Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Alaska Series...Winter in North Central Alaska, an Introduction

In my previous blogs about Alaska, I spoke of traveling to Alaska in the wintertime and some exciting weather experiences.

Well, I am continuing on with that same theme now and will be talking about what I experienced during my FIRST winter in Fairbanks, Alaska.

If you have ever been to Fairbanks, it is quite different from what you usually see in the pictures on travel catalogs and it isn't anything like Anchorage if you are looking for a comparison. At least it wasn't when I lived there and that was a few decades ago...I refuse to say just exactly how long ago it was! Where Anchorage was kind of like the Seattle of Washington state, Fairbanks was more like the country cousin wannabee. And the problem is that the surrounding area isn't quite as breathtaking as Anchorage either. Top it off, the weather is CONSIDERABLY colder in the winter.

But Fairbanks isn't all negative either. There were things there that I would never have experienced in quite the same way as I would have in a more metropolitan area like Anchorage. Fairbanks is a larger Alaskan city that tends to stand alone...a beacon admidst all the tundra, mosquitos, cold and frontierism.

Fairbanks has a university...the University of Alaska in College, AK. Fairbanks has Fort Wainwright next door and Eielson Air Force Base just down the road apiece. Fairbanks has NOAA. Fairbanks has Blair Flats to the South, North Pole (the town) to the east with the Santa Claus House, Nenana down the other way with the great place to watch the ice breaking the spring (and making bets on it), the Yukon River to the North and some great hot spring resorts to warm up that cold body of yours.

Fairbanks has comfortable summers that are sunny and seldom cold, sunshine constantly 24hrs a day from June until fall and nearby Cleary Summit to check out the summer solstice.
Fairbanks also has some of the most cotton pickinest cold winters there are too. Too spend a winter....even one winter there, can make or break a person and there will be stories to tell for a lifetime afterward.

My first winter in Alaska was a culture shock, I admit. I arrived in the middle of January after driving there. You can read about that experience in some of my previous blogs. I never really got to SEE Fairbanks for the first 3 weeks I lived there because it was so amazingly cold (45 to 65 below zero everyday) that the city's pollution literally froze in mid air, causing a phenomena called "ice fog". Literally, frozen air pollution! By the end of 3 weeks, I was ready to fly back or die!!! I'd had enough! Then, something changed. The weather warmed up to a more pleasant 10 below zero and the sky was still relatively clear...the ice fog went away and nighttime was absolutely astounding! Clear as clear can be, the stars shown in a way I had never seen before. I could almost reach out and touch those stars. The northern lights (aurora borealis) were the most amazing sites I've ever seen...better than Disneyland. Well, maybe not, but close! If you have never seen the northern lights, it is well worth seeing it even just once if you get a really good view. Sometimes you can see them further south in the lower 48 states but they don't compare to anything like you see in Alaska.

The next time, I will talk about some strange experiences that you can only have in the coldest of climates and what happens when cabin fever hits.