Sometimes popular tourist attractions are popular for a reason. The Riverboat Discovery is just such an attraction. I’m glad we chose it to be one of the extra excursions we would do while in Alaska. I’m going to quote from the Milepost here:
“Owned and operated by the Binkley Family, whose riverboating experience spans four generations and more than 100 years, the Riverboat Discovery tour has been rated on of the top boating attractions in North America. Captain Jim Binkley and his crew of children, grandchildren and native Alaskans take you back to the heyday of sternwheelers, to an era when prospectors, fur traders, and Native people of the Interior relied on rivers as their only link to the outside world”
We drove to the parking lot on the western edge of town along the Chena River, once again inundated with row after row of buses from the cruise lines, mainly Holland America and Princess. I’m not sure how many people could be on the boat, but there were hundreds of people lining up to board and filling the huge gift shop at the entrance. I am glad that I purchased my tickets online last night from the comfort of my motorhome. This is definitely a very big very much tourist attraction. There were very few cars parked in the lot, and most of the passengers were from the cruise buses. We took the 2PM cruise because the 8:45 was booked solid, so I’m just glad we were able to at least get a sailing.
The boat trip was great. We followed blogger advice and took a left side seat on the third deck out in the open. I didn’t have a sweater and the sun was warm even on the river. Even though there are excellent video screens conveniently placed all around the boat, we were on the side of the bush plane take-off and a special highlight, on the side of the visit to Susan Butcher’s kennels where her husband and his daughters brought out the dogs for a sled dog demonstration. It was wonderful to see how happy those sled dogs are and how excited they get when it’s time to pull the sled. He hitched a team up to a non motorized 4 wheeler, and they raced around the roadways and burst back out onto the lawn going full speed before his shouted “Whoa” stopped them instantly. Amazing. I read all the stories about Susan, her strength and love of the dogs, and about her death to cancer. Her name always brought up something inside about what women can do, powerful women. It was a special treat to see her kennels and her husband. Her famous dog, Granite, passed on not long before Susan, but we saw a memorial to him as well in the village later.
After the dogs, the boat went downriver to the confluence with the broad, braided, wide path of the Tanana River, the largest glacially fed river in North America, in fact, I think they said in the world. It was filled with silt and debris and the current looked rough and tricky. I wouldn’t want to put a boat in that river! The boat turned and we pulled alongside the Chena Village, a replica of course, but still a place that felt very special with the young women from the Athabascan tribe telling the stories of what their life was like before the coming of the white man.
It was a lovely place, with a fish camp, and sod roofed cabins, smokehouse, and a cache, in addition to the Susan Butcher cabin and memorial to Granite, who won the Iditarod for her four times. We learned a bit about how the people caught and processed salmon, how they made their clothing, and saw some beautiful examples of parkas, dresses, and even the girls wearing what they referred to as “summer parkas”.
Once back on the boat we continued back toward the landing, passing the home of the Binkleys, where the matriarch of the family came out to wave at the boat which she does every day as it passes. In front of her home is the original Discovery. It was her vision that kept the sternwheeler tradition alive in Fairbanks as this tourist excursion.
Miles driven today in the MoHo: 0
The rest of the photos from this trip are linked here.