In 2019 we went on a Panama Canal Cruise for my mother’s bucket list trip and to an overwater bungalow in Tahiti for Randy’s. My bucket list idea was to see the Northern Lights. Our first plan was an October 2020 Princess Cruise to Norway called Looking for the Northern Lights. Of course, that was shut down with everything else in 2020. Plan B was a trip to Alaska.
Alaska requires a Covid test 72 hours before departure. Arizona State University sponsors a drive up testing site that worked for us. We tested Saturday morning, had negative results on Sunday, and left on Tuesday. The above paragraph makes the whole process sound simple. It was not.
Alaska Airlines had a great deal on flights and does a nice job of keeping travelers and employees safe. We had great views of the frigid northland with many glaciers.
I researched time and place and decided on a very rural airbnb cabin 10 miles outside Fairbanks. We booked for eleven nights around the fall solstice with minimal moonlight.
German Shepherd Sadie lives on site and she and I became good friends. We even took care of Sadie for a few days when the owner went camping.
We were in place and ready to see lights! Our working plan was to drive to a nearby viewing area each evening and wait for lights to appear. It was only 15 minutes from our cabin – but it was easier planned than accomplished!
We were our first problem. All summer we have gone to bed early so we could be up early because 5:30 – 9:00 a.m. is the only good time to be outside in the summer desert heat. Staying out and awake well into the night required a major shift in our internal clocks.
We learned about KP levels (how far the solar activity would spread) and had websites and apps to monitor viewing potentials. The highest KP levels were supposed to be near the end of our trip but activity was possible at any time as long as the night skies were clear.
Each clear night we drove up the nearby hill for optimum viewing and stayed until we were just too cold and tired to care.
One night we saw an interesting white glow spreading across the north. It was like a dome of light above a distant city, but Fairbanks was in the opposite direction! We knew something was different! Sadie had been tied up for awhile so about midnight we headed back to the cabin all the while keeping our eyes looking north. We stopped once en-route because things were looking even more interesting!
We got back to Sadie, let her off her tether, and the lights came. Our lights were white, some like those old spotlights shooting up from car dealerships. Others we saw were like rolling clouds. We saw hints of color a couple times but white was dominant. We didn’t even try to take pictures. We just enjoyed them, wrapped in a blanket together, with Sadie at our feet.
Our show lasted about 30 minutes and we were so cold and tired that we were fine with it ending! We were only half way through our trip, KP levels were rising and we had hope of seeing more.
But we never did. The clouds rolled in for days and we didn’t have another chance until the dark morning we drove to the airport to leave. I watched out the airplane window hoping to see them one more time.
Honestly, it seems like a crapshoot to ever see the lights. We went to the right place, at the right time, stayed eleven nights and feel fortunate to have seen them once! Most people see green lights – so maybe we were lucky to see white. We talked to someone who had lived in Fairbanks for 27 years and had only seen the multi colored light display one time.
I’ve heard from many of you that seeing the Northern Lights is on your bucket list too. I offer this piece of advice. Do your research on time and place like I did, but then book a room in a Bed and Breakfast or Lodge that will WAKE YOU UP if the lights appear. I knew that type of lodging existed but was being Covid careful, wanting to be more isolated. Hopefully, that won’t be necessary too much longer. It was exhausting to stay awake so late, checking the apps for notifications anytime we woke up, and still trying to have some fun during the days.
Look for future posts about those daytime activities near Fairbanks!
Thanks for sharing your awesome story! I definitely want to see the Aurora someday!
Serene, I just love your writings. I am so glad you saw the Aurora Borialis. Living in Bemidji, just 100 miles from the Canadian boarder was a perk when it came to seeing this amazing display. Not seeing the lights is something Guy and I miss not living in the North. Keep the memories coming and stay safe and stay healthy.
You’ve got to love a cabin that comes with a dog!! Great story, and I look forward to hearing more about your trip.