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
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.)|
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.
|He turned off the engine during their conversation.|
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
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 team has just returned from their training run pulling the four-wheeler.|
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|
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.|
|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.|
|Hand-made birch canoe|
|Senior trainer answering questions about the sled dogs|
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!
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