Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sightseeing Fairbanks: Off The Beaten Path

Fairbanks, Alaska is a fortuitously founded city, occurring when Captain E. T. Barnette's steamboat was stranded on location on the Chena River. He was convinced to set up his trading post there rather than further up the river in 1901. The town experienced its first "boom" one year later when gold was found in the area.

Modern day visitors to Fairbanks come not for trading but to experience the history, culture and sights. Fairbanks is a top-ten destination for the more than one million visitors to Alaska each year. Many travelers take a Fairbanks vacation for the cruises and tours, but there are also sights to be seen outside of the visitors guide and off the beaten path.

For a taste of true gold rush culture, the Pioneer Museum offers glimpses of artifacts such as dog sleds, handmade tools and snowshoes. The Big Stampede, housed in the same building, is a cyclorama presentation of colossal oil paintings by Alaska's own C. R. "Rusty" Heurlin. The Big Stampede depicts the difficult and dangerous times of the gold rush.

Another way to travel back in time is to embark on the Tanana Valley Railroad to the El Dorado Gold Mine. The two hour guided tour transports passengers through history to talk to miners, learn about gold mining and modern mining methods.

When it's time for some relaxation, visit the warm springs at Hutlinana. They are accessible even in winter off of Eliot Highway, which is not well-marked. Once upon a time, gold miners traveled to these springs for some relief from the physical labor of panning for gold. Now, those on a Fairbanks vacation can enjoy the soothing waters that bubble up from deep within the earth.

Travelers who would like to experience Fairbanks' local produce and handmade crafts will want to stop by the Tanana Valley Farmers' Market. The market features native artwork, jewelry, pottery, local honey, fresh flowers, baked goods and much more. Special events such as the holiday bazaar in December are also hosted by the market.

The Alaska House Art Gallery is where visitors can take in native Alaskan art. House in a log building, native masks, sculpture, jewelry, carvings, artifacts and more are all on display. Many times local artists who are being showcased are present to interact with guests of the gallery.

Fairbanks does have a nightlife scene. One venue where travelers will be able to rub elbows with the locals is the Howling Dog Saloon. They serve local brews from the Silver Gulch Brewery and feature live entertainment from local bands.

Putting aside the visitors guide while in Fairbanks will allow travelers to truly experience the warm welcome of this charming town.

Adam takes a Fairbanks vacation every year, and has used the same visitors guide for over 20 years.

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