March 18, 2016

March Guests: Cyndi’s Visit

Filed under: Aurora,Roadtrips,Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 2:27 pm

The first two weeks of March were very busy here in North Pole Alaska. My friend Cyndi, who lives in Atlanta, visited for a week. It was her first trip to Alaska and her biggest hope was that she’d be able to cross off “See the Aurora” from her bucket list. I’m happy to report Lady Aurora was quite cooperative!!

Cyndi arrived around dinner time on Tuesday night (March 1st). Her trip from the east coast was long and exhausting. I know she was happy to finally get here.

I had a full itinerary of activities, events, sightseeing, and roadtripping in store for her, and we had an awesome time hanging out and enjoying Alaska together.


On Wednesday morning, after having breakfast, we drove into Fairbanks to visit the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center, the Yukon Quest Headquarters, and Golden Heart Plaza. I also drove her through the downtown area, pointing out some of our historic buildings and a few of the original homes from the early days of Fairbanks.

Next, we visited the Santa Claus House and then the Knotty Shop in Salcha. Unfortunately Santa is on vacation this time of year (resting up from his long Christmas trip), but he’ll be back in the summer when tourism season is back in full swing.

Cyndi at the Morris Thompson Cultural Center Cyndi at the Antler Arch Fairbanks First Unknown Family
Cyndi at the Santa Claus House Cyndi - Polar Bear Attack! Cyndi and Moose at Santa Claus House


Late Wednesday night, after we were already in our pajamas and unwinding from our full day, a green band of aurora became visible in the sky. It wasn’t the brightest display, but it was visible. We ran out to the end of my driveway to enjoy them. Steve followed a few minutes later with hats and gloves and my big parka, etc. to layer Cyndi up for the cold. It wasn’t too bad, temperature wise (above zero), but still much colder than what Cyndi is accustomed to. Just after midnight the aurora became brighter as it danced across the sky.

We stood outside for about 15 minutes enjoying the lights before they faded again. I immortalized Cyndi’s first sighting of the aurora with a photo of her under the beautiful night sky.

Cyndi under the aurora

Here are a few more photos of the aurora from early Thursday morning:

Aurora with Cyndi Aurora with Cyndi Aurora with Cyndi
Aurora with Cyndi Aurora with Cyndi Aurora with Cyndi


On Thursday, I had a full day planned for Cyndi. We ate breakfast and then visited the Ice Park. Unfortunately, only the Single Block Sculptures were carved while she was in town, but I wanted her to see them during the day and then again at night under colored lights. Admission to the park allows you to come back as many times as you want during the day with a hand stamp.

We walked through the Single Block Forest, admiring the hard work of the ice sculptors. So much work and detail goes into this ice art, and there was quite a bit of worry that they wouldn’t survive very long, as we were experiencing warmer than usual temperatures in late February and early March. (Fortunately, this has since changed, as we had a recent snowfall and are experiencing below zero morning temps again).  From there we visited the UAF Museum of the North.

Ice Park Visit Daytime Ice Park Visit Daytime Ice Park Visit Daytime
Ice Park Visit Daytime Ice Park Visit Daytime Ice Park Visit Daytime
Creepy Caribou Leg Table - UAF Museum of the North UAF Museum of the North Blanket Toss, Ivory - UAF Museum of the North
Words from The Place Where You Go To Listen - UAF Museum of the North UAF Museum of the North Antler Wall - UAF Museum of the North

We came home to have dinner with Steve before he had to go to work, and then attended the Festival of Native Arts up at the university. We both enjoyed watching several groups fiddle, dance and sing before perusing the vendor tables of beautiful Native arts, crafts, jewelry, beading, fur items and more.

Festival of Native Arts Festival of Native Arts Festival of Native Arts
Festival of Native Arts Festival of Native Arts Festival of Native Arts
Festival of Native Arts Festival of Native Arts Festival of Native Arts
Festival of Native Arts Festival of Native Arts Festival of Native Arts

After dark, we returned to the Ice Park to see the sculptures under colored lights. They look so different lit up, as so many more details become visible. The colors chosen also enhance the sculptures. In these photos I combined day and night images into one so you can see the difference.

Warming Shack - Ice Park at Night Seahorse Hippocampus Raising From the Cosmic Ocean
Don't Leave Me Now North Wind and Sun North Wind and Sun
Aaahh Bammm Beee Beeem Son of Sun Swan Spirit
First Breath Elements of Life The Beginning of Time Kingfisher - Ice Park at Night
Mission on Mars Such is the Kingdom Such is the Kingdom
Heart Song Heart Song H^2
Beautiful Noise Still I Rise Stuck Up
Yahoo! Snapped Jelly Fish Hunter
The Spark H2Os Into The Wind
Concentration - Details Concentration Tram Station at Ice Park


On Friday, Cyndi and I had a leisurely breakfast and then drove out to Chena Hot Springs to enjoy a nice soak. Believe it or not, I didn’t take any photos that day, as I didn’t want my camera anywhere near the water. I think Cyndi took some photos along the way with her phone. I know I used her phone to take a photo of a moose we saw on the way home from the springs. (Score for seeing a moose in the wild!!)

In the 12 years of living here in AK, I have never soaked in the springs – despite many visits. It’s just something I’ve never really had the desire to do. Until we visited HI a few years ago, I didn’t even own a swimsuit. The thought of getting in a rock pond of hot water and people just didn’t appeal to me either. It looked like it might be relaxing, but I mainly visited Chena Hot Springs with Steve to enjoy the drive and to eat lunch in the restaurant (fresh produce in winter is a real treat – they grow their own). Cyndi had heard through her daughter-in-law that the hot springs were really wonderful (she visited several years ago and soaked), so I dug out my swimsuit and off we went. And honestly… it WAS wonderful!

The outside temp was about 19F above zero. The water was warm, but not overly warm. There were several hot spots though, and we passed through them as fast as we could. In the middle of the pond, there is a fountain that shoots cooler water up in the air, making it rain beneath. That was a nice respite from the warm water and helped to cool down my heat-reddened skin. A water cannon at one end of the rock pond felt amazing on my back too. I think we soaked for more than an hour. I’d definitely do it again. Maybe I can get Steve to go soak with me sometime.

We had an early dinner in the restaurant before heading for home. Thoroughly relaxed, we changed into lounging clothes and hung out talking and watching television. And then the aurora came out.

Donning snowpants and warm coats, we drove out to Nordale Flats to watch the sky light up. The aurora wasn’t super bright, but Cyndi could see them. I decided to drive down to Chena Lakes so we could watch the sky from the top of the dam. I didn’t take many photos. Instead we watched the lights dance from the warmth of the car.

Nordale Road Aurora Chena Lakes Aurora Chena Lakes Aurora


Saturday was a beautiful blue sky day, with temps above zero and gorgeous sunshine. I was thrilled to wake to such lovely weather, as we were going to Denali National Park. And, as luck would have it – the beautiful Denali was out! Many people come to Alaska and never see the mountain. Cyndi was thrilled, as was I.

Here we are at the park sign:

Cyndi and Me - Denali National Park Sign

We stopped in at the Murie Science Center to look at the exhibits and talk to the Park Ranger. The road was open to mile 12.5 (Mountain Vista) which was a plus. I’m looking forward to the road opening to mile 30 so I can start taking some trips deeper into the park in search of waking bears.  Since our drive, and the new snow, the park road is closed at mile 3 – the Ranger Station.

We didn’t see any caribou in the park, but we did see a cow moose laying in the snow on the side of a mountain. Cyndi actually spotted the tracks, and when I looked at them with my zoom lens, I found the moose at the end of them. Seeing the beautiful Denali on the horizon throughout our drive was a huge treat too.

On the way home, I stopped at Otto Lake in Healy to see if there was any thawing. This lake is beautiful when it’s thawed and still. The reflection of the mountains in it is just gorgeous. Winter still has its grip on the lake, but it was a very pretty stop nonetheless.

Denali National Park The Beautiful Denali! Denali National Park Cyndi and the Mountain
The Beautiful Denali! Denali National Park Cyndi looking for rocks - Denali National Park Denali National Park
Resting Moose - Near Center of photo - Denali National Park Otto Lake, Healy AK Otto Lake, Healy AK

The perfect end to a perfect day. Sunset on the Alaska Range just south of Fairbanks:

Sunset on Alaska Range


North Pole Championship RacesNorth Pole Championship RacesThe North Pole Championship Sled Dog Races took place while Cyndi was visiting. I thought it would be a great experience for her to see just how happy the dogs are as they get ready to run. We were only able to stay for one race, as we had a long drive ahead of us and it was already nearing noon.

The dogs were excited to get started, and trucks with dog boxes lined up at the track. We watched the 6-dog teams leave the start and waited for a few of them to finish before continuing down the highway.

It was also another gorgeous day in Alaska, and the plan was to take a drive down the Richardson Hwy at least as far as Black Rapids. Instead, I decided to go all the way to the Salmon Viewing Area along the Gulkana River, south of Gulkana Glacier and Summit Lake, before turning back.

We didn’t see any sheep in the mountains, but we did see a cow moose and yearling calf down on the frozen river near Rainbow Mountain. They were at a distance unfortunately, and nearly hidden by the trees and bushes just next to the road.

As we neared Donnelly Dome, I told Cyndi to keep her eyes open for caribou, as this is a popular place to see them. At first, I thought we wouldn’t be so lucky, and then I saw a few laying down in the bushes about 50 yards off the road. Cyndi was surprised that I spotted them, as they were quite camouflaged. But this is an advantage to living here and knowing how to pick out the pale color of their fur even when they are mostly hidden. I’m so glad I spotted them!

We pulled over and watched them for a few minutes. They rose to their feet and began trotting toward the road. Cars were coming from the opposite direction, and I worried they’d get hit. Fortunately, the first car spooked them enough to make them reverse their stride and run back into the bushes. Not for long though. As the cars slowed after spotting them, the caribou again walked toward and across the highway. What a thrill for both of us!

Pipeline - Richardson Hwy Richardson Hwy Alaska Range - Richardson Hwy
Cyndi and Mountains Black Rapids Lodge Black Rapids - Where the Buffalo Roam - Richardson Hwy
Moose along the Highway Gulkana Glacier Pano Rainbow Mountains
Caribou along the Highway Caribou along the Highway

On Cyndi’s last day in town, we revisited some of the souvenir shops and otherwise just had an easy day. I took her to the airport at 11pm for her 1am flight back to the East Coast. We both felt like the time passed much too quickly!

I really enjoyed spending time with Cyndi and showing her the Alaska I love so much. She saw so many amazing things: the aurora, moose, caribou, hot springs, Denali, mountains, sled dog racing, the ice sculptures, the Festival of Native Arts, the museum and more. I know she had a wonderful time here. She told me the trip was magical.

Alaska IS magical! I am so happy to live here!

(I’ll blog about Carla’s visit next. While she was visiting from Soldotna, we had an AMAZING aurora display!)

Until next time…

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