149.69 longitude by 65.84 latitude were my coordinates on this particular night, Just below the Arctic Circle. We were on the hunt for the Aurora Borealis. A recent northern lights expedition to Fairbanks, Alaska, we decided to make the 4 hour trip North on Dalton Hwy in hopes of a night to remember.
Let’s rewind 5 days upon my arrival in Fairbanks. Eager to see the Aurora wonder we drove into Fairbanks on Wednesday night around 8pm. Watching the Aurora activity from an app on my smartphone we had reason to believe a decent show was in store for us that night. We stopped at our Air BnB, dropped off our luggage and layered up for a chilly night to come. Forecast shows -20F is to be the low for this particular night. With our hopes on high and layered up thick we stomped out into the Alaskan outback. Olnes Pond is our first stop. Locals call this place a great stop for viewing the Northern Lights.
A short drive out of Fairbanks, about 35 minutes, we arrive at Olnes Pond. The clock strikes 11pm. Standing outside the car setting up camera gear I am shocked at how dark the skies are. Used to city light pollution, I anticipated some environmental light assistance for some foreground illumination. That never came. 11:45pm, signs of life, sprits of color start to band up from the horizon. The Auroras make their first appearance in my life. In a panic, as if they could be gone just as quick as they entered my life, I began snapping shots off. Trudging through 2.5 ft of snow to get different options of composition, I was like a kid at a candy shop. I was in my own world. As the minutes advanced, the light and banding intensified, the next two hours were a blur.
Day after day, night after night we experienced the skies come to life. Color dancing in wonder. Realizing how small I really was, and how insignificant my presence was in that moment. No matter how great the photo, attention to creative composition, and exposure, the fact that I was present in the midst of such wonder was enough for me. Almost a spiritual moment, I felt bearing witness to such a light show. What was once a dark vast winter landscape, now illuminated with such color and detail left me frozen in amazement.
As the days followed and the temps dropped we chased the lights, but less of a show than the first night upon arrival. Nights would start clear, but clouds were quick to fall over us. Still catching a bit of light, and feeling grateful to witness what we did see, the weather would bring light snow and cloud cover.
Sunday morning rise brings a bit of discouraging news, as the forecast calls for the next and last two days in Alaska cloudy and greater chances of snow. Fairbanks will now be under a thicker blanket of clouds. Sunday nights chase for the lights brought just that. Cleary Summit, another prime spot for Aurora viewing was wrapped in snow and clouds. Sunday night was an early turn in.
Staring out the window that snowy Monday morning gave clarity to what that evening would bring as our trip grew closer to an end. Holding on to some hope of clear skies we turned to the weather doppler. Realizing that going north towards the Arctic Circle the weather looked very clear, we made the decision to depart from Fairbanks around 4pm that afternoon and head north up the notorious Dalton Hwy.
After packing up that early afternoon we started our journey to the Arctic Circle. Traveling up that hwy brought landscapes that felt like we were on a different planet, completely frozen wrapped trees in snow. The plants and trees showing signs of barely hanging on to life in these treacherous conditions. It brought such a unique perspective on life in such a remote part of Alaska. Arriving at the Yukon River about 9:30pm we stop at the one gas station/mini mart within 190 miles from nowhere, about 50 miles south of the Arctic Circle. After talking with the local store owner, he informed us that had not seen the Northern Lights in about a month. With Clear skies and hopes high after the sacrifice of driving almost 4 hours north up the Dalton Hwy,
We make our way to a remote location down the road. Bundled up and ready for a much anticipated night of epic Auroras, we began setting up cameras, off to the North breathes first light. With camera set up and ready for shooting, the first shots are taken. The life in the sky begins to take flight. The photos to follow will finish the story to be told. The next 6 hours were a life changing event to witness.
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