North to Alaska!
In late September, my family made a journey to Alaska to satisfy an item on our bucket list. Our destination was Fairbanks, Alaska, and our main objective was to see in person the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). The initial reason we timed our trip at the end of September was to coincide with the start of the season for viewing the Northern Lights, since this period was to have a new moon for best viewing, and the nighttime temperatures were still in the twenties. (One month later, and they could plunge to minus 30 - 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which is what did happen this year!)
We were successful in our viewing, having seen them on two separate nights. It is hard to describe them. They are like a fluid watercolor in the sky, constantly in motion, and with no sharp defined shape but constantly changing. They can be of varied colors: red, yellow, green, etc. The ones we experienced were primarily green. They are difficult to photograph because you cannot use a flash, and like I mentioned previously, are constantly in motion, with fluid shapes and forms. I was able to catch this one though during one of our viewings.
Fairbanks is an excellent location to go to if you have limited time as we had, because it also places you close to the Denali National Park, Chena Hot Springs, and the town of Fairbanks itself. When one goes to Denali National Park, which includes Mt. McKinley, you are overwhelmed by the beauty and the expansiveness of this park. We drove about 30 miles into the park and there was beauty at every turn. It was quiet while we were there and we were told it was "shoulder season." This being the time after summer tourists leave and before the extreme sports and winter hunting season begins in the region.
Another exciting place to visit was the Chena Hot Springs Resort. Not only is this a place where you can enjoy a dip in a natural hot tub (the hot springs source is 165 degrees F), but the resort itself is an excellent example of geothermal energy and sustainable design. The entire resort is powered by the utilization of the 165 degrees hot springs ground water, which flows to a heat exchanger to develop the heating system loop and transformed to electrical power for lighting and power at the resort. There is also a green house where the fruits and vegetables used at the restaurant are grown.
Not to be missed is the Ice Museum on the grounds. This museum is kept at a constant 28 degrees F, and displays ice sculptures, has a bar built entirely of ice, and even has hotel rooms within it where the hardy can spend the night! While at the bar, you can order an appletini that comes in an ice-caved martini glass. How cool is that?
A pleasant surprise was the fine examples of architecture that were discovered in Fairbanks. Most notable was the Alaska University Museum of the North (Fairbanks). This building was designed by Joan Soranno in association with GDM/HGA architectural team. The building was designed to convey a sense of Alaska, with innovative lines and spaces evoking images of alpine ridges, glaciers, breakup on the Yukon River and the aurora.
In all, this is a trip that I would highly recommend to anyone who is looking for a special blend of uniqueness in nature and awe-inspiring beauty.
by Jim Mitchell
Principal, Executive Vice President, Director - Civic/Community Studio
Jim has been with M+A since 1981 and currently serves as the executive vice president of the company. Jim's favorite place to eat is Polaris Grille, and his favorite movie is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.