Fairbanks - El Dorado Gold Mine & Downtown

Fairbanks Travel Blog

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Well, we didn't strike it rich gold mining this morning, but we sure had a lot of fun!  The Binkley Family, who owns the terrific Riverboat Discovery, also own El Dorado Gold Mine and the kids had a blast.  Ned and I sure enjoyed it, but felt like the Riverboat was a better value for the cost. 

Jazy panned the most gold from her baggie of paydirt- worth $33, but her $60 locket necklace of the flakes made that poor math.  Lia found gold worth $15 (also got a necklace), Ned got $6, Charles $9 (Moose socks), and I found $24 (Alaskan earrings).  We know how much it was worth because you take your canister of gold to the counter and they'll weigh it and tell you what it's worth in today's dollars (just for fun, since they won't buy it from you).

I thought they would just weigh the canister along with the gold, since I'm sure they could subtract the weight of an empty canister, and so I loaded mine down with some gravel nuggets- haha!  But no, they do open the canister and remove the gold, so that little joke didn't fly.  She was good-humored and said that she's had people show up with half a canister full of the last bit of dirt in their gold pan and she had sifted through it for them.  Now that is funny (and nice of her)!

Again, the whole gold mine tour was very well done, the students helping were just topnotch, as were all the adults, and the entire operation was Disney-quality.  The Binkleys should branch out into Tourism Consulting.

A roadside stop by the Alaskan Pipeline on its trip from Prudhoe Bay down to the port of Valdez was fun - we were surprised by the complete lack of security around it.  A nice little info booth sold t-shirts and contained fun people.  We read some educational posters and headed on after making lunch.

Our final Fairbanks destination was Downtown with the log cabin Visitor's Center, the Community Museum (fascinating), and the Public Lands Information Center, where I bought a $.50 map of the campgrounds of 4 government agencies. 

We enojoyed visiting Big Ray's department store, which Dixie Alexander (remember from the Discovery Riverboat's Village Camp? She made the Athabscan coat for the Smithsonian) had mentioned in her writeup in the UA Museum of the North.  Her family would do subsistence hunting, farming and gathering and then would go to Big Ray's for their clothes.  Big Ray's has been around since 1947.  http://www.bigrays.com/

While at Big Ray's, we saw the Carhartt clothing line that everyone in Alaska wears, as was mentioned in the movie at the museum.  It has been around since 1889!  http://www.carhartt.com/

We enjoyed some Vietnamese food for snack at the small downtown booth of Little Saigon, where we enjoyed chatting with the Owner.  She had turned the "Open" sign back on for us when we approached the window.  (People have been very nice along the way, very fun to meet.)  She owns a restaurant by the same name on College Street and her son owns a much larger (8,000 sf restaurant in Chicago).  We encouraged her to take that trip to visit her son that she's been thinking about- I hope she does as I suspect she works all the time and deserves a nice break.

Finally we visited the Church of Immaculate Conception, which was rolled down the river one winter to relocate it.  With its pressed tin roof and a 1904 date, it was the oldest in Fairbanks.  http://fairbanks-alaska.com/catholic-church.htm  They offered free church cookbooks to all guests and Jazy was thrilled to provide a donation for one.

Perception of Fairbanks:  Loved it!  Everyone we met was, without fail, very kind, helpful, and real.  They seem happy to be there, proud of their city, and prouder still of their University.  The size is just barely that of a city (30,000), and it is a green, lovely city with modern stores (Walmart, Sam's Club, Fred Meyer's, Blockbusters, etc), excellent roads, some of the world's best viewing of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), and negligible traffic.  The Fairbanks Community Museum, staffed by a kindly retired Judge, had an exhibit of "101 Things to Do in a Fairbanks Winter."  There is nothing wealthy or privileged-looking around- just a real place for real people who have their values straight.  This would be a terrific choice for a happy city in which to attempt an Alaskan winter.

So, after a wonderful family vacation, we took Ned the mile up the road from the Campground to the Airport.  Boo-hoo! 

Then we had to return to take Ned an empty bag because we'd given him SO MUCH stuff to take home (since we didn't need it), that his bag was overweight and he couldn't check it like that.  Finally, after he was embarrassed holding up the line, he was able to shift the weight to 49.8 pounds in his bag and deliver the excess bag(s) back out to us in the RV where we had waited for the outcome results.  Haha!  He was not amused and I had a flashback to my backpacking Europe trip in 1987 when he'd boarded the plane (back in the good 'ole days) to help me lift that mumbo backpack into the overhead compartment- it was heavy and HUGE.  He was not amused then either.  So if we see you along the way and start handing out random books and clothing and such, you'll know it is a gift and no returns will be accepted.  :)

Which brings me to the STUPID PACKING LIST

That's right!  Can you *believe* that some people brought the following items on a trip to Alaska (land of the functional, not the fashionable):

  • Black cashmere sweater
  • Yellow satin slip-on open-toed shoes with a satin bow
  • Too many books:  an entire bin of Alaska tour books, AAA books, Canada books, and enough kids' school books to sink a ship (which they cannot possibly complete in 4 months)
  • 7 deodorants (for one person)
  • A hair flat iron (are you kidding?)
  • Makeup (hello?  You're not from around here are you?)
  • Black open-toed slides
  • White tennis shoes (but not white for long!)
  • Enough bathing suits to supply a beach community
  • Dress pants

We have enjoyed having our Foul-weather gear and Columbia hiker's shoes, which we wear all the time.

Our time in Fairbanks has been delightful and we will always cherish this time.  6 nights in one place!  Wow- that's a record for us.  We're off to Denali in the morn!



kazoz says:
Think I will put Fairbqnks on my list after reading your blog sounds nice, Kaz from Australia
Posted on: May 05, 2015
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