After we got settled into the campground at Fort Wainwright on Monday
afternoon Jim went for a bike ride around the post and I drove a few
miles to the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center on the banks
of the Chena River downtown to help winnow our list of potential things
to do and see in Fairbanks.
We have just 2½ days here and we
want to make the most of them.
Inviting main entrance to the Morris Thompson
Cultural & Visitor Center in Fairbanks
Jim and I have been to a lot of visitors centers in the many years
we've been traveling. When we visit a new park, city, or region one of
our first stops is usually the local visitors' center.
It doesn't matter how much research
we've already done online. We often learn so much more inside these
treasure troves of information from the colorful descriptive brochures
of things to see and do, interesting exhibits, free
films, and friendly, knowledgeable staff that can answer just about any
question we pose.
Of course, some visitor centers are better than others. Fairbanks has
one of the best anywhere we've traveled. It exceeded all my expectations.
I could easily spend one or two days at the Thompson Center
because it offers visitors so much and is presented so well. This trip I
limited myself to about an hour on Monday and another hour on Tuesday
when I took Jim to see it, too. I will definitely spend more time here
on our next trip to Fairbanks.
The regional visitor center run by the Fairbanks Convention and
Visitors Bureau is one of several
organizations and features we found inside the handsome
Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center.
It also houses one of several Alaska Public Lands Information
Centers (we love those), an Alaska Geographic bookstore (we love those,
too), and a very large exhibit hall featuring
museum-quality interpretive displays and dioramas showcasing Interior
Alaska's people, landscapes, and seasons.
One of the displays entitled "Living
With the Land"
In addition to lots of printed and verbal information about local and
regional sights and activities, there are also several free films shown
daily, programs on Alaska's natural and cultural history, cultural
performances and demonstrations, artisans' workshops, an Elders'
gathering area, free WiFi, and other amenities.
Alaska Public Lands Information Center has information about
Alaska's state parks, national parks, national forests, wildlife
refuges, and other outdoor recreational sites.
This is the third APLIC we've visited in Alaska; the others
were in Tok and Anchorage. The fourth site is in Ketchikan, but we won't
be going there.
Like the visitor center, APLIC offers maps and
brochures, free videos/films, interpretive programs, exhibits and
artifacts, and other information to help visitors plan their trips to
Alaska's vast public lands.
SCENES FROM THE EXHIBIT AREA
The exhibit area reminded me of a smaller version of the
Anchorage Museum. I wasn't expecting such quantity or quality
of cultural exhibits at this location -- and free to the public.
The first large exhibits describe how Alaskans have embraced the
seasons and adapted to the challenges of each. There is a lot of
material to read if you have the time, but you can get the gist of life
in Interior Alaska by just scanning the interpretive panels, pictures,
Here are some photos of parts of the exhibits that depict three of the seasons:
Summer (salmon drying on a rack)
Above and below: autumn scenes
The WINTER part of this exhibit area depicts many of the activities
Alaskans enjoy during the long, cold months when snow and ice cover the
ground. This is just one of the display cases:
I especially enjoyed the three-screen videos of winter activities
that played in a darkened corner. The whole show lasts about 10 minutes
and it plays continuously so you can come in at any time and just keep
watching until it repeats itself.
These shots show the Yukon Quest Sled Dog race and northern lights:
I also enjoyed the exhibits showcasing Native Alaskan art, clothing,
and tools in the Celebration of Communities section.
These displays are similar to the beautiful objects I saw at the
Here are just a few examples of what you can see in this part
of the museum:
Large walrus tusk
This pretty quilt reminds me of the large
quilt at the Eielson Visitor Center at Denali
Above and below: "Art
Rooted in Culture" display
There are many more beautiful exhibits. If you're in
Fairbanks you gotta go see them. Remember, this place is FREE.
AND MORE TO SEE OUTDOORS . . .
The Thompson Center has plenty to offer outside, too. I l loved
walking around the front, sides, and back of the building to admire the
landscaping, courtyards, mosaic tiles in the walkways, and the historic homestead cabin
on the grounds.
The photos I took on Tuesday when it was partly sunny
are much nicer than the ones I took on Monday when it was overcast --
but the reflective glass-walled building and colorfully landscaped
grounds are beautiful any time.
A couple rests on a bench outside the main
After the snow and peak fall colors at Denali, we're glad to see
summer's last hurrah in Fairbanks. The grass is still emerald green and
the flowers are still blooming at the Thompson Center:
Side view of the homestead
Left of the main entryway to the Thompson Center is the Gould Cabin,
shown below, one of the few cabins from the early days of Fairbanks that
remains on its original site.
It was built before 1910 during the town's gold rush:
No running water or electricity back
then . . .
Between the rear of the Thompson Center and the Chena River
are nicely landscaped courtyards and a large expanse of lawn:
One of the tile mosaic designs
Above and below: views
toward the Chena River and paved multi-use path (Chena Riverwalk)
A second tile mosaic in the rear
of the building; there is a third one just outside the main entrance.
A paved path leads visitors to the popular Chena Riverwalk under an arch made of over 100 moose and caribou antlers that were
collected all over Interior Alaska:
From the sign next to the arch
If you go to this
link you can see an antler webcam which runs all year long.
It'll be interesting to see it in the winter!
Just beyond the arch in the photo above is the paved multi-use path
called the Chena Riverwalk. I'll show photos of the path in the next
entry. Cody and I checked it out on Monday and I dragged Jim there
Tuesday to see it, too. (He enjoyed it as much as I did.)
Next entry: Chena Riverwalk, Golden Heart Plaza, the Yukon
Quest Sled Dog Race HQ, a WWII military memorial, and other attractions
along the pathway
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil