May 25, 2022 – Fairbanks, Gold Dredge No. 8, Denali National Park, Alaska
Check-in for our morning flight to Fairbanks happens at our hotel since there is no terminal building at the Dawson City airport. The security check happens on the apron in front of the aircraft before boarding. It’s a good thing the weather is clear with no rain! Apparently the runway was only paved in 2019. Our small group flies to Fairbanks aboard a chartered Air North Boeing 737-500 – a 1-hour flight.
We have a couple of hours to see Fairbanks, so our group wanders around a bit, seeing the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center museum, but Fairbanks isn’t much of a tourist city. I have a very tasty hot and sour soup for lunch at Bhan Thai restaurant (TripAdvisor) with a couple from the tour group. JoeTourist recommended!
We then board our bus and are taken to nearby Gold Dredge 8 where we first encounter the Alaska Pipeline at the site entrance. We wait around for an hour for other tour buses to arrive before we are all taken to the main site on a miniature train. They give everyone a small poke bag and then everyone (except me) pans for gold, has their flecks of gold weighed, and can take them home as-is or have it made into jewelry on the spot. I’m more interested in the history of the place, so wander around taking in all the mining artifacts on display – a big old safe, accounting machines and records, clothing, equipment, and even dinosaur bones!
The dredge is partially flooded, so we aren’t allowed to go inside the dredge – a disappointment. There are bunkhouses, machine shops, a hydro generation station – complete infrastructure to support the 24-hour a day operation this dredge was built for. This was remote wilderness, so this operation had to continue to function without much support from outside. The small town of Fox is nearby, where many of the miners and their families lived.
Later in the afternoon, we board our bus and drive Highway 3 south to Denali, a 2-hour drive. We make a stop at the hamlet of Nenana, where there is an historic train station, a grocery store, a bar, and not much else. We arrive at McKinley Chalet Resort at about 7PM. This is a resort owned and operated by Holland America, so in their usual efficient manner, they are ready for us, so we are quickly assigned our rooms.
Our group is staying in the Ridge View building, which our Tour Director tells us most resort guests ask to upgrade to. My room is very nice, with two big beds, nice appointments, and a view of the mountain. I don’t wait for my checked bag to appear before going for dinner at Karstens Public House, which is part of the resort, and the only option for meals without leaving the resort grounds. I have Rigatoni with Italian sausage and garlic toast with an Alaskan ale, which is very tasty and comes with very good service.
Denali Square is the main common area of the resort, where guests can hang out, listen to outdoor performances, patronize the small shops on the perimeter, and of course partake of the food and drink from Karstens Public House on their large patio.