Discovery III in front with Discovery II in back.
As we left the dock and moved to the center of the Chena, the captain
is giving the safety and welcome aboard talk. I climbed up to the top
deck where I joined up with Chris G, Chris P and Elizabeth. Standing
here on the top deck you have a 360 degree vista of this wonderful
landscape in the land of the midnight sun. The captain told us there
was complimentary coffee and donuts at several locations on the boat.
He then told us a brief history of the Discovery III.
The Binkley family’s steam boating tradition goes back over 100 years
and five generations to the Klondike Gold Rush. In 1898 when Charles M.
Binkley hiked over the Chilkoot Pass with other stampeders, he was not
so much in search of gold as he was the chance to chart and navigate
the Yukon River and its tributaries. He became a respected pilot and
boat builder in the north. His son, Captain Jim Binkley, Sr., followed
in his father’s footsteps and piloted freight vessels on the Yukon and
Tanana Rivers in the 1940’s- journeys of about 2,000 miles round trip.
Noting the coming changes in the freighting business, Captain Jim and
his wife Mary began a river excursion business in Fairbanks in 1950.
They purchased a 25 passenger boat from the Episcopal church. In 1955
Captain Jim built the company’s first sternwheeler, the 150 passenger
Discovery I, in his back yard.
It was not long before Captain Jim and Mary became parents. Their three
sons, Skip, Jim and John, worked on the Discovery I, learning the ways
of the river and the visitor industry from their parents. As the
business grew, so did the fleet. In 1971, the 300 passenger Discovery
II was put into service. In 1986, Discovery III was built near Seattle,
Washington and shipped to Alaska in 1987. The 900 passenger boat began
service in July of that year.
Back on the river after the crew turned the Discovery III a 180
degrees, we were focused downstream over the bow to a small plane
sitting in the river. The plane proceeded to approach us and as it
moved faster it lifted off and flew by. The small plane is more popular
in Alaska than an auto. The two most popular ways to travel in the
north are the plane and train.
The pilot circled around and then landed on the water and coasted
toward the riverboat. The captain was on the radio and talking to the
pilot and was in turn patched thru to the public address system, this
allowed the pilot to tell us a little about flying here and how
important bush floatplanes are to living here. After a short chat the
pilot drifted off and taxied drown river and was off to the wild blue
Video clips will open in a new window. After viewing, close the video window to return to this report:
Continuing downstream we pass several nice houses. I am in my first
Alaska neighborhood. Several residents came out to wave as we passed
by. They were very neighborly.
Shortly we pass The Pump House Restaurant & Saloon. This is an
authentic former tin pump house used in gold-mining operations; the
restaurant is listed on the Register of Historic Places.
Next to the Pump House is the mouth of a little creek. This creek has
produced more gold than any other Alaska creek.
Follow the creek upstream to the gold.
Our next stop was at the Trail Breaker Kennel, owned by Dave Monson and
his late wife Iditarod Champion Susan Butcher. Dave and Susan married
in 1985. They quickly became the most dominant racing team in Alaska.
Susan won the 1,100 mile Iditarod Dog Sled Race from Anchorage to Nome
four times (1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990). In one magical year -1988-Susan
and Dave won every race they entered: Dave won the Yukon Quest, a
1,000-mile dog sled race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse; Susan won her
third Iditarod; and they won other races in Kobuk, Bethel and the
Dave stood on river bank shore and talk to us thru a headset to the
boat’s PA system. He explained the dog’s training routine and the
different steps in training to be a good sled dog. He then hitches a
dog team up to ATV (with engine removed) and was pulled around the
compound to exercise and train the dogs
Our next spot of interest was a animal pen or corral that, almost like
on clue, the caribou came running into the pen on the river bank. The
local saying here is the difference between caribou and reindeer is
that reindeer can fly. After the caribou came out, made their
appearance and jumped around the pen, we then paddled on.
video clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXkYgtZOfIs
Next was the highlight of this tour and that is the “wedding of the
rivers” where the Chena River and Tanana River merge, a unique mixing
of two different waters. The spring fed Chena River runs right through
downtown Fairbanks. The Tanana River, the world’s greatest glacial
river, carries tons of glacial silt from the Alaska Range past this
point daily en route to its rendezvous with the mighty Yukon River.
Notice the mixing of two different river waters.
GPS: 64 47.972, -147 54.713 copy and paste
in browser for map of location.
Thanks to brother Jim for his editing.
After about an hour the Captain blew the riverboat’s whistle and the
passengers wandered back to the landing and re-boarding.
After getting under way and heading upstream, the passengers were
treated to a Discovery tradition. A taste of Captain Jim’s gourmet
smoked salmon. The recipe: Start with Alaska’s finest ocean-caught red
sockeye salmon. Custom smoke it with natural alder smoke and hand-pack
it the same day it is caught. Then mix it with cream cheese and spread
on a cracker.
It had a smoked taste. I must have liked it because I went back for
seconds. Take a couple of tins home with you, we were told.
More residence along the Chena River.
Captain Jim's widow Mary out for a stroll and a friendly wave for us.
Shortly after our tasty treat, the Discovery III was being tied up to
the dock at the Steamboat Landing.
Waiting on the dock for us to return.
One last look down the Chena River.
The disembarking passengers separated with the cruise line passengers
heading to the dining hall for their noon meal and the NHRS group
heading toward the buses to our next stop and adventure.
The Pump House: www.pumphouse.com