulf of Alaska. Italian immigrant gold miner Felix Pedro met E.T.Barnette who was forced ashore here when his boat captain refused to go any further. Together with Barnette's supplies they founded Fairbanks in 1901 to supply local miners.
The view below looks south toward Golden Heart Plaza across the Chena River. To the left are the Law Courts and to the right the church alongside Cushman Street Bridge. We enjoyed a coffee in the Fudge Pot at the back of the Plaza after visiting the town museum at the visitors centre away to the left.

When oil was discovered in the Arctic at Prudhoe Bay in 1968 no one knew how to get it to market. Eventually it was decided to build an 800mile pipeline to the ice free port of Valdez on the south coast. Construction started in 1974 and was finished 3 years later. Here June stands alongside the pipeline 450 miles south of North Slope, Prudhoe Bay.
The pipeline is supported on a sliding shoe to accommodate expansion which may be due to summer heat or movement due to an earthquake.

The ground here is called permafrost and is frozen most of the year. To stop heat from the oil causing it to thaw it is carried above ground. The paired vanes are heat exchangers to keep the supports cool. Any thawing would cause the pipeline to distort.

To keep the pipe free flowing ‘pigs’ are passed through it. The orange polyurethane sample in this pipeline section is a cleaning and flow improvement pig. Other types of pig can detect potential sources of problems within the pipe.

The Great Alaskan Bowl Company manufactures one piece wooden bowls crafted out of sustainable Alaskan Birch. They are one of the few remaining bowl mills left in America using traditional methods. In the C19th the demand for large wooden bowls for bread making, mixing and serving food kept many mills in operation.

The freshly cut logs are divided into lengths the width of the tree and split for turning so that up to 8 one-piece solid bowls can be made from one single split length.
After the bowls have been cut, they are kiln dried over 4-6 days. Each is then sanded before food safe oil finish is applied. A set of 4 bowls crafted from the same block of birch wood in the shop sell for 100's of dollars.

Next we turned our attention to a 3 hour sternwheeler riverboat cruise down the Chena River.

En-route a bush pilot displayed take-offs and landings on the river.

We paused opposite the kennels of the late Iditarod champion Susan Butcher and learned about the housing and training of her sled dogs.

After reaching the confluence of the clear waters of the Chena River and the silty glacial Tanana River we turned back to visit a reconstructed Athabaskan village.

We marvelled at the skills of these people that experience such a harsh winter climate and their ability to sustain an existence so different from our own.


We then set June to work. Here she lures her moose into the camp. . . .

and confidently displays the result of her handiwork in preparing the hide or was this one that she had prepared earlier?

Then it was time to sail back up river to Fairbanks.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Rob and June visit Alaska Day 1

You always have preconceived ideas about places that you intend to visit. Alaska was no exception and I think that mine was something like this.
Whilst this was not necessarily false, there was much more on offer than I had given the state credit for although various types of forest did figure largely on the agenda. One thing did come across strongly and that was that Alaska is a wild place and our short visit was very much confined to the frontier of a vast wilderness beyond which very few people live today.
After a tiresome 25 hour journey door to door, we arrived in Fairbanks at 1.30am and it was a mark of the organisation and co-operation of the people found throughout the trip, that we were picked up by our hotel shuttle and delived to our 'room'.
Which as you can see was more like a flat that a hotel room.
However at 2.00am we were not ready to appreciate it.
Later that morning we discovered that the Wedgewood Resort had originally been the accommodation complex for many of the workers who built the Alaska Pipeline. It's only downside was the long walk to breakfast through a landscaped setting complete with brightly coloured flower beds, a giant cabbage patch, motor museum, bird observatory and various historical bits and pieces scattered strategically around the vast site.
Feeling chipper after a waiter served breakfast at the resort centre's restaurant we set out to explore the boreal forest behind our complex of rooms. A mile long forest trail called the Taiga Trail (taiga = Russian for forest of sticks) loops over Isabella Slough and through a mosaic of boreal forest habitats,
including towering white spruce, a small black spruce wetland, and stands of paper birch,

quaking aspen and stately cottonwoods. The trail also surrounds Wander Lake, where visitors can enjoy the view from observation decks with benches and interpretive signs.

Sandhill cranes flew over the lake on their way to settle with countless others in Creamer's Field before making their way south for the winter.

A horned grebe made a quick exit after catching its breakfast.

It was soon clear that insect repellent was going to be an essential cosmetic as large mosquitoes started to make their presence felt. Although much larger, harmless dragonflies flitted by from time to time.
In the damp woodland surrounding the lake a range of fungi were to be found.

Is was not long before we reached the bird observatory and our room. After a healthy June style lunch - an apple and a cereal bar, we embarked upon the hotel's self styled shuttle trolley which completes a tour of the town of Fairbanks, allowing you to hop on and off at will. The service operates half-hourly. We chose to visit Pioneer Park which is an historical theme park and features a reconstructed Gold Rush town composed entirely of old buildings removed from the centre of Fairbanks in order to allow for 'modernisation'.

An interesting combination of hot tub, shower and rocking chair.

As we came to the end of our first day in Fairbanks I got the feeling that a smiling June thought that the worst of the trip out was behind her.
Apologies for the erratic spacing. I don't know why this happens but will keep an eye on it in future.