Thursday, March 26, 2009

Outhouses as art, and Fairbanks’ other charms

Fairbanks is one of the most unique places I have ever visited. Here’s my top ten list of the quirky, endearing, and unique things I noticed and loved when visiting there:

1. In Fairbanks, outhouses are art!
Just after arriving in Fairbanks, I stopped at the airport restroom where I was greeted by this lovely art on the tile of the wall just outside the restroom:

As someone who grew up with outhouses on the family farm (although we had standard bathrooms in our home in town), I have a soft spot in my heart for them. My mother used to dream up projects to keep her kids and grandkids busy by painting or decorating our outhouses in whimsical ways. I don’t mean to brag, but we actually had TWO outhouses on the family farm. So, when I saw that people in Fairbanks liked to use outhouses in their art, it made me instantly like them.

Here’s another artistic outhouse that was at the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North. The signs invite you to go on in, have a seat, and relax as you ponder the art that surrounds you.

Another outhouse that made me smile was the one made of ice at the Chena Hot Springs Ice Museum.
Notice the nice carpeted toilet seat that enables you to sit on it without sliding off.

2. In Fairbanks, you can take shortcuts by driving over the river

Fairbanks sits on either side of the Chena River, and when the river is frozen in the winter, you can take shortcuts around town by driving on the frozen river. Here’s the place where Ray and Rebecca like to cross the river, because it’s near their church and it saves them about 10 minutes along the way.

They read the newspaper every day and watch for the first story that comes up each spring about someone who broke through the ice when they were driving over the river, which is their signal that now it’s time to stick to the road.

Actually, the ice breaking up along the river is a Big Deal in Fairbanks. Each year the city has a contest where people predict, to the exact day, hour, and minute, when a large tripod-like structure they place on the river will fall through the ice. Whoever guesses the closest wins some humongous amount of money--like $300,000 or so--and so people seriously study the ice, the weather, and previous years' history to come up with their prediction.

This might also be a good place to mention that each year a portion of the 1000-mile Yukon Quest dog sled race happens in Fairbanks, and the mushers follow a route that takes them along the river ice. One year, when it was too warm for the Ididarod to start in Anchorage, they started it along the Chena River in Fairbanks.

3. In Fairbanks, many of the businesses have ice sculptures in front of them.

Not only does Fairbanks host the amazing World Ice Art Championships each year (which I’ll talk about in a later post), but you can see ice carvings all over town too. You see them in front of the University, the dentist office, the plumber’s place, and even the liquor store. When I saw this ice art outside the Thrifty Liquor Store, I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of this 5-ton ice art carving of Al Gore, shivering in the cold.

4. Fairbanks has fabulous street signs

This sign is near Ray and Rebecca’s home:

I also loved this street sign:

5. Fairbanks has lots of unique animals around

You can see moose, caribou, reindeer, huge ravens, and even musk ox in Fairbanks. Here’s a little video I took of the Musk Ox (plural: oxen?), frolicking in the snow on the 2nd day of Spring.

6. Fairbanks has lots of parking spots where you can plug in your car’s engine heater.

It’s a good thing too…otherwise you’d never get your car started again.

If you look carefully, you may also be able to see a blue satellite dish on top of the building in the distance. I was interested to see that the satellite dishes were all pointed to the horizon, rather than at an angle into the air like I normally see them (although I did see one pointed straight up). This was probably to enable them to receive signals from satellites at lower latitudes.

The parking lots also have really big snow banks, which I will model below:

7. Fairbanks has the world's northern-most McDonalds

Fairbanks is actually 15 miles north of the town of North Pole, Alaska, and is the site of the northern most McDonalds, Home Depot, and Fred Meyer.

The second-most-northern McDonalds is also pretty interesting, especially since it has an effigy of Ronald McDonald hanging up in the tree next door, courtesy of some unhappy neighbors who don't like the smell. Perhaps they're on a diet.

Speaking of restaurants, people in Fairbanks really like those drive up coffee shops that don’t require you to get out of your warm car into the freezing cold. When I saw three of these all in a row, I was pretty sure that they really REALLY like them:

8. Taking out the trash in Fairbanks is like going on a treasure hunt

Because garbage collection is so expensive where Rebecca and Ray live (outside the city limits), taking out the trash is not a simple matter. Instead of just dropping it in a bin that is picked up once a week, they drive it to a transfer station, where they can put it in one of many dumpsters.

While you’re there, you can mosey on over to the Reuse Platform, where people leave items that are good enough to re-use, to see if you can find any treasures there. Once, Ray’s daughter found some jeans that happened to have $200 in the pocket. Since Ray had driven them to the transfer station that day, since his daughter had found the jeans, and since Rebecca found the money when she did the wash, they all felt they had a claim to it. After a family meeting to decide the fate of the money, they finally decided to donate it to the September 11 Widows Fund.

Here’s Ray, seeing if there’s anything good on the reuse platform:

By the way, Rebecca and I saw a pickup truck with 5 or 6 large ravens in the back in the parking lot at the world’s northern most Fred Meyer store. The ravens had noticed the white plastic bag that trash usually comes in, and had opened it with their beaks and were eating all the treasures they found inside. So, if you ever move to Fairbanks, remember to empty the trash FIRST, and do other errands later.

9. Near Fairbanks, you can see part of the 800-mile long Trans-Alaska oil pipeline

The pipeline is capable of transporting up to 2 million barrels of oil a day, across three mountain ranges, active fault lines, and unstable ground and permafrost. It faces temperatures from 100 above to 75 below zero Fahrenheit. It’s an engineering marvel.

While you’re in the neighborhood, you can also drive by a place where a guy is converting a large jetliner into a house, which is less of an engineering marvel, but is still pretty unique.

10. Fairbanks has this inspiring and beautiful monument to commemorate an interesting piece of history that happened there:

Did you know that in World War II, the U.S. lent over 8,000 airplanes to our Russian allies through a “Land-Lease” program? At first we tried to deliver the airplanes to them by shipping them on large aircraft carriers across the Atlantic, but they were often bombed and destroyed before they could get in the air. So, instead, we started flying them over land to Russia. American pilots (often women) flew the planes from Great Falls, Montana up to Fairbanks, where the planes were picked up by Russian pilots and flown over Russia to the battle front.

I loved the larger-than-life monument, and also the information about the great women and men who participated.

Here’s a photo of the map showing the route they took:

Ok, so even though this is a top TEN list, I can't resist adding a bonus item or two:

Bonus item #1. In Fairbanks, you can chill your beverage, just by placing it on the windshield for a few minutes as you drive around town

Ray did that with the water bottles we packed for our lunch, placing them just above the windshield wipers, like this:

Bonus item #2. Fairbanks has very nice, very LONG sunsets

I had an incredible view of a gorgeous pink sunset as I flew from Seattle to Fairbanks, and was surprised because the sunset lasted a really, really, really long about two hours or so. When I mentioned it to Rebecca, she told me that the sun never really goes very high in the sky during the wintertime anyway...instead, it just circles around the horizon, so it looks like sunset for a long, long time. It's easy for her to tell the time, just by noting the location of the sun on the horizon, like the ultimate sundial.

I wasn't able to take a photo of the long, long sunset on the flight up, but I did take some photos on the flight back home. Just imagine this view, tinged with the pink light of a beautiful, long-lasting sunset. Just one more way that Fairbanks and Alaska captured my heart.


Lori said...

Breath taking. Thanks for the tour.

Sandy said...

Cindy - you are officially my FAVORITE blogger! Reading your blog is like coming along for the ride with you. Thank you so very much for sharing. I am so jealous! What a fabulous thing to be able to travel as you do. Continue to share your adventures for those of us stuck at home. Love ya!

Fran said...

Loved it! ...Thanks for the most interesting page! ...stumbled upon it for some weird reason. And Glad I did!