Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

An Ice Palace Preserved by a Hot Springs? Check Out Chena

©Bert Gildart: “Step through the door as quickly as possible,” directed our guide. “Every time we open the door we loose eight degrees of heat.”

We had entered the Aurora Ice Palace located in the Chena Hot Springs Resort, about 55 miles from Fairbanks, Alaska. Temperatures inside the Palace were a cool 20ºF while outside they hovered around 80.


Heroic size ice carvings depicting jousting.

Quickly we donned heavy parkas, then we entered a room full of heroic sized ice carvings. Renowned ice artist Heather Brice was at work adding to her creations, which now include the life-size carving of two gladiators jousting with lances; a polar bear; a series of ice goblets, among others.


“These carvings will last for years,” said our guide. “And they’re all preserved by starting with thermal energy.” Continuing he said that Chena doesn’t have access to outside electricity, and that virtually everything in the complex to include the quest rooms, dinning rooms… a green house in which vegetables are raised, are all derived from geothermal power. “That,” he said, “includes the Ice Palace.”

From an earlier tour of the complex that day with Cherie Johnson, we knew a little about what he was referring to, for she had introduced us to the technology that enabled all this to work. In theory, it’s fairly simply, though the elaborate machinery would lead you to believe differently.


CLICK ON ABOVE IMAGES TO SEE ENLARGMENTS. L to R: Hot spring; Exterior of Aurora Ice Palace; Airstream, Ice Palace and artifacts from minning era.

Bernie Karl, owner of the complex, has taken hot water from the earth and used it to generate power in an ingenious manner. Because the water that feeds the hot springs that first began attracting visitors was only 163 ºF, he used it in another way. He found another substance with a lower boiling point, and used heat from the water to create steam from the other substance used to turn the fins of a generator. The process is certainly more involved but because he has taken his process so far and is now generating energy that may soon be completely independent of fossil fuels, he’s getting lots of attention.


Electrical energy in Alaska is expensive, but hundreds of remote Native Villages could benefit from his technology. He offers links that detail his setup, to include the additional technology now used to power all aspects of his entire center, which includes the demanding requirements of the Aurora Ice Palace.
Though the entire complex is impressive, what was most dramatic to me was, in fact, the ice museum.


Interior of Aurora Ice Palace

The carvings are all impressive and to capture images I used a tripod and exposures of five to 10 seconds, depending on the light in that particular area. Our tour lasted about half an hour and, then, because we had walked from such a warm environment to such a cold environment, we followed up our ice tour with a long soak in the hot springs. We sampled them all, to include the outdoor natural springs (see above series of photos) as well as several hot ones located in a protected enclosure.


Interestingly, the most popular time to visit Chena is winter, something Janie and I have done in years past. The complex is ideally located for viewing northern lights. Because the Japanese believe that children conceived while the Aurora blaze overhead will be particularly healthy, they flock here in the winter… They love Chena.


Tonight sunset at Fairbanks will be 11:28, sunrise, 4: 25.


*Fort Union, An Outpost on the Missouri River


One Response to “An Ice Palace Preserved by a Hot Springs? Check Out Chena”

  1. Rich Charpentier Says:

    Gorgeous photos Bert!

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