Day 17: Sight Seeing. And What Sights!
When I was outlining this Adventure more than six months ago, friends in Orange Park, Ruth and Steve, connected me with their friends from Fairbanks, Dave and Vicki, thinking it might be nice to have someone local who could help me find something exciting to do on my non-riding day rest day. Dave and Vicki said we should let them know when we were coming and today they couldn’t have been more helpful or better hosts. Mark and I will always remember their kindness and their willingness to host us for a day. Guys, if you’re reading this, THANKS!!
After an obligatory visit to the local Harley-Davidson dealer to purchase another overpriced t-shirt to hang in our respective closets, Mark and I met up with Dave about mid-morning on his clean 2002 Ultra Classic. He began today’s adventure by leading us about 60 miles northeast of town to Chena Hot Springs Resort. I thought the Hot Springs would essentially be hot water coming out of the ground and filling a pool. I grossly underestimated this tourist hot spot.
More than just hot water, Chena Hot Springs is a year-round resort with lodges, cabins, stables, its own geothermal power source, incredible gardens, a restaurant that serves food grown on the premises and an ice sculpture exhibit (which we didn’t have time to see). And of course it does have pools of hot water where guests can relax year round. In the winter time, it has programs based on the incredible light show of the aurora borealis that draw visitors from around the world to enjoy this natural spectacle.
(Click on any picture for a slide show.)
Taking advantage of almost continuous daylight during the summer, the resort boasts a kaleidoscopic floral explosion, with flowers blooming everywhere on the grounds, in baskets, even in old trucks and rusting road machinery. I can only post a few of the pictures I took, and they don’t do justice to the real thing but I offer them as poor but colorful imitations.
For the past two weeks, Fairbanks has been harassed with nearly daily rain that has pushed local rivers to near flood stage and saturated the ground everywhere. We found evidence of that on the ride to and from Chena Hot Springs Resort when at one point we discovered the road covered with water flowing from one side to the other. It was about 8” deep, so we slowly motored through it, nevertheless soaking our feet in the process. Adventures are not meant for the faint of heart or the dry of socks.
Dave retired from the Air Force some years back, and since then has maintained his interest in airplanes and flying, especially his own planes. He generously offered to take us on a flight seeing tour of the area in one of his planes, a Cessna 180, so we could get a different perspective on the area. After a pre-flight safety briefing, we took off from the grassy runway behind his house in North Pole, Alaska, and he began to point out various rivers, natural and manmade landmarks, and the distant mountain ranges. We headed further away from Fairbanks, and it was abundantly clear that central Alaska flattens out and is covered with trees, water and grasses that, as it turns out, is perfect habitat for moose. So we went moose hunting.
Maintaining a careful distance from the moose so as not to spook them (harassing moose from a plane is illegal in Alaska), we started spotting them in the grass, in the woods, and in the water. Dave, with much more practice at this than us, was almost always the first to spot an out-of-place brown lump that turned out to be a moose, and before the flight finished an hour later we had seen nearly two dozen moose, including eight or ten bulls with full antlers. Very cool! I did the best I could to snap pictures at 120 miles an hour through a window in a cramped space and present the following as my animal offering for the day. (Click on any picture for a slide show.)
So, today’s adventure included a trip to Chena Hot Springs, a bath for our bikes, flight seeing and airborne moose hunting (we were airborne, not the moose). Oh but there’s more. Dave and Vicki insisted on feeding us wholesome Alaska cuisine so we dined tonight at their house on moose steaks, fresh salmon and Alaska beer. Oh, and one final note. After we finished dinner and said goodbye to Vicki, the three of us chased down the best pie in the area which happens to be at the Hilltop Restaurant, about 30 miles north of Fairbanks. I opted for Dutch Apple. A 60 mile ride for pie at 8 p.m. is all part of the adventure.
This was a tremendous day in this year’s Alaska Adventure thanks to old friends Ruth and Steve and new friends Dave and Vicki. THANKS AGAIN!