River Trip on a Real Sternwheeler
(Posted August 26, 2000, Herbert E. Lindberg)

It's only Day 4, July 17, and we're already off on our sixth adventure -- a river trip on a real sternwheeler. It was raining softly as we boarded Discovery III, the sternwheeler that was to take us down the Tanana river to its intersection with the Chena river, up the Chena to Chena Village, and then return to our point of disembarkation. Just as our boat was leaving the dock, I snapped the picture below of Discovery II, a slightly smaller sister craft that also tours the rivers.

Discovery II Sternwheeler

Then I turned and snapped the following picture of our boat, which you can see is larger with a promenade not present on Discovery II.

Discovery III Sternwheeler

Peering over the railing I was gratified to see that the sternwheel was really churning water and pushing us forward, and not just a decoration as a propeller did the work below the waterline.

Churning Sternwheel

Almost immediately after getting underway we came to a small riverside airport. Our riverboat pilot slowed the boat to a crawl as we watched a demonstration of a bush pilot takeoff and landing. In the snapshot below the airplane is just about to touch down. Its pilot brought the plane to a stop in about 100 yards, right in front of his target.

On-a-dime bush pilot landing at a riverside airport

After passing a series of riverside homes with all the toys of an Alaskan summer (campers, boats, and floatplanes, sometimes all in the same back yard) we came to the home of the owner of the Discovery fleet of riverboats, old Charlie Binkley. You see him below (small figure in front of lawn umbrella) along with his original boat Discovery. He had just waved to us while mentally counting the money pouring into his till. He's been doing pretty well, as you can see from his mansion behind him.

Original Discovery riverboat, fleet owner, and his mansion

When we came to the home of Susan Butcher, four-time winner of the Iditarod 1150-mile dogsled race, the boat again stopped while she told us about her dogs. Her property includes extensive kennels plus training space and equipment. She told us a poignant story about her lead dog Granite, who became so sick the doctors told Susan he would never race again. But as he recovered he couldn't sit by and watch the other dogs train. Soon he was training again and eventually returned to win several Iditarod races. Susan told this story so well that everyone on board had tears in their eyes -- I know I did.

Susan Butcher, telling us stories of her sled dogs

The two caribou in the picture below are in pens at the Chena Village, but I snapped their picture and present it here because they are the only ones we saw on our trip that were close enough to photograph.

Two caribou at the Chena Village

The pictures just above were taken from the Tanana river, but the properties also border on the Chena river on the far side. Soon we came to the intersection of the Tanana with the Chena and, thanks to our Tour Director Jeff Walker, I knew that at this point the extremely silty water of the glacier-fed Tanana would put on a spectacular show of mixing with the clear water of the snow-fed Chena. I was therefore ready to snap the picture below.

Mixing of Tanana river silty water with the clear Chena river

I stop this page here just to keep it a reasonable size. The other half of our river tour continues via the link below:

Complete sternwheeler river trip - - - Return to Alaska hub page - - - Return to Home Page Top