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Published: March 5th 2017
Seeing the Northern Lights has been our bucket list for a long time. So, I blame it on WOW airlines, as they kept sending us their $99 o/w fares to Iceland. Course that was from Boston and they failed to mention the $50 each way charge for any carry on item.
So, 2 weeks ago with some random google searches, I learned Fairbanks was actually a much better chance to see them. And then Delta had some miles specials allowing us to travel for only 19k miles. Considering that just recently we had to pay 30k miles for our return from Orlando, that was a great deal. Of course, not the best connections as both flights were red eyes, but for a chance to see the Northern Lights, we'd do it. The Univ of Alaska has a great website http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/Alaska/20170228 that attempts to forecast the auroral activity. So, when their website confirmed the auroral activity will be high for the available Delta dates, we just decided to do it. I did pause just a little when I saw the temp forecasts of minus 25. But, well, how cold could it be...
Its after 3am by
the time we land in Fairbanks. And looking out the window as we land at the incredible frosted hinterland, I did lean over to Ed and say "OMG, what have we done". Almost 4am by the time we are checked into our hotel. We booked at the Best Western Plus Chena River Lodge due to its proximity to the airport. It was a very nice hotel, and warm! A short night as we are up, enjoying the breakfast and picking up the rental car by 9:30.
Our first stop is at the excellent visitor center, talking with the very informative gentleman, providing us with some excellent maps and suggestions of things to do and places to visit. It also has a fascinating diorama with lots of history and photos. The rest of our first day is spent driving around the area. The roads are all snow/ice covered with 3 ft banks of snow on both sides. It is a beautiful sunny day with the pristine snow just glistening in all directions. Fairbanks is a great town, almost like a larger McCall (for those of you from Idaho)with a population of @ 30,000. Surprisingly, it is rolling hills
with lots of Siberian birch trees, and only the occasional evergreen. The Univ of Alaska sits on a hill and with all the snow covering, is a beautiful campus with an excellent museum!
We arrive at the Alaska Grizzley Lodge which is about 7 miles outside the city. It is a small 10 room place with a great central area where we meet most of the guests. A couple from Coventry England has been chasing Aurora Borealis since the early 1990s. This is their 7th time at this lodge and take amazing photographs. They are a fantastic source of information about the aurora through out the evening. Gillian explains what to look for and tries to help me with camera settings. And the best news, the lodge is a great place to see it, so we won't need to be driving around in the middle of the night. The sobering news - they have been here for 5 days and have not seen anything yet.
Around 9:30 Ed and I are outside staring at the sky, wondering if we can make the Milkway the start. Its in and out of the lodge, with Gillian
being our resource. Finally, I think it was around midnight, she tells us, they are starting. We head outside and even she is surprised at the sky. It is a massive expanse of shades of green. I try to take a few pics but give up very quickly. the lights are moving all over, some times with large streaks, and other times just swirls. It is absolutely mesmerizing. And then the lights start to dance. So hard to explain and although you can't see all the colors with your eyes, (the cameras are able to pick the colors up better), standing there watching, the photos just can't do it justice. I am truly overcome with the beauty, but also just a wonderful feeling, that all is well with the world! Even the next morning, all of us keep talking about it, just in awe of what we have seen!! Even Gillian says that was a beautiful aurora. Joe Long has emailed to me some of his great photos from the evening and i will post them as soon as I get the jpeg version. Another great website with photos from that night is http://www.ronnmurrayphoto.com/NorthernLights-AuroraCamera/AlaskaAuroraCam
The next day
we drive to Chena Hot Springs resort about 60 miles east of our lodge. It is a beautiful drive and we see moose about 6 different times along the road. the first time, there are two of them in the middle of the road, licking the salt off the road. They are in no hurry to move. Although the temp has warmed up to minus 1, I have some hesitation going into the hot springs, but we do and it is wonderful!
Our 2nd night's lodge is at A Taste of Alaska, a beautiful log cabin lodge. Cory, very personable is the mid 30's owner, (bought from his parents). We thoroughly enjoy his stories. We take his recommendation for dinner at the local brew pub, Silver Gulch Brewery, where we had a fantastic halibut dinner. Then its back to the lodge to wait for the show. Gillian is not there to help us, but our room has a great view of the valley. Even with that we find ourselves putting all the layers on to go outside and make sure we are not missing anything. Then back in to warm up. Tonight the light show starts 9:30.
I now understand, you can not try to adjust your camera settings. But I now have the best low light settings my camera allows and have discovered the interval setting, thanks to Gillian. Set on a tripod, pointing to the lights, I just press the shutter and it takes a picture every 30 seconds. Pretty amazing!! There is not quite as much activity with the lights tonight, but still brilliant and beautiful to watch! In and out during the next couple of hours, we call it a night by 1am.
The next day, we have to drive to North Pole, Alaska where we see the largest Christmas ornament store I have ever seen! Then the afternoon is spent at the beautiful Univ of Alaska Museum, that includes a 30 minute film on the aurora borealis. A delicious prime rib dinner at Labelle, and by 11pm we are back at the airport, turning in our rental car. And by 6am we are in Seattle. Ed states, 4 hours later and a 70 degree temperature change from 25 below to 45 above!! Although, quick, it was a great trip!!
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