Word of Mouth: Fairbanks

The aurora borealis, skijoring, street art and more in our guide to the Alaskan city

A confluence of accident and opportunism led to the founding of Fairbanks when businessman E.T. Barnette‘s steamship ran aground in the Chena River in 1901. It seems a natural progression then that over 100 years later—following gold and oil booms and busts, and statehood in 1959—Alaska’s second largest city remains a place of hyper-local, entrepreneurial free enterprise. Here, chance meets necessity and life is inextricably intertwined with the surrounding rugged outdoors. See below a handful of tips for your next outing to the Golden Heart City:


Capture the Northern Lights

Since moving to Fairbanks in 2008, photographer Ronn Murray has become obsessed with chasing down the Aurora Borealis. He and his band of like-minded shutterbugs have spent countless hours and tireless nights in remote locations and sub-zero temperatures around Fairbanks waiting for that perfect moment. Murray recently started leading a Northern Lights Photo Workshop through 1st Alaska Outdoor School.


Skijoring in Creamer’s Field

Less than a mile from Fairbanks’ most industrial corridor lies Creamer’s Field, a sanctuary for man and bird alike. During the summer months Creamer’s Field provides a refuge for migratory birds and hiking trails that wind through a swampy Boreal Forest. During winter months the fields and trails are open for cross-country skiing, skijoring and snowshoeing.


Public Art

In a place where everything morphs into the same shade of icy blue for half the year, it’s refreshing to have nuggets of public art nestled around town. From “Migration,” a five-piece steel sculpture created by local artist Mark Fejes located just outside the Fairbanks International Airport terminal, to TED Fellow Candy Chang’s “Looking for Love Again” installation piece draping from the top Fairbanks’ tallest building, to the murals and painted steam vent pipes scattered around downtown, many of the pieces can be found on the Public Art Map published by the Fairbanks Arts Association.

Also worth a look is Fairbanks’ industrial district, home to Fejes’ studio, WAG Art Space, painter David Mollett‘s Well Street Art Company and large number of artist studios. Fejes also runs the outdoor space FBX:BOMB that kicked off in January 2013 and will host projection art installation pieces during the dark winter months.


Float the Chena River

Enjoy a standard rite of summer by floating down the Chena River. Pick up a kayak at Alaska Outdoor Rentals and paddle down to the Boatel Sleazy for a few cold ones and a game of horseshoes. Continue on to Pike’s Landing for brunch and to hone your golf skills at the riverside driving range.


UAF Museum of The North

Sitting high atop the West Ridge of the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, The Museum of the North is home to John Luther Adams’ installation “The Place Where You Go To Listen.” The installation is an immersive experience that is calming with subtle morphing of light and sound, capturing the spirit of the Alaskan ecosystem.

Images by Anne Kristoff; northern lights photo courtesy of Ronn Murray