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Ringo Boitano: Fairbanks
downtown Fairbanks with the Chena River in the foreground
A panoramic view of downtown Fairbanks along the banks of the Chena River.
Credit: Mok Kumagai/FCVB

Eyes Wide Open in Fairbanks
A Trip to Alaska’s Mighty Interior

Story by Ringo Boitano

had just put my head on the hotel room pillow. The day had been a fun – but it was also long and taxing – and a good night’s sleep was in order. Suddenly, the riveting sound of something as bad as bulldozer challenged my senses. I looked at my hotel clock – it was 1 AM. I bolted out of bed, charged to the hotel window and pulled open the curtain. Across the river, there was a man operating, well, a bulldozer. His family must love this, I thought. Upon closer inspection I could see he was actually surrounded by his family. His wife and young children almost looked like they were going to picnic after the chore. I forgot to mention that the time and place was the month of June in Fairbanks, Alaska. The midnight sun was so blinding that I had to squint my eyes to see. Now I know how Stellan Skarsgård and Al Pacino felt in the two film versions of "Insomnia."

the Golden Heart Plaza with the Unknown First Family statue and the Rotary Clock Tower
A view of Golden Heart Plaza with the Unknown First Family statue and the Rotary Clock Tower. The Centennial Footbridge and Doyon building can be seen in the background. Credit: Angie Cerny/FCVB

Located 200 miles from the Arctic Circle and 120 miles from Denali National Park, crisscrossed by the Chena and Tanana Rivers, Fairbanks was established in 1902 as a mining town. Over one hundred years later, the small boomtown developed a diversified economy, serves as a services hub and is gateway to Alaska’s Interior and the Arctic. Today, with 98,000 residents and around 400,000 visitors annually, Fairbanks, Alaska’s “Golden Heart City,” is the bustling capital of the north and has the distinction of having the widest temperature swings in the US. Temperatures may fall to 65 degrees below zero in winter, and regularly hit 80 degrees above in summer. I was glad I had selected the month of June to visit, when the weather is moderate and there are over 21 hours of sunlight in a day. From midnight sun soft ball leagues and Denali National Park explorations to a visit to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline – a true marvel of ingenuity – Fairbanks offers a plethora of things to do and see.

the Riverboat Discovery cruises down the Chena River
The Riverboat Discovery cruises down the Chena River. Credit: Riverboat Discovery

Native Alaskan tour guide showing visitors pelts from different animals hunted by her ancestors
A Native Alaskan tour guide sits on a cache and shows visitors pelts from the different animals hunted by her ancestors in Interior Alaska. Credit: Riverboat Discovery

On the top of my list was a cruise on the Tanana River, the largest glacier-fed river in the world, then a "wedding of the waters," where the Chena and Tanana Rivers meet. From the deck of the 156 feet long Riverboat Discovery Sternwheeler, I saw working Alaskan villages and uniquely built homes, designed to withstand the brutal winters.

The river cruise also included a stop at an Athabascan Indian Village, where locals demonstrate traditional hide tanning, beading, fishing and dog sledding techniques. You quickly learn that a strong bond between man and dog is essential in order to survive during the long harsh winters. Survival, it seems, is the word that dominates the thoughts of the Athabascan people who live in the interior.

Besides Denali, you can leave all roads behind to experience a one-of-a-kind adventure into the wild of two awesome national parks: Wrangell – St Elias. Find stunning glaciers, compelling mining history, and four mountain ranges and nine of North America’s 16 highest peaks tower within its 13.2 million acres.

The river cruise also included a stop at an Athabascan Indian Village, where locals demonstrate traditional hide tanning, beading, fishing and dog sledding techniques. You quickly learn that a strong bond between man and dog is essential in order to survive during the long harsh winters. Survival, it seems, is the word that dominates the thoughts of the Athabascan people who live in the interior.

Besides Denali, you can leave all roads behind to experience a one-of-a-kind adventure into the wild of two awesome national parks: Wrangell – St Elias. Find stunning glaciers, compelling mining history, and four mountain ranges and nine of North America’s 16 highest peaks tower within its 13.2 million acres.

trans-Alaska oil pipeline
The trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Credit: Angie Cerny

If you are a fan of bird watching, the Tanana Valley is part of the migration path of about two-thirds of North America’s sandhill cranes. Over 200,000 birds pass through the Fairbanks area in the fall. The 1,800-acre Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge is nearby with maintained trails. I’ve often wondered how locals emotionally survive the long months of darkness – from the end of November to the end of January – and the staggering cold winter months of ice and snow. After an insightful interview with Amy Geiger, Director of Communications for Fairbanks Convention & Visitors Bureau, I was informed that Fairbanksans actually embrace the winter months.

the aurora borealis on the night sky near Fairbanks
The aurora borealis lights up the night sky near Fairbanks. Credit: Jesse Carlstrom/FCVB

This is what Ms. Geiger had to say:

“Winter in our extraordinary little snowy paradise. Not to mention that there are always a multitude of other winter activities, celebrations and sporting events happening during our energy filled winter season. Skiing, ice skating, snowmobiling, snow shoeing, ice fishing, curling, tubing and ice hockey abound. Challenge the snow-capped hills or birch laden trails, mush a team of huskies across the wilderness, see three ton pieces of ice being turned into works of art. Journey above the Arctic Circle, visit Santa in the North Pole or discover the incredible warmth of an Alaskan hot spring at the end of an adventure filled day.”

Remind me to put a winter in Fairbanks on my bucket list.

For further information, log on to www.explorefairbanks.com.

Related Stories:
Alaskan Interior; Alaska Marine Highway; By Rail North to Alaska; Small Ship Cruise, Alaska; Alaska Whale Watching; Denali National Park Video; Juneau, Alaska; Denali National Park


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I love Ringo's piece on historic hotels. I once stayed at the Laurentian in Montreal - is it still around, is it historic? And then there was the Heups in Bismark.

It is interesting that two of your entries are in CANADA.

Brent, Seattle, WA

It's no mystery that you are great at what you do.

Sandee, Seattle, WA

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The Mystery on the Oasis pics are very funny!

Ramon, Kansas City, MO

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Ha ha ha ha ha...love your "schtick" Ringo!!

Dolly, Las Vegas, NV

Hello the travelling Boitano's hope you enjoy. Best wishes.

Elsa Magdalena Berno-Boitano, Laussane, Switzerland

My Irish roots understand terrible beauty. So do my human roots. The concept has such a ring of truth to it, doesn't it? Great article, Ringo. I hope to get to Ireland eventually, and thanks for blazing the trail!

Sandeee Bleu, Seattle, WA

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No wonder I've been hearing all these wonderful stories about Ireland. I used to think that it was just for Irish Americans seeking their ancestral roots but your article seems to call out to the non-Irish like me. Fascinating and intriguing.

Peter Paul, Pasadena, CA

Thanks for this great post wow... it's very wonderful.

Key Logger, New York

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Lets not forget that the Marriot Harbor Beach is within walking distance to the world famous Elbo Room - Fort Lauderdale's oldest bar.

Jeff, Fort Lauderdale, FL

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Jeff–

Thanks for taking the time for the message and reminder. Indeed, I had a quick drink at the Elbo Room. My trip to Ft. Lauderdale would not have been complete without a visit to this historic institution.I have been reading about it for years, and was not disappointed. It felt like a real local's hangout.

- Ringo

Ringo,

I thoroughly enjoyed your article about Dick and Liz. I remember seeing that article back in the heyday of Life Magazine.

To remember the "behind-the-scenes" stories like that makes you genuine fan of the 60's. The famous couple's turbulent relationship was just a precursor of today's headline-grabbing media stars like Britney Spears and her colleagues. Life was simpler then. The paparazzis still had some sense of decency. You "coulda" been a good paparazzi. I say "coulda" because you kept this to yourself all these many years.

Looking forward to other media trivia you can remember.

Peter Paul, South Pasadena, CA

Hey, Ringo –

Enjoyed your article on Antarctica --- cool photos, too. One thing, you mentioned that Ushuaia in Argentina is considered the most southern city in the world. I read that Chile lays claim to that distinction, with Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in the world.

Mick, Greenbay, WI

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Mick –

Now that football season is over --- I’ve often wondered what you Packer fans did in the off season ---- it’s great that you took the time to visit TravelingBoy. Great question, unlike my older brother, I adore all lamb products, and Patagonian Lamb --- cooked in a restricted area at the restaurant in an opened wood-fueled fire pit --- is amazing. The chef actually uses an ax to carve it. Frankly, I found it superior to Norwegian fjord lamb, Irish Burren lamb and even those much esteemed creatures down in New Zealand. The crab in Ushuaia is the other thing to eat. Wait a sec, you asked about Punta Arenas vs. Ushuaia as the furthermost city in the world. Well, they both have little disclaimers re populations --- you know, what’s a city, which one is a town, ect – so better let Chile and Argentina brass it out. They seem to be able to argue about any subject.

- Ringo


Ed Boitano's travel blog/review
Journey to the Bottom of the Globe: Exploring the White Continent of Antarctica

nguins on  shore as writer's cruise ship passes by, Antarctica
As a travel journalist I am constantly asked what are some of my favorite travel experiences. The list is endless. But there is one destination that seems to raise the most eyebrows. That destination is a cruise to Antarctica. Sadly, that cruise line I was on is no more, but today there is a plethora of cruise lines that offer similar packages. Here's a look back at my Antarctica cruise.

Go There

Tom Weber's travel blog/review
Treasures of Ireland: Food, Fun and Falconry at Ashford Castle (Dispatch #18)

sunset at Galway Bay

The Palladian Traveler soars above the crowd with a gal named Lima, cruises across a lake dotted with hundreds of islands, and feasts like a king in a regal dining room.

Go There

John Clayton's travel blog/review
Would You Believe She Can Carry 800 (Yes, 800!) People!

Emirates Airbus A-380
As she came around the corner we could not believe how big she was. Massive, and yet incredibly beautiful – almost elegant in fact. Her lines were so symmetrical she seemed to blend into a classic example of astonishing good looks. The other fact that amazed all of us was how quiet she was. We felt sure that with the obvious overwhelming power she evidenced, she'd be extra loud. It's a cliché, but she was as quiet as a church mouse – or "as quiet as dreaming trees."

go there

Ringo Boitano's travel blog/review
Highway 49 Revisited: Exploring California's Gold Country

aurora borealis lights up the night sky near Fairbanks
In the 1840s, the population of California was only 14,000, but by 1850 more than 100,000 settlers and adventurers had arrived from all over the world – and they came for one reason: gold. James Marshall had discovered the first gold nugget at Sutter’s Mill in El Dorado County, creating the largest gold rush in history.

go there

Eric Anderson's travel blog/review
Lake Charles’ Family-Size Low-Key Mardi Gras

dressed-up for the Mardi Gras
The Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras in Lake Charles, the second largest in Louisiana, does not need parents there to avert their children’s eyes. This is family entertainment and children are very much part of it. The main office of the Lake Charles CVB has costumes from last year’s Mardi Gras but it also has figures to fascinate little ones from country boys fishing for their dinner to alligators who have already fed and are rubbing their stomachs.

go there

Fyllis Hockman's travel blog/review
Cedar Hill: Frederick Douglass' Home is as Imposing as the Man who Lived There

Cedar Hill, Washington DC
Having recently received a misguided shout-out from the president during Black History Month – Frederick Douglass has done an amazing job... – it seems a good time to revisit the cultural icon's legitimate place in history. And a visit to his home in Washington, DC – surely a place the current president might want to consider visiting himself – would be a good place to start.

Go There


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