~Saturday, September 3, 2022~
Day 75 of Alaska Trip
Santa Claus is sure getting busy up here in North Pole, AK…. the workshop is in full swing, the reindeer are fattening up for the long haul, and there are giant candy canes everywhere. One of the highlights in the Fairbanks area is a town called North Pole with street names like “Santa Claus Lane”, “Candy Cane Lane”, and “St. Nicholas Drive” all of which lead you to the Santa Claus House. This festive holiday shop had modest beginnings in 1952 when Con and Nellie Miller decided to build a trading post just south of Fairbanks in an appropriately named town called “The North Pole”. While constructing the new building, a young Alaskan boy recognized Mr. Con and said, “Hello Santa Claus! Are you building a new house?” That gave “Santa” (Mr. Con) the perfect idea to name his new trading post ....”The Santa Claus House”. But it wasn’t always a place for Christmas treasures as it initially offered a gathering place for locals to mingle and provided basic necessities such as groceries and household goods, even offering mail service. Over the years, the scenery changed with the development of the Richardson Highway forcing the Millers to build a new storefront on the new four-lane highway. But in time, their once upon-a-time shop would become the holiday treasure trove that it is today, drawing locals and tourists alike.
Before checking out the actual “house” itself, we paid the reindeer a visit where they were munching away, and I must say they were quite
handsome and very well taken care of. Their hooves have always fascinated me with their shape and the sound they make as they walk, a clicking sound. You can tell they’re certainly made for snow! Just before we got into the shop, we paid Santa a visit too. But this wasn't just any Santa…..it was a 42-foot tall, 900-pound Santa Claus statue making his list and checking it twice.
An interesting backstory about the tall statue. It was built by Stanley Plastics in the 60’s with Con Miller purchasing it for a pricey $4,500 in 1978. Transporting it was a bit of a challenge since he had to dismantle it into 4 manageable pieces so that it would fit under overpasses along Parks Highway to get it to its final stop in North Pole, AK. But by the time “Santa” arrived, he was in really poor shape, requiring extensive repairs to bring him back to life. The statue looked a little worse for wear once again on our visit. When you think about the harsh climate that exists this far north, it would seem an annual sprucing up would be required. If you’re ever in the Fairbanks area with kiddos or grand kiddos, it’s definitely worth a stop.
Feeling fortunate that most of our excursions have been very worthwhile, we came across one today that would prove to be a total dud. Not having done more thorough research, we are partly to blame for our disappointment as we had high expectations of what sounded like an awesome experience. Our goal with being at Chena Hot Springs wasn’t to soak in their 105-degree pools (though that might have been nice), but to experience a true “ice bar” called the Aurora House.
There are only a handful of these unique bars in the world so we naturally were so excited getting to experience one in Alaska. That is until we found out reservations were required. This isn’t like any normal drinking establishment, where you just mozy on up to the bar for your frozen concoction. Evidently, it is a 25-degree museum where they pack 75 people into a tight freezing space to sip on a $15 Appletini (served in an ice glass) as you tour the museum filled with ice furniture, life-sized knights on horseback, chandeliers shifting colors to mimic the Northern Lights and a bar, all made of ice. Built in 2004 by ice carving champion Steve Brice and his wife Heather, the igloo shaped structure is made out of 1,000 tons of ice. All in all, it does sound like something you should try at least once. But it’s entirely our fault that we picked a Saturday, on a holiday weekend no less, so of course we’d be in for bigger crowds and a more frenzied staff. If it’s any consolation, the hour-long drive on Chena Hot Springs Road gave us the gift of stunning scenery. Better planning next time.