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FAIRBANKS, ALASKA

Fairbanks, Alaska is truly a frontier.  It is Alaska’s second largest city, the northernmost U.S. city and also considered the gateway to the Arctic.  It is a hub for interior Alaska's commerce, education, arts, and tourism. It has dark winter months and almost constant daylight in summer.

 

One of Fairbanks' main draws in winter is the northern lights, the aurora borealis.  The multicolored displays illuminate the night sky for hours, in colors ranging from yellow to blue to green and even red. Because of the long daylight hours, most summer visitors do not see the northern lights.  Summer daylight hours are frequently referred to as the "midnight sun," but that really means only that the sun is visible at midnight in midsummer. There are 21 hours of daylight at summer solstice, but it's never completely dark then, so technically there is daylight for 24 hours. Conversely, there are only four hours of daylight at winter solstice in December.

The Fairbanks area was originally a fishing zone for native Athabascans. When the gold rush arrived in the Klondike, prospectors flocked to the region in hopes of striking it rich.  However, it wasn't until 1968, with the construction of the oil pipeline, that Fairbanks saw considerable growth. In the two years it took to build the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the city's metropolitan population nearly doubled. Today, Fairbanks is a gem for visitors and offers many opportunities to peek into the history of this former gold-rush town.

SIGHTSEEING

 

Denali National Park (just around the corner in Alaska terms, although it's 125 miles southwest of Fairbanks) is a top sightseeing draw for visitors to Fairbanks.  Although, the frontier town of Fairbanks and the immediate surrounding area have much to offer. Visitors can relive the gold-rush days or witness firsthand how pioneers made their way north.  You can pan for gold, see the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, go to an Alaskan Salmon Bake, or ride on a sternwheeler riverboat.  And if the kids are along, you will want to take the short drive to North Pole, Alaska where you can shop for Christmas decorations/ornaments plus visit Santa and his reindeer in the middle of the summer!!  

MUSEUMS

 

Fairbanks offers lots of museums, such as the Alaska Native Village and Alaska Native Museum which is a village and museum that displays artifacts, such as tools, earth-constructed homes and clothing, from the interior Alaska Athabaskan culture.  The Fairbanks Community/Dog Mushing Museum, housed in the historic City Hall.  This museum features exhibits on the history of the city, the flood of 1967, gold-rush artifacts and the Yukon Quest dogsled race.  The Fairbanks Ice Museum built in 1936.  This historic building used to be a major picture theater, but now the billboard stays the same year-round. In addition to some fantastic ice-sculpture displays, the museum shows a film so visitors can see ice carving even in the heat of summer.  Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum features a world-class collection of more than 70 historically significant American automobiles that showcase the heritage of the automobile during Alaska's post-gold-rush era. The museum has everything from horseless carriages and brass-era buggies to midget racers and the classic luxury cars of the 1930s. Most of the cars are maintained in running condition, and visitors can view repair projects taking place in the museum's shop.  You can even dress up in old clothes and take your picture in one of their antique cars!  The Pioneer Air Museum is a large building with a gilded dome where you'll find a photographic history of early flight in Alaska. The structure also houses 14 complete airplanes with explanations on how they were used and who their pilots were.  The Pioneer Museum focuses on the pioneer days with antique dogsleds, old-fashioned printing presses from three newspapers started in the early 1900s, gold-prospecting equipment, spinning wheels and other pioneer memorabilia. The University of Alaska Museum of the North, voted best museum in Alaska, offers a window into the cultural history of Fairbanks and the surrounding interior region of the state. The museum is renowned for its dramatic architecture and its collection of more than 1 million artifacts, including a well-preserved, 36,000-year-old bison named Blue Babe.

 

PARKS & GARDENS

 

Georgeson Botanical Garden:  A beautiful compilation of the plants, vegetables and flowers that grow in Fairbanks' climate. You will be amazed by what flourishes in the extreme temperatures.

RECREATION

 

The great outdoors is the focus of recreational activities in Fairbanks. Bird-watching has been gaining popularity.  Canoeing and kayaking on the Chena River on a nice summer day is a treat not to be missed.  Bicycle rentals are available.  You can golf at North Star Golf Club.  This 18-hole USGA course has a visitor's package that includes a greens fee, club rentals, balls and a certificate that states you have played at America's Northernmost Golf Course. This is also a unique opportunity to see things you may not expect on a golf course: moose, muskrats, eagles, sandhill cranes, foxes and other wildlife. There's an animal checklist on the scorecard.

NIGHTLIFE

 

There is no central clubbing zone, although you will find many hole-in-the-wall bars downtown. Stick to bars in the nicer hotels if you're looking for wine. For most quality nightlife, you'll have to drive beyond the downtown area.

 

SPORTS 

 

Fairbanks doesn't have any professional sports teams, but it does have serious athletes—and quite a few of them have four legs. Clearly, Fairbanks is crazy about dogsled racing, the official Alaska state sport, and by far the most popular sporting event in Fairbanks is the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.  In addition to this well-attended race, there are also many smaller dogsledding contests.  February and March are race months in Fairbanks.  But there are other sporting events in Fairbanks, too, such as the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics and the World Championship Ice Carving Competition. The city is also known for great cross-country skiing.

 

SHOPPING

Fairbanks is widely known as a gold-rush town, and to prove it, there are numerous jewelry stores touting "gold-nugget" jewelry. Though it would be wonderful if you could find your own nugget on a local gold-mine tour, chances are that if you want to take a nugget home you're going to have to buy one.

Another distinctly Alaskan item is baleen, the thin, hard and black substance made of densely packed hairs that come from a whale's mouth. These pieces sometimes have scrimshawed or etched pictures of Alaskan scenes on them, particularly of dogsledding or Eskimo life. Baleen is very difficult to obtain, and the larger the piece the more expensive it is. Only Alaska Natives are allowed to own baleen that is not scrimshawed or made into an art and craft.

Jade and ivory are also valuable Alaskan items—the ivory is particularly precious because of hunting and ownership regulations. You'll also be likely to come across items in your shopping excursions such as mementos of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, smoked salmon, dried wild berries and items made of qiviut (musk-ox hair).

 

EATING

 

Although there are quite a few restaurants in the downtown area, some of the best choices are farther from the city center. Each of these is worth the cab fare or driving time, so go explore and enjoy the Golden Heart City with a full stomach.

 

SAFETY

 

Fairbanks is a safe destination, and tourists are rarely targets of crime. Still, use commonsense precautions, such as locking your car and keeping valuables out of sight.  Daytime hours are safe in any area, but it is always advisable to walk with others particularly downtown in the early morning hours and at night—despite the late hours of sunlight. There are some local panhandlers, but they haven't caused any problems.  

FACTS

Approximate Population: 32,000

Predominant Religions: Christian (Protestant, Roman Catholic), though other religions are represented.

Time Zone: 8 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (-8 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November.

Voltage Requirements: 110 volts.

Taxes:  There is no sales tax in Fairbanks. The town of North Pole does charge a tax of 4% with a cap of US$8 in tax on any one purchase. There is a bed tax of 8%.

 

WEATHER  

 

This is clearly a land of extremes, with dramatic highs and lows, a semiarid climate and (usually) almost no wind. Fairbanks can get up to nearly 100 F in summer and dip below -50 F in winter.

There are approximately 21 hours of daylight in late June and 21 hours of darkness in late December.

With the heat comes a slight humidity and thunderstorms. Annual precipitation is 10.8 in and average snowfall is 65.5 in. The coldest winter days will be crystal clear with air so still your boots will squeak on the snow.

WHAT TO WEAR​

Fairbanks residents are a laid-back bunch, and you will not be turned away for being underdressed. There is rarely an event held in Fairbanks that has a dress code.  In summer, take along several long-sleeved items, as well as a sweatshirt and a lightweight coat that can double as a slicker. Long sleeves are also good for protection from mosquitoes..

It isn't unheard of for temperatures to reach nearly 100 F in the summer, so take some lighter wear as well—shorts, sandals, sunglasses, windbreakers and lightweight hiking shoes—but don't count on the heat.

In winter, extreme conditions dictate attire appropriate for the Arctic: parkas, boots, snow pants, hats with ear protection, mittens and sunglasses. Dress in layers year-round.

CELL PHONES​

Cell phone access is sporadic, depending on location and provider. 

 

TRANSPORTATION

The Fairbanks International Airport, the only airport in Fairbanks for commercial planes, offers multiple daily flights during the summer months. Several major airlines fly to Fairbanks, with Alaska Airlines offering the most daily flights and operating throughout the winter.

Within the downtown area, walking is a convenient way to get around town because it's flat, and no point in the downtown portion of the city is more than 10 blocks in any direction.

Rental cars are available and reasonably priced at the airport. Downtown parking is plentiful. A nice option in summer is the city's MACS bus system 

MISCELLANEOUS

More than 1,500 tons of ice are cut from a frozen pond for the Fairbanks winter ice-sculpting competitions. 

There are no fireworks on Independence Day in Fairbanks because of nearly 24 hours of sunlight.

Travel 42

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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon

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