During the summer we experienced the joys of traveling around Alaska in our RV. First we ventured up to Fairbanks, where we found a little museum with a fascinating display of a handcrafted miniature creation showing the layout of all the villages and towns along the Yukon River. Even better, the University of Alaska there was having a demonstration of Indigenous games, much like a local Olympics tournament.
Young adult boys from four Athabascan tribes were dressed in skins and beads, some with painted features. The emcee explained that the games were to show how the ancient skills of survival in this northernmost frigid state are being preserved by these young people who learn them. The boys seemed to be having fun, but the skills they demonstrated were strenuous.
The thrilling games were to teach children how to skin animals, build igloos, create fur garments, fight animals, and other activities that demanded repetition and strong bodies. The actual animals and equipment that would have been used in real-life work were not present, so the skills were acted out as fascinating contests. Some of the men told me that even the most high-tech, expensive coats manufactured today for skiing do not keep out the cold as well as the animal skins used in ancient times by the First People in Alaska.
From Fairbanks we drove to the town of North Pole, Alaska, which, of course, offered envelopes with the return address “Santa Claus, North Pole” and the North Pole cancellation stamp on it. Parents could buy these and insert a “letter from Santa” and keep them until December to give to a child as if it had arrived in the mail.
We did not find Santa on his throne, since it was lunchtime and no children were present. With time on our hands, we strolled around the outside of the castle-like building and had the fantastic good luck to see Santa at his back fence, still dressed in his red velvet pants lined in white fur, black boots, white undershirt and black suspenders, feeding his reindeer by hand. What a sight to remember and make my childhood dreams and adult Christmas fantasies come true! This was definitely one of my favorite travel experiences.
We found it fascinating to look out our window at around 3 a.m. and see the sun setting, although a yellow-pink glow remained the rest of the night. This made it difficult to sleep for those of us not accustomed to it, but we were glad to have the experience.
Another memorable sight was the fuchsia-colored fireweed blooming thick on the ground beneath a forest that had been decimated by fire. We learned that the seeds of this flower can only sprout if warmed by fire. They provided lush beauty in a vast area of devastation, with charred black broken trunks of trees standing among them.