We Get In Hot Water in Chena

Aug. 14-15 2012

Today we head north out of Fairbanks to the small town of Chena, still yet another town at the end of a road. There’s really only one thing there, the Chena Hot Springs Resort. There is a large outdoor hot spring, indoor and outdoor hot tubs and an indoor pool for soaking. With due respect to the other bathers, there will be no pictures of the pools (ok, we forgot to get some those shots).

The resort used to be owned and run by the state but is now in private hands. As part of their effort to actually turn a profit, they have adopted a wide variety of environmentally friendly technologies. We are there early enough to get a tour of the grounds.

The focus of the tour is a geothermal system used to generate the electricity. Reen gives the tour guide a thorough grilling, but backs off before we get banned from the property. Their system is somewhat unique (and experimental) in that the temperature of the water used in the system is quite low (165 F) compared to typical geothermal systems (above 212 F). They get around this by using the water to heat a separate lower temperature coolant, which in turn powers through the generators. They claim their two existing units, a third is in the works, provide all the resort’s electricity needs.

We also learned about some other technologies they are attempting to help develop and/or use. One was a machine for turning most recyclable plastics directly into fuel (like gasoline or diesel); there was a small working tabletop model, on display. I don’t recall if there is a bigger version in production yet on the site yet.

They are also trying to grow as much of their food as possible. And the tour includes some of the greenhouses. Here’s Brian checking out one of the outdoor gardens which supplement the greenhouses in summer.

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The main indoor growing is done all hydroponically. This is the lettuce area. It’s a very long room where there continuously keep plants at all stages of growth so they can harvest every few days.

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And there are lots of tomatoes. The vines grow really long; you can see them running along the rows at the bottom.

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Everything is started from seed. These are new seedlings sprouting is some little mineral wool cubes.

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They also have goats! They apparently serve no important purpose, but they are fun to show visitors. The tour guide gives us treats to feed them, and they seem to like being pet just like dogs.

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A sled dog kennel is also on the premises, with dozens of dogs for sled dog rides in the winter. A nearby pen holds the retirees and the washouts, now available for adoption. Despite much prodding,Brian reluctantly leaves without a new friend. Poor Miso is probably still pacing in her pen wondering what she did wrong.

The rest of the day is spent soaking in the spring and relaxing around the campsite.

Our next day at the spring is spent on the trail. There is a trail that leaves from the property and heads off into the surrounding hills. Our intended destination is called Angel Rocks. It’s a long way to get there, and when we do, we find rocks. Mildly interesting rocks. At the rocks, we spend some time establishing committees to discuss and investigate the possible alternatives for returning back to the springs. After analyzing the resulting reports and taking into account the public feedback, the final decision is made to return back the way we came.

Despite the anti-climactic destination, it was overall a very enjoyable hike. Since most of the hike was up on a ridge over multiple peaks, there was an endless series of vistas to behold. And the weather so good, Reen and I did not even bring along our raingear.

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In the end it turns out to be an 8 hour, 14 mile round trip with lots of climbing. Luckily we have a hot springs to ease our aching bodies.

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