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Chilling Out at Chena Hot Springs

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Published: June 16th 2017

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We each had a Continental Breakfast at the morning buffet. We wanted to get an early start doing laundry before our van would pick us up and shuttle us to the Chena Hot Springs. There were ample washers and driers at the Westmark; but, this venue has proven the costliest yet at which to get clothes clean, costing $2.50 to wash and then $2.50 again to dry. They did however have five washers and double that in driers.

Our shuttle driver picked us up in an aging Ford E-Series van, similar but older that the one that had taken us up to the Dead Horse. I’ve nicknamed our shuttle driver “Hard Luck Charlie” for reasons that should become evident. Charlie found us just inside the door in the lobby; and, we were his only riders despite four others outside awaiting a shuttle form his company to go to the same place. He said the other driver had set out before him, and he wondered why he hadn’t arrived yet. Not our problem though. It did seem a bit silly to have two vans make the trip where one could have easily taken six people to the springs, just

as a similar van had taken us to Dead Horse; although, at the end of the day the reason may have revealed itself in that different groups might choose a different time to return. Charlie checked text messages on his phone (while driving) and Sharon mentioned how in Las Vegas they no longer allow that. Charlie admitted that he was a bit anxious about possibly getting a better paying job driving a tanker up to Prudhoe Bay, and he wanted to check before we lost cell phone coverage. As we headed down one of the roads he mentioned that his cousin had been killed in an accident at that turn a week or two ago. Something about arguing with his wife about who should be driving and then she made a bad turn.

We went out the same road towards Gold Dredge Number 8, and then took a right to head for the springs. We meandered for about one hour on this road, and there was the possibility of moose or even bear sightings. Charlie told us that he lived in a cabin along this road. And he told us of an interesting life that he’s had,

working for a while at many jobs including work on the pipeline, construction, prospecting, big rig driving and working in the fishing industry. He currently drives a School bus and the Tour van. From some of Charlie’s stories it seemed that he was truly living the Alaskan Experience. Just the previous day he had been panning for gold near his other cabin and in just a couple hours had amassed $100 in color. He had two girls with his wife, and at the time had been working construction up north which took him away from home for many months. On one phone call home, his wife had some surprising news for him: she was pregnant again. But he could do the math and when it turned out that she was 7 weeks pregnant he found out that another had been living off the money he’d been sending home for almost two years. Still, he recalled fondly of those days when he was doing construction on the north slope and could bring home nearly $50,000 at the end of a season. Several years ago, he said he was in a bad accident hit by a drunk driver and that ended his

construction career. He also talked of having a number of mining claims near Eureka, where he and his partner had uncovered some promising pay dirt. They used the gold they found to finance a more mechanized operation and produced 300 ounces of gold in the first month. This got them really excited and decided it was time to get serious about mining, acquired some large excavation and earth moving equipment to process large amounts of what they hoped would yield them great rewards; but, in the next six months they produced just an addition 30 ounces of gold. He mentioned that as we got to the Springs that while he had worked in construction he had worked on the job that built the Ice Museum.

Charlie escorted us from one check-in desk to another and then to the Activities Center. The Chena Hot Springs is a multi-activity resort and conservation and green house innovator with a World-Famous Ice Museum and of course a Hot Springs. Charlie said he would be taking us back when we were ready to return to our hotel. He would be leaving us now and take some time to briefly go visit his

cabin; but, he would be back and around the resort later. We were in time for the 1PM visit to the Ice Museum, and we had tickets to do that included in the excursion that Sharon had pre-paid. I chose not to add the “Appletini” to my ticket for $15; but, I probably should have chosen to experience drinking an apple martini (made with apple infused vodka) served in an ice martini glass. There were parkas for people to where available in the entry anteroom of the Ice Museum, protected by thick insolated wooden doors. I mistakenly believed my parka would be sufficient. Sharon did don a parka though had some difficulty getting it. There were a group of people speaking German getting their parkas off the hooks, putting them on and taking photos so that no one else could get near the hooks to get one no matter how many times she said “excuse me”. Inside there were impressive ice sculptures, the two super-life size jousting knights with lances is perhaps the most famous. The Ice Museum was the brain child of the resort founder where the first one was made completely of ice, much in the line of

other ice museums and hotels found in other extreme environments; but, he thought that this ice museum would survive the Alaskan Summer. Alas, the 80-degree Fahrenheit heat did melt the structure. This disaster won him “The Worst Business Idea of the Year”. He didn’t give up though, and built a structure to protect the ice castle from the summer heat, and it now survives today; including, the incredible ice work inside. There is an ice bar and several ice domiciles. Although the Fire Marshall does not allow the Ice Museum to be used as a hotel where people can spend the night, there are a couple of rooms with ice beds that could be used as such. The reason the Fire Marshall gives is that there are no fire sprinklers in the building… Go figure. A number of people have weddings in the mini chapel inside; but, our guide did add that these tend to be very fast ceremonies in the frigid temperatures. And about spending the night, the guide suggested speaking to him on the side. I was getting quite chilled, and my nose was beginning to feel the way that it had up on the Arctic Sea, so

I took my first opportunity to leave when a couple of others decided to leave. Sharon joined me shortly and we were both ready for the hot springs.

You do need quarters for the lockers at the Chela Hot Springs. Although what we’d read said that you needed towels, they actually do provide you with your own towel when you enter the Hot Springs Building. You must leave your shoes in the lobby of that building, and while you don’t really need sandals to walk around or get to the water, you might prefer to have something on your feet when you take the mandatory showers before entering the water… I’m just saying. The lobby leads to a Men’s Locker Room and also to a separate Women’s Locker Room. Both lead through to the pool area where there are a few smaller spas. You need to go to the left to reach the outside Hot Springs lagoon where the water is about four 1/2 feet deep throughout. The water is warm, well into the eighties; but, near the rocks along the edge you may encounter very hot water seeping into the waters of the lagoon, and these

may suddenly reach many feet away from the edge. The rocky perimeter clearly has some places where rocks separate the lagoon from some very got steamy waters that makes its way to us through the cracks. At one end of the pool cold water is being sprayed to fall like a mild rain over a small area of the pool. And at the far edge a heavy stream of water gushes out in a steady stream that you can choose to stand in front of; which, I did briefly. Sharon and I both enjoyed the waters, and once we’d warmed up enough from the Ice Museum, we decided it was time to go get something to eat.

We found the fancy restaurant and I enjoyed some very good clam chowder. I probably should have gotten the blackened halibut; but, Sharon wanted the grilled chicken which came with rice, so I ordered the ribeye steak which came with a baked potato, so that we could swap the rice and potato. We asked that the dill sauce be put on the side for Sharon’s chicken. We wound up with 5-types of sauce on the side, along with the dill

sauce that they put on Sharon’s chicken. It scraped off easily enough, and both our meals were good.

It was about 4PM when we’d finished lunch/dinner and decided to enjoy the outside. We shortly stumbled across our driver; and, since we were ready to leave, we headed to the van. Charlie had gone with the other driver back to his cabin and done a little gold panning; but, had not produced much but a hint of color. The bad news was that a bear had come in and trashed his cabin, breaking in and wreaking havoc on the inside. When we came back into cell phone coverage, Charlie’s phone chimed a couple of times, and when he checked, he had indeed gotten that job. Charlie dropped us off, and we wished him the best on his new job. He had said that he’d be making $1,700 on one two-day trip to the north slope and could do about two trips a week. I said at his current job it would take him two weeks to earn that.

We went up to our room and decided to wash and dry the swim suits and clothing

that had gotten wet to get rid of the sulfur smell. We had an easy evening, decided that our lunch was all we needed for dinner, and got our luggage packed for Holland America to take over… some luggage goes directly to the ship, some will be waiting for us in our lodge room in Denali, and some we would be carrying with us.


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