Three Hours of Sun (Fairbanks, Part II)

31 12 2008

Friday night might have provided Michele and I the opportunity to be the coldest in our entire lives.  This was the night we took our trip up to the top of a mountain to hopefully see the northern lights.  The trip left about 9:15 pm, took about 30 minutes to get to our destination, then we headed back down around 1:00 am.

The attire for each of us: two pairs of socks, warm snow boots, two pairs of thermal pants, ski pants, thermal shirt, regular shirt, sweatshirt, down jacket, scarf, hat, gloves.  Thinking of Randy on his way to school in “A Christmas Story” is reasonably accurate.

While we waited for the trip to leave, Michele and I met a nice couple from Minnesota.  As it turns out, the four of us were the only people who spoke English as a first language on the tour (other than the guides).  The other 14 or so people who went up were all from Japan.  And it seemed like the guides really liked us, as they spent most of the time talking to the four of us instead of the other tourists.

It was probably about -15 when we reached our destination, but the wind was killer.  With wind chill, it was estimated to be -30 or -40.  I’m talking killer wind.  We each only had about 8 inches of our bodies not covered in warmth – our eyes and the area close around them.  And what burned when you went out?  Your eyes.

They set us up with this little hut, called a yurt.  Here’s a photo of what one looks like (this is not the one we were in):


It was somewhat warm inside of the yurt.  But really warm compared to the outside.  Inside, they had hot chocolate and coffee and some heaters.  Basically, we would go outside for about 5 minutes, then back in for 5.

So, did we see the northern lights?  Yes.  Did we get any pictures to come out?  No.  We could clearly see the lights, but it was more of a solid green haze, similar to what we have seen in Juneau before.  Brighter than in Juneau, but not as spectacular as can be seen in the Fairbanks area.  We were hoping to have some photos that looked something like this…


Instead, what we actually saw looked more like this…


Still cool, obviously, just not quite what we were dreaming about.  But don’t worry, we did get a few photos up there to come out.  And since I have yet to include one of our own photos in this post, here come two right at you…

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Our friends we met on the trip had a better camera for the northern lights and actually got some pretty cool photos.  They have promised to email those to us once they get them downloaded.  Once we get those, we’ll put them up so you can see more accurately what we saw the night we nearly froze to death.  But it was definitely a fun trip up the mountain, and one we are both glad we took.  But we were also both happy to be back in the warm hotel room.

After our early morning dip in the hot springs on Saturday, we headed back toward Fairbanks.  It was a crustal clear day when we left, so we figured we would actually get some of the sun that was out.

Here’s the road out of Chena where you can see the sun shining on the mountain at the end of the road…


While on the trip back toward Fairbanks, we ended up getting some pretty sweet shots of the sunrise and then sunset.  Being surrounded by moutains and with the sun only coming out for about 3 hours, the rise and set are pretty close together.  Below are some of the highlights…







Once we made it back to town, we drove on past Fairbanks and went south to… the North Pole!  That’s right, North Pole is about 15 miles south of Fairbanks.  We decided to have lunch in North Pole before heading over to SantaLand.  When we got out of the car for lunch, I took perhaps the greatest sunset photo I have ever taken.  If I had to describe the photo with one word, it would be: breathtaking.  And here it is…


That’s right, baby, lunch at the Taco Bell!  Of course, there is no Taco Bell in Juneau – so it’s a big time treat for us.  Michele had a crunchwrap supreme and a volcano taco, and I had a nacho supreme, volcano taco, and double-decker taco.  Scrumtrellescent, I tell you.

After lunch, we headed over to the touristy Santa Land.  One really cool thing about this place, though, is that they have hung up all over the store letters to Santa.  We had 3 favorites this time around that we took pictures of.  I will post those separately and big enough so you can read them.  Here’s Michele posing just outside of the Santa House…


Also, they have some reindeer outside.  Michele is more of an expert on the topic of reindeer than me – and her estimation was that we saw Dasher, Dancer, and Vixen.  I’m pretty sure that taking photos outside at the Santa House was the second coldest we were on the trip.  The car thermometer said it was -23, and it felt like it.  Fortunately, the wind was not as bad.  But we did get a few photos of Santa’s reindeer…




For our last adventure of the weekend, Michele and I decided to make the 25 mile trip toward Nenana (ne-na-ne-na!) to visit Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn.  It’s a dive restaurant that supposedly has cool t-shirts and decent food.  I say “supposedly” because the place was closed when we got there.  Dang!  However, the trip out was well worth it.

Why?  Because we were at a higher elevation on the road out and got to catch even more of the awesome sunset.  The sun had just gone down about 20 minutes earlier, but the sky was too colorful to not stop for some pictures.  Here are a few, then I’ll finish up with our coup de grace photo.




The best part of our stop at the scenic viewpoint was that we got to see, in all its glory, Denali.  You may know it as Mount McKinely, the highest peak in North America.  Though the mountain is 115 miles away from Fairbanks, we got a pretty clear shot of it.  We weren’t 100% sure that was it, at the time, but it was later confirmed by some locals that we were viewing the great mountain.  Here it is…


After this little excursion, Michele and I dropped off the rental car and headed back to the hotel we were staying in Saturday night.  We relaxed, enjoyed being warm, and had some dinner.  Then we took off from Fairbanks on Sunday very early in the a.m. and made it back to Juneau in time for me to see my Miami Dolphins get into the the playoffs.  Yes!

Continue to check back, though, as there are still some fun random pictures from the trip I’ll post in the next few days.


Fairbanks… Where The Beer Is Ice Cold, and So Is Absolutely Everything Else

30 12 2008

Michele and I have just recently thawed out.  As in, last night while eating dinner, I could finally feel the pinky finger on my right hand again.  I guess that’s the result of spending 3 days in Fairbanks in December.  I think we may have gotten our travel schedules confused.  For some reason, Michele and I visited Mexico in June, then Fairbanks in December.  I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be the other way around.

Anyway, we arrived in Fairbanks late Thursday night.  We had one bag packed with regular clothes and then one bag packed with exclusively “warm” attire (scarves, thick socks, gloves).   As it turns out, we made it up to Fairbanks at the right time – we missed both the ridiculous cold (check here) and the major influx of tourists (check here).

We awoke early on Friday – though it was still dark outside with sunrise at 10:58 and sunset at 2:45 – grabbed the rental car, some breakfast, and headed to Chena Hot Springs Resort.

We had two goals for Chena: swim in the hot springs and check out the northern lights.  When we got to Chena on Friday, it was actually rather balmy out – somewhere in the area of 0 degrees.  One quick side note that we really found amusing: when they would run through the weather report on the radio, the guy would tell us, in a matter-of-fact manner, that the high temp on Sunday would be minus-30.  It was as if he was saying highs around 50 and lows near 40.  But no, he was talking about 30-below!  And not even a reference to Mr. Bigglesworth freezing or a polar bear’s toenails.

Back to the trip.  Once we checked into our room, Michele did some quick reading from the guest services book about the resort.  Just to figure out what our game plan should be.


From her best guess, it seemed the first thing we should do was to put on our swimsuits and hit the hot springs – so that’s exactly what we did.  The worst part of the hot springs was the 20 foot distance between the locker room and the water.  Once you were in the water, the temperature and steam from the water kept you warm.  But getting to the water was not fun.  Here is one shot of me on my way in, and then Michele on her way out.

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The hot springs was quite relaxing once you finally got in there.  And we met some colorful folks while hot springing (namely the professors Roger and Virginia Klarvin).  We only have a few photos from the hot springs since our camera is not waterproof.  But we did capture one cool phenomenon – that your hair will freeze once it gets wet and exposed to the outside temp.  Almost everyone in the hot springs is hanging out with white hair.



We made a second trip back to the hot springs on Saturday morning when the temperature was even colder.  The guy at the desk said it was about -10 out at the time.  Here’s an overview of the rock lake that hosts the hot springs.  Michele is there in the middle, and you can see all the snow around the outside.


After taking in the hot springs on Friday, we toured the resort’s ice museum.  It’s a building that’s kept at 20 degrees (warmer than outside!) and holds tons of ice sculptures.  All the ice sculptures are done by the same people, and they were all pretty amazing.  Additionally, we got to drink an Appletini out of an ice martini glass.  And to answer your question, Appletini was the only drink they served in the ice museum.

Here’s a photo of the ice museum from the outside…


And then once you walked in the door…


Inside the museum, it was pretty amazing.  They had a wide variety of ice sculptures: knights jousting, chess pieces, a bar, igloo, Coca-cola polar bear.  The knights sculpture was my personal favorite, as it was huge, intricate, and all connected.  Here’s that sculpture from a few different angles…





And the chess set…


Here’s Michele and me with the Coca-cola polar bear…


After much urging, I was finally persuaded to sing a song for everyone on the tour.  I chose a Christmas classic, “Carol of the Bells,” and followed that up with “Away In a Manger.”


If you are truly crazy, you can pay $600 to rent a room in the ice museum.  The rooms are completely made out of ice, including the beds.  The beds have pelts on them, but they did not make the bed especially warm or soft.  There were four different rooms in the museum.  We have sent in this photo to “Ice Room Lingerie Monthly.”


One of the rooms even had a toilet made out of ice.  Michele tried it out and was pleasantly surprised.  I’m kidding!  She did model the not so private restroom for this photo.  This one we sent into “Ice Toilets Weekly.”  We’re waiting to hear back.


And finally, we sipped on our Appletini.  As these were being poured, I realized I should have sung my rendition of Flo Rida’s “Low” instead of Christmas songs.   And yes, I’m well aware that they don’t reference Appletinis in the song, but it kinda sounds like they say it a few times.  Here’s a sweet shot of the drink being poured…


And the end result, complete with the ice glass…


And Michele sampling the drink…


And yes, I took a few sips as well, in honor of JD from “Scrubs” –


And so, that’s the end of part 1 of our adventure to Fairbanks.  What’s still to come?  A few shots and a recap from our northern lights adventure, and my comedic and fascinating descriptions of our Saturday spent in Fairbanks.  Stay tuned!

What’s Cooler Than Being Cool? Fairbanks!

29 12 2008

Michele and I took a trip up to Fairbanks for Christmas.  We arrived late Thursday night and returned to Juneau on Sunday.  I will get the full details and a bunch of photos up later this week.  Until then, here’s a quick photo-summary of our trip.


Chena Hot Springs…


Northern lights viewing atop a mountain…

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The ice museum (yes, these knights are carved from ice)…


And Denali (aka Mt. McKinley) at sunset…


Do They Know It’s Christmas?

22 12 2008

Yes, yes we do.  And in fact, we threw a little party last weekend at our new place.  We had many things to celebrate: (1) Michele’s birthday, (2) my birthday, (3) Dave’s birthday, (4) Karen’s birthday, (5) Kendra’s birthday, (6) Kate and Kevin getting married, (7) Jay and Jessica’s anniversary, and of course (8) Christmas.  We had a very nice turnout, and everyone brought some excellent food and/or drinks along with them.

First off, we’ve had some amazing weather here for the past week or so.  It’s been virtually cloudless the entire time, but it has been extrememly cold.  I think it was 11 degrees on the way into work this morning.  But, I have gotten some pretty cool photos of the mountains around Juneau around sunset.



And now on to the party pics!  As you can see below, I was not lying when I said we had a nice turnout.  And no, I did not Photoshop any of these people into the photos to make it look like our party was a big hit.  This one actually was.



The food was varied – from salmon dip to smoked salmon to grilled salmon to salmon balls to salmon spread to baked salmon to seared salmon to salmon jerky.  Just kidding, had a Bubba moment there.  There were a few salmon things, as well as onion souffle, veggies, pumpkin bread, brownies, goat cheese and mushroom crostinis, pepper jelly, rum balls, cheese plates, to name a few.


But can anyone guess what was the first thing to go?  My deviled eggs!  (Thanks, Kevin)  Here’s the proof…


Yep, that plate with pistachio shells on it held my deviled eggs for the 15 minutes they were around.  I’m kind of a pro at those, I guess.   We even had a few folks enjoying the phenomenon of the “red beer.”  An addition of clamato juice to a beer is a favorite of many in these parts…


We’re pretty sure that everyone had a good time.  Michele and Mindy had fun…


As did Kate and Kevin…


And Dave…


And Jeanette and Sadie…


And Joleen…


And Stew…


And, of course, Barkley…


And there you have it – the recap of our December party at the new place.

Merry Christmas From Sir Charles II

16 12 2008

Here’s our little man, Barkley, with his Santa hat on…


Great Sunrise

15 12 2008

As many of you know, we are around the time up here when the sun rises around 8:40 a.m. and sets around 3:45 or so.  However, we are on a string of about 5 straight sunny days.  It’s been extremely cold (around 12 at night), but it has made for some great sun rises.  And I was lucky enough on Friday morning to take a bunch of photos of the sunrise in sequence.  Enjoy…

These first two shots of the moon still out are from right before we left the house, around 7:50 a.m.



Then, having been at work for about 35 minutes, Michele called to tell me the sunrise looked like it would be a good one.  So I grabbed the camera and headed down the road a little to get the best view possible of the channel.  The following are the photos in order, starting around 8:40 a.m.  I stayed out there snapping these photos for about 15 minutes or so.  And I would say these are some of my best efforts.














And finally, this last photo is of Franklin Street on my way back up to work.


Good News on the Blog Front

13 12 2008

We got out wires and such from our friend yesterday, so hopefully I can get some video on the computer and onto the blog this weekend. And, we had a pretty awesome sunrise this morning, and I took a bunch of photos.

Stay tuned!