The free day in Fairbanks is not just for the adventure riders. There is plenty to keep you busy without conquering the Arctic Circle. If you want to take it easy in Fairbanks, head down to the Visitors Center located in the old downtown area. There, you can find out about all sorts of activities ranging from gold mine tours to paddle wheel cruises. The Visitors Center is located on the banks of the slow moving Chena River and is a pretty tranquil location in general, even though this is the second largest city in the state.
Golden History of Chatanika, Alaska
Fairbanks started because of gold - big gold. They say the largest deposits of gold of the entire gold rush could be found here. Every direction you take out of town shrouds remnants of this past culture. Rusting dinosaurs of gold rush equipment lie dormant in overgrown thickets here and there, off the main highways.
If you like gold rush history and old machinery, but hate organized tours, get on your bike and go to Chatanika. It's all paved, all the way. Head north out of town about 7 miles (and don't worry, since there is only one road out of town, you'll know you are on it!) until you get to the crossroad gasoline station/town called Fox. You know you are on the right track when you pass a parking lot off to the right where you can walk up and touch the Alaska Pipeline. If you're interested in this tremendous conduit, stop by and check it out.
At Fox, take a right at the four-way, and you are now on the Steese Highway. Hold on, because here come some of the best paved sweepers in the state of Alaska. When you come back down from the hills, keep your eye out for Chatanika Lodge. Looking at a map, you'll see the town of Chatanika on some maps in bold block letters. When you pass a lodge with a broad parking lot at road level off to the right side of the road, beware. You are already headed OUT of town!
Visiting Chatanika Lodge
Ronny and Shirley have been running the Chatanika Lodge for years, and when you go in and meet them and see the decorum of the place, you may think that you have gone back in time. And, you may take over an hour just to soak it all in. From a 57 Chevy surrounded by pin-ball machines to an outhouse on skis, this place has it all. The Chatanika Lodge is one of the few places in Alaska that has a stuffed bear on rollers.
Ronny makes a mean omelet, so if you are in the mood, keep some space empty in your gas tank for a generous meal. Across the Steese sits an abandoned dredge - a throw-back from another time. Until 50 years ago, this Goliath dug, washed and dispersed gravel. Three stories high with ability to make its own tools, it was the work horse of the Chatanika River Valley. There are only two dredges of this kind left in the Fairbanks area, and one of them is an official tour.
This one lies completely abandoned, and anyone is welcome to explore around the bowels of it without limit of time or risk. Before you leave Chatanika Lodge, ask Ronnie to play the video about the very dredge that sits across the road. All in all, a pretty fascinating way to spend part of a day.
Chena Hot Springs
There are three natural hot springs that are connected to the highway system in Alaska. If you wake up in Fairbanks, you are 60 miles away from one of them. Chena Hot Springs has been spitting out very hot water from below the earths surface, without a permit, for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years. Lately, humans have found a way to build an out door pool, bar, hotel, camp ground, landing strip and ice bar around it.
Quirky almost nails it, but this oasis offers it all including algae. I say algae, because the moose around there just stroll around the grounds, sucking it out of the warm pools on the property. In Chena, after enjoying your Martini in a glass made of ice, don't be surprised when a moose walks right through your volleyball game. It's Alaska, after all.
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