So, Monday night we stumbled off the bus after the 8-hour ride into the park and headed to the "Denali Outdoor Center" where we were spending the night in a cabin and doing a rafting trip (a float trip - no whitewater) the next morning. We arrived to find that our cabin was ready but our trip had been cancelled, because no one but us had signed up and they have a four-person minimum. They tried to talk us into a white water trip (no thank you!) or a later float trip, but we declined. On our quest to find some food (harder than you'd think), we did see a gorgeous double rainbow. At 10:30 pm. Only in Alaska.
So after a cozy night in the cabin, we headed back to the Denali visitor center and out for a short hike (about an hour) through the "boreal forest" or as it's also called by it's Russian name, the Taiga -- which means "land of little sticks", because most of the trees are quite thin of trunk and many are twisted and stunted, because it's not easy to grow on the permafrost. The trail came out by a beautiful lake, where we saw the largest beaver dam any of us had ever seen (but not any actual beavers).
Then we piled back in the trusty blue rent-a-car and headed for Fairbanks, a drive of a couple hours through moutains and woods, opening out into the Tanana valley, where the city (population 30,000) sits on the banks of the Chena River. We throughly embraced the tourist role for this part of the trip, visiting a historic gold mine (where we learned about the gold rush and panned for gold -- yes, I bought the necklace to display my found gold flakes and I wear it with pride, thank you very much!), "Alaskaland," with it's historical displays, the all-you-can-eat salmon bake, the "golden heart musical review" (which was corny, but funny), and North Pole, Alaska (complete with Santa and reindeer). We also visited the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, which was somewhat more edifying, with displays about the geography, climate, wildlife, and Native cultures of Alaska's various regions, as well as Alaskan art (and, of course, a very nice gift shop).