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2013 NRHS Convention Fairbanks, Alaska Day 1 9/14/2013

Riverboat Discovery Tour, Pioneer Park and Tanana Valley Railroad Museum, Pioneer Park Salmon Bake and Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

by Chris Guenzler

After months of planning, the big day for the trip of a lifetime was finally nearing, I started working the new school year at Carl Harvey working a pre-school class for a day. Then it was back to McFadden for eight days of Regional Specialty Program after which I worked four days back at Jefferson Elementary doing the same thing. I worked that job until the day of the trip and was all packed and ready to head to Alaska for the 2013 National Railway Historical Society convention.

Getting to Alaska 9/13/2013

I was up at 4:00 AM and after fixing breakfast, waited for Winston Walker to pick me up, which he did, and drove me to the John Wayne Airport. I went through security where the X-ray found a kitchen knife in my computer bag. The ghost has struck again! We all had a good laugh about it and I was soon on my way to the gate for my plane.

Alaska Airlines Flight 515 Santa Ana to Seattle 9/13/2013

I boarded the 737-700 airplane and left the ground at 7:15 AM for a mostly cloudy flight. The pilot misjudged the approach so we had to circle Seattle Tacoma International Airport before landing safely. I walked to my gate and found Elizabeth waiting for me then we boarded the 737-400 airplane for our flight to Anchorage.

Alaska Airlines Flight 99 Seattle to Anchorage 9/13/2013

We took off and I rented a Digi Player and watched "Monster University" then watched "Water Parks and Bret Michaels Rock My RV" which took up almost all the flight to Anchorage. There I managed to board the same flight as Elizabeth to Fairbanks.

Alaska Airlines Flight 187 Anchorage to Fairbanks 9/13/2013

The flight was on the same plane that brought us from Seattle, and the quick 40 minute flight's highlight was an above-the-clouds view of the top of Mt. McKinley. We landed and went to baggage claim to retrieve Elizabeth's luggage and I worked on the story as we waited for Chris Parker to arrive.

Fairbanks 9/13/2013

The three of us taxied to the Westmark Hotel and Conference Center which cost us $24. Elizabeth and I checked in and receivd Room 193 in the South Tower. We then went to pick up our convention booklets and I bought two extras for Winston Walker and Steve Grande. Next we went to the Northern Latitudes Restaurant for dinner. Alaska in the city is no more expensive than home, in fact, less. Petrol was 15 cents less, milk cost the same and hotels were less than in the lower 48, except in Anchorage. After that I caught up the story then listened to some music before calling it a night.

Alaska - the Basics

At 3:30 in the afternoon of October 18, 1867, on the parade ground near Baranov's Castle in Sitka, an area of about 580,000 square miles (over twice the size of Texas) of Russian territory was formally transferred to the United States. 92 years later this territory, Alaska, became the 49th State of the Union. The cost - $7.2 million at approximately two cents per acre. The state with the nickname of "The Last Frontier" has a name derived from the Aleut word "Aleyska" meaning "great land".

Today, the State of Alaska extends over an area one-fifth as large as that of the "Lower 48" and is unbelievably rich in landscape and other natural resources. Besides being the largest state, Alaska also contains other extremes in U.S. geography.These include the highest point (Mount McKinley - 20,320 feet), the northernmost point (Point Barrow - 71' 23" N), and relative to the Greenwich meridian, the westernmost point (Amatignak Island - 179' 10" W) and the easternmost point (Pochnoi Point - 179' 46" E) in the United States. With 670,000 people - roughly half the population of the Bronx - it is the second smallest state in population with only Wyoming having fewer people. Because of its many remote areas, Alaska has the most private airplane pilots per capita than any other state. The difference in how people travel can best be shown by Juneau. Juneau is the only state capital in the continental United States that is not accessible by road from the rest of the state. Ferries and airlines serve the city on a regular basis.

Of the 20 highest peaks in the United States, 17 are in Alaska. The Yukon River, almost 2,000 miles long, is the third longest river in the country. There are more than 3,000 rivers in Alaska and over 3 million lakes. The largest, Lake Iliamna, encompasses over 1,000 square miles. Alaska has an estimated 100,000 glaciers, ranging from tiny cirque glaciers to huge valley glaciers. There are more active glaciers and ice fields in Alaska than in the rest of the inhabited world. The largest glacier is the Malaspina at 850 square miles, 50 percent larger than the state of Delaware. Five percent of the state, or 29,000 square miles, is covered by glaciers.

Alaska has more than 10 percent of the world's volcanoes. There are more than 70 potentially active volcanoes in the state. Several have erupted in recent times. Alaska also includes America's largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias, which covers 13.2 million acres (larger than Switzerland), stretching from one of the tallest peaks in North America (Mount St. Elias - 18,008 feet) to the ocean. Today there are more than 51 million acres preserved in Alaska's national parks, or 13 percent of the state's 375 million acres. Alaska's national park system extends over 54 million acres and makes up two-thirds of the entire U.S. National Park System. Simply put, this largest of states is big and different.

Alaska is believed by many to be the gateway to North America for the first settlers - early humans who crossed over from Asia during one of many ice ages. Some of these small groups stayed in the area, forming tribal communities. Most of these tribes occupy southeastern Alaska, where temperatures are more mild and fishing and hunting are possible all year long. Here are located the Tlingit people and their matriarchal society, the Haida and their unique arts, and the Tsimshian people, who were almost exterminated in the 1860s from smallpox. The Aleutian Islands in southwest Alaska are home to the Aleut's seafaring society. The Yup'ik lived in the western and southwestern parts of the state while their cousins the Alutiiq lived in what is now Southcentral Alaska. The northern interior parts of Alaska are inhabited by the Gwich' in with their dependence on the caribou. The north coastal areas of Alaska are the home of the Inuit.

The first "white" visitors are believed to be Russians who arrived during the 1600s. Most came for whaling and valuable skins and traded with the natives. Within years, explorers, traders and hunters from many countries visited the region and Russia claimed the territory to protect its fur trade. The years of Russian control include a mix of isolation, dismissal and brutal slavery of the natives. However, the ventures there were seldom profitable and when Russia needed money, they were more than happy to sell.

Even after the land became a part of the United States, very little was known about the land. Dozens of major explorations over several hundred years were required to document the state, and to name many of its features. The first of these documented visits began in the late 1700s. Captain James Cook of the British Navy explored the area in 1778 looking for the famous "Northwest Passage", a sea route from the Pacific to the Atlantic. He produced some of the first maps of the coastal regions of Alaska and named many of its landmarks. Captain George Vancouver again explored the area 1792-1794 and filled in many gaps in information left by Cook. Vancouver's surveys proved that the continent extended from the Columbia River to Alaska, disproving any claim for a northwest passage within this area. Vancouver's expedition is credited with adding a wealth of knowledge and names to the previously ill-defined coastal features of southeastern Alaska.

From 1799 until 1867, the Russian American Company was authorized to act as the official Russian representative in the region and worked to create trade with the natives. During the company's existence, a great deal of geographic information was gathered and published, including the naming of many features. The company's holdings were eventually sold to the Alaska Commercial Company, a United States business.

The Western Union Telegraph Expedition (1865-67) was founded after several failures to construct an Atlantic telegraphic cable. The company explored routes to build an overland telegraph to Asia and Europe via the Bering Strait. For this purpose, parties worked, explored and built some line in British Columbia, Alaska and Siberia. The Alaska section was under the leadership of explorer and naturalist Robert Kennicott.

In 1816, the U.S. Survey of the Coast was established. In 1878 Congress changed the name to U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. Beginning in 1867, the USC&GS has conducted extensive hydrographic and topographic studies in Alaska. Among the major documents produced by the organization were coastal maps and tide books used for ocean shipping and a survey of native names for many of the recognized features in these areas.

The U.S. Geological Survey sent its first survey party to Alaska in 1895, making surveys of various gold and coal fields. This was followed by a systematic topographical mapping of the territory. During the early 1900s, the USGS recorded hundreds of new topographical names, mostly given by prospectors. Mapping became more detailed in the 1930s and again with the help of the military in the 1940's. The 1956 Brooks Range control surveys used two men to do name research and several hundred new local names appeared on the resulting maps. Finally, Captain Edwin Forbes Glenn explored routes (1898-1899) between Prince William Sound and the Copper and Susitna Rivers, on west to Cook Inlet, and then north to the Tanana, naming many of the features in these areas.

Today, the majority of Alaska's population is on a line running from Fairbanks to Anchorage and down onto the Kenai Peninsula. It basically follows the Alaska Railroad. This is also the most commonly visited part of the state due to the transportation access. Approximately 85 perecent of these visitors arrive as part of a cruise ship tour. Most of the rest visit by air, by driving the Alaska Highway or by taking the Alaska Marine Highway, a series of ferries that serve most coastal communities.

Alaska Gold Rushes

What most people know about Alaska is that there were gold rushes. Maybe it was watching John Wayne in "North to Alaska", Charlie Chaplin's classic "The Gold Rush", or television's current "Gold Rush Alaska", but gold and Alaska seem to go together. A few of the major gold rushes were on the Russian River on the Kenai Peninsula (1850), Telegraph Creek near the former Russian settlement of Wrangell (1861), Gold Creek near Juneau (1880), Fortymile River (1886 - the first major strike in Alaska's interior), Birch Creek and Crooked Creek near Circle on the Yukon River (1893-1894), the "Three Lucky Swedes" discovery at Nome (1898-1899), Pedro Creek (today's Fairbanks in 1902), Valdez Creek (first discovered in 1903, the largest gold placer mine in North America until the 1990s), Tanana (1905), Ruby (1906), "The Last Great Rush" at Iditarod and Flat (1909), Long Creek near Ruby (1910) and finally Chisana (1913).

Notice that this list does not include the great Klondike strike (1896-1898) that created Skagway and the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. That is because the gold field was actually on Bonanza Creek at Dawson City in nearby Canada. This rush attracted 100,000 stampeders, although only 30-40,000 actually made it to the gold fields and only about 4,000 actually found any gold. However, this massive discovery led to many of the discoveries in Alaska as unsuccessful miners spread out throughout the interiors of Yukon and Alaska.

While there have been the noted gold strikes, gold is actually found and has been mined throughout Alaska, except for the swampy areas of the Yukon Flats and along the North Slope between the Brooks Range and the Beaufort Sea. As indicated above, most of the gold has come from areas around Fairbanks, Juneau and Nome. In 2008, there were four major hard rock gold mines operating in the state. Among the largest of these is the open pit mine of the Fort Knox Mine, located approximately 25 miles northeast of Fairbanks. The mine, operated by Fairbanks Gold Mining, a subsidiary of Kinross Gold Corporation, was originally permitted in 1994. In 2011, the mine employed more than 500 workers and operates 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. In 2011, the mine produced about 290,000 ounces of gold.

Alaska currently produces more gold (more than 725,000 troy ounces annually) than any state except Nevada. In 2007, gold accounted for 15 percent of the mining wealth produced in Alaska. Lead and zinc, mainly from the Red Dog mine, accounted for 73 perecent. Silver, mainly from the Greens Creek mine, accounted for eight percent, while coal and aggregates accounted for nearly two percent each. Alaska produced a total of 40.3 million troy ounces of gold from 1880 through the end of 2007.


One of the major challenges of building the Alaska Railroad, and almost anything in central to northern Alaska, is dealing with permafrost. Technically, permafrost "is any soil, subsoil or other surficial deposit that has a temperature lower than 32 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 2 years". This definition is based exclusively on temperature. Part or all of the deposit's moisture may be unfrozen, depending on the chemical composition of the water and capillary action. However, most permafrost is cemented by ice; permafrost without ice is called "dry permafrost". About 20 percent of the world's land is underlain by permafrost.

A great resource on the issue of permafrost and other construction issues that the Alaska Railroad faces is "The Alaska Railroad Between Anchorage and Fairbanks - Guidebook to Permafrost and Engineering Problems" By T.C. Fuglestad. This resource is available online and gives a great description of the geological features of the land that the railroad passes through, some of which are included in this material.

The report states that if undisturbed, "permafrost can form a stable foundation for a railroad embankment and other engineering structures. Unfortunately, when the Alaska Railroad was constructed, the protective vegetation cover was removed, which disturbed much of the near-surface permafrost. Also, over the years, thousands of cubic yards of gravel have been used along the railroad to fill sags and replenish shoulders. Dry gravel generally conducts heat better than silt or vegetation. Consequently, during summer, the added gravel conducts heat to the permafrost, and thawing occurs."

It is actually fairly easy to determine where there is permafrost. With the ground frozen, water often pools on the surface and only a limited number of trees can survive. The ground surface appears very wet because a thin layer of water is trapped and unable to drain through the underlying permafrost zone. Black spruce is also often a sign of poor drainage and permafrost. This is actually a cycle. The pools of water and scattered black spruce can allow the subsoil to be heated from the sun. The melting permafrost allows the water to drain and birch and white spruce trees to germinate and mature. As these trees mature, shaded ground may allow permafrost to redevelop. Permafrost will again prevent drainage and scrubby black spruce will reappear.

On the Alaska Railroad, permafrost exists permanently between Fairbanks and Nenana then discontinuously on to Anchorage. Much of the railroad was originally built using the frozen material, blasted from the adjacent ditch lines. Ever since then, track gangs have worked to stabilize the roadbed. Recently, these efforts have included keeping the permafrost from melting during the warmer summer periods.

The Wildlife in Alaska

As you ride the Alaska Railroad, you will probably see a large amount of wildlife - wildlife that is probably very different from what you are used to seeing. Diverse and abundant wildlife are central to Alaska's economy and people. Over 1,000 vertebrate species are found in the state, sometimes in huge numbers. More than 900,000 caribou roam in 32 herds across vast tundra landscapes. On the Copper River Delta alone, five to eight million shorebirds stop to forage and rest each spring on their way to arctic breeding grounds. Alaska has 32 species of carnivores, more than any other state. Most of Alaska's fish and wildlife populations are considered healthy. In the rest of the nation, more than 400 species are listed as threatened or endangered. In Alaska, only 20 species are listed this way.

If you are interested in the birds of Alaska, the University of Alaska Museum has a list on their website which identifies 493 native birds. There are also several books available that provide information on these birds, including "Guide to the Birds of Alaska" by Armstrong, "Alaska Birds - An Introduction to Familiar Species" by Kavanagh and "Native Birds Of Alaska" by Books LLC. Just a few of the birds that are often seen include the Trumpeter Swan, Tundra Swan, Arctic Tern and of course, the Bald Eagle. Also watch for large white owls, the Snowy Owl as many will start moving south about the time of the convention.

You are very likely to see some of the larger mammals while riding on the train. These can include bear, moose, fox, Dall sheep and beaver. A brief discussion of the major mammals is below but for those wanting more details, check out the books "Mammals of Alaska" (Alaska Geographic Guides) by Doogan and "Recent Mammals of Alaska" by MacDonald and Cook.

Beaver are North America's largest rodent and live throughout all of Alaska's forests. Their dams and lodges can be seen in almost every stream. Beavers in the wild live about 10 to 12 years and very old, fat beavers can weigh as much as 100 pounds. To survive, beavers must be assured of two or three feet of water year-round, providing a refuge from enemies and a way to float and transport heavy objects such as branches and logs for food and construction. Food for winter use must be stored in underwater food caches during autumn. A beaver may work alone or with family members to build a dam, using piled logs and trees secured with mud, masses of plants, rocks and sticks.

Black bears are the most abundant and widely-distributed of the three species of North American bears. An estimated 100,000 black bears inhabit Alaska. The black bear is the smallest of the North American bears. Adults stand about 29 inches at the shoulders and are about 60 inches from nose to tail. Black bears can vary in color from jet black to white. Black is the color encountered most frequently across the state but brown or cinnamon-colored black bears are sometimes seen in South Central Alaska and on the southeastern mainland. Cinnamon-colored black bears are also common in Alaska's Interior. Some bluish-colored bears called glacier bears may be found in the Yakutat area and in other parts of Southeast Alaska.

Brown and grizzly bears are classified as the same species even though there are notable differences between them. Kodiak bears (brown bears from the Kodiak Archipelago) are classified as a distinct subspecies from those on the mainland because they have been isolated from other bears since the last ice age about 12,000 years ago. Brown bears typically live along the southern coast of the state where they have access to seasonally abundant spawning salmon, which allows them to grow larger and live in higher densities than their grizzly cousins in the northern and interior parts of the state. Brown bears are usually larger than black bears, have a more prominent shoulder hump, less prominent ears and longer, straighter claws. Brown bear colors range from dark brown through very light blond.

Caribou may be mistaken for some sort of deer by those seeing them for the first time, and they are in fact a unique type of deer. Caribou are the only member of the deer family in which both sexes grow antlers. In Europe, caribou are called reindeer, but in Alaska and Canada only the domestic forms carry the reindeer name. Technically, all caribou around the world are the same species, but there are seven sub-species. Alaska has only the barren-ground sub-species, but in Canada the barren-ground, woodland and Peary sub-species are found. Caribou are herd animals although lone individuals can be found, and keep moving to find adequate food. In summer, caribou eat the leaves of willows, sedges, flowering tundra plants and mushrooms. They switch to lichens, dried sedges and small shrubs (like blueberry) in September. Caribou have large, concave hoofs that spread widely to support the animal in snow and soft tundra. The feet also function as paddles when caribou swim.

Collared pikas are the only species of pika found in Alaska. The word pika is derived from the Siberian name for this animal: puka. In North America, they also are often called "rock rabbits". This is interesting since they are actually closely related to hares and rabbits. Pikas have stocky bodies, short legs, large round ears and are almost tailless - and are actually very small, weighing less than half a pound. They generally live in colonies in mountainous terrain, often in old rock slides or around large boulders where protection is provided, usually with a meadow or patches of vegetation in the vicinity. They are generally out during the morning and late afternoon - listen for their short, shrill bark.

Coyotes are newcomers to Alaska. Coyotes were first noted in the state shortly after the turn of the 20th century, first reported on the mainland of Southeast Alaska and then slowly expanded northward into the upper Tanana Valley. The population peaked around 1940. Portions of the state with the highest densities of coyotes are the Kenai Peninsula, the Matanuska and Susitna valleys and the Copper River Valley. The coyote, like the wolf, is a member of the dog family and resembles a medium-sized shepherd-collie type dog. Distinctive features of the coyote are its sharp pointed ears that never droop, a sharp pointed nose and long bushy tail. The legs of the coyote are generally slimmer and the feet smaller than those of a dog of comparable size. Coyotes average 22 to 33 pounds or about one-third the size of wolves.

Dall Sheep inhabit the mountain ranges of Alaska. These white creatures are most notable for the males' massive curled horns. Females (known as ewes) also carry horns, but theirs are shorter and more slender and only slightly curved. Until rams reach the age of three years, they tend to resemble the ewes quite a bit. Dall sheep are common along Turnagain Arm just south of Anchorage and in the Denali area.

Foxes are found throughout all of Alaska and consist of two types. The familiar red fox is found throughout Alaska except for some of the islands of Southeast Alaska and the western Aleutians, and is rare in Prince William Sound. It is native to Kodiak Island but is an introduced animal on many islands in the state as a result of fox farming operations in the early 1900's. The arctic fox is found in treeless coastal areas of Alaska from the Aleutian Islands north to Point Barrow and east to the Canada border. Both blue and white color phases occur, with the blue phase more common on the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. The white color phase is more common in northern populations. Weighing less than ten pounds, their short legs and body, short ears and dense winter fur give them a stocky appearance compared to the red fox. Arctic foxes shed their long winter fur in early April and are soon covered with short, brown summer fur. The change to winter white begins in September and is complete by November.

Hares are like giant rabbits and there are two species in Alaska, both of which turn white in the winter. The snowshoe, or varying hare, is the most common and widespread of these. It is distributed over the state except for the lower Kuskokwim Delta, the Alaska Peninsula and the area north of the Brooks Range. The Alaskan hare, also called the tundra hare, populates much of the western coast of Alaska, including the Alaska Peninsula, but has a spotty distribution along the Arctic coast and the north slope of the Brooks Range. Snowshoe hares are found in mixed spruce forests, wooded swamps and brushy areas while the Alaskan hare is generally found on windswept, rocky slopes and upland tundra, often in groups. These big hares usually avoid lowlands and wooded areas. Snowshoe hares are somewhat larger than cottontail rabbits and average around 18 to 20 inches in total length and weigh three to four pounds. The ears are dark at the tips. The large hind feet are well-furred, adapting these animals for the deep snows of the boreal forests - thus the name "snowshoe." The Alaskan hare is larger at 22 to 28 inches in length and 6 to 12 pounds in weight. Hares are often called rabbits and both are members of the family Leporidae. However, hares are born fully furred and with eyes open, while newborn rabbits are blind and hairless.

Lynx are the only cats native to Alaska, roaming throughout most of Alaska except for many of the major island chains. The lynx is a large, short-tailed cat, similar to the bobcat, but distinguished by its long legs, furry feet, the long tufts on the tip of each ear and a black-tipped tail. The large broad feet function as snowshoes to aid the lynx in winter hunting and traveling. Their populations shrink and grow in direct proportion to the hare populations, their major food source.

Marmots are largest members of the squirrel family in North America. Three species of marmots live in Alaska: the hoary marmot, the Alaska marmot and the woodchuck. The hoary marmot can be found in talus slopes, boulder fields and rock outcrops in alpine areas of Alaska, south of the Yukon River. The Alaska marmot lives in similar habitat throughout much of the Brooks Range, the Ray Mountains and the Kokrines Hills (north of the Yukon River). The woodchuck digs its den in loess (wind-deposited soils) along river valleys in the dry lowlands of east central Alaska. The hoary and Alaska marmots can weigh 10 pounds and exceed 30 inches in total length while the woodchuck weighs between two and nine pounds and may grow to be 26 inches long. The hoary marmot has a white patch above its nose while the Alaska marmot does not.

Moose are the largest member of the deer family and known as elk in Europe. The Alaska-Yukon race is the largest of all of moose. An adult moose can range in size from 800 pounds (small adult female) to 1,600 pounds (large adult male) and they can be up to almost six feet tall. They can range in color from golden brown to almost black, depending upon the season and the age of the animal. Newborn calves have a red-brown coat that fades to a light rust color within a few weeks. Moose are often easily recognized by their antlers, carried only by the males. Trophy class bulls are found throughout Alaska but the largest come from the western portion of the state. The largest-sized antlers are usually produced when bulls are 10 to 12 years old, but bulls can reach trophy size as young as six years of age. In the wild, moose rarely live more than 16 years. They are especially abundant on timberline plateaus, along the major rivers of Southcentral and Interior Alaska, and in recently burned areas that have generated dense stands of willow, aspen and birch shrubs.

Mountain goats are sometimes confused with Dall sheep, but sheep are not found in Southeast Alaska and prefer drier country. Mountain goats are easily distinguishable from Dall sheep by their black horns. Mountain goats can be seen south and east of Anchorage. The appearance of both sexes is much alike except that males are about 40 percent larger than females and have differently shaped horns.

Muskrats are one of Alaska's most visible and numerous furbearers. Often mistaken for a beaver at first glance, the muskrat's small size (less than a foot long and weighing less than five pounds) and rat-like tail are the most immediate identification marks. The highest populations of muskrat are in the broad floodplains and deltas of major rivers and in marshy areas dotted with small lakes, but are located throughout most of Alaska's mainland.

Porcupines are found throughout all of Alaska except the Alaska Peninsula and a few of its islands. Porcupines are second in size only to the beaver among rodents of Alaska. They are easy to identify due to their long quills. Porcupines are vegetarians, living off the inner bark of spruce, birch and hemlock and spruce needles in winter and buds and young green leaves of birch, aspen, cottonwood and willow trees during the spring and summer. They also feed on shed antlers and the bones of dead animals to obtain sodium and calcium, as well as things like plywood and tool handles.

Sitka black-tailed deer are smaller, stockier and have a shorter face than other members of the black-tailed group. The average October weight of adults is about 80 pounds for females (does) and 120 pounds for males (bucks), although bucks of over 200 pounds have been reported. A Sitka black-tail buck's antlers are dark brown with typical black-tailed branching. Sitka deer are only located along the railroad south of Anchorage.

Squirrels can be found in Alaska. The two types include the northern flying squirrel, a small nocturnal animal which can be found in interior Alaska, the northern and western limit of the species' range. The red squirrel can be found in spruce forests over most of Alaska.

Wolverine reside throughout mainland Alaska and some of the islands of Southeast Alaska. A relative of the mink and weasel, its scientific name means "glutton". Wolverines have long dense fur that is generally dark brown to black with a creamy white to gold stripe running from each shoulder along the flanks to the base of the tail. A white hair patch on the neck and chest is common. A wolverine will eat almost anything to survive and has no trouble hunting or traveling in Alaska's deep snows.

Wolves are pretty common in Alaska. Early taxonomists recognized about 24 New World and eight Old World subspecies of Canis lupus, with four sub-species thought to occur in Alaska. Only two Alaska sub-species are now recognized. Wolves in Southeast Alaska tend to be darker and somewhat smaller than those in northern parts of the state. The pelt color of Alaska wolves ranges from black to nearly white, with every shade of gray and tan in between. Gray or black wolves are most common and the relative abundance of each color phase varies over time and from place to place. Adult male wolves in Interior Alaska weigh from 85 to 115 pounds, but they occasionally reach 145 pounds. Wolves reach adult size by about one year of age.

My first Full Day in Alaska in 2013 9/14/2013

The next morning we awoke and after getting ready, went to have breakfast then took the bus to the boarding area of the Riverboat Discovery.

Riverboat Discovery

Today, third and fourth generations of the Binkley family in Alaska operate tours on the rivers of Fairbanks, using several sternwheeler boats operating under the name of Riverboat Discovery. Tours on the local rivers of Fairbanks are a popular event and trips operated by the Riverboat Discovery have been underway since 1955. In that year, the late Captain Jim Binkley (a former freight riverboat captain on the Yukon River), and his wife Mary, began operating river cruises aboard the Discovery, a boat Captain Jim built in his backyard. This boat replaced a small 25-seat craft that they had been operating since 1950. As demand increased, the Binkley family had sternwheeler Discovery II built in 1971 on the steel hull of the last freighting sternwheeler on the Yukon and Tanana Rivers, the Yutana (for YUkon and TANAna). In 1986, they had sternwheeler Discovery III built at the Nichols Brothers Boat Builders shipyard in Seattle. These new boats were necessary to accommodate the growing number of visitors interested in the three hour cruise on the clear-water Chena River and the silt-laden Tanana River. Discovery III holds about 900 passengers and the Discovery II holds 300.

As the popularity of the cruises grew, features were added such as the gift shop Steamboat Landing, the largest family-owned gift shop in the state. This shop features numerous hand-made Alaskan Native artwork, Alaska foods and souvenirs. Stops, displays and demonstration of Alaska life, including the ancient Athabascan Indian culture, the home and kennels of the late four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher and bush floatplanes were also added.

A highlight of the tour is the "wedding of the rivers" where the Chena River and the Tanana River merge, a unique mixing of two different waters. The spring-fed Chena River runs right through downtown Fairbanks. The Tanana River, the world's greatest glacial river, carries tons of glacial silt from the Alaska Range past this point daily enroute to its rendezvous with the mighty Yukon River.

The Riverboat Discovery Trip 9/14/2013

We were bussed out to the Riverboat Discovery on a rainy morning and I first saw this display about Captain Binkley and his background.

The Riverboat Discovery III on which we would be riding, first trip of the NRHS convention.

The Riverboat Discovery II.

The Steamboat Landing Gift Shop and other stores.

The view up river before we boarded. I sat on a bench and just watched the world pass me by on a rainy morning. At 8:50 AM, we were allowed to board the boat and Elizabeth and I made our way to the top deck which was undercover from the elements.

The view down river.

The view across the river.

Our passengers boarding the ship.

Bob Riskie was boarding the boat.

The trip started with us reversing out of the dock and I called Let's Talk Trains and told about us being up here in Alaska. I wondered how many states from which I have called the show?

We left Steamboat Landing behind.

The trees were in their autumn colors.

Looking down river. We then were given a bush float plane demonstration.

It was interesting watching his water takeoff and landing as well as the pilot's conversation with our Captain which was broadcast for all to hear.

Trees in fall colors.

Looking up river.

More autumn colors.

A home along the Chena River.

Riverboat Discovery I, th first boat of the three that has been used on the tour we are taking.

A bend in the Chena River.

The Pump House Restaurant.

Pump House Creek.

A house and water plane storage.

Homes along the Chena River.

Autumn colours were in force.

A water plane dock.

More docks along the Chena River.

A view downstream.

One of several log homes along the Chena River.

Trees lined the shore of the river.

A nice home along the Chena River.

More trees.

A view looking up river.

More homes on the bank.

Looking back up the Chena River.

A motor boat parked on the bank of the river.

The bend in the river. Next the boat stopped for a demonstration of dog sledding.

The widower of Susan Butcher, the dog-sledding lead team member, told us about the sport and these fine dogs.

Alaska Husky puppies learning to jump over small obstacles.

A team of Husky dogs then gave us a demonstration of their running abilities.

A few minutes later they returned from a good running workout.

They all headed straight to the water to cool down. With that demonstration over, we headed further down the river.

The modern way of building a log home.

Another bend in the Chena River.

Trees in autumn colors.

The Athabascan Native American Village where we would stop on the way back. Then the reindeer {domesticated Caribou} came out into a pen so our passengers could to see them, up close, but safely from the boat.

It was interesting watching these unique animals on our tour this morning. Good news the rain has stopped.

Looking back up the river.

We came to our furthest western point on the trip when we arrived at the "wedding of the rivers", the point where the Chena River and the Tanana River merge.

Here you can see the unique mixing of two different waters of the rivers.

A look at Tanana River.

This is the point of land where the rivers join.

Two more views of the Tanana River.

Back at the Athabascan Native American Village, Grace gave us a demonstration of slicing Chum salmon into strips to be dried and then made into dog food. The boat docked, we all unloaded and were split into three groups for talks about the history and lifestyle of the Athabascan people.

The Village Post Office.

Elizabeth, the Chief's daughter, explained about animal pelts the tribe used.

The statue of Granite, the beloved and famous sled dog.

Our last stop was with both Elizabeth and Grace and our group was seated and ready to listen and learn.

They both gave a fantastic demonstration of female Indian clothing. Then we were turned loose to explore the village on our own.

The Riverboat Discovery III at the village before I reboarded for the trip back to the Riverboat Landing.

The last of our passengers returning to our boat before we headed back.

Two views of the Chena River. We returned to the Riverboat Landing after having some Alaska King Salmon which was given to all the passengers. We were then bussed to our next event location.

Click here for Part 2 of the story