Fairbanks is the second largest city in Alaska after Anchorage. Only about 2 hours north of Denali, it often takes longer due to the never ending roadwork on the Parks hwy connecting the two cities. As one saying goes, “there are two seasons in Alaska -winter and roadwork.” Because the snow free season is so short, road work is a necessary evil in the summer months and to the state’s credit the roads are in perfect condition, especially when compared to the roads in Connecticut or even worse Massachusetts- yes, I am still expecting a check for my broken axle and suspension repairs after driving in Mass for three years.
We leave Denali in the early afternoon and stop for a quick duck pizza lunch at Denali Village overlooking Riley Creek. Light drizzle that perpetuated throughout the morning finally stops and we witness an enormous rainbow stretching across the creek and disappearing behind the tree edges. We watch the rainbow follow us almost halfway through our 3 hour drive to Fairbanks. Once in town, we stop at the visitor center and after a brief visit turn to a Chena River road for another beautiful 40 mile drive with a colorful sunset reflecting in my rearview mirror. Half an hour later we arrive to the Hunt Memorial Cabin in Chena River State Recreation area, where we stay for the night.
Several campgrounds and state-operated cabins are located along the river that is often a popular destination for float trips, catch and release fishing, or dog sledding in winter. Our cabin is similar to the ones we stayed at in Kenai with no electricity or water, it only includes bunk beds, a table and kitchen area, and a wood stove, as well as a tool shed, outhouse, and a fire ring outside. Larger than Kenai cabins though, the cabin has a stairway leading to the second floor loft space with a square window overlooking the stream tumbling below. The driveway to the cabin and the door are locked, requiring a four digit code received along with the reservation receipt unlike the Forest Service cabins that are always unlocked to serve as an emergency shelter for lost or stranded hikers.
We start a fire shortly after our arrival but it keeps slowly dying as brief showers passed through the area. We manage to fire up the wood stove instead and warm up the cabin for the evening. With the sun finally below the horizon, we finish dinner and drive to Chena Hot Springs resort. Located at the very end of Chena Hot Springs road, 60 miles away from Fairbanks, the resort offers overnight lodging as well as day tours of its ice museum or hot springs natural pool. By the time we get there, half an hour to midnight, the last few guests are exiting the pool area. We get the hot springs completely to ourselves enjoying hot bubbling water smelling of sulfur and watching the dark tree silhouettes surrounding the property. By midnight the pool is officially closed and we drive back to the cabin in complete darkness wary of occasional moose hiding in the thick brush and ready to jump on the road.
Once back at the cabin, we settle in the loft area and, in anticipation of a long drive beyond the Arctic Circle the next day,.sleep through aurora rumored to dance in the night sky that day. Perhaps on a future trip we would have better luck with elusive Northern Lights.