One of the attractions of the Salmonberry tour in Fairbanks was the opportunity to see the northern lights. Fairbanks is well-positioned with respect to the auroral oval so that on most evenings, if the sky is clear, one can see them. And we were there at the vernal equinox– spring: the weather was moderating, meaning that the daytime temps were approaching melting and at night they kept mostly above zero. At this high latitude however, the days are lengthening rapidly, and in a few more weeks, there won’t be much night left to see northern lights.
It was nice that the tour was focused on aurora viewing. There is always uncertainty: the aurora is not active every night, and clouds frequently obscure them when they are. To maximize the chance that we would see some northern lights sometime during the tour, three nights were scheduled for such viewing. Each took us to a viewing site away from the lights of Fairbanks and accommodated the needs of aurora viewers: a warming house, coffee and snacks, and alternate activities in the event of poor viewing. Oh, and a wifi connection so we could monitor the online real-time aurora activity reports being fed by satellites and observers on the ground.
A large city in Alaska, almost as large as my home town of Minneapolis. This was the end of our Alaska tour and we spent it visiting downtown attractions and making an excursion to Matanuska Glacier, 100 miles northeast.
We also saw the “bore tide” come in to Turnagain Arm. A bore tide is a phenomenon of the interaction between coastal topology and the diurnal tide swell. Shortly after low tide, as the moon’s influence begins pushing the ocean’s waters up again, if the rise exceeds the flow capacity of a channel, a hydraulic wavefront is created. In some conditions that wave can become quite high and we saw surfers riding it for miles as it propagated down Turnagain Arm. See the video below.
And beyond the end of the peninsula runs a 5-mile “spit” into the bay that hosts marinas with commercial and tourist fishing, restaurants, art galleries and at the very end, the “Land’s End” hotel, where we stayed for a night, entranced by the scenery surrounding us.
On a brisk sunny day we drove from Alyeska to Seward– one of the most beautiful drives I have ever taken— through snow-covered mountains in the low-angle beauty light of the Alaskan morning sun. I wish I had stopped and taken more photos.
We had a scenic boat tour scheduled, a large boat with three viewing decks. The nice weather made for a very pleasant outing, albeit sometimes cold and windy, especially as we left the protection of Resurrection Bay into the open Pacific Ocean.
Even though Seward is a small fishing and (in the summer) tourist town, there is a large center devoted to local sea life, where after a lifetime of wanting to see them, Poldi encountered puffins!
I learned to ski late, in my thirties, but I was able to become skilled enough to enjoy the long runs at the mountainous ski areas of Utah, Colorado, Idaho and Montana. My skills have atrophied as my skiing opportunities have diminished in recent years, so I was quite excited that a visit to Alyeska ski resort was in our plans.
Alyeska Peak is not as high as those in the Rockies, but the elevation at the bottom is essentially sea level, so one is treated to a large vertical drop without the high nosebleed risk (and out-of-breathness) of high elevations.
Poldi’s sister April joined us at this juncture of our Alaska trip. She was once a world-class competitive skier, who early in her career came to Alyeska to compete. One of her ski team friends, Heather, eventually came here permanently, raised a family and is still actively teaching. I became her informal ski student as we explored the slopes of Alyeska. Here are some photos.
A town of about 1000 people, its population increases dramatically with tourists in the summer. Its mayor is a cat named “Denali”. At the beginning of Spring, the snow is still deep, requiring waist-high trenches to reach the decks of our cabins. The highlight of our time in Talkeetna was a visit to a sled dog training center, the endeavor of the locally famous musher and Iditarod winner, Dallas Seavey. There were 130 dogs under the supervision of 6 to 8 trainers. In addition to their wrangling, feeding and scooping chores, the trainers host tourists, setting them up to ride a dogsled on one of their training courses. This actually provides a training service for the dogs—giving them practice at maintaining a target speed and keeping a fixed pace.
Tourists are also used to socialize the dogs, starting with puppies. We were encouraged to pet them and play with them; see the photos below.
We travelled by van to Talkeetna, the gateway of Denali National Park, passing through spectacular mountain vistas. By accident, I learned that there were vacancies on a sight-seeing small-plane tour into the park, and on a last-minute realization that the skies were clear and I would not likely be here again any time soon, I booked the flight! It was an amazing experience. Here are a few photos and a video sample.
Two hours northeast of Fairbanks is a feature that is the focal point of a rustic resort, Chena Hot Springs. The resort has been augmented by a geothermal power plant, greenhouses, and tourist attractions including the “Ice Museum”. We spent an afternoon visiting, ending with a soak in an outdoor pool fed by the springs.
I recall as a young child my dad claiming that he had visited all 48 states. I was quite impressed. I wondered if I would ever be able to ever match that accomplishment.
My dad had the advantage of being the son of a professor whose research and world war II assignments took him nearly everywhere. Later, in the home that my parents made, travel was not mandated by an employer, rather, it was actively pursued to expand the experiences of their children.
And it did. We visited many states on our summer vacation travels and gained an awareness of their local distinctions. But some were beyond our range, including Alaska. I have not been there until just now, this year, 2022. It has been a wonderful addition to my catalogue of states visited.