Monday, August 08, 2011

Alaska: Up A Lazy River to a Chena Village in Fairbanks

On the afternoon of July 12th we journeyed to a boad landing and boarded the Discovery III, a nicely appointed paddle wheel steamer,  for a trip up the Chena River. Five generations of the Bingley family have taken a "supply the local inhabitants business"  and turned it into an immaculately oiled tourist machine that shuttles hundreds of folks at a time up the river and through a reconstructed native Athabaskan village.

You were barely clear of the dock before you got an up close demo of a bush plane landing and taking off from the water next to the boat. 

The next stop was the sled dog kennels of Iditarod winner Susan Butcher and her Dave. Susan died of leukemia in 2006, but her husband is right there on shore with a wireless mike and he gives you a quick run down on the care and training of sled dogs and the fine art of mushing. 

Then they harness up a team to an old ATV and zoom out of the yard with wild barks and yelps breaking the way. 

They tear across the back forty and pile back into the yard again.

 As the dogs are unhitched they all bound into the river for a refreshing cool down.  It was a marvelous show. 

Further on we reach the confluence of the Tanana and Chena rivers and can clearly see what happens when a milky silt laden glacial fed river meets up with a normal run off river.  Interesting.

This is the turnaroud point for our cruise and now we slip back to the Chena Village reconstruction and dock.  Here we get off and are neatly broken down into several groups of about fifty to a hundred.

Each group gets a lovely young Athabaskan girl guide and she moves you through exhibits on native dress,  housing,  transport, food gathering, and hunting.

Back on the boat we get one more demo from shore on how to butcher a salmon and ready it for the drying racks.

 From the Chena village we steamed smartly back to our original dock where we were greeted exhuberantly by all our bus drivers.

Our driver Toni was exceptional and she clearly didn't want to lose a single one in the parking lot.

Back aboard the coach we made one final stop a few miles out of town to take a peek at the famous Alaska Pipe line that snakes its way down from the north slope to Valdez. Again a fascinating stop.

From there it was back to the Westmark and dinner.  I'm sorry I didn't think to take a picture, but I had a huge bowl of squid ink colored black pasta smothered with clams, shrimp, scallops, and various chunks of fish.  Delicious!

P.S. Did I mention that the wild and cultivated flowers were everywhere and at their peak?

Next we will board the Alaska Railroad for a trip to Denali National Park. 

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