March 20, 2016

March Guests: Carla and Gordon’s Visit

Filed under: Aurora,Events,Interesting Things,Roadtrips — Susan Stevenson @ 11:36 am

(If you missed my blog update about Cyndi’s visit in the beginning of March, please check out this recent photo-heavy blog entry!)

A few days after Cyndi left Alaska, my friends Carla and Gordon – who live in Soldotna, AK – made the drive to Fairbanks. It’s Spring Break here in the Last Frontier, and they wanted to check out the Ice Park and better their chances for seeing the aurora.  Carla and Gordon stayed with us for four nights, and we/they kept very active while they were in town. They arrived on Saturday (March 12th) afternoon.

Carla and Gordon at Pipeline Viewing AreaAfter unloading their car, we took a drive out to the Pipeline viewing point on the Steese Hwy, before continuing up the road to dinner at Silver Gulch. Dinner was pretty good, as was the service. I’m glad we chose to go before the dinner rush, when service sometimes drops off and wait times become extremely long. It was nice to catch up with each other and fill our bellies with burgers and onion rings.

With cloudy skies, and not much chance of any aurora, we all went up to bed fairly early. Carla and Gordon grabbed long cat-naps in their vehicle throughout their drive from the Kenai Peninsula (about 500 miles and more than 9 hours – not allowing for stops. They make a LOT of stops). Even though I hadn’t made a long drive, I was exhausted and sleep came easy for me.

The next day (Sunday), Steve had to work (night shift) so he planned to sleep as late as possible. The plan was to go to the Ice Park during the day and again at night. As long as you have your hand stamped you can return as much as you like. By this time, the multi-block sculptures were carved and judged, and displayed under colored lights at night. Seeing them during the day and then again at night is really something special. You notice details at night, under the lights, that are missed when viewed during daylight hours.

But first – before the Ice Park – we stopped at Mushers Headquarters to watch some of the Limited North American Sled Dog Races. Just as we arrived, the snow started to fall.

Besides a few episodes of snow flurries, I don’t think we’ve had a substantial snowfall since Thanksgiving. What snow we did have up until now was ugly and dirty and full of tree debris and just not pretty at all. This fresh snow – big fluffy flakes – was gorgeous! There are some who probably weren’t very happy for this change in the weather, but honestly – I was thrilled to see new snow cover all the ugliness.  And I thought the falling snow made the races even more fun. I think it made the photos I took a lot prettier too.

Limited North American Sled Dog Race Limited North American Sled Dog Race Limited North American Sled Dog Race
Limited North American Sled Dog Race Limited North American Sled Dog Race Limited North American Sled Dog Race
Limited North American Sled Dog Race Limited North American Sled Dog Race Limited North American Sled Dog Race
Limited North American Sled Dog Race Limited North American Sled Dog Race Limited North American Sled Dog Race

ICE PARK – DAY AND NIGHT
Tundra CaravanWe arrived at the Ice Park at 2pm – just in time to see Tundra Caravan perform. We watched the belly dancers shake and shimmy for about ten minutes, before making our way into the Single Block Forest. It was good seeing the ladies perform, despite the cold and snow.

Carla and Gordon really enjoyed the ice park. They let their inner child come out and made sure to try out all the options available in the kids’ park. It cracked me up to see Gordon try out a “spinner” and when he climbed into an “ice bowl”, I thought for sure we’d need to call a park official to get him out!  Kiddie slides? No problem – Gordon will try anything once! I loved hearing them both laugh, and I’m so happy they were able to visit at this time of year.

It was my first time back to the park since visiting with Cyndi when she visited the week before, so the multi block sculptures were new to me. They were absolutely amazing! The details are so intricate, and the colored light at night made them even more beautiful. I didn’t take many photos of the multi-block sculptures during the day, as the light was quite “flat” with overcast skies and nearly no detail to the sculptures visible. But I made up for that at night.

As you can see, Gordon and Carla easily let their inner child out to play!

Carla and Gordon Mushing Sculpture - Ice Park - Daylight Carla riding an Ice Pony - Ice Park - Daylight Gordon goes down slide - Ice Park - Daylight
Gordon Spinning - Ice Park - Daylight Gordon in a Bowl - Ice Park - Daylight Gordon on Ice Commode - Ice Park - Daylight

Returning later on that evening, the first thing we headed for was the colorfully lit big slide. Gordon found a piece of a sled in a nearby trashcan and used it for his trip down. (You need to sit on something to get speed, as sliding down wearing just snow pants doesn’t work well.) From the Kiddie Park, we went straight to the multi-block sculptures to enjoy them under lights. So AWESOME!

I had a few favorites. “A Fairy Tale Goodnight” was so detailed and my photographs don’t capture just how detailed it was. Cinderella’s dress on the stairs was carved and smoothed so softly that it looked like fabric on the icy steps. There was even a sign off to the side that said “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo!”.

Another of my favorites was the one called “Alaskan Tambourine” as it included wildlife, Native culture, the northern lights, and more. And “Sea Snare” made me smile in my memories of witnessing humpback whales bubble net feeding when we visited Juneau a couple of years ago.

Ice Park - Evening Kiddie Park - Ice Park - Evening Ice Park - Evening
Gordon on Slide -Ice Park - Evening Goddess of Determination - How To Train Your Dragons (detail) - USA
Cool Beans - USA Protecting The Nest - USA A New Hope - USA
A Fairy Tale Goodnight - USA, Philippines Meeting of the Minds - 4th Pl Abstract - USA Halo -USA- 5th Pl Realistic
Morning of the Universe - 2nd Pl Abstract -Russia, Mexico Last Shot - USA, United Kingdom, Iceland Conception of Life - USA, China
Sea Snare - USA Monkey Year Play Spring - 5th Pl Abstract -China Encounter -Russia, Monaco, USA
Alaskan Tambourine - 1st Pl Abstract -Russia, USA Face in Hole Musher and Dogsled Prospector's Cabin

Looking into the Single Block Forest at Night:

Ice Park Fairbanks

A Drive To CHENA HOT SPRINGS

On Monday, we had a leisurely breakfast and then took a drive out to Chena Hot Springs. We were hoping to see moose, but despite all the tracks, we didn’t see any wildlife at all. When we left Fairbanks it was extremely overcast, but the further north we drove, the more blue sky we could see peeking through. By the time we reached the resort, we had bright blue skies, with some wispy clouds here and there. But despite the sunshine, 19F above zero felt much much colder. Especially when the breeze would gust, bringing cold air off the surrounding hills.

We considered eating out there, but the timing of our drive was all wrong. It was the dinner hour, and the line was practically out the door while people waited to be seated. Gordon and Carla had some hot cocoa in the Activities Building, and I wandered past the grow lights and plants/flowers on display. We then took a short walk to the barn area, where we visited with reindeer, goats, and chickens.

After a short conversation debating whether we should hang around out there a few more hours with the hope of seeing the aurora, we finally decided to head back to North Pole. We had no idea what kind of weather Fairbanks was having, as there is no cell service at the hot springs, and wifi came with a price tag.  The drive back was uneventful, but just as beautiful.

Tors Trail Campground/Rocky Cliff Tors Trail Campground Pano Tors Rocks - Chena Hot Springs Rd
Chena Hot Springs Rd Turquoise Ice - Chena Hot Springs Rd The Rock Pond at Chena Hot Springs
Chena Hot Springs Chena Hot Springs Geese at Chena Hot Springs
Poinsettias at Chena Hot Springs Reindeer at Chena Hot Springs Goat at Chena Hot Springs
Old Car at Chena Hot Springs Old Car at Chena Hot Springs Heading Home - Sunset on Chena Hot Springs Road

BEAUTIFUL AURORA

Despite the clouds in the sky over my house, I kept an eye on the aurora cam for Chena Lakes. At approximately 10pm, I noticed a green band on the cam – along with clouds. I wasn’t sure if it would be worth the drive, as the clouds looked to be moving in quickly. A few minutes later, one band became two.

“Let’s go!”, I said to Carla – who at first thought I was kidding. She looked at me surprised as I began gathering my camera gear and stuffing my backpack with cold weather clothes, snack food, hand and foot warmers, and a head lamp. This is how it is around here when the aurora suddenly appears online or above my house.

Carla needed a little more time to prepare, as she is not accustomed to the “out the door in less than 10 minutes” mentality  aurora chasers have here in the Interior. The sky grew brighter with the glow of the aurora as we drove toward Chena Lakes – one of the few areas here in North Pole where you can see almost the entire sky.

As we passed the turn off for Lake Park and River Park, the sky exploded with lights and color. Carla was in the passenger seat yelling “When are we going to stop???!!!”, as she was super excited about seeing the aurora with the intensity we usually get. She and Gordon live down on the Kenai Peninsula and while the aurora IS visible down there, it doesn’t appear as often due to clouds and precipitation. Or it’s very low on the horizon, which makes it more difficult to see from her house. Her home is surrounded by trees as mine is.

I kept driving – down to the dam. It is one of the highest points in the park, and allows a wider view of the sky. But it also is the site of the dam itself, so often this industrial structure is featured in photos, whether we want it or not.  It was at least another mile to the dam and Carla was freaking out beside me as we watched the sky above undulate and wave with bands and swirls. I couldn’t help but laugh, as I just knew this was only the beginning.

We were the only ones on top of the dam – which is just the way I like it. Our private viewing area wasn’t private forever, unfortunately. A car with what appeared to be two women and a child (or two) came up the ramp with its high beam headlights piercing the darkness and blinding us – while ruining the photographs we were in the middle of taking. We shaded our eyes against the onslaught and still the other vehicle didn’t dim its lights until the last possible moment. Obviously they were not a member of any of our local aurora groups, as there are “rules of etiquette” posted in almost all of those groups. Most importantly is the understanding that you dim your lights when approaching popular aurora viewing sites. I drive without even running lights in some of these areas (especially when the moon is bright).

Fortunately, their headlights were shut down for the rest of their time at the dam. When they left a little while later – on went their high beam lights!  A little while later, a few local photographer friends and colleagues showed up – also with headlights blazing. Perhaps they kept theirs on because they were not overly familiar with that area – as they usually drive north to view the lights. They stayed about an hour or so and once they left, Carla and I were alone once again. We both welcomed the silence.

Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes
Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes
Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights over my car at Chena Lakes
Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes
Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes
Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes
Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes
Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes
Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes
Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes
Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes
Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes
Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes
Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes
Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes
Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes
Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes Northern Lights at Chena Lakes

We didn’t get home until after 3am and stayed up talking until 5am. Needless to say, the next day we all slept in. I declared it a day of rest for me, but since it was Carla and Gordon’s last day in Fairbanks, they decided to go out later in the afternoon and do a little souvenir shopping and looking around. Later that evening, they were back, bearing pizza and adult beverages. The snow started again, which meant no aurora at my house. I was happy to sleep.

On Wednesday, they packed up and were on the road around 2-3pm. By that time, there were travel alerts all along the Parks Hwy due to heavy snow south of us. It looks like they arrived home to nearly a foot of accumulation.

All in all, it was wonderful to have guests to share some of Fairbanks/North Pole’s most exciting events and activities with. And also that the aurora danced while everyone was visiting.  I know we all had a good time!

WELCOME SPRING!

Today marks the official start of Spring. Well, except for here in Alaska. We still have snow on the ground, and it’s not the balmy 40F above it was several weeks ago. But at least we’re back up to 12/12 hours of darkness/light again. That, in itself, means that winter is over. But as for wildflowers and green grass and leaves? That’s still weeks away.

The squirrel has been busy however. S/he’s been running off with everything I toss into the informal compost pile. Last week, it was bread.

squirrel antics with bread

Until next time…

4 Comments »

  1. Glad you had some good friend time with everyone and was able to get out also. loved all the ice and lights pics. I know it is fun watching the dogs run in the snow. I love all the stars out at night also and one of the great things when we go up to Canada is to just set out at night and see all the stars. Cant wait tell the June trip gets here. Counting the days till you kids make it to Indiana HA HA. Thanks for all the pics and stay safe.

    [Reply]

    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    I’m really so happy that winter is just about over now. I can’t wait until spring and summer (and even fall). I’m tired of black and white and grey and snow and dead trees.

    See you soon!

    Susan

    [Reply]

    Comment by Bruce Rufer — March 29, 2016 @ 6:36 am

  2. I just caught up on your last two posts. You’ve had a busy month! The ice sculptures are awesome. I think if I were to come up in winter I would try to be there during the dog sled and ice sculpture time. And hopefully I’d get to see an aurora. What awesome winter activities you have!

    [Reply]

    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    The ice park is such a wonderful event. I like that you can have your hand stamped so you can visit during the day and then again at night. It’s such a big difference!

    I hope you get to visit sometime in the winter and early spring for all of these events and the aurora!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Connie — March 31, 2016 @ 1:00 pm

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