Wednesday, October 10, 2007

More Traveling

After two wonderful weeks in autumn-kissed Montana, I only had three days at home with Dutch before repacking my suitcase and traveling again. This time it was to Fairbanks for the annual meeting of the Alaska Academy of Physician Assistants. I had only been to Fairbanks once before, in the summer of 2004, when Dutch and I drove the Alaska Highway from beginning to end.

The meeting lasted for three days and contained some excellent CME (continuing medical education) lectures. There was great variety in the topics, and most of the speakers were dynamic and involving. About 80 PAs from around the state, and a few from other states, attended.

Dutch flew in to Fairbanks at the conclusion of the meeting and we rented a car and drove up to Chena Hot Springs for the weekend. This small resort about sixty miles northeast of Fairbanks has been one of my dream destinations in Alaska for many years. Alaska is a state with numerous active volcanoes; it is part of the Pacific Rim’s “Ring of Fire.” A great blessing which is a side effect of this activity is the presence of geothermally-heated waters which bubble to the earth’s surface in many locations.

The hot springs on the north fork of the Chena River were discovered by U.S. Geological Surveyors in 1905. Within a few years, rockworks were created to capture the waters in pools of varying sizes and temperatures so that people could wade in and submerge in the blissful warmth.

The water comes from the earth at approximately 146 degrees. It has a moderately strong smell of sulphur to it, which is more “medicinal” than unpleasant. The resort has a large indoor facility with an Olympic-sized swimming pool and several whirlpool spas containing water from the springs which has been chlorinated, and a large outdoor lake in which the waters are untreated. That was by far my favorite.

The resort is open year round, despite winter temperatures that can go as low as sixty degrees below zero. Being early in the fall, it was only in the low 20s this past weekend, which made a delicious contrast between air and water. The walk from the pool house to the Rock Lake was just far enough to set bare skin (bathing suit clad, of course) stinging from the cold before wading quickly into the hot, inviting water. There is only one word for it: ahhhhhhhhhhhh!

The Rock Lake is a large oblong shape, perhaps 60 by 100 feet, and has a maximum depth of about four feet. The hot water from the springs enters at one location, and that is where the water in the lake is the hottest; my guess, after several years of maintaining a hot tub, is around 112 degrees. There are hotter and cooler pockets at different spots in the lake, but the coolest is probably 104.

The season’s first significant snowfall occurred while we were there. The walk from the bath house to the lake, barefoot through the snow, added extra charm to the first moment of submersion in the hot waters. The resort lies in a bowl of surrounding mountains, and the dusting of snow on the evergreen forest all around us was truly beautiful. Lying in the waters and gazing out at it was incredibly relaxing. I could feel stress and physical tightness leaking out of my body. The waters of the spring are very soft and feel lovely on the skin. And there is something so elementally comforting and nourishing about being warmed by the heart of the planet.

At 64 degrees north latitude, this was the farthest north that either Dutch or I had been. I really hoped we would be treated to a display of the aurora borealis; I so want to watch those lights dance across the sky while sitting in the restorative waters of the hot springs. But it just didn't happen. I'll choose to interpret that as meaning I have to try again.

One of our intentions for the weekend was to visit our friend, Iditarod musher Aliy Zirkle. She and her husband Allen Moore (also an Iditarod musher) live with their dogs just off the Chena Hot Springs Road at Two Rivers, Alaska. We drove over on Saturday afternoon and were delighted to meet Allen and see their dog yard. Aliy and Allen currently have about fifty adult dogs and a dozen puppies. But alas and alack! Aliy was not there. Her sister had gone into labor that morning and they were at the hospital in Fairbanks welcoming the newest little Zirkle into the world. Congratulations to the new parents, grandparents, and auntie and uncle!

The weekend passed all too quickly, and Sunday morning we were up early to make the drive back to Fairbanks and catch a noon plane for home. Memories of that delightful hot water will spur me to watch for web specials on Alaska Airlines; I would love to be a regular visitor to Chena Hot Springs.

My apologies for the delay in posting this. We arrived home Sunday night to no internet service; it has just been restored today. How did I manage my life before internet? It is hard to remember.

Photos by Dutch and The Tundra PA


Blogger #1 Dinosaur said...

That first picture is truly breathtaking.

How marvelous you make it all sound. Thanks for bringing it to life for us.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 3:40:00 PM  
Blogger Pete & Mary said...

Ah, Chena Hot Springs and puppies - a better focus for a trip to Our Fair City, I can't think of. :) Glad you enjoyed it! Come back for the North American Open/Icefest in March!!

Friday, October 12, 2007 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous cush said...

To echo #1 Dino's comment- the first picture is magnificent. I also enjoyed the picture of the old road grader.

Friday, October 12, 2007 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger Shelby said...

you had me at the puppies :)

Saturday, October 13, 2007 3:33:00 AM  
Anonymous ozzidoc the final yr med student said... on the snow... brrrrrr

Sunday, October 14, 2007 7:24:00 AM  
Blogger Wil said...

I have very fond memories of hot springs in Jalisco, Mexico. How much more wonderful to tiptoe through a dusting of snow enroute to a good soak. Something else to look forward to when we visit Alaska.

As always, wonderful to read your (and Dutch's) adventures.

Thursday, October 18, 2007 4:43:00 PM  

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