Panic in the Parking Lot

January 13, 2018

Police barricading entry to parking lots

The scene down College Road this morning looked surreal; flashing lights, packed parking lots, and people lined up outside the building. This was just 10:30 a.m. the day Sam’s Club in Fairbanks re-opened after the announcement that they would be closing the store in two weeks. Police cars blocked off entrances, cars were diverted to back entrances to avoid any crashes, and assure that people were not stealing carts from other businesses to “get to the goods” inside.

Lined up to check out

Shoppers in line to buy out Sam’s Club

I learned later that the meats (verified gone by 2 pm) were marked 50% off, and everything else in the store was going for 25% off. The lines of people outside that circled around the building (at -13 below temperatures I might add) were waiting for carts. Inside the lines were backed down aisles that weren’t that crowded even on Black Friday.  Later at 5 pm, my daughter tried going with hopes of fewer crowds, only to be turned away at the door, with the explanation being that the clerks needed to be able to check-out the existing customers before 8 pm closing time.

To understand the impact the closure of such a large box store that locals have been dependent on for 20 years is difficult unless you realize how few options exist in the interior.  The first question when ordering on-line is “how much is the shipping?”  Many private and corporate sites won’t even discuss shipping to Alaska.

The economic trickle down was evident in a conversation I had with a 30 year resident in Healy, Alaska, 250 miles south near Denali Park.  He had come to town to pick up a script from the Sam’s Club pharmacy.  His answer to the closure was to simply transfer the prescription to the newly opened pharmacy in Healy and not make the trip to town.  The outlying villages, so dependent upon “bush mail” a term that refers to transportation of goods to supply villages with groceries, will need to look for other more expensive options for their needs.

Some are talking about coaxing Costco into a store here in the interior.  As Alaskans, we will definitely find alternatives.  Maybe a long road trip to Anchorage for some; for others, it could include lots of on-line shopping.  But definitely some thinking out of the box about suppliers is in order, which doesn’t seem to be out of the norm for Alaskans.

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Seeking Light

December 30, 2017

We often get asked what it’s like in the winter. Particularly this time of year, there is concern over the lack of light. Questions like how do you stand it being dark all day? Does the sun come up? What do you do? If you can’t see, how can you drive anywhere?  Here are different views of the setting sun and rising moon from the same location at 3 in the afternoon.

clouds and sunset

Setting winter sun

Moon rising mid afternoon

Rising moon at 3

 

Winter, December in particular, is all about light. The Northern lights, Christmas trees with lights, the city sidewalks lit up, the moonlight at mid-day, and, of course, that brilliant sun right on the horizon, shining so brightly that one needs sunglasses to drive. As we come into New Year’s Eve, there are fireworks at the University. (Conversely, we don’t have much for fireworks for the fourth of July—there is just too much light to enjoy any large fireworks display)

Alaska is a land of extremes, and this excess is truly loved. We revel in the seemingly endless days of summer sun, and are awed by the long, long nights of northern lights. Summers seem to compel us to excess of activity, and the winter drives us inside to seek warmth, with perhaps the opposite effect, slowing us down somewhat.

As we move slowly toward more than just our limited three hours and forty minutes of actual sunrise to sunset, more and more visitors come to view the lights—the aurora borealis, that mystical, ethereal appearance in the sky that either spans the sky expansively, or evades illusively, coming and going as though through some whimsical algorithm. If you are planning a visit, please ‘view the best spots to see the Northern Lights‘, our printable aurora fact sheet, and visit our blog for more Alaska and aurora facts.


SOS See Our Skies

November 30, 2017
Brilliant aurora lights

Brilliant lights

Now that we actually have snow and cold, we can offer the star-struck skies and awe-inspiring aurora viewing to those who travel from around the world to see this wonder.
Pieces of advice.

link to aurora pdfCheck the best spots for Aurora viewing.

Don’t waste your sleep if it is snowing outside and clouds are low-lying. If it’s not clear, you won’t be able to see the northern lights. Look for stars; if you can see a few, then perhaps it’s worth losing sleep to stay awake and chance that skies will clear enough to see the lights.
Check the aurora forecasts—most notably, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute has a website with forecasts nightly and even weekly. The website is http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast. According to their website, these are the recommended sites around Fairbanks for getting away from city lights:

  • Chena Lakes Recreation Area
  • Ester, Wickersham, and Murphy Domes
  • Haystack Mountain
  • Some turnouts along the Elliot, Steese, and Parks Highways
  • Cleary Summit

If you are interested in taking pictures, (and need a little help like I do with photography skills), you might enjoy my new favorite app—aptly named “Aurora.” It will automatically adjust the settings on your phone to help you capture the faint glows in that faraway sky.
Additionally, there are many tour guides who offer to drive you to different locations where you can enjoy the warmth of their vehicle (not to mention not worry about unknown road conditions) and wait for the aurora to show up.
Even though I have lived here for fifty plus years, it is still amazing to see the aurora shimmer across the sky.


Fall Hunts

September 23, 2017

Maybe Facebook isn’t your thing (too many cute puppies and baby pictures) but it seems my friends in Alaska are posting lots of wildlife: dead or alive.

While fall can mean the changing of seasons, and time to hurry and wrap up all those things on the to-do list you’ve been putting off, for some, there is a different call of the wild:  the hunt.

Yes, it is hunting season. One of my North Slope guests was sharing with me the good news that her village had just harvested their first whale for the season. This apparently is great reason for rejoicing in the village as it will be shared by all.   Some other guests hire guides to take them out to parts unknown to see their trophy.  My brother-in-law posted “Clear Creek or bust” on his facebook page before heading north to Fairbanks to hunt a moose. And even my newest niece posted her “prize” catch of a moose.

moose pic

First moose

My husband isn’t fond of hunting for moose, but he made two trips to Chitina to try to catch some red salmon.  Two trips, because the first was a total bust:  he and a couple of fellow employees got skunked and came back empty handed.  (Water was too high, they claimed.)  The second time was slightly more successful with a few fish, but he certainly didn’t limit out.  Wouldn’t you know, a cheechako friend (that’s Alaskan for a newcomer) just posted on FB today that he and a couple other guys netted (no pun intended) 60 red salmon!

Moose crossing road

Fall moose crossing road

Then there are those who post other kinds of pictures of wildlife, like my brother; a picture of “traffic”–a moose crossing the road on the way to work.  Or the same niece with pictures of dahl sheep in Denali Park.  Fall is holding on tenaciously–fortunately for those who hunt.  And those of us who procrastinate.  Beautiful yellows on the birch trees that line the roadways.  We are enjoying no frost here yet; very unusual for the third week in September, as we usually experience frost by the Equinox run.

H  auling equipment

U  nknown parts

N   ot knowing what

T   rials and tribulations await

 

 


Summer Start-up

May 30, 2017
Chokecherry Blossoms

Chokecherry blossoms

A waft of the heavenly scent of chokecherry trees.  The smell of freshly cut grass.  Early blooms of floral rose, stock and petunia scents abound at greenhouses.  Yes, yet another reason Alaskans live here:  summer is upon us!  On this, the eve of the last day of our three day Memorial Day weekend, our outdoor activity lists expands.

Will this be the year to try a peony in the yard?  (Particularly since the discovery that they grow very well, and have a prolonged season here in Alaska?) Or maybe this is the year to train to run in a 3, 5 or 10 k run?  How about the long awaited trip to McCarthy and the Kennecott Mine?

What to plant in the garden?  Did I do too many potatoes last year?  Maybe I will try more broccoli and stagger the planting and harvesting.  But zucchini!  How will I ever keep up if I get as many as last year?  Decisions, decisions!

Camping; Is the tent gear ready?  Or should we just travel with the camper on the pick-up…(a little less work, but..)  Which weekend will I go?  If we time it right, we could go fishing too.  We could maybe slip out before the fair starts.

The fair!  Which recipe should I enter in the culinary division?  Did I finish that cross stitch?  Hey, I did those starts for cosmos from seeds–I could enter that this year for the flower show.

Remember that building project; we must lift that rental unit up before it sinks any farther in the permafrost.  I wonder if I can get some day labor to help with that project before the snow flies.

Even with the expanded hours of daylight that make us run 18 hour days, it is still difficult to get done all the things that we can only pack in during our short three months of summer.


What is “Alaska” to you?

February 27, 2017

Ice, snow, dogs, aurora, snowmachines, moose?

What words does your mind conjure up when some says “Alaska”?

Well, they are all here, all right now!

For the next month, the International Ice Carving Competition is in full swing—starting with small blocks (think six feet by four feet), and ramping up to twenty plus feet of carefully sculpted displays with intricate detail.  Take a complimentary loaner sled to enjoy the ice slide, and be sure to take your camera! 

Ice carving of chair and polar bear

Picture yourself here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dog team with musher at finish line

dog team enjoying salmon break

 

 

Next week we are privileged in Fairbanks to host the beginning of the Iditarod. It’s normal starting point is from Anchorage; however, due to a lack of snow fall along the course (not so sure that is true due to the latest snowstorms) Fairbanks will be watching the start-up on Monday March 6th.

While this week the activity levels have been fairly good for aurora viewing, the cloudy skies have prevented clear view of the northern light.  Keep informed by checking the predictions at www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast.

Yesterday the town was packed for people to see the finish of the Iron Dog snowmachine race.  Several of our guests were here to pick up their friends and family or simply view the event. 

Today is ideal weather for building a snowman.  Frankly, the snow here in Fairbanks is normally very dry and “crunchy.”  You have heard that one of the indigenous languages here in Alaska has perhaps 50 words for snow?  Well, today’s snow is heavy, wet and perfect for that snowman if you happen to feel up to that.  As the snow gets deeper, moose come closer into town to graze on vegetation that is easier to reach.  I happened upon these moose a couple days ago in our neighborhood.

Two moose wandering through the neighborhood

Moose meandering the neighborhood

What adventure draws you to the frozen North this time of year?  We are ready and waiting for your arrival. 


Frigid Fairbanks

January 21, 2017

 

 

 

 

Cold weather report for Fairbanks, AK

Headlines of Fairbanks, AK newspaper

As the front page of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner reminds us of the cold snap, some people, mesmerized by the idea of living in such temperatures still ask, “What’s it like at 40 below? In pictures, I’ve recreated the last few days for just this question.

Cold, ice fog and snow blowing

6 am perspective on the day: ice fog and blowing snow

forecast for the day

Temperature at 6 am

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things just don’t work as well during this kind of weather.  For example, cars refuse to start.  A word to the wise–do not rent a car in Anchorage during extremely cold weather unless you inquire as to whether they are suited for travel out of town.  Most Anchorage rental car agencies do not generally offer winterization (i.e. a plug in) for vehicles that may travel north.  One of our guests had their own car from Canada that required an entire day with a space heater on the block to try to heat it up enough to start after being left overnight in 40 below temperatures.

You will see cars with hoods open, and other people stopping to help; it is an unwritten rule that you stop to help someone who’s car is stopped along the road (summer or winter, I might add).  Perhaps this is part of the comradery of living here, an empathy of having been in the same situation where someone stopped to help them too.  Are we better for it?  I think so.

 

 

But I digress.  Ah, there is the beauty of stark contrasts.  The following photos document today’s weather:  still 40 below, but relatively clear skies.  Is it these views that create the wonder that keeps us here?

Early morning sunrise

10 am sunrise coming over the hills

UAF sunrise

View from the University of Alaska: clear and (still) cold