This last installment on Alaskan Adventures is packed with travel tips. Enjoy!
“To know the wilderness is to know a profound humility, to recognize one’s littleness, to sense dependence, and interdependence, indebtedness and responsibility.”
-Howard Zahniser, author of the Wilderness Act of 1964
Downtown Fairbanks was more cosmopolitan than I expected (ok ok, I did not expect tons of urban life). Upon reflection, it warms my heart to say that visiting a place viewed as remote in the lower 48 turned out to involve many warm encounters with quirky, friendly folks. Even in a place with so much amazing, non-human-related nature, the people were a big part of what made the experiences so memorable. Thus, the quote above. Perhaps it is partly the unforgiving environment that forged a culture of down-to-earth friendliness among those who live here.
We witnessed various shenanigans on a Sunday in Fairbanks, some you’ll have to ask me in person for a recounting. Beyond those:
We stopped in at Lavelle’s Taphouse for a good beer selection, and while there, saw a truck get stuck in the fluffy (tricky) snow out front. Then, four fellows sitting in the bar sprang up and rushed outside to push the truck free free from the snowbank together. As the truck pulled away, it was clear these guys were pitching in together to help a stranger out. So random, and so good!
Travel Pro-Tip #1: Read the local newspapers at a place new to you. It gives you a sense of what the community is concerned with on a day-to-day basis.
5 Things to do in Fairbanks:
- Eat & drink:
- Lavelle’s Taphouse: just brews, not much food (but you can bring some).
- HooDoo Brewing: brews and warm local scene, plus possibly a food truck if you’re lucky. I foisted a knitting pattern on some one there, lol. We also lucked out with a delicious wiener schnitzel sandwich the Friday night we were there.
- Brunch at the Creperie. It was so good we went back a second time.
- Eat some local sourdough bread: they had bacon-wrapped reindeer sausage at the place I tried. Did you know sourdough was really common early on, because it was the only kind that would hold up to extreme environments?
- For more eateries, see the Fairbanks locations on my Foursquare Jetlag Junkie list.
- Hunt the city art: check out the utilizer pipes that ventilate an underground utility system downtown, and other various street art.
Alaska Dispatch News: ”Art in the heart’ project makes a place for pipes in downtown Fairbanks’
- Stop by the Antler Arch and call a faraway friend to check out the webcam
…then go next door to the Morris Thompson Fairbanks Cultural & Visitor Center:
They had pretty cool exhibits on the surrounding areas, and I learned about local fiddler culture.
- Unlike Suzuki instruction of classical Western songs, a group called Young Native Fiddlers focuses on the traditional Athabascan songs performed in villages for potlatches and other celebrations. Fiddling in the interior of Alaska was introduced when with the Hudson Bay Company in the 1840s, but Athabascan culture absorbed and adapted it for their purposes. What dynamic global citizens. Read more here. Hear more here.
- Visit the Museum of the North
- Fun fact: humans aren’t the only ones whose ancestors traveled by ice sheets- marmots too!
- This place is kid-friendly. Look, a coloring book!
- Beautiful building designed by one fellow Minnesotan Joan Soranno! It put me in mind of the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, where I took a freshman seminar in college.
- Go shopping: sales tax is currently a whopping zero percent.
- My travel tradition is to go shopping on the last day, after you’ve had a chance to know what’s really going to make you sentimental when you take it home.
- Check out Big Ray’s in downtown fairbanks for the serious Arctic gear oil pipeline & mine workers wear + proper footwear.
- Buy some gas: cuz it’s cheap. Yay.
- Poor kid pro-tip: if you’re low on funds, go window shopping while things are closed
Honorable mention: if you are still sled dog-obsessed like me, check out the Yukon Quest house for more sled dog stuff.
Packing Pro-Tip: How to Pack Beer Home
Precious beer souvenirs, cans or bottles
Giant freezer ziplocs
Squishy packing material: this can be your clothes
- Imagine everything you packed, covered in sticky beer.
- Identify the critical things that would stop working if that happened, and stuff that can’t be washed later.
- Ziploc each beer individually.
- Wrap each in squishy packing material, e.g. snowpants, bubble wrap, hats.
- Pack in a luggage, optional: label it ‘fragile’.
- Optional: cross your fingers.
- Check it, fetch it, unwrap it, enjoy!
Simple snow pleasures: kicking around the tires to improve driving mobility in snow.
Interior Alaska Exploration Rating:
Novelty Rating: 5.5 of 5 Expectations exceeded, thanks to the people and canines of the region!
Likelihood of Repeat: Thirsty for more, per Northern Lights and Denali’s amazing landscapes.
Did you know:
Alaska has Public Use Cabins you can book!
The -1 hr time difference threw me off, but the aurora hunting did tons more, even with late morning sleep-in naps. Phew.