7/23/2014 – 14 mi – Chena Hot Springs
First on the agenda for Chena Hot Springs was to leave the resort and ride a few miles back down the road to the Angel Rocks trail head. The weather was a bit dicey, but mostly held for the 3.75 mi hike. The trail goes up to the Angel Rocks, or granite outcroppings, or tors. It’s always nice to enjoy a picnic lunch with excellent views.
That afternoon, we signed up for a tour of the ice museum. Originally, the building itself was constructed of ice, which obviously melted every summer, and had to be re-done every winter. This was expensive, and limited the scope of the attraction. The new building (operating for about 10 years now) runs year round, and was intended to be an ice hotel, except that the hotel part seems to have run into regulatory obstacles. Re-naming the attraction a museum seems to have placated the bureaucrats. The ice work inside really is incredible, and is created by two award winning ice sculpture artists who compete all over the world. All of the lights inside are LED, and the entire building is kept at about 26 F. (The lighting was very low, and difficult to take pictures, although some came out pretty well considering they are hand held). Some of the specialized ice sculpting tools looked really neat, it would have been fun to be able to see the artists working on something.
The photo doesn’t convey scale, but these jousting knights were life sized.
Some paid to have an appletini at the bar in an ice glass (yours to keep!).
After the ice museum the free power plant tour started at 4pm. Interestingly, the Chena Hot Springs Resort is actually powered largely by the hot springs themselves, via a custom geothermal system. The water is not hot enough to run the typical steam cycle found in larger geothermal plants. Even deep underground, the hot springs only reach a temperature of 165 F. The owners worked with some engineers to create a system that pumps the hot water up through a heat exchanger, and then back into the ground, largely recycling that water (it’s an open loop that they pump back in higher up in the ground, so that it trickles down and heats back up again.) The cold source is another stream on property, run through another heat exchanger, and then put back into the cold stream. Then they use a typical thermal engine cycle, (like the opposite of a refrigerator) using R-134a (a common refrigerant, also used in car air conditioners). Given the relatively low delta T of something like 120 degrees, Kevin and I doubt this thing is very efficient, but bet it sure beats burning diesel, of which they still use a relatively small amount. There are two of the prototype units, each capable of generating 200kW. Only one runs at any given time. There is also a third, newer 200kW unit that is an improvement on the prototype units, with the goal of higher efficiency. I would bet the ROI on their investment is rather long, but I do appreciate the strong financial and environmental incentives not to burn diesel.
The tour also took us through the greenhouse, which grows the flowers on site, and some of their produce (and the best lettuce I have ever eaten) via hydroponics. The greenhouse also takes advantage of the warmth from the hot springs.
This Polaris snowmobile is from 1959.
Our dinner at the restaurant was excellent. We don’t typically order desert (I find them disappointing, my family’s home-made desserts are almost always better than pre-packaged restaurant fare), but this one is made in house, and was totally worth it.
And no, we didn’t actually go in the hot springs at the hot springs resort. I dunno. It was $15 a person to go sit in some hot water. Meh.
7/24/2014 -75 mi – Fairbanks
The next destination on the agenda is Denali National Park, but naturally we woke up to more cold and rain at our campsite in Chena Hot Springs. We also needed services again; laundry, showers, internet. Thus, we took a down day in Fairbanks. Sometimes it feels like we spend a lot of time and energy on overhead, just figuring out where to stay and getting food, showers, laundry, and attending to business matters. This is the consequence of a loose agenda and only planning a few days ahead at a time. We rode into Fairbanks in the cold and wet for breakfast, and then found a place to land, and stayed dry and warm and generally took care of matters for the day, and planned out the next parts of our trip.
We ate at the famous Cookie Jar for dinner. It is exactly my kind of place. I wish we had one of these back home, except it’s probably best that there isn’t one. Dinner was simple but delicious, and since they specialize as a bakery, I ordered one of their cinnamon rolls for dessert. I had no idea what I was getting. The hallelujah chorus started playing when the waitress set this thing down, and my stomach starting hurting just from thinking about ingesting the amount of sugar in just my half. It was magnificent and delicious and half the size of my head. Rainy day redeemed.