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Published: April 12th 2017
Just a short flight up from Anchorage lies the mysterious city of Fairbanks. This city is known as the gateway to the Aurora, and to Denali. At 64 degrees north latitude, it is known for sunsets and sunrises that last forever. Yet, for only about 35,000 residents, it garners more than its fair share of publicity. And it is less than 120 miles to the Arctic Circle.
Why am I here? To see the famous Northern Lights. the Aurora Borealis, of course. The city is relatively new, having been founded in 1901 by Captain E.T. Barnette, while he was headed to Tanacross. He set up a trading post after meeting up with some gold prospectors. But the new settlement was named after a Republican senator from Indiana, Charles W. Fairbanks, later the 26th Vice-President on the U.S. under Theodore Roosevelt.
The addition of Ladd Army Airfield (later Fort Wainwright) in 1939 fostered an economic and population boom that continued to the end of WW2. Fairbanks sits in the Chena River, near its confluence with the Tanana River. Immediately north the hills lead into the White Mountains.
So far north, the winters are
long and dark, the summers warm and short. It is traditionally known as America's coldest city. The lowest temp here was -65 degrees F, and the highest was 99 degrees F. The famous chinook wind contributes to the temperature extremes, along with temperature inversions and the long and short daylight.
Of course, old friends, Terry and Sandy have spent much more time than any of us up here in Alaska. In fact, I think they are secretly part Eskimo. Terry always asks for ice in his martini!!!
For me, having been only to Anchorage twice before, the trip to Fairbanks is an eye opener. I have already tasted reindeer sausage, quite good. And Alaskan salmon and Yukon potatoes, also quite a treat. But Fairbanks is also home to some microbrews, coffee roasters, and distilleries. I am not sure if I haveever been this far north, other than flying the polar route on commercial jetliners. But I have been to the southernmost city in the world, Ushaia, Argentina, as well as both Capes.
But Fairbanks is known as "The Golden Heart of Alaska", or the last frontier. I also plan to visit
a dog mushing kennel, and check out curling, and ice sculpting. If I bring an ice sculpture back home to you, it may be just contained in a bottle of water. I am sure I can find a salmon bake off, or a igloo building contest somewhere near!
This is what they say about Fairbanks and the Aurora:
With its far-northern latitude, Alaska is the go-to state for seeing the Northern Lights. Fairbanks lies within the auroral oval -- an oblong area surrounding the North Pole where the auroras are most common -- generally is considered the No. 1 viewing spot. Ester Dome, a mountain west of the city, is unlit at night and offers sweeping sky vistas, no purchase necessary. The Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks posts daily aurora forecasts
, with the best shows from September to April. Budget hotels or B&Bs in the area run about $80 to $150 a night. Rustic, public-use cabins found in state parks are dirt cheap; those in the Fairbanks area cost $35 to $60 a night, and some sleep up to nine people. So, needless to say, I like my chances.
Rather than fly back to Anchorage, I am taking the Denali Express, from Fairbanks to Anchorage, a hefty 12.5 hour trip. Well why not, I have crossed Siberia before, so this should be a piece of pie (cake?).
See you in Fairbanks, Doug!!!
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