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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


White Winter Dreams

December 26, 2016

img_1010Abundant snowfall has given us a very white Christmas.  No need to dream!
If you are ready to ski, the cross country slopes at the University are nicely groomed and clearly marked.  Downhill slopes are booming, particularly during winter break.  The closest, Birch Hill, on the Fort Wainwright military base are less than 10 minutes from the center of Fairbanks.  Local dog mushing teams practice on nearby hills, such as Farmer’s Loop Road–again just 10 minutes from town.

Ice delights abound, with at least three attractions wooing and wowing visitors.  In addition to the renowned Chena Hot Springs Ice Hotel tour, complete with carved ice martini glasses, during December and into January you can experience Christmas in Ice at the North Pole.   If you can’t get enough ice sculpures, you can visit the Ice Museum downtown, at least until the International Ice Carving Competition in March.

img_1006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Plan that Trip North (Part 2)

May 26, 2016

Planning a trip to Alaska can be akin to making a trip across the country; due to sheer distances, the analogy is true, as you will most likely travel through everything from a rainforest environment to a semi-arid desert.
When people question me about southeast Alaska, I really have to refer them to a more regional (hence more knowledgeable) source. It would be like someone in say, Kansas asking a local about Florida; they are worlds apart. Some good trip planning techniques are to segregate the land portion by flights, or waterways.

Moutains going north

Going north on the Parks Highway

Instead of backtracking one can plan their Alaska adventures in circles: Anchorage to Denali Park then Fairbanks, down to Valdez, then the Marine Highway to Whittier, Seward, Kenai, Homer, then return to Anchorage. The type of transportation between Anchorage and Fairbanks will depend upon whether one prefers a nostalgic train ride or 100 mile vistas via the road that rides the ridges for maximum views over valleys and hills.
For those looking to venture even farther north to the Arctic Circle, the car owner needs to be advised that this road is rough with lots of gravel and potholes. This will translate into the very real possibility of dings, dents and cracks in windshields. Looking at a map, it appears that a trip to the Arctic Circle (crossing the 66th degree latitude) should only take a couple of hours. Unfortunately for unsuspecting drivers, this road cannot be traversed at speeds people normally travel in the “lower ’48.” (This is a very colloquial term for the contiguous United States. ) You should plan on at least four hours one way.
Another alternative is to hire this drive. You can find many fine tour bus drivers who will point out the finer details of the terrain as well as landmarks that you might otherwise miss.


Instant Winter

October 1, 2015

green grass yard and driveway

Green grass and flowers in the front of main office.

One foot of snow in less than 24 hours

12 inches of snow in less than 24 hours

Winter in Alaska has it’s challenges, and the cliche, “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” can be partially true.  Three days ago, we had partly sunny skies and green grass.  Yesterday, the roads and trees are heavily laden with wet snow.  Not only were the schools closed Wednesday due to traffic dangers and electrical outages, the University even cancelled its classes to try to allow people time to regroup. According to this morning’s news, over 10,000 are still without power. The hum of generators can be heard around town in an effort to stave off the cold and offer a limited supply of electricity.

While many areas of town still are without power, we are fortunate to be in one of the grids that were unaffected by the recent outages.  Come on over: we have all those nice amenities that are so often taken for granted–heat, light and hot water–unlike half the town.  This is day two of the process.

Perhaps the excitement of the PFD deposits will brighten up locals. Today is the day that all Alaskans look forward to–the Permanent Dividend Fund hand-out. In a record amount of $2072, the local economy is booming as people come to town to shop for their carefully calculated wish list. The frenzy is almost akin to shopping at Christmas time in the malls. All that is required to receive this benefit is residency for one year. Age is no object–even babies can receive this “we do everything big –welcome to Alaska.” Some use the dividend to survive, others to celebrate. I’m still not sure where mine will go.


Who says we are behind the trend?

August 20, 2015

If there is a new trend out there in the “Lower ’48”, we who live here joke that it will take about 3 to 5 years to catch on here. It is an often stated excuse for Alaskans for being behind the times.

Finally we have been vindicated. We are AHEAD of the times in one area: coffee! Check out this article in The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/aug/18/biggest-coffee-snobs-america-alaska-not-seattle?CMP=share_btn_tw. I think my favorite line is “the most caffeinated place in the country.” Do you think we need/deserve it in Alaska?

ACRC's two ordering stations

Customers lined up inside (and out) waiting to order specialty coffee

Being a coffee lover myself (hopefully not a snob), I am thrilled. I have a collection in my wallet of a punch card for almost every coffee stand there is in Fairbanks. Don’t ask how many types of coffee beans are stored in my freezer (okay, I’ll ‘fess up: French Roast, Verano, Aria, Yrgacheffe..) Perhaps I should explain the word “coffee stand.” Along any well-trafficked road in Fairbanks there are small mobile coffee stands, with drive up windows on each side. And yes, if you are wondering, those windows do open and close whether the temperature is above 90 on a hot summer day, or below 40 below on a chilling ice foggy day. And even if you don’t believe it, there will be cars lined up, waiting for their cup of java. If your dog happens to accompany you in the car, they will offer them a doggie treat.

Then there are the local Starbucks housed inside both Fred Meyers shopping center, and both Safeways (probably so as not to discriminate shoppers loyal to either). And of course, at Barnes and Noble. So goes the corporate world. Ho hum.

Coffe stand with cars lined up at the window

Cars lined up for morning java

However,we also have great coffee, locally roasted at a couple of places–notably, my personal favorite, Alaska Coffee Roasting Company. They have evolved from a small storefront, then expanding to take over the next spot in the mall just down the hill from the University. And almost every time I stop there is a line for coffee–inside and outside at the drive through.

But, you don’t have to visit these outlets. Stop in at the Inn and we will offer you a cup of freshly brewed French Roast from Alaska Coffee Roasters. You don’t have to stop at any of the three coffee stands lined up along Geist Road and shell out $4. Ours is free.