Fairbanks! We arrived June 21st for the beginning of a 4-day long Midnight Sun Festival. The above photo was taken at midnight from atop a local mountain. On this day, Fairbanks sees just short of 22 hours of sun. And it stays daylight bright all night. It’s weird to hear birds chirping at 1 a.m. and we’re still unsure about how nocturnal creatures manage these weeks of endless daylight.
Fairbanks is a small city, about the same population as Penticton, but with that rustic, Alaskan vibe, full of young families, and the military bases. There are no high-rises, no urban sprawl, and weak internet (the McDonald’s wi-fi was down and the staff didn’t know how to take orders). There is a good University and in the summer, the whole city gets involved in many festivities. It is a base for northern Alaska excursions (flying to Arctic communities, sled-dog outings, aurora viewings, tundra treks, and for driving the Dalton highway to the Arctic Ocean).
Our first activity, after being regaled with all the activities for the Midnight Sun Festival, by a local lady volunteering at the info centre, was to visit the Museum of the North, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). It is a very informative and comprehensive museum organized by the 5 regions of Alaska.
Almost next door, at the botanical gardens, we happened upon a “Music in the Gardens” concert by a folk/bluegrass group called Rock Bottom Stompers. Half of Fairbanks came out and simply enjoyed a picnic in the gardens, socializing, children dancing, to enjoy the longest day.
After finding a place to camp near the observatory, we awoke on June 22 to be enshrouded in a cloud. However, a trio of darling fox pups greeted us as we drove down the mountain.
We spent a couple of days exploring Fairbanks by bike, which is easy to do as there are bike paths along the river and dedicated bike lanes around much of the city. The city is rustic, weathered, without high-rises, and infinitely more friendly and approachable than Anchorage.
The one major activity that we participated in was the Midnight Sun Run, a 10km fun run that draws over 3,000 participants of all ages, and has been going on for over 30 years. People come out in groups, in costumes, with strollers, a few on roller skates, some who come to Fairbanks just for this run (this year’s run drew 3500 participants from 45 states and about 18 countries). The military base pushes a cannon up to the University, with a cannon blast at 10 p.m. to start the run (and nearly made Michaela jump out of her shoes!), then the push the cannon along the course and do another blast at the end of the night. The idea is to complete the run before midnight to allow time for the beer garden and food. Lucky for us, we were actually camping in the park where the run ended. There are probably at least as many spectators as runners, and in the residential areas, everyone gets into the festive spirit, setting up massive driveway parties, cheering squads, banners and signs, and offerings of sprinklers, water guns, beer, freezies, and lines of high-fives. A fun time, but definitely not a time of day we’re used to exerting ourselves. Nor is having fish & chips and beer at 11:30 p.m.
Leaving Fairbanks, we met up with the end of the Alaska Highway again at Delta Junction. The stretch from Delta Junction to Tok was the piece we diverted from on our way west, so we covered it in reverse.
Shortly after Tok, we embarked on the Taylor Highway, aka the Top of the World Highway. This is a challenging road that connects Tok to Dawson City, Yukon on a rough road that is at high elevation, very windy, with steep drop-offs. And there is absolutely nothing along this road, until you get to Chicken (population 10). Chicken is not a town, but a trio of gold camps, where the locals argued about how to spell Ptarmigan…so settled on Chicken. These camps offer RV and/or tent camping, but there is no electricity, water, sewer, or garbage services. Everything is either generated on site or trucked in. And of course, no wi-fi. We stayed at the one with the saloon, and closed the place after socializing with a veritable mélange of interesting folk: a Whitehorse paleontologist with the Yukon government, a large group of University of California Santa Cruz science students on a field trip, a German travel group, and two fellows from Slovakia on a one year travel visa. Closing down our Alaska experience in Chicken–who knew?
Stay tuned for our return to Canada and our time in the Klondike and Arctic Canada.