Fairbanks road trip

August 29, 2014 at 11:52 am | Posted in alaska | Leave a comment
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I haven’t left AK this summer, but at least have gotten pretty far from Anchorage a few times.  This trip was three nights, three different hotels, and lots of highlights.  The main reason for the journey was to attend a retirement party for the founder of an architectural firm I am now working for [as of May of this year].  Our firm’s main office is in Fairbanks and I work in its Anchorage branch.  Preparation for the the event, and its various after functions took part of the time.  The rest of my Anchorage colleagues flew there and back in a 24-hr. period but I decided to turn it into a road trip and longer stay.  Glad I did!

fall fireweed

I left Anchorage around 3 PM on Thursday Aug. 21st, and cannonballed to the Veterans Memorial on the Parks Hwy.  It’s well past Wasilla and about where views of Denali start to appear [only on a clear day].  It’s a nice place to take a road break and eat and [perhaps because the entrance to it is low key and it’s set back and not visible from the road?] usually not many there.  There’s a little visitor’s center and gift shop but it had closed just before I got there at 5:15.  There’s a small garden and some areas of native vegetation where I found these fireweed leaves turning color, watermelon berries and lots of the other usual plant suspects.

parks hwy veterans memorial

Part of the memorial installation, US Army logo.

bridge work at healy, AK

Stopped waiting for our turn over what is temporarily a one lane bridge, at Healy just north of the entrance to Denali National Park.  This is one of the old park buses that has been converted to private use — maybe a rafting company?

Next stop, Nenana — pulled in just as the sunset was coming on [the ‘hour of magic light’, according to my newest photographic mentor and spiritual advisor] and wandered around a bit looking at abandoned equipment, old houses, and a few people who were out and about.  Would like to go back there sometime and look around more thoroughly — the place seems like it could be a treasure trove of the type of art photography I am gravitating toward these days.

tanana river RR bridge at nenana, AK

Will always be amused by this view of one of the RR bridge pilings at Nenana due to the optical illusion — is it an innie or outie?  Also throwing in a Sept. 2005 view, because it was even better before the man parts were added.

AK railroad bridge piling, nenana, AK, Sept. 2005

The same spot in 2005.

tourists, 1980s, bulletin board at visitors center, Nenana, AK

Detail from a bulletin board on the side of the log Visitors Center at Nenana.  20 to 30 year old photo collection, pretty faded and exposed to the elements but still something to see.

Rolled into Fairbanks late and got settled in my room at Pike’s.  Friday morning until 9 PM was occupied with the office, a really great tour of a handful of the bigger projects in Fairbanks and the retirement party.  Didn’t take any photos but the day’s events were well documented by others.

3rd Ave. cabin ready for demo or relocation, Fairbanks, AK

This little cabin near the office and a few other adjacent buildings are awaiting demo or relocation, perhaps for a road widening.  There was quite a bit of the same sort of work happening at different parts of the city.  It was strange to observe the now nearly complete Illinois St. project, with only the Big I bar and one other warehouse building remaining of what used to be a dense commercial/industrial corridor.

church parking lot, Airport Way, Fairbanks, AK

“Hope Is Alive”, declares a banner on a rambling church building along Airport Way.  And it is easy to see why we need such proclamations, surrounded by low density sprawl.  A lot of other places in the world they have decades ago seen the folly of settlement patterns dedicated to personal vehicles, but we are not quite there yet.  Oh, well!  It will happen here, too and hopefully by then there will still be some evidence remaining that we used to know better!

abandoned fast food restaurant, Airport Way, Fairbanks, AK

Mixed use building ready for demo, 3rd Ave., Fairbanks, AK

This somewhat homely but utilitarian structure sits close to the road where 3rd Ave. [or maybe it is still Minnie St.?] crosses the Chena River on an older narrow bridge.  It would be easy to say, won’t miss this one, right?  But in a way it’s kind of a loss, a mixed use commercial-residential with what were probably pretty nice dwelling units at one time in history, maybe still some rehab potential?

crumbling facade, commercial bldg ready for demo, College Rd., Fairbanks, AK

commercial bldg ready for demo, 3rd Ave., Fairbanks, AK

5th floor hotel room view of downtown Fairbanks, AK

The second night I stayed at the Marriott Spring Hill Suites downtown.  This is the view of Fairbanks to the south from my room.

Didn’t end up taking a whole lot of photos on Saturday, either [contrary to intentions and usual practice].  I sat in on a brunch at the office with our dear founder and some of his close friends, then a bike ride around town.  I’d brought my son’s one speed [skinny tires but not a fixie or anything crazy] with me, and have to say the one speed is perfect for city riding with lots of photo stops.

In the afternoon, not finding many photos and mid-day sun and cloudy skies I switched it up and called a longtime friend.  I hung out with this guy a bit 30 years ago, and became reacquainted due to the magic of online social networking.  Ended up visiting his homestead where he lives with his wife and kid near UAF in the Goldstream Valley.  A perfect little DIY compound and patch of classic semi-rural Fairbanks life.

After that sojourn, a trip to Ester and hung out at the bar there with the locals for three hours to close out the day.  At the invitation of an artist friend who has lived there awhile, though she now spends time living in Anchorage as well.  I met the Editor-Publisher of the [now mostly defunct] Ester Republic, a fine publication that documented goings on in Ester and the larger world for many years.  And my friend’s sister who used to live in Fairbanks but now visiting from Portland, OR.  It was just the sort of establishment one would expect to find there — friendly, low key, dogs lounging on the front porch.

The next morning, after a night at my third hotel and breakfast with my Goldstream Valley friend and his family, left for the trip back, the long way via the Richardson Hwy.  The last time I was there, in April 2012 I took the same way, at the suggestion of my Ester artist friend.  In 2012 there were stunning views of Denali and other mountains, and of course a lot more snow and winter, though the road was dry all the way.

This time it was cloudy and rainy, but the major highlight was Rika’s Roadhouse.  Had looked around there in 2012 but it was early in the season and it wasn’t open yet.  This time I was able to wander through all of the outbuildings, all of which had authentic period tools, furnishings and a wealth of other items of historic interest.  The displays were nicely done and the restoration of the buildings was high quality and mostly to exacting standards.  So impressive that we have managed to preserve part of Alaska’s past that was important in its development and, ah, exploitation.  [Is that too dismissive and cynical?]  Anyhow, regardless of how one feels about manifest destiny, it gives one pause to consider what Rika herself had to do on a daily basis when she was building up the place initially — there were gardens, chickens and goats, buildings to erect, boat trips for supplies, firewood, cooking and cleaning and taking care of the kids and guests.  Must have been physically taxing and mentally soul crushing, to say the least about it; but also uniquely rewarding.

Rika Wallen, photo from display of historic photos at Rika's Roadhouse, Delta Junction, AK

She doesn’t appear to be unhappy or regretful in this photo from the collection there, taken when she was over 90.

Rika's Roadhouse, main building, was this the Kitchen?

Rika's Roadhouse, Delta Junction, AK

Even on a cloudy day with very flat light and drizzle, the Richardson Highway scenery is amazingly fantastic.  It should be part of any Alaska driving tour.

Richardson Highway in Interior Alaska

Richardson Hwy., Interior Alaska

Rapids Roadhouse near Paxson, AK

The Rapids Roadhouse near Paxson.  Even older than Rika’s, some restoration effort has occured but apparently now stalled, judging from appearances and some information I found on the web.  At least, it appears to be in reasonable shape and its decline somewhat arrested.  There is also a newer and nice looking lodge on a hill right behind.

'67 Ford XL convertible at gas stop in Glennallen, AK

At the gas stop in Glennallen I spotted this ’67 Ford convertible with vintage AK license plates.

Sheep Mountain Lodge, Glenn Hwy., AK

Dinner stop at Sheep Mountain Lodge.  The third time I’ve eaten here, the previous time being on the return from a quick trip to Valdez in June.  I love this place.  Next year I want to stay here for a weekend.  There’s cozy cabins, a great restaurant and road biking, mountain biking and other wilderness experiences right there.

View of the Matanuska River near Sutton, AK

The Matanuska River near Sutton.  The river has been expanding its already really wide channel and wiping out most of the town of Sutton in the process.  I may have to venture back up there soon and try to document what is happening there, since it is kind of dramatic and poignant.

See all of the photos from the trip at my Flickr page.


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