Aurora BorealisThe number one item on my Alaska bucket list was to see the dancing northern lights. The best place for viewing is in and around Fairbanks which is in the Aurora oval (away from bright city lights). Though I had seen the Aurora Borealis in Iceland in 2015, I had only seen the curtain rays and small swirling lights. I was hoping that this time around, I would have the chance to see a full Aurora display. It’s never guaranteed that you’ll see the northern lights when you’re in Fairbanks during the Aurora Borealis season. But I was hopeful. I did check the KP Index before leaving and saw there was moderate activity forecasted on the days I would be in Fairbanks. But it was not to be. However, the moment I boarded my flight home, there was a strong Aurora display at around 1 a.m. What luck or lack of it!On our flight back to Fairbanks from the Arctic Circle, the pilot called our attention to a horizontal ray across the sky with a short vertical flowing down midway from the center. I took a couple of pictures and didn’t think much of it. To my surprise I found two faint Aurora images when I transferred my trip’s photos to my IPad. So I adjusted the exposure level upward and here are the surprising results. (There is a special setting to capture the lights from your DLSR camera. Cell phone cameras will not do the job unless you have the latest IPhone or Samsung according to our host in Wiseman.)
I’ve thought about crossing into the Arctic Circle but balked at the long drive from Fairbanks on the Dalton Highway. It was easier to get there by plane and see the remote areas that a road trip can’t match. At 66⁰33'N, the sun doesn't set once a year on the summer solstice and the sun does not rise on the winter solstice. We were lucky the temperature was warm at 56⁰F in Coldfoot where our small Piper aircraft landed and in Wiseman, a small community about 12 miles north of Coldfoot which we visited.
Trans-Alaska Pipeline System(TAPS)
On our way to Wiseman from Coldfoot where our Piper 8-seater plane landed, I saw this stretch of the Alaska oil pipeline. The pipeline stretches for 800 miles (1288 km) from Prudhoe Bay in the north all to the way to the Valdez Terminal in the south. We had a good view of the pipeline and some of the pumping stations from the plane as it weaves in and out of the ground on its long journey south. TAPS was built between 1975-1977 and has delivered more than 18 billion barrels of crude oil since it was opened in 1977. The pipe measures 48 inches in diameter and 420 miles of the pipeline is elevated.
Denali National Park has free shuttle buses to the Park from the Visitors Center across from the Denali train depot or the Denali Bus Depot. You need to pay the park entrance fee before catching the green bus which stops at various places inside the Park such as the Savage River area or the Monte Vista viewpoint below.
Denali National Park
What’s beautiful about Denali during this time of the year is that it’s bathe in fall colors. Red and gold dot the landscape framed by the tallest snow peaked mountains of the Alaskan Range.
Mt. Denali (McKinley)Mt. Denali (rising in the background) has an elevation of 20,310 ft above sea level, making it the highest mountain peak in North America. The name “Denali” comes from Koyukon, a native Alaskan language. It means “the tall one”. During the presidential candidacy of William McKinley, Denali was called Mt. McKinley and the name was officially recognized in 1917. It wasn’t until 2015 when the mountain was officially renamed Denali under the Obama administration.
Where to stay:
There are campgrounds within the Park. However, during our visit in early September, there was a landslide near Polychrome Overlook so the road beyond Mile 43 is closed. Check the Denali National Park website for information about available campgrounds. https://www.nps.gov/dena/index.htm
McKinley Chalet Resort, Denali
This resort has a beautiful setting with mountain and river vistas. The room rate was $350+ per night. Breakfast is not included. The rooms are scattered throughout the property and a shuttle takes you to your building. Our room was on the 3rd floor of an open corridor building and there was no elevator. There were no drinking water bottles in the room nor were there bathrobes and slippers which are standard for hotels at this price. There was no refrigerator either. There is, however, a hotel shuttle to the train depot and Visitor Center.
There’s an Airbnb accommodation in Wiseman. Contact Jack Reakoff through his Facebook page. Jack was our guide in Wiseman and is one of 10 residents in this small community established in 1908.
Images by TravelswithCharie