Fairbanks and the North Pole

Who needs the Gulf of Thailand when you have Fairbanks, in March?! (No, I’m not missing my beach time, or anything.)

We took a long-weekend, road trip, from Anchorage to Fairbanks, to meet up with old friends and see what there was to see. During the six hour drive north, we passed about 3 small towns. And by town, I mean they had a gas station. That’s it. Alaska is VAST!

First stop, North Pole, Alaska.

No visit to the North Pole would be complete without a trip to Santa Land.

And as luck would have it, the big man himself was there to greet us! Pretty much the best Santa ever!

 It’s usually hard to see Santa during the months following Christmas, as he likes to vacation somewhere tropical, I’m told. But since it was Spring Break, he made a special appearance. Score!

 I had a very long list of requests!

We also happened onto the North Pole at the same time as a bus full of Asian tourists. I realized that there was a unique familiarity and comfort zone for me in that situation. I just feel a connection, and want to talk to ALL of them. I’m sure they think I’m strange.

282 days left until Christmas. Are you ready?

I was happy in this place. Decorations covered every inch of wall space and Christmas music was playing on the overhead. I felt like Buddy the Elf. Christmas cheer for everyone! In March!

The outside of Santa’s house appropriately looked like a peppermint stick.

Speaking of outside, it was COLD. SO cold. Fairbanks made Anchorage seem balmy.

It was the perfect place for ice sculptures to thrive. Humans, not so much.

The reindeer do pretty well here, too. But we didn’t see Rudolph on this visit.

Bye Santa! See you in nine months.

We found, quite possibly, the world’s greatest onion rings for dinner. No one can eat just one!

We also found that Blockbuster is alive and well in Fairbanks. Yes, there were actually customers going in and out.

The next morning was brisk. Reminder- this was late March!

But we headed out anyway, off to see the Alaska pipeline.

Below, is the diameter of the pipe. It carries an average of 1.8 million barrels of oil every day.

The pipeline covers the entire vertical length of the state, from Prudhoe Bay at the top, all the way down to Valdez, for a total of 800 miles!

We lasted about long enough to take a picture and get back in the car. Did I say it was cold?!

Now on to the Chena Hot Springs, that sounds better already! Roads in Alaska pretty much look like this all winter long. They are almost solid sheets of ice, for months on end. (Ice melt is not used, due to the wildlife, so gravel and dirt are scattered everywhere. Makes for a pretty muddy “spring”.)

The resort was absolutely in the middle of nowhere. An hour’s drive west of Fairbanks, and the road actually dead ended there. One way in and one way out.

 Ahhh, finally time to thaw out, though the initial walk outside into the negative temps, was not for the faint of heart! There was a hot springs, but only adults were allowed, so the hot tub would have to suffice for the girls.

Matt and I took turns in the hot spring. It felt great!

I don’t know how the weird filter was added to this picture, (the trees were not yellow), but you get the idea.

These two loved the adventure of a snowy swim day!

Small ice crystals began to form on everyone’s hair from the extreme cold. Though a local told me that with the “warm day”, it wasn’t as dramatic as usual.

(When my friend Linda visited the hot springs, it was much colder, and her hair froze immediately. Great picture and so bizarre! It’s also bizarre that -18* is considered “warm” around here.)

There was also an indoor pool at the resort, which was a pretty sad pool. We decided that the term “resort” was to be used lightly here.

Thousands of Japanese tourists frequent Chena Hot Springs every year, because they are strong believers in the healing powers of the water, and it is also one of the best viewing spots of Aurora Borealis in the world. We loved seeing the origami cranes decorating the coffee shop. (We didn’t stay up for Aurora because the forecast was weak. We can see it well from our back porch on the right night, so I’ll post about that later.)

However, I am sure my Japanese friends were appalled at the order of the shoe shelves (top picture is the Japanese children’s way, bottom is ours),

and the koi pond just might bring tears to their eyes. Any guesses on which the Japanese pond is? But, other than that, they must love Chena, because they visit in the droves. 

After a quick visit to the Fairbanks Museum of the North, it was time to meet up with our old neighbors for dinner.

In Japan, we lived in this government-style fourplex, with no character. And just across a small parking lot was an identical government-style fourplex with no character. (I mean, could a place have LESS curb appeal?!) While it seemed like living in a fishbowl at times, I grew to love the closeness and the community of the neighbors. In Alaska, we have more space and privacy, but everyone enters and exits life through their garage, making the neighborhood a ghost town.

These sweet kids lived across from us, and we could practically wave to them from our kitchen windows. It is true that they say, it’s a small Air Force. Where else can you have a reunion with friends, originally from New Zealand, who lived next to you in Japan, all the way in Fairbanks, Alaska? This is our life, and a sweet reunion it was.

After a nice dinner full of catching up, we went to the World Ice Art Championships. Who knew this was even a thing? I didn’t.

The ice sculptures were phenomenal. They had ice slides,

yes, slides made from solid ice. That is Matt sliding in the front, and the slides were fast!

There were ice teacups, that spun around and around,

and also n-ice places to relax.

It was so great to see my friend Linda and the kids again. (I realized that I am wearing this exact outfit in almost every Alaskan blog I’ve written. It is my Alaskan uniform. Sadly, there is something great about putting on a knee length coat every day. I could have my pajamas on underneath and no one would be the wiser! Not saying that I have done that, just that I could.) Oh, and did I say that it was COLD?!

Not being a seasoned Fairbanks-ian, I had to spend lots of time in the warm-up tent which wasn’t very warm.

The kids had a ball climbing on all of the sculptures.

They even found their own igloo.

And better yet, their own house,

complete with a kitchen table,

and a cozy bedroom!

Aside from the large sculptures for climbing, the competition also consisted of more intricate and detailed work.

I loved the pagoda, it was just like the real thing!

Overall, the ice festival was an amazing experience, and I’m so glad we were able attend.

And meet up with good friends!

The six hour ride home was uneventful, but we liked seeing these boats frozen in the ice. Basically, every body of water in the state is frozen solid during the wintertime. Come spring, the boats will be floating again, as they should be.

We also passed the majestic Denali, North America’s tallest peak. (More on Denali when we visit the park this summer.)

So there you have Fairbanks, in a nutshell. It wasn’t the Gulf of Thailand, but it had a certain “charm” all of it’s own. Oh, and did I mention that it was COLD?!


  1. Jeff Jonsson
    May 8, 2017 / 1:48 am

    Oh man, you teased the northern lights, and then didn't deliver! Tease!

    • CowanTravels
      May 8, 2017 / 8:10 pm

      Yes! I meant to add that! We didn't stay up for aurora, because you just never know if it will be out or not. The forecast was pretty weak, so we opted for the sleep. We can see aurora from our back porch in the winter on a good night, so more on that later.

  2. Erica
    May 8, 2017 / 7:09 pm

    Oh man! My body aches just THINKING about those temperatures!!!! Yikes! But what an adventure!

  3. Amara
    May 9, 2017 / 5:25 am

    I can't see how you could ever get used to negative 18 degrees Alaskan native or not. Yeesh. Those ice sculptures would be worth braving some cold for though. Amazing.

  4. Laura
    May 13, 2017 / 2:53 pm

    It actually looks really cool despite the cold! But I gotta admit it's WAY down the list for me.

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