Monday, July 18, 2016

Subzero Experience and Best Boat Tour in North America

Riverboat Discovery...

Voted the best boat tour in North America, this is not just a boat ride! Our Riverboat Discovery tour was on a sternwheeler that took us into the heart of Alaska by a family who made the rivers of Alaska their way of life for five generations.

A Family Business...

It all started when Charles Binkley hiked over the Chilkoot Pass with other stampeders in 1898. Looking for the chance to operate boats on the Yukon and its tributaries rather than search for gold, he became a respected pilot and boat builder. Charles was followed by his son, Captain Jim Binkley, Sr., who piloted freight vessels on the Yukon and Tanana Rivers in the 1940’s. Railroads and airplanes began to carry much of the freight in 1950. Seeing the coming changes in the freighting business, Captain Jim and his wife, Mary B., began a river excursion business, which focused on sharing their love of Alaska and its culture with visitors. Their business grew from a 25-passenger vessel to the 900-passenger sternwheeler today, and is run by Jim’s grandchildren with Mary B. still active in the business.

A Subzero Experience 

We arrived at Steamboat Landing 2-ish in the afternoon. Before boarding Discovery III, we had time to explore the Discovery Trading Post. Winters in Alaska can be very cold. Entering the specially designed subzero chamber kept at 40 below zero gave us a chance to taste a brisk mid-winter day in the upper Alaskan Interior. We stayed inside the chamber long enough to have our photo taken of this unique experience.

Photo my sister sent me of us in the -40 temperature
cold chamber at the Discovery Trading Post
We dressed in layers so we could add or shed articles of clothing as the temperatures warmed up or cooled off during the day.  In this photo, I am wearing a long-sleeved turtleneck, covered with a short-sleeved t-shirt, and I also have a hooded sweatshirt tied around my waist.

Best Boat Tour in North America

The Discovery III was waiting for us to board at the landing.
Discovery (I think this was the one that held 25 passengers.)
Bush Pilot Demonstration

As our tour on the Chena River got underway, an Alaskan bush pilot took off and landed right next to our boat.

Bush pilot taking off next to Discovery III

Bush pilot landing next to Discovery III.
That is our boat railing in the photo above.
We were able to listen in to the conversation between the pilot and our captain over the loud speaker as he shared stories of village life and explained the vital role planes play in remote Alaska.

He turned off the engine during their conversation.
Trailbreaker Kennels

Trailbreaker Kennels along the Chena River was our next stop. If you look closely, you can see that each dog has their own special space in the fenced area.

Trail Blazer Kennels
Home of the late Susan Butcher who was a four-time Iditerod Champion
Susan Butcher (pronounced boo - cher) was a four-time Iditerod Champion. Speaking of the Iditerod, it is a sled dog race that begins in Anchorage in March and heads to Nome.

The first Iditerod race was in 1925. It began in Nenana as a serum run. The people in Nome were threatened by a diphtheria epidemic. It was January 27th, more than -40 degrees fahrenheit in the coldest part of winter, and planes could not fly. A 20-pound capsule of serum was sent by train from Seward to Nenana. A relay team of 20 mushers, using over 100 dogs, passed the package from village to village following old roadhouses along a winter trail mail route to Nome. The serum, frozen solid even though wrapped in quilting, when it arrived February 2nd, was still effective.

A trainer tells us first-hand about kennel life and what it takes
to make a championship dogsled team, as well as life on the trails.
The trainer talks to us using the same technique as the bush pilot. Each dog in the fenced area has their own space. The dogs in the foreground are part of the team and they are anxious to get hitched up for the next run.
The team has just returned from their training run pulling the four-wheeler.
When there is no snow on the ground, instead of a sled, the team pulls a four-wheeler as they train to be a championship team.

Chena River

Fairbanks connects to forty-two isolated villages via the riverways. The Chena River that flows through the heart of Fairbanks by Golden Heart Plaza flows into the Tanana River, which flows into the Yukon River.

Here is where we turn around to continue our tour....

Captain narrating our tour 

Fishwheels were a river-powered waterwheel
Fishwheels, a river-powered waterwheel, were used to scoop up river salmon and deposit them in a box beside the wheel. Fishwheels in rural Alaska are made from anything that is available. Other areas may use plastic webbing for the net instead of willow.

Chena Indian Village 

We got off the riverboat to go on a guided walking tour of an Athabascan Indian Village where we could see frontier living first-hand.

(Note: You can click on any picture to see an enlarged view.  Simply click the x to close out of it.)

This map resembles the original village of the 1900s and is near that site.
The two guides spend time meeting with the elders in their villages to learn the ways of their ancestors to share and preserve their traditions for future generations.

Cabin made of spruce logs

Spruce bark hut with wolf, fox, martin, beaver, and mink pelts

Clothing for the Athabascan people was beautiful works of art. 
Clothing for the Athabascan people was beautiful works of art, tailored of tanned caribou or moose hide and decorated with quills, pieces of fur, or trade beads. The coat in the above photo took six and one-half months to make.

Hand-made birch canoe

Reindeer pen
After the guided tour, we were free to walk around, and came upon the senior trainer from Trailbreaker Kennels and some of the sled dogs.

Senior trainer answering questions about the sled dogs
After getting back on the Riverboat, we had a chance to sample an easy, but very delicious, recipe they made with Red Sockeye Salmon and served on a cracker.  It was so good, we got in line for seconds.

It was easy to see why the Riverboat Discovery had been voted the best tour in North America.  On their tour we not only experienced the culture of the Alaskan people, but watched as events in their daily lives were demonstrated before our eyes. Listening to the Bush Pilot as well the senior dog trainer and taking the tour at Chena Village required going the extra mile so that passengers could get a better feel for the real Alaska and their people who live in the Interior.

In my next post, we leave Fairbanks early in the morning. Our luggage has to be outside our room bright and early for an 8:15 departure on the Alaska Railway! You will not want to miss this next post – I fell off the train!

Thank you everyone for visiting and following my adventure. Feel free to make comments. If you would like to be notified when a new post is published, put your email address in the box at the top right of this blog and be sure to go to your email to confirm your subscription. We respect your privacy and do nothing with your information.

We also appreciate your clicking on any of our links. Any purchase you make when you use our links may generate a small percentage of income from that vendor, but it will not increase any cost to you. This is true no matter how many pages you visit or which item you purchase on a site after initially entering the site from my blog.


  1. Great Post! Of course, I may be partial. I was there for every step and every available site. Great to read verbiage that goes with all our pictures.

  2. Thank you -- I appreciate your commenting. It is fun reliving our adventure!!! My goal is to complete all of the posts for our Alaska adventure and then return to where I left off.


We welcome conversational comments that are on topic and useful. Links to personal blogs are fine, but we will not approve comments made for the sole purpose of linking to a commercial business, and/or which have no direct relevancy to the topic of the post. Thank you.