Friday, March 14, 2014

In the Great White North 2/25/14 - 3/7/14

Flew out of Tampa Tuesday, Feb. 25th around noon.  One long trip.  Stops in Dallas, Seattle.  Last leg of trip went by fast because I met a father and son who were great seat companions.  We had good conversations and shared some of our vacation photos.  Charles, the dad, collects apple corers, is a blacksmith and loves to take pictures of birds.  I saw his beautiful bird photos and lots of blurry ones - birds are not very cooperative.  It sure made time fly.

John (L) & Charles (R)

At the airport there was no direct phone for shuttle to hotel and my phone would not work then.  So I just went out and got a cab. Hotel was close and the driver just went into the lobby and they paid him.  I thought that was pretty cool.  Unpacked, hooked up computer and e-mailed John.  Got to bed at 1:30 AK time, which was 5:30 a.m. FL time. Slept great which is unusual the first night.  With my big suitcase I was able to pack my own pillow, so maybe that helped.

Best Western Chena River
Hotel roof with lots of snow
Fred Meyer was kitty corner

Up at 7:15 a.m., checked e-mail and then went down for breakfast.  They have a new breakfast thing, the waffle maker can also make omelets.  What will they think of next?  TX had their own TX shaped waffle and I was surprised that AK did not since it is our largest state.  Later in the day I walked over to Fred Meyer on an icy road and bought some heavy socks and some food to microwave for dinner.

At 10:00 p.m. the Northern Lights Tours picked me up to go to the Chandlar Ranch viewing lodge.  To see the aurora you have to get away from the city lights.  We watched a video on the science of the aurora and then a lovely film showing hundreds of auroras, different shapes, colors.  None are exactly the same, sort of like snowflakes.  Very cold, and there was a light breeze on one side of  the wrap around deck outside.  My face froze but the rest of me stayed warm.

Chandlar Ranch
Viewing lodge 

Watching videos in lodge

Walrus tusks

After sitting in the lodge for a long time and continually bundling up and going outside to check to see if anything was happening the lights finally came out slowly about 1:00 a.m.  To me it looked like some light clouds in the sky.  I was so surprised because I was expecting bright colors.  The human eye does not see the vivid greens, blues, reds and pinks, but the camera picks up those colors.  The cameras do not have colored filters either, the colors just blast through.  The aurora intensified and grew.  It looked like a huge arch (rainbow) in the sky, just sort of white though.  Then it transformed into sheets, and then into a curlicue, then changed again to streaks.  It just kept changing.  After awhile it seemed to be gone and then it would reform and do some more magic transformations.  I saw the aurora dance - unreal.  I just loved it and was so grateful that I got to see it on my first night.  I also saw three falling stars.  Left the lodge around 3:20 and home about 4:15 a.m.  Quite a night to remember.

The look of white clouds

Pictures of the auroras are from:
Charles, Darlene or Fernando
who kindly and shared their photos

Up for breakfast early and went back to bed for an hour.   Checked out of my hotel and moved to my B&B for 3 nights. - the Alaska Heritage House.  Full of antiques and many interesting things.  The owner, a lady named Van, was very nice.  She lives a few houses away and she and her little dog, Mabel (long haired dachshund) are here daily cooking breakfast and running the B&B.  Van will put the place up for sale in the Spring so she and her husband can venture off and live their dreams.  A B&B is a lot of work. The house was built in 1916 and had the first hot and cold running water in the State of Alaska.

Alaska Heritage House
National Register Heritage Home

Master Bedroom

Dining Room
Breakfast served here each morning
Odd sitting with 5 strangers each day

Sweet kitchen curtains

Living room curtains
Snow outside

Old stove, but retrofitted
to use gas

My room was so beautiful and the best room in the house, named the  Georgia Lee Boudoir

Great bed
Walls are hand painted

Vintage hats on the wall was a clever
way to decorate the wall

Beautiful antiques

Little side room with bed

My own bathroom with a claw foot tub

Got settled and dressed up warm and walked downtown.  My snow boots, while warm, were not the best walking shoes.  I just did not want to rent a car and drive around in the snow/ice.  I have always had four studded tires in Boise, so I wasn't about to drive here w/o them.  We actually saw one car turned upside down on road to Chena Resort; and I met people who were driving up from Anchorage, where they live, the night before who totaled their car, so no chances here especially being by myself.  So walking, cab or bus it is.  They do have a great bus service and over 60 yrs. old is free.

So about a 15 block walk to downtown, had lunch at River City Cafe which was delicious and went to a sporting goods store and bought a face mask that has one hole in it for my eyes/glasses.  My cheeks got so cold last night I think I will make good use out of this.

Walked back to B&B and a nap sounded go good, but I didn't have time.  So I just laid on the bed for about an hour.  Tour came to pick me up at 5:00 p.m..  We headed up to Chena (rhymes with Gena) Hot Springs for ice museum/hotel/bar; hot springs (natural, indoor pool and hot tub too) dinner and aurora viewing.   Trip was about 1 1/2 hour and along the way we saw three moose, one little one in the trees, and then two right on the road.  They were huge.

Drive to Chena Hot Springs Resort
Pretty time of day

Road where we saw the moose
Sunset time pink and blue

Well, I don't know how it happened (serendipity?) but I talked a minute with two ladies getting out of our van.  They started to walk off and I asked if they minded if I joined them walking and they said no and that was the beginning of one of the best nights of my life.  These ladies, Linda and Heather, are the funniest, sweetest and greatest people I've ever met.  We just from the beginning had so much fun with tons of laughter and they made my entire trip to Alaska very special.

Huge snowman and bears
carved out of snow

We walked over to see the Ice Museum/Bar.  The carvings were so well done and they have the famous Aurora Bar where we had paid ($15) for an appletini, but the kicker is that you get it in a martini glass made of ice.  Each glass is hand made and you get to keep it.  Made the drink taste so good since it was freezing cold.  We took lots of pictures and had a blast,  toured inside and took more pictures - sculptures, rooms.  I loved the ice xylophone and you could actually play.  Everything was made of ice.  A different experience for sure and to think they manage to keep this place going all year long.

Ceiling - ice chanderlier

The bar

Each glass individually carved

Heather - such a fun lady

Ice xylophone
Sounded great

This is a bear bed
Bear face headboard and four feet posters

Next came dinner.  We put our names on the waiting list and said our name was "Three Amazing Women". Later the guy called that out and we just cracked up.  We decided to have a type of drink that we had never had before.  Heather had something with coconut in it, and then had to also order a pomegranate drink that we all tasted.  Linda and I had the Aurora Margarita which was good, tangy and blue.  It was guaranteed to make the aurora look more brilliant.  Had clam chowder and then salmon pasta that was delicious and very rich.  We all took food home with us.  Dinner was lots of fun and very good.

Linda with Aurora Margarita
and a taste of the pomegranate drink
we all shared.  Best smile.

The Three Amazing Women

Next, on full stomachs was hot springs time.  We had to use lockers that you put quarters in and this process seemed to get the best of me.  Linda gave me a quarter that I lost to the locker, so I went to front and said locker ate my quarter.  The guy cracked me up because he said, "Well, since I can't go back there and check" and proceeded to give me another quarter.  I hate to say this but I lost that one too.  Heather was kind and just said I could share her locker.  I am mechanically challenged every day of my life.  It was  funny and we talked about me writing a review on Trip Advisor for locker #7.

Pool area and hot tub are nice.  There was one iffy pond though that had some koi in it.  I wasn't sure if that was like in Thailand at the spas there have fish tanks you sit next to and put your feet in and the fish eat off all the dead skin.  Heather dared us to go in, but Linda and I passed on that idea.  Went down walkway, with heated floors, nice since we were barefoot, to the outdoor hot spring.  Down a ramp with a handle to hold onto and onto a wonderful gravel bottom.  The water felt like heaven.  We talked and then headed to the end where the water was much, much hotter.  Came back and there was a guy there who seemed to love Heather's hat.  He also felt he had met her somewhere before.  He tried to tempt us into eating a quart of ice cream with him, but we politely declined.  He said he'd meet up with us same time, same place in one year. Interesting.

Picture of hot springs in the day.  It was
even better in the night.  Very warm to super
hot.  Photo by:  Chena Hot Springs

We steamed up the mirror
after the hot springs

Out, showered, dressed and walking over to activity when Heather said, "what is that?" and lo and behold it was the aurora showing her face.  It was early, 11:15 p.m. (the previous night it came out around 1:00 a.m.).  So the dance started and it was a real show.  Colors, red, pink, green and lots of dancing.  You could hear people saying, ooohhhh, aaahhhh, and Oh my God.  She was quite a super star that night.  I was glad I had my full face mask as I spent as much time outside as I could.

In the activity center I did run into Darlene and Kent and we hugged and took pictures.  They were headed out with the cat up into the hills to view the auroras.  I'm sure they had some spectacular viewing.  It was fun to see them up there.  Thank you Darlene for sharing your beautiful aurora photos with me.

Darlene and Kent

So finally around 2:00 a.m. it was time to head home.  Van was quiet as all the passengers fell asleep.  That was one long day filled with new things.  Back to B&B around 3:30 a.m. and had to set my alarm to be sure I was up for breakfast.

Got up, ate and then came back to my room and went back to sleep until around 3:30 p.m.  I was totally exhausted.  Woke up, watched some TV and took a nice hot bath in my claw foot tub.  Fun to soak in and I enjoyed that a lot.  Got dressed because my tour is coming to pick me up at 9:15 p.m.  These weird hours are nuts.  We drove up to the boonies to a musher's cabin.  We had the nicest family of seven on the tour. They were from Mexico City so of course I had fun visiting with them.  Thank you Fernando who took my only in front of the aurora picture - a treasure to me.  Also a couple from Anchorage (they are the ones who totaled their car the day before and then just flew up).  So a good group.

Cabin where we ate dinner
Photo by:  Luther Buhr

Our group
3 standing on right are the mushers

Our host, Sven, is a musher, who lives with two guys in a dry cabin (no indoor plumbing).  They work together to take care of over 40 dogs.  They provide tourists with dog sled rides and Sven has participated in the Iditarod about 4 times.  He is from Switzerland (German part) and just fell in love with Alaska.  I heard that from a lot from people.  We had dinner at the cabin.  Sven said just that day he had shot a caribou and our dinner would be caribou back-strap (the best part).  He made some squash, pasta and sauce, and caribou sausage.  The caribou was very good.  He told us some of his stories and answered our questions. A nice bunch of guys.

Thank you Fernando
I was to my thighs in snow but HAPPY

Gena (purple coat) with the lovely
Arriaga Family - look at that aurora!!!!!!!
Luther Buhr took picture for Fernando

After dinner we moved about 1/2 mile to the viewing cabin.  A basic cabin that has a good vista point to see the lights.  Sven made a fire in a barrel, and it was called a Danish Candle.  The log is sliced up in long sections with the inside hollowed a bit and you then put gasoline in it.  Burns from the inside out and burn for a long time.  It was so interesting.  The aurora was beautiful and Luther took some pictures with his good camera.  The outhouse was crazy.  I've been in some pretty weird ones, but this one had no door ---- and the seat was so far back I could not even get myself up there to the hole.  Some engineering adjustments need to be made.

Saturday (I'm getting out my itinerary and photos to figure out what I did??)  OK.  Heather and Linda came to pick me up.  We went to the Ice Carving Championship and it was something to see.  They had a huge area just for kids.  This was so different from the "don't touch anything" they could slide -- little and huge ones where they used a sled., sit on race cars, sit in airplanes,  There were "ice spinners" that were sort of like a top with the inside hollowed out and the kids sat in them and their parents spun them around.  Oh I wished I fit.  I might of fit but probably would not have been able to get out until it melted.  What a ball for kids.  I just loved that.

Ice spinners for kids

The small ice slide for little ones

The big slide, down on sleds
and they just flew down fast

Race car fever - we just had to sit in
race car.  Hard to get out and had a
wet butt for the rest of the day

We looked around at 100's of sculptures, stopped for coffee/cocoa and then took a little trolley around the single block carvings.

There is competition for multi block and those are worked on for five day.  Some of them are going to be huge.  The blocks of blue glacial ice are big and they use big trucks with slings to place them for the artists. We visited with the chain saw and tool sharpener, Rod, who was a fun guy.  We toured his old bus and it had the lovely smell of WD-40.

There is Heather checking out the burly and
ruggedly handsome ice carver

Big equipment to move glacial ice 
blocks into place

Huge carving
He explained they drill out name, logo, then pack
it with snow and they can even color the snow with
food coloring.  The snow hardens in the clean ice.

Headed to Brewsters for dinner.  Linda and Heather had been there the night before and had liked it.  Upon their advice I had the patty melt and it was very good.  I took half home (then left it the next day when I moved to new hotel, darn).  We had a few drinks, visited, and laughed.  These two are just the happiest, most fun people who enjoy every minute of life to the fullest.

Sunday, I transferred over the the Hampton Hotel.  Heather and Linda came to pick me up and we drove up to the University of Alaska Museum.  The museum had interesting architecture and was a perfect mixture of paintings, photographs and native art.  Perfect size as some museums get so big you can't see them in three days.

We went into the "The Place Where You Go To Listen."  Sign on door says, "quiet" and there is bench you sit on in front of a yellow on the bottom screen that gets whiter at the top.  We sat down and there were some soft sounds.  I don't know what we were expecting, but I guess it was something, because it pretty much stayed that way for 5 minutes.  We were the only ones in there so we all started to chuckle, sort of waiting for some action.  Then we were cracking up pretty good and knew it was time to move on to something else.  I guess I just didn't get it.

The Place Where You Go To Listen
Heather & Linda Listening Intently

8 foot 9 inch brown bear

We had decided to see a movie and all agreed that "Frozen" would be perfect, which of course it was.  I think they won an academy that same night.  It was a fun, magical movie with great music.  One song with the blowing snow reminded me so much of the movie Pocahontas.  But we drank coke, gorged on popcorn, got to sit and relax and had a good time.

Left movie (and this was a multiplex with 16 movies) and headed for Brewsters again.  Heather said it was Linda's birthday on Wednesday and she wanted to have a little celebration.  Heather had bought a Happy Birthday sign, table cloth, hats and candles and Linda was totally unsuspecting about any of this.  So once at restaurant sign goes up, etc. and we had some appetizers (too full to eat meal), drinks and we got free birthday cake that Linda got to pick from menu.  It was Baileys Cheesecake with Chocolate Mousse and delicious.  We put all the candles on it and lit it up.  Fun surprise.

Three Amazing Women

The Birthday Girl

Great times were had with these two friends.  It was serendipity that brought us together.  I love that these two who came together were so loving that they accepted me as an equal friend and that was how I always felt.  Truthfully, the auroras were second to meeting these special amazing women.  I love you both.

I just lazed around on Monday.  Took a nap, thought about doing wash but didn't.  Tried to order a Pizza Hut pizza but they didn't have delivery, so went with a Sicilian place that delivered.  It was pretty good and I got a large so I have two dinners.  I just wasn't in the mood to walk to McDonald's, the closest place.  I'm sort of isolated here.  Watched the Voice (watched it last night too) and then slowly got ready for my last night out with the auroras.  It was a "3" on the aurora activity chart so I didn't think it would be much.  Gal come to pick me up at 10:15 p.m. and we headed to Chandlar Ranch (again).  Auroras came out around 12:00 p.m. and they were very pretty.  Glad I got to see them all 4 nights I went out.  I feel very lucky.  Home around 3:30 and into deep sleep.

Types of Auroras I saw
Forever changing, raining down
color, dancing

Tuesday, woken by my phone at 8:30 with a wrong number (Janelle Larsen).  Down to breakfast and visited with my seat mate, Charles, I met on Seattle to Fairbanks flight.  It is so funny because he's here with his son who is like my son and will not get up for the free breakfast.  Sleep is too important at that age.  I did a load of wash at the hotel and while it was washing/drying I was in the hot tub having a rum and coke.  The maintenance man said I was going to hate him since he had just changed the water and it wasn't hot, but it was warm so I just got in and it heated more as I was in it.  That done I came upstairs and tried to motivate, but just couldn't.  Just rested, ate left over pizza and watched the Voice and to sleep.

Up 8:00 a.m., coffee, computer.  Went down for breakfast and I'd say the Hampton has a pretty good one. Light, soft snow coming down, looks nice to me since I haven't seen snow since Colorado last April.  Came up to room, worked on blog and decided I was tired and needed a nap.  Sounds nuts but all this night time and getting up early has worn me out.  Took a two hour nap and feel better.  Cab to Walmart which is only across the street, but a 4 lane, icy expressway with a light and I just don't want to take that walk.  Cab fare $2.50 - a cab driver's nightmare according to my cabbie.  I gave him $5 for effort.  Got some souvenirs, a small Subway to take back to room for my dinner and that was my day.  I think I stayed a day or two too long, but better safe than sorry since I had to be sure I saw the lights.

Only snow, gray day.  Was so lucky to
have blue sky (clear) and sun every other day

Dreading today so much.  Up 7:00 a.m. for breakfast.  Back to room, packed up, showered and went down to lobby at 11:00 a.m.  Had shuttle take me to the airport at 12:00 noon.  My flights doesn't even leave until around 5:00.  Finally got on plane and 3 hours to Seattle.  Plane was delayed for about an hour and I met a great gal from Taos, NM who had  been up in Fairbanks for two weeks seeing the aurora.  Her first event in AK was to take a photography class.  She has bought a new camera and rented a tripod, wide angle lense and cable release.  We sat together and she showed me all of her pictures.  They turned out spectacular.  It was wonderful to see all her photos and she even had one that showed a rocket launching.  She had heard this was going to happen and she actually caught it in two photos.  This was a research group up there studying the lights.  The timing that she was able to just happen to get the rocket was so fantastic.

NASA rocket - 3/3/14
In retrospect, I think I stayed two days too long, but maybe it was good to rest and see snow coming down. Alaska is an amazing state.  I liked her people who mostly want to be here and are very proud of all she has to offer.  Many stories on how people happened to land here but everyone I talked to loves it here.  Winter does not seem to hinder anyone -- they get out and live their lives and just switch to winter recreation.  I see so much activities and there are many things to do.  I don't think many Alaskans get "cabin fever."  Hardy people, friendly people.  It was a great experience to come here, see the Northern Lights and reflect on the beautiful gift God gave us.  Good to be away from family for awhile too so I was able to appreciate what I have, the best husband on earth -- some may be as good, but I can guarantee there are none better.  Thank you John for this lovely gift.  I love you so much.

Today is Sunday morning, 3:47 a.m., but probably "spring back" and 2:47 a.m.  I've visited with other folks who were in AK and we seem to be having trouble getting back on track.  The trip home was exhausting. 

Anticipated Aurora

Unusual to feel so overwhelmed
silent, waiting, anticipating,
it builds and my preconceived ideas
of what I will see in the sky is confused by reality

In awhile I realize this is it --
my aurora, my needed sight
I'm surprised by what it isn't
and still adjusting to what it is

There is a white cloud shift,
a sort of gentle dance
there are oooohhhhs and ahhhhhs
by other aurora chasers
and I feel tears on my face
I've never seen a white cloud rainbow
in the sky at night before - magic

My dream to see the lights has been
a long one --
I'm a funny person in that my major
beauty spots I've needed to see have
come from calendar pictures -
Lake Louise, the aurora, have now been done
and perfect does not begin to
describe either of those sights.
I only have the green of Ireland left now
on my calendar list.

A new friend told me something special
that I felt in my soul and understood instantly.
She said she doesn't have a bucket list anymore,
but a “to do” list. Now doesn't that make

I have been so blessed to see what I've seen
and I don't know why,but at times it is almost
too much to have had so much.
God, thank you for the perfect
earth you have given us and help us to
take care of it.

Gena Cameron

P.S. There are more pictures of everything on my Facebook album.
P.P.S. Everyone I met was profoundly affected by seeing the Aurora.