Natural Wonders Abound Here!
In the Alaska Range is North America’s highest peak, Denali, at 20,310 feet. In the night sky are the northern lights (aurora borealis); watch for them from September to April. At the end of the Steese Highway is the Yukon River, the longest river in Alaska. On the Dalton Highway, 200 miles north of Fairbanks, is the Arctic Circle; along the way see a manmade wonder, the 800-mile-long trans-Alaska oil pipeline. INTERIOR ALASKA Interior Alaska is a great chunk of land in the middle of the state that stretches from the Alaska Range in the south to the Brooks Range in the north. It is made up of wide-open valleys of boreal forest or taiga, crisscrossed by big rivers (the Tanana, Chena and Yukon) and four of Alaska’s remaining gravel highways (the Denali, Steese, Elliott and Dalton). The Parks Highway connects Fairbanks with Anchorage. And Alaska’s first highway—the Richardson—a natural extension of the Alaska Highway, ends in Fairbanks, making the city Mile 1523 on the Alaska Highway (there’s a milepost downtown).
Hot summers with very long days, and cold winters with very short days, characterize the climate of Alaska’s Interior. Summer temperatures routinely climb to 80˚F, and sometimes into the 90s. On solstice (June 21), the sun stays above the horizon for nearly 22 hours in Fairbanks, and locals celebrate by playing baseball without artificial lights (the game starts at 10:30 pm). At winter solstice (December 22) the sun comes up for only 3 hours and 37 minutes.
Government, tourism, education and health care sectors, retail and service industries provide jobs. The Interior is also home to dog mushers, gold miners, mountain climbers, riverboat captains, bush pilots and long-haul truckers. The military has a major impact on the region’s economy, with 4 military installations adding people and jobs: Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Eielson Air Force Base near North Pole, the National Guard’s Clear radar station at Anderson, and Fort Greely near Delta Junction. FAIRBANKS (pop. 32,070) is the largest city and hub of the Interior, at the crossroads of 3 highways (Parks, Richardson, Steese), with a modern airport and passenger rail service. It’s also the geographic heart of the region, dubbed the “Golden Heart City.” Fairbanks sits about 125 miles south of the Arctic Circle and 360 miles north of Anchorage.
Named in honor of Sen. Charles W. Fairbanks of Indiana, Fairbanks was incorporated in 1903. Fairbanks’ past, present and future are closely linked to gold. Prospector Felix Pedro discovered gold in the nearby hills in 1902, and gold mining continues today. Jewelry stores carry distinctive gold nugget jewelry, made from locally mined gold.
Top attractions are the University of Alaska Museum of the Nort, the Riverboat Discovery and the Fountainhead Auto Museum. Popular annual events include the Ice Alaska ice carving competition, the Yukon Quest Dog Sled Race and the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. The Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline Viewpoint is about an 8-mile drive from town. DENALI NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE At 6 million acres, Denali National Park is one of the largest national parks in the nation. The park’s best known feature, Denali (formerly Mount McKinley), may be the highest peak on the North American continent but it is not always easy to see: summer visitors have about a 30 to 40 percent chance of seeing “the mountain.” But beautiful scenery, wildlife sightings and sled dog demonstrations at the Park Kennels, can still be enjoyed on cloudy days.
The park entrance is 125 highway miles south of Fairbanks. By rail, Denali Park is 4 hours from Fairbanks.