With hopes of catching the Northern Lights from Fairbanks, we headed north, catching up with travel companions and enjoying a night in an RV park complete with lovely warm showers.
Chena Hot Springs beckoned and we enjoyed the afternoon relaxing in the thermal pools (no photographs) before choosing an almost free lakeside campsite from which to see the Northern Lights. It turns out that waiting till 1.30am is very cold and one by one we bailed leaving the most stalwart of us to keep himself occupied and awake until he finally gave up at 2.30am. No success but the photography was fun! It was a clear sky. We did see the moon, many satellites & shooting stars.
Sunday night found us back in Fairbanks to have another try. This time with a family of travellers who all had their own camera & tripod set ups and were a little addicted to photographing the Northern Lights. It was a very cold & cloudy night and as we had sat up waiting for the clouds to clear, one by one we bailed again. Stewart did however learn a lot about the Northern Lights that night and yes, ’There is an App for that’ (which we now have).
Fairbanks is a very young city, first settled by visitors in 1901/02. It is predominantly a University town with a large Air Force base, great proximity to Denali National Park and of course the North Pole! The town of North Pole that is! Highlights for us were the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and the University of Alaska Museum of the North (other than the North Pole of course!).
The Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum is a private collection which comprises and amazing selection of American built automobiles, mostly restored to pristine condition and paired with glamorous womens’ clothing from the same eras. There is something for everyone! The vehicles are all in excellent condition and represent an amazing range of vehicles from the very strange to the very rare.
University of Alaska Museum of the North has an extensive range of displays but we spent most of our time viewing the “gallery of Alaska” room which features a range of aspects of Alaska life and history.
We enjoyed a bit of a rest and relaxation in Fairbanks too. North Pole is actually as small town just near Fairbanks complete with an enormous Post Office and candy cane street lamps! That’s about it apart from Santa Claus House where a 1860s Studebaker Sleigh has pride of place at the entrance and you can buy all things Christmas, visit Santa and even pat reindeer for a small fee. (Reindeer being domesticated Caribou).
We visited the Alaska Pipeline which runs 800 miles (sorry, yes miles),
also popped into an ‘outfitters’ shop in Fairbanks for cooking gas. Outfitters supply all things camping and outdoors – especially guns. This store proudly displayed animals shot by customers (we presume their wives clearly had no intention of allowing these to be hung on the lounge room wall! In the outfitters, we were particularly amused by the ‘North American Grand Slam of Bighorn Sheep’.
Personally we prefer photographing our wildlife, but here hunting is a big thing. Some national and state parks even provide shooting and hunting ranges. It’s a different culture here!
So that was Fairbanks. We have driven as far north in Alaska as we intended to drive. So far 55,000 and we’re still driving!