6328
Alaska
Fiddling Under the Northern Lights: Culture and Science in Alaska
Come to Alaska to discover the legends and spectacle of the northern lights, attend the Athabascan Fiddle Festival and learn the story of this unforgiving yet beautiful region.
Rating (5)
Program No. 6328RJ
Length
11 days
Starts at
2,395
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11 days
10 nights
27 meals
10 B 7 L 10 D
Getting There
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DAY
1
Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Fairbanks, AK
D
Springhill Suites

Afternoon: IMPORTANT NOTE: This schedule is being prepared about a year ahead of time. It is possible the day and/or time we do things will not be the same as listed below. We will get everything in, but not necessarily in the order written here. Check in after 3 pm. Earlier check in may be possible at this time of year. Call the hotel the day of your arrival and check with them.

Dinner: Gather in lobby at 6:00 pm for dinner.

Evening: Short orientation in hotel after dinner.

DAY
2
Maurice Thompson Cultural Ctr., Athabascan Fiddle Festival
Fairbanks, AK
B,L,D
Springhill Suites

Breakfast: Breakfast in hotel breakfast room.

Morning: Road Scholar is hosted in Fairbanks by Denakkanaaga, an organization founded by the local Athabascan people, the indigenous tribe of the vast Interior of Alaska and Canada. Denakkanaaga is housed in the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor's Center. Some of our classes will be held in this facility. The center has exhibits and dioramas on the people of Interior Alaska and the ecosystem in which we live, with a focus on Athabascan life in the past and in the present. There are workshop areas where on some days Native artists and craftspeople demonstrate their skills and explain the cultural significance of their work. The Alaska Public Lands Information Center, a storehouse of information and exhibits on the public lands in Alaska, is also located in the same building. We will have access to films and possibly lectures/ presentations from their staff.

Lunch: Lunch in a restaurant.

Afternoon: Field trip for a close up view of the famous Alaska pipeline, one of the largest civil engineering projects ever completed in America. Informal presentation on building the pipeline, how well the pipeline is holding up and future plans for oil development in the Arctic.

Dinner: Dinner in restaurant.

Evening: Field trip to the Athabascan Fiddle Festival, a winter celebration of music and dance. People come into Fairbanks from Native communities all up and down the Interior rivers to participate in the fun. One of the highlights of winter in Fairbanks.

DAY
3
Intl. Arctic Rsch. Ctr., Aurora Borealis Class, Dog Musher
Fairbanks, AK
B,D
Springhill Suites

Breakfast: Breakfast in hotel breakfast room

Morning: Field trip to the world renowned International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). Short tour of the facility. Class on the beautiful and awe-inspiring Aurora Borealis, the fabled Northern Lights. Learn about their science and history and the various mythologies different cultures created to explain this mysterious natural phenomena. The Aurora has had a hold on the imagination of people since ancient times. And it continues today-even when we’re pretty sure we’ve figured out the scientific reality that creates them.

Lunch: Lunch on your own. We will help out with information on restaurants.

Afternoon: Field trip to a dog musher's house and kennel. Presentation by a long time, very experienced musher and her dogs on the ins and outs of Alaska's state sport, dog mushing. Discussion on the famous Iditarod sled dog race and the less well known but equally as challenging Yukon Quest race that runs from Fairbanks to White Horse in the Yukon. Meet the dogs, handle the racing gear, learn about preparation, strategies, and the logistics of participating in a thousand-mile sled dog race. And gain some insight into why some people would stand on the back of a sled and glory in being dragged all over Alaska behind a pack of high spirited dogs in below freezing temperatures.

Dinner: Dinner in restaurant.

Evening: At this time of year, there are often various events happening in Fairbanks. In the past, we've gone to plays, concerts, a curling tournament, art exhibits, special topic lectures. If anything comes up during the program, we will try to arrange our schedule so that you may participate in these events if you wish to.

DAY
4
University of Alaska Museum of the North/Animal Research Center/Athabascan Fiddle Festival
Fairbanks, AK
B,L,D
Springhill Suites

Breakfast: Breakfast

Morning: Field trip to University of Alaska Museum of the North. The museum is a world renowned circumpolar center with extensive collections and information gathered from current and past research on Alaska, America's only arctic state. The museum offers exhibits on Native culture, post-contact history, geology, fauna, flora, the gold rush, the Aurora, plus rotating art and photo exhibits, all housed in a beautiful and striking architectural gem. Special emphasis on Arctic and Sub-Arctic ecology and environment and the people who inhabit this northern edge of our world.

Lunch: Lunch on campus

Afternoon: Field trip to the Large Animal Research Station. The research station is a branch of the University of Alaska Institute of Arctic Biology. Studies of the large ungulates of the Arctic, the musk-oxen, caribou and reindeer, have been ongoing for decades. A researcher or station guide will talk about the biology of the animals and the ecosystems they inhabit. A strong focus is on the different adaptations that the species have made to the same environment. Life cycles and survival strategies will be explained. Pelts, skulls, antlers and horns will be available for hands-on examination and study. One of the highlights of this field trip is the opportunity to see and learn about the musk-oxen. In the same way that seeing giraffes and zebras in the wild indicate you are in Africa, the musk ox is an iconic emblem of the Arctic-you could see bears, wolves and whales in their natural habitats in many other places in the world, but if you want to see musk-oxen in their natural habitat, you must travel to the Arctic.

Dinner: Dinner in restaurant.

Evening: Second field trip to Athabascan Fiddle Festival.

DAY
5
Aurora Borealis Class, Fairbanks History, Native Elders
Fairbanks, AK
B,L,D
Springhill Suites

Breakfast: Breakfast

Morning: A very informal presentation on life in Alaska presented by Denakkanaaga staff. Topics may include the economy, demographics, politics, medical care, schools, wages, health care, plumbing, or lack of, which brings us to outhouses, (a definitely interesting--and fast--experience at forty below) fire protection, keeping cars running at way below freezing temperatures and other varied topics discussing how we cope with a temperature range in the Interior from 99 above to 68 below. Your chance to ask questions of the locals.

Lunch: Lunch at Denakkanaaga with Elders and staff.

Afternoon: Class: History of Fairbanks. Fairbanks, along with many other Interior Alaskan towns, started life as a gold rush boom town in the early 1900's. Once the court system was moved here from Eagle on the Canadian border and the university and the northern terminus of the railroad were built here, Fairbanks stabilized economically (somewhat) and did not wither and die as most of the other boom towns did. Explore the history of this tenacious town in the heart of the last frontier.

Dinner: Dinner in restaurant.

Evening: Free time.

DAY
6
Literature of Alaska/Chena Hot Springs
Chena Hot Springs Resort
B,D
Chena Hot Springs Resort

Breakfast: Breakfast

Morning: "Literature of Alaska: Reflections of Life in a Frozen Mirror." Discover how stories shape people's concept of the far north. Hear which genre set the template for the first writings on Alaska. Learn about the early pattern of people coming up to Alaska from "Outside" and writing about us to explain us to the rest of the world. Study the development of work from local writers who do live here, both indigenous people and the later immigrants. Read the voices of Alaskans as we talk about our world.

Lunch: Lunch on your own

Afternoon: Load bus for transport to Chena Hot Springs. Chena is about 60 miles east of Fairbanks on a well maintained road. We usually arrive before all the rooms are ready--it's a busy place in the winter. The resort will store our luggage and we are free to walk around and enjoy the historic hot springs. In Chena, we plan for lots of free time for people to enjoy the daylight hours in this lovely, isolated area. (It's fun to check out the Ice Museum, usually about $15 entrance fee.) Don't forget to watch for the Aurora at night. Classes will mostly be held in either the early morning, late afternoon or evening so you can be outside during the daylight hours.

Dinner: Dinner at Chena.

Evening: Chena is a premiere place for watching the aurora. We will have sign up sheets every evening for people who want to be woken up to see the Northern Lights if they are out and the night is clear. Both Fairbanks and Chena are superb locations for Aurora viewing and on the average have Northern Lights in the skies above them every three days or so. HOWEVER, climate change has made our winter warmer, which has resulted in cloudy skies, something we have seldom seen in the winter in the past. We can never guarantee seeing the Aurora. But if the Aurora is out (and over the 10 nights of our program, we are likely to have that happen), AND if the sky is clear at the same time, we have a good chance to do so. Keep your fingers crossed.

DAY
7
"Trapping in Alaska"/Behind-the-Scenes Tour of Resort
Chena Hot Springs Resort
B,L,D
Chena Hot Springs Resort

Breakfast: Breakfast at Chena.

Morning: Trapping has been a part of subsistence living in Alaska since ancient times and many people still run trap lines today. Trapping continues to provide food for the table and fur to use for winter clothing. It is also a way to make money when many jobs are "closed" for the winter. Some people who trap but don't live off the land consider trapping primarily a sport, just like hunting and fishing. It provides a handy “excuse” to be out in the wilderness at a beautiful time of year. But for others it is an important part of their yearly economic cycle and a way to continue to participate in a cultural heritage, no matter where they came from or what their ethnic background is. Come learn about modern day trapping from trappers. A trapper will bring his/her equipment and some of their furs and talk to us about the prey, the market and the reasons people take up trapping. There will be pelts exhibited at the lecture so people can feel the fur and learn about the different qualities in touch, warmth, size and value of various fur-bearing animals.

Lunch: Lunch in Chena.

Afternoon: "Behind the scenes tour of Chena Hot Springs Resort." An insider's tour of the resort. We will look at the equipment used to keep the resort functioning, keep the water in the pipes moving, the trucks rolling and the kitchen cooking at 40 and lower below. At Chena, greens and tomatoes for salads and soups are grown in their own greenhouse year round. The resort is also working on getting to a point where only the heat from the hot springs will be used to keep all their buildings warm. The tour will provide us with an informal discussion on mechanics, plumbing, food shopping, personnel issues and whatever else you'd like to ask about. Chena is becoming known as a leader in self-sufficiency in the far north-this excursion will show you just what they're doing to stake out that claim.

Dinner: Dinner at Chena.

Evening: Spend some time in the activity that made Chena a desired location since the gold rush--the chance to submerge yourself in naturally heated hot water. All of the pools are heated with the hot springs water. One of the best things about Chena is the outdoor quarry pool. Huge beautiful boulders have been set around the large excavated pool, providing an attractive natural setting. Colored lights are strung around the edges of the pool and play upon the glittering frost on the boulders at night that along with the steam rising from the water, creates a lovely almost fantasy land experience. There is also a smaller and more traditional outdoor hot tub. Even more traditionally, there are also indoor hot tubs and an indoor warm water swimming pool. But the best is being outside when it's zero degrees or colder and being warm as you sit in the pool, searching the skies for the Aurora.

DAY
8
Fauna of Alaska/"Walking in a Winter Wonderland"
Chena Hot Springs Resort
B,L,D
Chena Hot Springs Resort

Breakfast: Breakfast at Chena.

Morning: Class: "Fauna of Alaska." Depending upon people's schedules and their being able to include a drive out to Chena, this may be an overview class or it may be specific. Some of our biology instructors are generalists, some are species specific researchers. All are very good instructors.

Afternoon: Hike to local cabins (or as one participant called it, "Walking in a Winter Wonderland"). Take a short walk down the road to cabins built on land some lucky residents won from the state in a recreational land lottery in the 1970's. Some interesting cabin "architecture". There is usually some lovely and picturesque hoar frost on the trees over the open hot spring that winds through the "suburb". Walk in the woods watching for signs of wildlife--tracks, spoor and things that go bump in the trees.

Dinner: Dinner at Chena.

DAY
9
Free morning/"Daily Life of an Oil Spill Worker"
Chena Hot Springs Resort
B,L,D
Chena Hot Springs Resort

Breakfast: Breakfast in Chena.

Morning: Free time. Good time to vegetate in the outdoor hot tubs.

Lunch: Lunch

Afternoon: Class: "Daily Life of an Oil Spill Worker." Presentation by a medic who worked on the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. There was a lot of information and coverage on the impact of the oil spill on the animals of Prince William Sound. This presentation focuses on the workers who were also impacted by the spill but about whom very little was recorded. The most recent BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico has brought that past disaster back into the spotlight. The most amazing realization for some of the people who experienced the Exxon Valdez clean-up was how little progress has been made in the 20 years since that spill in the response plans, organization and in contingency procedures by the oil companies. The clean up plan they used in 2009 was almost exactly the same as those used 20 years ago-and no one considers the 1989 clean up a success story.

Dinner: Dinner at Chena

DAY
10
Alaska Native Settlement Lands Act
Fairbanks, AK
B,L,D
Springhill Suites

Breakfast: Breakfast at Chena.

Morning: Return to Fairbanks, leaving Chena around 10:00 am. Drop off luggage at the Fairbanks hotel.

Lunch: Lunch in Fairbanks.

Afternoon: Class on the impact of the pipeline on the Native Nations of Alaska and the business corporations founded under ANCSA, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. When Alaska became a state, it was obliged to make a financial and land grant settlement with Native Americans in compensation for taking rights to their aboriginal lands. For many years, there were no compelling reasons to formalize the settlement-there was almost no one up here then. But when Alaska decided to build the pipeline, it had to settle these land claims to be sure that the pipeline corridor would be free from any future claims on ownership. As a result, ANCSA was made the law of the land and the Native People were legally required to form business corporations to deal with the money and to financially manage the land that was granted to them. Financial corporations were a new concept for many of the people. Learn how this legal decision continues to influence their lives and cultures in many substantial ways.

Dinner: Graduation dinner and farewells.

DAY
11
Program Concludes
Fairbanks, AK
B

Breakfast: Breakfast

Morning: Check out of hotel by 11 a.m. Hotel will store luggage for later departures.