Our first full day in Alaska, we woke up to beautifully clear skies and relatively warm temperatures (~20F). Amazing how cold seems different in Alaska than anywhere else. 20 degrees F in my home state of PA would be brutal, but here it's cold, but not that bad. Perhaps its the dryness... perhaps its just knowing how much worse it could get!
We began our day with a bus tour of Anchorage--the downtown area, the Cook Inlet and Earthquake Park--an area set aside to remember the massive 1964 quake that wiped out major portions of Anchorage and lost 100 feet of shoreline as it dropped into the sea. Stunning to see the remains of that devastation. Then it was north on the George Parks Highway for our 350 mile drive to Fairbanks through some of the most dramatic and beautiful scenery on the planet.
About an hour out of Anchorage we stopped for lunch at the Mat-Su Family Restaurant in Wasilla, where we had some truly delicious homemade lasagne. Haven't had that in ages! Then it was back on the bus. One of our most amazing stops was a viewpoint to see and photograph Mt. McKinley, aka Denali, North America's tallest mountain at a height of 20,320 feet. And what a day to see it. Perfectly clear skies! This is a bit of a rarity since much of the time the mountain top is shrouded in clouds. The past three years I've been treated with clear views of Denali, but my previous eight trips it was behind clouds.
Alaskans are thrilled at the weather now--17 straight days of beautifully clear weather. Let's hope it extends into the next week for us. It should, since March is historically the clearest month of the year (in Fairbanks anyway).
It was a long drive, with a number of stops for restrooms and photo ops--not necessarily in the same place. But we finally pulled into the Alpine Lodge in Fairbanks at around 9:30 p.m. Nice to be "home" again. After many years of returning to Fairbanks I tend to think about it as my winter "home away from home"... wonderful place, warm people, and beautiful skies. Felt good seeing familiar surroundings again.
At around 10 p.m. a few of us headed off to Denny's for a late bite to hold us until morning. I always enjoy eating at this particular Denny's; it's claim to fame is that it's the "Northernmost Denny's in the World"! Our tour leader Luis and our bus driver Paul worked out details for our next day in Fairbanks, and we're all excited about getting this underway.
Today (Monday) we begin in half an hour or so with a breakfast buffet put out for our group, then at 10 a.m. (ADT) I present a lecture ("Capture the Lights!) about viewing and photographing the lights. Then we'll head out for lunch and a tour of historic Fairbanks, a visit to the downtown Visitor Center museum, followed by the University of Alaska Museum and the UAF in general. Then we'll make a run to Fred Meyer--a huge superstore--to pick up whatever we'll need for the week--or whatever we've forgotten to bring along.
After a break we'll head out to dinner and then aurora hunting. Lights haven't been particularly dramatic the past week or so--one group that visited last week was totally skunked and returned home empty-handed. But we hope things will be different for us. Of course, the forecast shows that activity levels may pick up the day after we leave. Oh, that Mother Nature sure has a sense of humor!
Off to breakfast now and to set up the lecture... and another fun day in Alaska's Golden Heart City!