Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Aurora Chasers

 Adventure in Alaska can take many forms but there's always at least one of those forms available. On a recent adventure, we found ourselves driving through snow on icy, bumpy roads in the midst of a frozen forest.

We have been tracking the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, and it was scheduled to be active that weekend. On Friday night, we bundled ourselves up and gathered our dogs for our first Aurora watching adventure. Unfortunately for us, dear old Mother Nature decided to snow that first night. Clouds tend to block out the Aurora, as do full moons. From the car we saw a greenish haze through a thinner batch of clouds that we can only attribute to the Aurora. We were trying to get away from the light pollution of Anchorage visible even across the inlet. We ended up putting Big Lake in our GPS, knowing it was further away from Anchorage and less populated than our Wasilla. From where we were when we input our new destination, the best route was deemed to be through parts of a state park. A very dark (though sadly trees blocked our sky view), windy chain of mountain roads. We bumped along quite slowly, only seeing 1 other car the entire time. The birch trees covered in freshly fallen snow were lovely, though I was convinced an angry bear would come lumbering out from the darkness that enveloped everything around us, mad at us for casting our headlights in his forest. Thankfully no angry bears appeared and we made our way home, though that greenish haze was the closest we saw to the Aurora.

Saturday night was slightly more successful, but in an unexpected way. The best times to see the Aurora are generally conceded to be between 10 p.m. (though it may not be dark enough) to 4 a.m. We headed out at about 11 p.m. and followed the Glenn Highway away from Anchorage, as another blogger had reported seeing the Aurora very active in that area during the same time of year. We piled our pups in the car yet again (no need to leave them alone when they can come with us!) and drove into the darkness. Unfortunately, it took us awhile to get to darkness as we had to pass through a few small towns first. Thankfully Alaskans are used to people wanting to take photos and so there are wide curved shoulders made specifically for photo-taking along the highway. Once we felt it was dark enough, we pulled over and started exploring. I had never known how many stars existed until that night. I thought I saw the Aurora on the horizon, as there was a lighter area of sky that appeared to be moving. Unfortunately for me, I was the one moving and the light I saw was the starlight reflected  off of a snowy mountain top. (Claiming to spot Aurora while climbing up an embankment may not have been my wisest moment, but I was excited and desperately hoping to spot some Aurora). We drove about 20 miles further after that, stopping twice more.

At one point, I was ready to turn back. This point was during the trifecta of doom, as I've dubbed it. It's a windy (danger one), steeply inclined (danger two) and falling rocks zone (danger 3) road. I did not want to experience it once, let alone twice. But we made it through (and back). Though we saw quite possibly millions of stars, the Aurora failed to make an appearance and we had church the next morning. Around 1 a.m. we headed back, arriving home right around 2. I felt a bit like a storm chaser that just barely missed the storm. Since then, I've nicknamed us Aurora chasers. We will continue to chase the Aurora until we finally experience it. 

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