Today we took a cruise on the Riverboat Discovery on the Chena River, just outside of Fairbanks. The Discovery is a sternwheel river boat especially designed to operate on the shallow rivers of Alaska. The boat, which holds 900 passengers and weighs 280 tons has a flat bottom and only draws 3.5 feet of water. This type of boat has historically been used to move freight on the Alaskan rivers - especially the Yukon River during the gold rush.
Shortly after leaving port we started passing some very nice houses. Note the small play house on the left…
The tour included a demo of a float plane landing. The plane is a 1951 Piper PA-18 Super Cub, 2-seat plane, which is ideal for water and off-field landings. They said the plane can take off from very short fields, as its take off speed can be as low as 45 mph. During the summer, they use floats or tundra tires to land on rivers or unimproved air strips. During the winter they install skis for snow or frozen river landings. Many towns and villages in Alaska are only accessible by plane.
This is an active air strip on the side of the river. The runway is only about 300 feet long.
Following the float plane demo we stopped at the kennel of Susan Butcher, who is an Iditarod sled race champion. In the summer they train the dogs by having them pull ATVs instead of sleds. The dogs start training a few weeks after birth when they are paired with a retired sled dog.
These dogs want to RUN!
The highlight of the trip was a visit to an authentic Athabascan Indian Village, where natives demonstrated their ancient lifestyle. This is a fish wheel, which uses the river current to scoop fish out of the water and deposit them in baskets. They would let these wheels run all day then go collect the fish. The salmon are then dried and smoked so they are preserved.
Salmon drying on a drying rack before going into the smoker
A traditional shelter
Reindeer - which are basically a domesticated caribou. Both the males and females have antlers, which are lost every year
When we got to the RV park the other day we noticed an interesting rig pull in. It was a 5th wheel trailer, but instead of two wheels per side it actually had duals on each side for a total of 8 tires on the ground. It was being pulled by a semi-truck tractor instead of a normal truck. The most interesting thing though was the Smart Car that was sitting right behind the cab of the truck. We were really curious how they were going to get it down since there were no ramps. Yesterday we were lucky to see them load the Smart Car. Basically, the tray in which the car sat, hydraulically tilted up at a 45 degree angle, then slid to the ground. They then had a winch that pulled the car onto the tray. The tray then slid back up onto the truck and tilted back down. Very slick.
Pulling the car onto the tray
Pulling the tray back onto the truck
Ready to travel
Anyone who is a fan of the “Ice Road Truckers” TV program will recognize this building!
We made a stop at the Fairbanks Farmer’s Market. They had some really nice produce, but the prices were really interesting. Anyone want some tomatoes at $6/pound? Amazing as it sounds, they have some fantastic gardens in Alaska. Of course having nearly 24 hours of daylight is a big help.
Tomorrow we will travel to Denali National Park where we plan to be until next Monday. We expect to see lots of wildlife while in the park. If we are lucky, we might even get a peak at Mt. McKinley if the weather cooperates.