Alaskan Finds: Gold, Oil, and One Isolated Geocache

27 08 2009

Almost 50 years after my great-great-great grandfather and mother met in Yreka when they each pilgrimaged there for the California Gold Rush, that elusive, valuable element was discovered in the wilds of Alaska. As part of our land-based part of the cruise, we got to see the remnants of a gold mining operation and even try to pan some.

We took a bus to a train:

to see a big dredge that still remains outside Fairbanks:

then observed the gold miner in his natural habitat:

and were shown the secrets of how to get the gold out of the paydirt:

I came away with about $7.50 worth of shiny bits:

but personally enjoyed the typical miner’s lunch of stew and biscuits!

On the way back into town, we stopped for a gander at the Alaska Pipeline! It’s REALLY big.

Our next stop was Denali, and we took the scenic train to a bus to see if we could see it, but alas! it was clouded in, as is apparently all too typical:

The surrounding area is quite lovely, though:

and a river braids its way through the valley:

The next morning, I had time to actually find a geocache! Denali Nenana Nexus was just 300 feet from my hotel room, but recent rains had isolated it on a bit of an island in the river.

I made it across, but my cruise roommate, although eager to find her first geocache, did not have the appropriate footwear, so she watched from the shore:

It was an enchanting, foggy morning:

and the forested area along the river was carpeted with moss, which I don’t get to see in the high desert areas of California where I usually hike:

Things were about to take a turn for the worse AND the better. More on that in two weeks, meanwhile, check back here next week for a report on the epic assault on a geocaching world record! The VKs, f0t0m0m, and I will find more than the current record of 407 caches in a 24-hour period this Saturday, August 29, which is also the day I turn 50. I’ll be giving updates that day on Facebook and Twitter. See you there and/or see you here next week!

Up and Down a Lazy Alaska River

21 08 2009

This was my first cruise. I’d been on choir tours before, and I really enjoyed my adventure on the Green River last summer with that group, but this one served to reaffirm my aversion in general to tours. One of the main reasons for this is that I’m just too independent. I value setting my own schedule and pace, and I found this one to be somewhat relentless from the get go. We were up early each morning to catch a bus or a train or a bus to a train or a train to a…. you get the idea.

The second day of our tour, I was still fresh, and although it was a long and interesting day (and will take up TWO blogs to tell you all about it), it was exhausting. I also did not have any time for geocaching, either! The frustrating thing was that there’s a cache placed just up the road from where we started our day’s adventures by cachers from So. Cal!

Geo-Ranger Pirate
Sorry, Team Georangers! I had intended to grab it when we got back to the shopping area, but we were rushed back on to the dang bus!

There were no geocaches at the other two touristy stops we made that day, so… with all of your indulgences, this week’s entry will be about enjoying Alaska withOUT the benefit of geocaching, but I will more than make up for that in the first week of September, when I will report on what should be a record-breaking day in the Denver area with f0t0m0m and the Ventura Kids! Stay tuned….

Meanwhile, back at the riverboat….

We boarded this little beauty after breakfast at the hotel for a lazy morning's float down to the Chena native village and back.

We saw some nice homes along the river, like this one with the back porch on the dock:

and some older, er, not-so-nice:

This car doesn’t look all that old, but the grass has really taken over in the summer!

Probably the most significant site along the way was Susan Butcher’s home. She was the winningest musher in Iditarod history, and her daughters and others continue her tradition with dogs from the winning lines.

They were all excited:

and some got to show us their stuff by pulling a tractor!

At the native village, we saw some beautiful handmade historical clothing. The designs tell who the wearer is and where she is from:
Here’s a link to more information on the village:
Chena Native Village

The air was saturated with smoke from nearby lightning-based forest fires, and worse than I’ve ever observed in California. I found a quiet corner to watch the river:

I also got this video of a salmon trap and how it works, efficiently and humanely… well… then you EAT ’em!

Back at the riverboat dock, we had 15 minutes to use the facilities and check out the inevitable gift shop where one could purchase such handy things as Ulu knives:

Also inside was a display about Susan Butcher:

and a “cold room”. For $10, one can experience 40┬║ below 0 temperatures for a few minutes. Most of our tour group was from North Dakota, however, so that was pretty much ignored! Ha!

Next week I’ll highlight the flora and fauna, some gold, and a really big pipe. Until then, enjoy your last days of summer caching!

OH, and here I am in tourist central, grinning and bearing it, as it were!

A Stroll Around Fairbanks, Alaska

13 08 2009

This is the first of at least 3 blogs I’ll post on my Alaska trip this summer! I ended up cutting the trip short for work (and illness… more on that later….), but I still had some great adventures to share with you.

The first thing I had to do when I arrived at the hotel was EAT! What else? I’d noticed an unusual place a couple blocks away as we were driving up, and I couldn’t resist:


It turned out to be the best Hawaiian food I’ve had! I enjoyed the spam musubi:

That’s a nice seaweed broth there, too, with potato salad and kimchee. Then I had some very tasty kalua pork:

Across the street was this establishment, but I didn’t shop there:

Refreshed and well fed, I was ready for a long walk and short list of caches! The first one was right in the parking lot of the hotel, conveniently located in a light pole base:
Tourist Cache and Dash

Next I found an odd benchmark with cache adjacent – I won’t spoil the unusual hide with photos, but it was by the handsome City Hall:

I ended up walking about 3 miles in a large circle, first heading south to a main drag where I found the answer to a mystery cache with a one-symbol title:

As I walked to the next cache, I observed that Fairbanks is not really very scenic:

The mountains and glaciers and forests and wild animals are elsewhere. They do, however, put antennae on their fire hydrants!
Library Learning #3

Next, I walked north up to where a river flows through the city, and there’s a nice, open town square with statues and plaques:
Welcome to Fairbanks!!!

Next on the agenda was a webcam, and I enlisted f0t0m0m to grab my photo for the cache while I took this one in reverse:
Black & White & Red All Over

As I made my way back to the hotel, I stopped by the cache at the visitor’s bureau and pondered why the parking lots are all equipped with electrical plugs at each parking space:
For a Californian, it’s hard to imagine needing to keep your car heated enough to drive it, but it gets far below zero┬║ there in the winters. Brrrr…..
Visitor Cache and Dash

Apparently, the cold weather is more important than one would think, since they even have a frozen museum!
I didn’t get a chance to go in there, so I remain curious about what the heck would be on display in there… ha ha!

The last cache on my stroll was at a cemetery with some historical plaques. The slowly setting sun and the smoky air (from local forest fires) gave it a spooky atmosphere, too:
It was a quick 2-part multi: Memorial Along the Bike Path

More on Alaska next week! Meanwhile, happy warm caching!