Another Roadside Attraction

Alaska– Part 2

by Judy Berman

The Land of the Midnight Sun, Alaska, is a wild frontier. It has a vast wilderness populated with bear, moose and wolves. Some of its communities are reachable only by plane.

In the time we spent in Alaska, we had just one regret. We never got to see Denali National Park. We were headed to the park – about 200 miles from our hotel in Fairbanks - when our trip was abruptly cut short just past Cripple Creek Road. About 14 miles outside of Fairbanks, we became another roadside attraction.

I was used to driving on icy roads, but I hit a patch of ice and overcorrected the car when it began to skid.

Huge mistake. The Ford Explorer veered into a ditch and flipped onto its roof. We were unhurt, but the rented vehicle was totaled.

Still, that wasn’t our most memorable experience in Alaska.

Ice Alaska had just wrapped up shortly after we arrived in Fairbanks. But the frozen images of a full dog sled team and musher, a huge ship and an ice castle were still intact. It’s amazing what works of beauty ice artists can create from a block of ice.

This year, the World Ice Art Championships runs from Feb. 28 to March 25.  Seventy teams from all over the globe will compete in this event that attracts more than 100 ice artists and 45,000 visitors.

Another first for us was to see greenish Northern Lights in an inky sky dotted with stars above our hotel. (That story about the aurora borealis was in my previous blog: “Kaleidoscope Skies, Alaska, Part 1.”)

One morning after brunch, we flew in a small plane from Fairbanks to Fort Yukon – eight miles north of the Arctic Circle. It held only two other passengers and the pilot. Mail and boxed items took up most of the plane’s remaining space.

The folks at Frontier Flying Service must have alerted Richard Carroll that two tourists were on their way. He met us at the airport and gave us an exclusive two-hour guided tour of the village. Typically, this owner/operator of Alaska Yukon Tours has a busload of people. He also conducts river tours, lake tours, gold panning and wilderness camping.

The village seems to have one foot in the past and another very much in the future. Carroll said about “150 years ago, my people were in the Stone Age. Then, as if by slingshot, they were catapulted into the 20th century.”

To emphasize that point, he showed us the dinosaurs of technology left behind when the Air Force left town. A long-range radar site that look like a giant white golf ball with huge antennas. There is a string of these – 25 of them – from the Aleutian Islands across North America.

Just how cold does it get here? Wikipedia says: “The highest temperature ever recorded in Alaska was in Fort Yukon on June 27, 1915” when it reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). “Until 1971, Fort Yukon also held the all-time lowest temperature recorded at 78 degrees below zero.”

When we visited, the high was 38 degrees in Fort Yukon and the low was 5 below zero. It actually seemed milder than the weather we left behind in Central New York (where we lived at the time).

That lured us into thinking it’d be a great day for a drive, and off we went toward Denali National Park.

About 15 minutes later, our drive ended with our vehicle upside down in a ditch. Every passing motorist stopped and offered to help. Two great guys from the Department of Transportation – Mike Rogan and Chris Tilly – freed us from the car, made sure we got out of the Explorer unharmed, called state police and waited with us until a trooper arrived.

I wrote a letter to the local paper and to their boss thanking Rogan and Tilly for their help.

Months later, I got a postcard at work featuring the Northern Lights and I burst out laughing. It was from Rogan and Tilly, the guys at the DOT. The message? They invited us to come back to visit Alaska.

This time, Rogan ribbed us, we should see the Northern Lights right side up.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo caption: A trip interrupted. Dave and I next to our rented vehicle.

Photo caption: A 9-foot-tall ice sculpture depicting New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the midst of a throw. Dawson List (the owner of the photo as well) sculpted it in Fairbanks, Alaska

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coolbrees1.jpg

Photo caption: On the way into Denali National Park and Preserve. It is located in Interior Alaska and contains Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America. The park covers 9,492 square miles.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:On_the_way_into_Denali_National_Park.jpg

For humorous comments about mosquitos in Alaska and serious info, go to Alaska Wildlife:

http://www.angelfire.com/ak3/alaskana/wildlife.html

Kaleidoscope Skies

Alaska – Part 1

By Judy Berman

An eerie greenish light filled the skies during our visit to Fairbanks, Alaska. The Northern Lights looks like Walt Disney dumped his paint box from the sky.

One night, upon request, the hotel staff woke my hubby and me up to tell us that the Northern Lights (their scientific name: aurora borealis) was on display. Despite the frigid temps, we hurriedly got dressed and rushed outside.

We weren’t alone as we scanned the skies above our hotel, which was along the Chena River. A greenish hue danced overhead and off to the side. The light show entertained us for about 20 minutes and then it faded from view.

The Northern Lights also has caught the attention of astronauts on the International Space Station. Over a six-week period, they plan to take images of the aurora borealis from orbit.

AuroraMAX project manager Mike Greffen, with the University of Calgary’s astronomy department, is excited about the public outreach aspect of this project, according to a story in the Calgary Herald.

“The idea that we have a camera that is not only useful for scientific purposes, but that people from all across the world can go and log on, and see the state of the northern lights. That’s pretty phenomenal,” Greffen said.

“From a scientific perspective, the images will help with a better understanding of the ionosphere.”

The aurora borealis is described this way: “An intense solar system provides the energy for the light display. These moving bands of color extend from 40 to several hundred miles high. Like neon lights, auroras brighten the night when certain gases are exposed to electrical charges from the sun.”

It also can play havoc with our electrical power and satellites in space, according to “Everyday Mysteries,” fun science facts from the Library of Congress.

“The earliest known account of northern lights appears to be from a Babylonian clay tablet from observations made by the official astronomers of King Nebuchadnezzar II, 568/567 B.C.,” states “Everyday Mysteries.”

The legends surrounding the sightings have struck fear into the hearts of some ancient cultures. For me, I was confused the first time my Mom showed me the Northern Lights.

“How can she see the Northern Lights from here?” I thought as we stood outside our home in North Syracuse, N.Y. Despite working on my Astronomy badge for Girl Scouts at the time, I thought she was referring to a mall by the same name about three miles from our home. Imagine my chagrin when I finally made the connection.

Years later, that first sighting was my motivation for making the trek to Alaska many Marches ago. The Northern Lights is visible most nights of the year in Alaska or Greenland. But the best time for viewing in Alaska is late-fall to early-spring.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Photo credit: EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska– The aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, shines above Bear Lake

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Polarlicht-chm.jpg

Calgary Herald story on the astronauts aboard the Space Station to take photos of the Northern Lights from above:

http://www.calgaryherald.com/technology/Space+station+photos+offer+novel+view+northern+lights/6095448/story.html