Fairbanks Part II: For Gold, Glory and Riverboat Discovery

Everything under the Alaskan Sun

Chapter 3

Fairbanks Part II: For Gold, Glory and Riverboat Discovery

Read about Fairbanks Part I here.

The next morning we had the best breakfast in Alaska at the Aurora Express B&B. The breakfast was served in the dining car. Mike is such a skillful chef. Everything was so tasty, from reindeer sausage, fancy omelet to amazing French toast. I couldn’t praise more of this B&B. Do stay here if you ever visit Fairbanks.

BTW, I promised Susan to write a stellar review for Aurora Express in TripAdvisor. Well, it hasn’t been done yet. You know, I owe a lot to TripAdvisor when searching for lodging info. So I feel obliged to give back and contribute as well. Especially info about places that are low-key that people don’t know much about. Anyway, if you stumble upon a TA review of an Alaska hotel that sounds oh-so-familiar, that’d probably be me. :)

Riverboat Discovery

The Riverboat Discovery Tour is rated the #1 boat tour in North America. This is a must for any visitor to Fairbanks. Advanced reservations necessary.

Welcome aboard the Riverboat Discovery! My first time on a sternwheeler.


As the boat took off, all the ground staff came out to send us off with their waves and smiles. I had never seen anything like this. I was impressed even before the journey really began.

First stop, we watched a bush pilot take off and land his seaplane.

It was a full house.

The tour is fully narrated, so you get to learn about the way of life along the Chena River. Seems like a nice life too.

Nice houses.

And every other house seems to have a seaplane.

Next stop, see the Iditarod dogs being trained.

Another stop, watch this native girl demonstrating salmon slicing while telling us stories about her family’s salmon fishing and other traditions.  This cut that she demonstrated is called a dog’s cut which is the easiest and which she had learned since she was five. As the name suggests, this type of cut is not for human consumption, but for their sled dogs.

The last stop is the Chena Indian Village. We got off the boat and visited the village for about an hour. The Chena Village is not a real village where native people live, but just a showcase of traditional Athabascan Indian lifestyle.

Different sizes of Alaskan canines.

One of our Alaskan native guides put on a traditional native costume.

Drying salmon

As I said, the Riverboat Tour is a must to do. It’s touristy in a big way, yes. But everything is well-planned and well-organized and very educational. You’ll come home a learned person, appreciating the Athabascan culture and traditions. And just cruising along the Chena and the Tanana Rivers is worthwhile by itself. I love waters, so. Oh, and free donuts on board were surprisingly good.

After the boat tour, we stopped for a quick lunch at Sam’s Sourdough Café near the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. Before coming to Alaska, I had made a short list of what local dishes to try. One of them was sourdough pancake. And where is a more appropriate place to order a sourdough pancake than at the Sourdough café? Well, as the name suggested, it was very sour. Plus, it smelled and tasted like beer! Just not my cup of tea.

Gold Dredge No.8 Tour

After lunch we hurried to the Gold Dredge No.8 Tour.

This train will take you to Gold Dredge #8.

Gold Dredge No.8 had been in use for 30 years until 1959 and had extracted millions of ounces of gold.

We were shown how to pan for gold, and then each one was given a small sack of dirt. And off you go. Strike it rich!

This thing takes a bit of skill and practice, you know. It isn’t as easy as it seems. Perhaps I wasn’t born to be a gold digger panner. Even with assistance from the staff, I still didn’t progress much. After many people had finished panning and started pocketing their new found gold, I was still nowhere near the bottom of the pan. Then I saw some yellow glitter! So I asked my husband with excitement and high hopes to confirm that what I was seeing was gold. He said, ‘No. This is called fool’s gold.’ What? Fool’s gold? Oh, no. I was hopeless. I was pathetic. I was a fool. I found fool’s gold.

(Note: What is called fool’s gold is iron pyrites, which looks a bit like gold but is worthless.)

Just when I was about to give up hope, the shiny thing began to appear. Ta-da! Do you see it?

Now the moment of truth. I had my gold flakes weighed and found out it was worth $16! Woo-hoo! Lol. My husband got only $8 worth. The luckiest one of the bunch was my friend, Ann, who pocketed $18 worth of gold. These figures are quite humble compared to what I read in TripAdvisor. Someone mentioned $120!

Alaska Pipeline (or Alyeska Pipeline)

Just as gold resources had been mostly depleted, a new kind of gold was discovered: black gold (aka oil).

Alaska Pipeline is 800 miles long and cost $80 billion to build during 1975-1977. The Alaska Pipeline Viewpoint is located at Milepost 8.4 on the Steese Highway just outside Fairbanks.

Please don’t climb on the pipeline. It is difficult to maintain your footing on this surface. You could injure in a fall.

Yeah right. Somehow I think the wording sounds more ‘inviting’ to climb than anything. Who could resist a little challenge? ;)

Downtown Fairbanks is looking for love again.

University of Alaska Fairbanks, modern and beautiful campus

And now it’s time to say goodbye to Fairbanks. Next stop is Talkeetna.

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The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

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10 comments on “Fairbanks Part II: For Gold, Glory and Riverboat Discovery

  1. Northern Narratives says:

    Looks like you had a lot of fun :)

  2. thanks for sharing this wonderful travel diary!

  3. Such a beautiful and exciting discovery. From the riverboat down to the finding of gold dust, to the the rich Alaskan heritage and lifestyle. It’s like I was there myself. Thanks for sharing this unforgettable trip with us.

    • sutira says:

      Mr.B, Alaska is truly unforgettable. I’ll continue writing about the Alaska trip when I get back home. Now I’m on the road, camping out the New England forests. :)

  4. Wow, amazing photos! Totally adding Alaska to my list now!

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