Back when my older two kids graduated high school, my mom asked me to plan a trip for her to take them to Alaska as a celebration of their achievement. I refused, declaring that any vacation to the 49th State would have to include me. And that is how I ended up in Alaska with a vanload of family members for a few weeks one summer a few decades ago.
I knew one day I would return. The grandeur of the mountains. The breaching of a whale. The light at 10pm at night. The distances with dramatic long views. All told me that there was much more to experience in Alaska.
The desire to see the Northern Lights has to be weighed against the fact that they are only visible when it is dark and summer nights are not dark in Alaska. The time to visit is the REST of the year, with December through February the prime time because of the length of the arctic night.
But it is cold. Way colder than any place I have lived. I knew my winter boots MIGHT be adequate but that was the only outerwear I owned that I could trust. Since the right kind of clothing could add up to over a thousand dollars and we would not have any use for it after the trip, I was very pleased to learn that rental clothing rated to -20F or -40F was available. And now that I have had the experience to FEEL -22F, I can let you know it is worth the expense. The only complaint I could say is that when I got myself all zipped in and fully covered, if we hung around inside, sweat happened. Good clothes.
Graham and I flew into Fairbanks. There are a few areas in the northern hemisphere where Aurora Borealis tourism excels and Fairbanks is the stepping off point for many of them.
I had long heard that if you want to see the aurora borealis, you better plan three opportunities. And sure enough, our first night was cloudy. We enjoyed a salon dinner in a yurt that is 100% off the grid. Nice company and okay food, but no sky view.
The next day, evening we were back at the yurts and our guide and our host informed us that something unexpected was happening: it was early (9:30pm) and the show had already started. For those of you who followed our trip on Facebook, you already know I needed to take a day to analyze the experience.
The third night we went in a different direction to a hot springs resort at Chena. That evening, there was a small burst of color around 8:30, but nothing much. Yet, on the 2-hour ride back to Fairbanks, the driver and I noticed a lot of wide towers of lights through the trees. Whenever he hit one of his safe parking areas, the show was not happening, tho.
We spent some time early in the third day wandering into shops and lucked into an artists coop. There, one piece of fused glass kept calling for my attention…and surprise, surprise, it followed us home. I felt it was a beautiful and pretty accurate depiction of what we saw our second night.
What is a bucket list? Simply, a list of desired things to do or see before you kick the proverbial bucket. And I really don’t remember when I added the aurora borealis to my list; it just always has been something I wanted to see. And right now, I can’t name another item. Although there are lots of things I still want to see and do, none reaches this level of intense desire. Well, maybe Barcelona……