It was magic, unbelievable and magnificent. At times, it looked like lighting and at other times Comet tails gliding in the Heavens and other times a dance. All were bright vibrant green and they were doing acrobats of all kinds, going forwards and backwards and sideways. Stretched from East to West to North for four continuous hours, they truly boggled the mind.
This mind boggler was the Aurora Borealis in Fairbanks, Alaska, better known as the Northern Lights, which some believe give them special fertility powers. Fairbanks is right in the middle of the Arctic Oval that circles the far northern portion of the world where Northern Lights can be seen. The chance to see the lights gets better the farther north in this oval. And we saw them perfectly.
But it didn’t start out that way. The first night we sat and watched and waited for 4 hours for the lights to appear and nothing happened. No northern lights and we were so hyped up for them. But the next morning, we learned they did appear around 4 a.m., about an hour after we had left.
Through research, I learned that the best time to view the northern lights is March and the second best time is October. We were there the first week of March and learned the best time to see them is in a dark sky with no moon around 12-3 a.m.
Ben Boyd, our guide, told us that even though the weather might be bad in Fairbanks, it usually is good and clear at Chandalar Ranch. We had followed all recommendations and still no lights.
Ben Boyd picked us up at out Fairbanks Hotel at 10:30pm at night. He is a native Alaskan mountain man that we found on Trip Advisor after asking for a good Northern Lights native guide. His name popped right up. He took us to see the lights the first night not knowing if we would see the lights because the Northern Lights are natural phenomena of nature created by the heavens.
Ben Boyd took Sharon and me and 9 other people in his van to Chandalar Ranch, about 25 miles outside of Fairbanks. The viewing of the lights here was excellent. The Ranch has a large hostel with a main assembly room with one side glassed in so we could see what the heavens were doing. Attached to this hostel was a large deck which also provided a great area for viewing and photographing the awesome show. And the deck is easy for handicapped and wheelchair customers.
Below the deck and beyond is a wide open area where dog sledding is available and it was the most perfect place for those with a tripod and camera. Available at all times for visitors was coffee, tea, hot chocolate, cookies and restroom facilities in the assembly room. And if we were too cold from being outside in the minus degree weather, we could go inside, warm up and visit with others.
It was so much fun sharing photos and seeing how other photos turned out. Since this was my first time for taking time exposures, I was particularly interested in how other photographer’s photos looked. Come to find out, I passed because I captured them. And every time I took a photo of the lights, I immediately looked at my photo to make sure it looked just like the one I had just seen with my eyes. And it did.
The second night, we were picked up at our hotel by Hugh, Ben Boyd’s helper, and taken to Chandalar Ranch again. And while we were going there, the northern lights were dancing and popping in and out and doing somersaults all around us. There was much joy going on in that van as we saw the lights. And I was just screaming with joy because my dream had come true of seeing what I have wanted to see all of my life.
When we arrived at Chandalar Ranch, we all jumped out of that van and ran as fast as we could to see those lights with our own eyes in perfect conditions and below zero weather. And we watched them non-stop for four hours before it was time to leave around 3 a.m. for our hotel and sleep.
All 9 of us were so ecstatic after seeing the unbelievable show of lights that Ben Boyd told us, ”Don’t count on seeing these lights like this every time. But the northern lights have been very active the last 2 weeks, so I am happy you got a good show tonight.” And so were we.
Every day at 1 p.m., Boyd offered snow activities for us and we did almost all of them. The first was our favorite, walking with reindeer. Hugh took us to the little ranch where 6 reindeer live with Jane and Doug, owners. And we learned everything one needs to know about reindeer. The first was Ruby, not Rudolph, and she was their pet. She ruled the roost.
We were thrilled to pet her and watch her eat, check out her horns and watch her walk in the snow with the other reindeer. When we were finished playing with the reindeer in the snow in the little boreal forest around Jane and Doug’s farm, we were invited into their home for hot drinks and awesome oatmeal cookies. They were so good each lady had to have the recipe. It was our favorite adventure and it is ranked the best thing to do in Fairbanks. But nothing could beat those Northern Lights.
Another afternoon at 1 p.m., we were picked up at our hotel for our tour of Chena Hot Springs, located several hours outside of Fairbanks. The most fun was touring an Ice Museum where we could have an Appletini to drink at a bar made of ice, in a glass made of ice, while sitting at a table and chair made of ice or at the bar with a stool made of ice.
There were 4 bedrooms made of ice and an igloo, a sculpture of a man on a horse, a castle and more. It was so much fun to explore and to see what it would be like to stay at an ice hotel. After viewing the cold museum, we could warm up in the natural hot springs or have dinner at the restaurant.
Touring the Fairbanks area was another afternoon treat at 1 p.m. Going to North Pole, Alaska to see Santa Claus and his house full of gifts was a highlight for us both. Hot chocolate and cookies were waiting for us if we wanted them and we did.
Many of the business around the city had ice sculptures outside their buildings that were outstanding. At first, it shocked me that an ice sculpture would be outside. And then I remembered that I was around the Arctic Circle where it is freezing or below and those sculptures were doing just fine outside.
We also visited an Ice park where more outstanding and award-winning ice sculptures were displayed. In one area, an ice sculpture contest was held. One feature of the park was a huge tall ice slide for children to enjoy. And it was made totally of ice.
Our final afternoon activity in between seeing the northern lights was ice fishing. Sharon and I went with Keith Koontz, an ice fishing pro for many years. With a BIG 3-feet long fishing drill (1 meter), he dug 12 holes 8 feet apart. Each participant was given a plastic bucket for sitting and fishing with a 2-foot fishing pole, complete with hook and string, to drop in the hole and catch a fish. Sharon was the first one to score a little 4-inch fish.
The fishing experience lasted for about 4 hours on a frozen lake about 2 hours from Fairbanks. All of the men and women participants caught about 10-12 fish each, making for a great meal which was had afterwards at Chandalar Ranch. It was a great time had by all and an experience like no other.
We chose to not do the dog sledding because being bounced around was not safe for our medical issues.
The third night we had to view the lights, we chose to stay in the hotel and get a good night’s sleep. And it turned out to be the correct decision because no lights appeared that night.
But the fourth night, we arrived at Chandalar Ranch at 11 am, and there were the brightest and biggest lights of all. They lasted about 30 minutes, just long enough time for us to get our last photos and have the final experience of seeing the northern lights before it was time to leave.
The entire 6-day experience turned out to be a fantastic time for both of us and an experience and adventure of a lifetime. We loved it so much we are planning to do it again because it was and is the greatest display of celestial lights in Fairbanks, Alaska.
If you wish to contact Ben Boyd, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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