And so the journey begins. I have safely deposited our car in Vancouver for pickup in 20 days, and flown to Fairbanks, Alaska, to meet up with Mrs Bear, daughter Malia ( my intrepid editor), her husband, two grandkids, and my grandfather equal on the son-in-law side. Together we are seven, embarking on a land tour of our 50th state. Malia is extremely pleased that this trip accomplished her visit to all 50 states, a feat I accomplished a few years ago.
We chose Fairbanks as our beginning destination. When thinking about history, one can think along two dimensions… Colonial Fairbanks was begun when a traveler, trying to take supplies further north to the claims of the Alaska Gold Rush in 1900 or so, had his steamwheeler run aground. Local miners saw the smoke from his fire and convinced him that this area would be great for a supply store…. The other way to view history is from, in Canadian language: the First Nations Peoples perspective: the Athabaskan Indians had lived as hunter-gatherers in this valley for upwards of 15000 years.
Fairbanks has a very interesting climate, which is technically called: subarctic. Summertime can reach 80 Fahrenheit. We noticed temps in the 60s prior to our arrival. BUT winter temps used to hit lows in the -60 to -40 range. The photo above is an exhibit room where you are subjected to -40 for up to a minute. Our driver told us that Global Warming has reduced Fairbank’s low to between 40 and 20 below zero. I heard stories about air losing its consistency in tires and coagulating in the bottom until a mile or two into your drive… That’s if you can get the engine started. There are a few factors that cause this weather phenomenon, but the primary is air inversion. Fairbanks is in a valley surrounded by mountains… In winter, warm air rises and slipstreams along the mountain edges. The colder air sinks into the valley. But the locals we talked to said it wasn’t that bad… No wind or humidity. They said there would be no trade for the USA winters of Chicago or Philadelphia. And as cold as the climate is, winter is Fairbank’s busiest season. Visitors come for the dogsled races, aurora borealis, and ice fishing.
We spent our opening Alaska day visiting the main Fairbanks activities: We visited a gold mining exhibit and learned how miners used gravity and hose pressure pummel mountains into capitulation yielding dirt rich in gold. We learned about the local sled dog training homes and their training of huskies for 1000 mile races. We toured a model Athabaskan village to see how the locals survived here without wood stoves and heaters.
All in all, Fairbanks was a nice intro into Alaska history and culture. Now it’s on to the Great One.