From Panoramas magazine:
“Known as the “Golden Heart City,” Fairbanks began as a trading post and mining town in 1901. Now, it’s the northern terminus of the famous Haul Road, which leads to the Noth Slope oil fields…[It] sits at the end of the [Alaska Railroad] line. With a regional population of more than 80,000 Fairbanks is Alaska’s second largest city and served as construction headquarters for the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline.”
We boarded the Wilderness Express after breakfast inTalkeetna for an all-day, scenic train ride to Fairbanks. Unfortunately, the weather was not great—overcast with occasional rain—but the trip was nontheless quite spectactular. The train itself was very comfortable—with large, reclining seats and pull-down trays (it was a great place to write, inspired by the ongoing beauty of the Alaskan wilderness). In addition to a club car on the bottom level that served meals, there was full beverage service on our level with a bartender. Last but not least, there was a very knowledgeable tour guide that pointed out viewpoints, gave lots of local information, and answered questions.
Interestingly, all of the staff—from the tour guide to the chefs and servers—were students from the University of Alaska, working for credits toward their degrees. All said that it was a great way to spend the summer—learning more about their state and meeting lots of interesting people while advancing their educations.
Upon arrival in Fairbanks, we boarded a shuttle to Chena Hot Springs Resort, our destination for the next three days. I must say that it was a bit of a disapointment, mostly due to the inclement weather and some bone-chilling cold. The resort is 50 miles from Fairbanks and totally surrounded by wilderness—it’s very picturesque; however, unless you’re an off-grid camper (no electricity or plumbing) or avid hiker or naturalist, or want to take a $400 small plane flight over the Arctic circle, about the only thing to do there is take dips in the Rock Lake, their name for the hot springs. Doing that is just wonderful, but one can spend just so much soaking.
Our reason for going there was the hope that we might view the Northern Lights; sadly, the overcast skies prevented that from happening. They do have one attraction that is pretty cool, literally and figuratively: an ice museum. The price of admission is reasonable, and for an extra few dollars you can have a frozen appletini (apple-flavored martini) served in a glass carved from ice in their Ice Bar. Pretty cool (literally and figuratively).
Disappointed that we did get to see the Northern Lights, but relaxed from soaking in the hot springs, we returned to Fairbanks for the last three days of our Alaska Adventure.