Alaska – Northern Lights | Patch Los Altos, California

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The # 1 on my bucket list was seeing the Northern Lights and when I told my husband Roy about the trip and he heard the temperature would be below 40 he said no I have did my cold weather training in the Marine Corps and I don’t want to go. I spoke to him, with the promise that as a former pilot he would enjoy flying around Mt. McKinley in the co-pilot’s seat and a 12-hour train journey from Fairbanks to Anchorage. I didn’t tell him about the dog sled ride.

We’ve been to Alaska a dozen times, but always on a cruise. This time, I wanted to see the inside. There are two seasons in Alaska, winter and construction. You realize how tough these people are, and the pipeline must have been difficult to build in such a harsh climate.

We flew to Fairbanks and our driver took us to stay at Pike’s Hotel on the river which was frozen over, with people rolling over it. Nice friendly hotel, great restaurant, and every night they had a free ice cream stand in the lobby. It was 40 below, and even in layers with a full length mink coat, I was still chilly. Another great restaurant is the Chena Pump House, with a 10 foot brown bear at the front desk.

Don’t rent a car in Alaska in the winter. We had made arrangements to be taken to Chena Hot Springs, 60 miles north of Fairbanks. Took us 4 hours to get there on a very icy road. We were told there were four accidents a day, with tourists rolling their vehicles. The trip was fun. Different teams of mushers ran past us along the road with 16 dogs pulling their sleds. Lots of reindeer, caribou, elk, moose and eagles.

Chena Hot Springs is 100% occupancy. 50% of their guests are oriental.

Apparently, it’s a belief that if you see the Northern Lights, your kids will be bright.

I was amazed by the internationals there, from Brazil, Australia, Switzerland, Russia, England. Even people in wheelchairs, on canes, who all want to fulfill their dream of seeing the Northern Lights. It was a two star lodge, no lift, with two floors. I had no way of getting out of my five layers of clothes and putting on a bathing suit to try out the hot springs. I don’t care how good the water is, my bones should do without their help.

It was a fascinating place, so far from anywhere, but they had huge greenhouse tents to grow their own vegetables, and even had their own power station.

The main attraction is looking at the sky every night. They put me in Mickey Mouse thermal boots that I couldn’t even lift. In addition to all my diapers, they lent me survival pants, then a jacket that went down to my ankles. We left at 9 p.m. in a snowmobile convoy, a driver and two people in the cabin, towing a snow tractor with 10 passengers, 40 minutes to the top of a mountain that had a heated wigwam with a wooden floor and seats inside so you can come in and get some hot chocolate. We were up there until 2:00 am and by then I had had enough. Of the 50 people who were taken to the mountain, I never saw a soul. Everyone seemed to have a fortune in expensive cameras around their necks, tripods, and a lit miner’s beacon. I leaned on the snowcat vehicle and froze but wasn’t going to miss a thing. It was magical to see the dancing colors. There is no perfect word to describe how the Northern Lights move across the sky. They float, slide, weave and swirl almost fluidly and winter in Fairbanks offers one of the best places in the world to see them. The Northern Lights vary in color from yellow to red to purple. The Auroral Oval, a ring-shaped region around the North Pole offers an excellent balance of clear nights, which draws people from all over the world from mid-August to early April.

You can ask the hotel reception to give you a dawn wake-up call if the lights appear.

Our next adventure was back to Fairbanks and at the airport we went in one of the 600 small planes parked there, for a two hour flight around Mt. McKinley. Wonderful to see the 20,230 foot mountain surrounded by several glaciers.

The train ride from Fairbanks to Anchorage was fun, spectacular scenery, only running once a week in the winter. 12 hours of non-stop viewing, and I think it would be even more interesting in the summer, with all the rivers and waterfalls to see. We saw a lot of Dahl sheep on the canyon cliffs.

We stayed in Anchorage at our favorite hotel, Capt Cook. Two wonderful restaurants and since there was a blizzard with 12 inches of snow we were happy to have a lovely suite to enjoy. Crows Nest and Fletchers are two places I recommend to all of our guests going to Alaska.

My husband said our next trip was going to be a warm place.

Maureen Jones

All Horizons Travel / Frosch

825 Santa Cruz Avenue

Menlo Park, California 94025

650-961-2340 direct

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