Friday, July 24, 2009

Fairbanks Day 2

Reading the local paper at breakfast today. Came across this. What caught my eye in the article:
- "we are not concerned with how many 5k races you've won or what a great high school athlete you were"..............
- "prospective racers must provide a description of you anticipated means of dealing with these potential hazards"
- hypothermia
- bear encounters
- route navigation
- root and leg injuries
- exhaustion and sleep deprivation
- nutrition and hydration
- glacial river crossings and whitewater navigation
hummmm.......if I was just a little younger maybe...........

We then moved on to our tourist activities for the day......

- Riverboat Discovery down the Chena River to the Tanana River...this turned out to be the river we saw flying in and that I posted a pic on earlier. Locals claim it's the largest glacial fed river in the world as it drains from 2 major Alaskan mountain ranges.

At first this Riverboat seemed a little hooky and touristy to me but it turned out pretty cool. A true rear paddle wheeler.


Highlights:
Take-off and landing of a float plane right next to the boat

video

Stopped in the river next to the kennel of the late Susan Butcher, 4 time Iditarod Champ. She died in 2006 from leukemia but her husband and 2 daughters carry on her passion of raising and racing Alaska Huskies.
In the last months of Susan's life she wrote a children's book of her lead dog, Granite, the runt of the litter who overcame physical and personality issues to lead Susan to a record 3 straight Iditarod wins. (4 overall)
They had Susan's husband, Dave Monson, rigged up with a mic and he actually talked for 5 minutes or so and then took off with the dogs for 3 minute run out and back.
When he got back he unhitched the dogs and they all went for a swim right under us as we watched them in the paddle wheeler.
We then moved down to the confluence of the Chena and the Tanana, or the marriage, as it seems to be called locally. The heavy glacial silt of the Tanana mixes with the relatively clear Chena.

We then moved back upstream to a re-created native Athabasca Indian fish camp and village. They were catching fish with an active fish wheel and smoking them on-site. We all unloaded from the boat and separated into 3 groups and got lessons on native animals and use of skins as in dress, typical buildings and general Athabasca heritage.

Filleting salmon. Smoke house in the back ground with air drying racks to the left.

Freshly filleted salmon air drying. After a couple hrs. it went into the smoke house.
Fish wheel (in the background above, as well). The Europeans brought this to Alaska and they got it from the Chinese. The wheel turns as the current forces it around like a regular grist waterwheel. There is an open basket that faces downstream and as it is rotates through the water, the salmon swimming upstream swim into the open basket. As it rotates up the fish is brought out of the water and as the bottom of the basket has a slanted floor, the fish slides out the side into a waiting box. The wheel was turning but the box the fish slide into was closed so if a fish was brought up they would end up back in the water. The State only allows 18 hrs of continuous use at a time then it has to shut down for a certain length of time. They must have been at their limit.Smoked Chum Salmon, used for dog food. They also get King and Silver which is for human consumption.

Moose jacket with wolverine hair around the face as it has a natural oil on it to prevent frost from forming when breathing at -40 and below. They used natives for all the sessions.Birch bark canoe.Stuffed moose! Scored at 73 which I guess is pretty nice size trophy.
Even with a couple hundred other folks on the grounds the area had pockets of solitude. Moose antlers by White Spruce trees.
Fireweed in the next 2 below.
Docked up at the Indian village.Free coffee and donuts on the boat and free sampling of smoked salmon on the way back to dock. Even had foot long reindeer sausage (hot dog) on board for $3 and local beer cheaper than some bars downtown.
The whole deal lasted 3.5 hrs. Time and money well spent.

- We then loaded up to go to the Eldorado gold mine, a working claim. The same family owns both "traps", the riverboat and the gold mine. They do a great job at both as I found out.

Again, I was concerned it was going to be too hooky, but, as before, my cynicism was unfounded

This vintage steam equipment actually worked to show how they got gold from mines underground. In Alaska, they only worked these permafrost type mines in the winter because then they don't need timber to keep the walls of the downshaft from caving in. So they work all winter getting the dirt out and spend all summer sifting through the pile of dirt they bring up.

The boiler, stove is on the far right end, lines going to the "steam donkey" below and also down the shaft to thaw the frozen dirt.


Steam donkey with bucket that was lifted out of the shaft.Water cannon they used in the summer to wash away all the soil, the heavy gold wouldn't go as far as the lighter soil and then they'd pan it.

Steam boiler and donkey.

The video below shows a placer mine as compared to shaft mine...here is the routine. They have hundreds of gallons in a reservoir above the flume, where the water comes from. They gradually drop in the gold laden dirt scrapped up off the ground. The water takes the slurry down the sluice. The length is needed due to the weight of the gold. The heavy/larger pieces get trapped in a grate like section toward the top and as the lighter pieces get carried downstream they get trapped further down in similar grates.
video

Dexter here, the owner with Yukon Yolanda, has panned out about $45 worth from the first section after what you saw in the video above, giving them an idea what to expect further down the sluice.
So, they give everyone a "poke" bag filled with dirt and we start panning, after taking lessons from when Dexter panned his.

Lynn panning in joyful expectation!

Her $15 worth off gold, I only got $10 worth.
video
Something to shoot for!
At dinner, some decoration. Another native kayak.

After dinner. Heading to a local Athabasca native dance, sing and instrument playing "concert".
Still impressed by the flowers.
We heard about this native showing from a bus driver yesterday. We took the city bus for local transportation as much as we could, considering the taxi rates. The bus was $3 for all day.
Anyway, this was held downtown at the Cities Cultural and Tourist Center.
It was put on by 1 of the 11 groups of Athabasca, the Nulatos. Each group is separated by their own language differences, even in the Athabasca group. In the large Alaska map in the background of the video you can see the different groups with the Athabasca being the largest, in the interior of Alaska. The name Athabasca means "follows the rivers".

The older women below spent some time talking about their youth. Their language is slowly becoming extinct as it does not have a written alphabet and the only way to learn it is to pass it on verbally to the next generation. The young people aren't learning it for various reasons.

video

They only talked about their music starting around 1855 or so. That's when the French Canadian started coming to the interior of Alaska. Trappers and such. They introduced the fiddle to the natives.
They called their dancing "reels" and "jigs" and it looked like that, as well, so it would seem from that and also from the sound, that there maybe some Irish influence, as well.
video
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This dance would have been a great one for us in High School. You merely dance with a broom and drop it to force a change of partners, like cutting in, I guess. It was very humorous.
video

At the end they came into the very small audience (20 people or so) and asked some of us to come out and dance with them.
video

Had a few beers from the local brewery tonight, Silver Gulch Brewery. They claim they are the most northern brewery in America. I'm not going to argue. I had some of the Copper Creek Amber while Lynn had the Pick Axe Porter. (Alaskan is from Juneau, BTW)
Good stuff.

Lynn got to pickup and hold a husky pup at a visitor center downtown. It "kissed" her. In a few years it's supposed to be in the Yukon Quest, another sled dog race.

Weather started and stayed nice. 75-80 all day no forest fire smoke till the very end of the day and then it was a light cloud cover.

Off to Denali tomorrow for whitewater rafting and if it works out, a late night mtb ride, remember, it doesn't get dark here till late.

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