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Northern Lights in March

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Benicia, California
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Northern Lights in March

Hi: I am thinking about a visit to Fairbanks and beyond in March 2012, and would appreciate any advice. On my "bucket list" is seeing the Northern Lights. I have a friend who lives in Fairbanks, and was thinking of visiting her. I had been considering Chena Hot Springs Resort, but that seems to be getting bad reviews these days. Is there a better alternative? And finally I was considering a trip up to Bettles Lodge, which seems to be getting good reviews here on TA these days. Many thanks in advance for advice and assistance, including ideas on what order to do things. I live in northern California.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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1. Re: Northern Lights in March

You really do not need to "go" anywhere special in terms of lodging if the aurora is active. I would suggest finding a modest and affordable place in Fairbanks and travel from there to a dark lookout spot (my favorite is Cleary Summit about 20 miles N of the city) to view the lights if they are out.

Wheatland, Wyoming
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2. Re: Northern Lights in March

I have taken a lot of Japanese tourists to Chena Hot Springs. They are going for the springs and aurora and they have been very happy. The unhappy reviews I have read seem to be from some people that expect a fancy resort experience. They don't have any concept that they are going 60 miles beyond the ends of the earth. The owner has put much more into it than it has paid him back. It is very different than Fairbanks on just about any given night. It seems to be colder and more clear than the city and the best displays I have ever seen have been there. Head and shoulders above Cleary Summit, not to say that Cleary is a bad spot to see the aurora. I would do Bettles first on my list, it is above the Artic Circle and the closer you are to the magnetic pole the better. You can expect it to be colder and clearer there. Colder is better because it means there is higher air pressure so more likely to be clear. Plus a village off the road network just has a different feel to it.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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3. Re: Northern Lights in March

>>>The unhappy reviews I have read seem to be from some people that expect a fancy resort experience.<<<

I am one such reviewer who has not given CHS a very glowing report, and it wasn't because I was expecting a "fancy resort experience."

I had been there once and had a good experience, and reported as such. My second trip there a year later was VERY disappointing. The two bedroom suite we had was a dump and in bad repair, the restaurant was unable to provide even the most basic of services due to lack of water and the concern by staff was absent throughout our stay.

As for viewing spots to see the aurora, I suppose you're in the tourism business Steve and it would not be a surprise that you would recommend the various locations in order of cost . . . Beattles (very expensive), CHS (a bit on the pricey side) and then (maybe?) Cleary Summit (free).

I believe for the average tourist looking to view the aurora and maybe photograph it, Cleary Summit is just fine. Yes you're correct clearer nights are better, but you can still pay all that money to fly up to Beattles and there still be no solar activity to generate the northern lights. They all you have is a very expensive fly-in trip to a remote village. To each their own.

Manitoba, Canada
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4. Re: Northern Lights in March

Steve, it sounds as if you are associated with a business. TripAdvisor rules state you MUST identify yourself as such in any posts that discuss matters even remotely related to your business, so people can know your bias and judge accordingly.

And with all due respect, people don't have to go to any remote place to see aurora "better". Just head north of town away from city lights. I did that here in Winnipeg just last week. Saw a pretty good display right here in the middle of Winnipeg (where I can barely make out all the stars in the Big Dipper) for about half an hour, then it faded but the sky was obviously still "greenish". So I decided to hop in my car and head 10 miles north of the city to watch the faded aurora until it disappeared entirely. It did get bright a couple more times for a minute or two, but didn't cover most of the sky like it had earlier. Looking back, it wasn't really worth going out of town....

BTW, I'm lucky that Winnipeg is the farthest south the auroral oval dips, so I've often seen good displays in the past. Not so much the last few years, of course, with the minimum so bad. And yes, most of the time I've been right here in the brightly-lit, smoggy city when I've seen them....usually while walking the dogs.

Of course, I can understand why someone who runs a business would try to convince people that an expensive location was "head and shoulders" above a free one...sorry if I don't believe you.

Matter of fact, the fellow who did the slides for that aurora show (can't recall his name), reportedly gets his best photos out near Knik Glacier. Weather is better there too.

North Pole, Alaska
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5. Re: Northern Lights in March

I live in North Pole (right next to Fairbanks) and last night we had a beautiful aurora display (our third or fourth of the season already!), despite the full moon. Visit your friend in Fairbanks. S/he should know all the best areas to go where there won't be interference of city lights for a good viewing experience. Here in North Pole, popular viewing spots are at the Chena Lakes Rec Area, where you can have a wide view of the skies unobstructed by buildings and city lights. In Fairbanks, Ester Dome and Murphy Dome are great viewing locations. I've even taken aurora photos at Creamers Field.

March is a great time to visit Fairbanks, for more than just the aurora. My SIL is coming in March, and I'm excited to show her beautiful AK in the (late) winter. Generally, the temps will be a little warmer, so viewing will be more comfortable. In addition, March is a great month for activities in Fairbanks: The Ice Art Championships, Festival of Native Arts, Dogsled races, etc. March is my favorite *winter* month!

If you'd like to see images I've captured of the aurora over the last couple of weeks, check out my blog at http://www.susanstevenson.com/blog and put aurora in the search box. Here's the link to photos taken in late August: susanstevenson.com/blog/2011/08/theyre-back/

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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6. Re: Northern Lights in March

Welcome back to TA Susan . . . we've missed you :)

North Pole, Alaska
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7. Re: Northern Lights in March

Thanks Von... I don't stop by here often (sadly), but wanted to see if there was anyone I could help with questions about Fairbanks. We're having an awesome fall season - too bad it passes so quickly.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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8. Re: Northern Lights in March

I hear you! Sorry that we may be ships in the night on my trip this weekend. Have a great weekend and hope to see you around Denali perhaps :)

Wheatland, Wyoming
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9. Re: Northern Lights in March

Von is 2700 miles from Fairbanks, Maple 2100 miles away. I guess they are much better qualified to offer an opinion than I am living here. They both wrongly accused me of offering self serving advice. Of course they BOTH seem to miss the point that Redyoga SPECIFICALLY asked about Bettles and neither offered a word about that information request.

Since redyoga is considering Bettles I bet they are aware of the need to fly in and the expense involved. Having seen that they did a 12 day trip to Bhutan

where they paid $840 dollars each($70 a day), JUST for the right to be in country, cost does not appear to be their main motivator. Bettles offers a flight over the countryside following the Alaska pipeline, crossing the Yukon River, seeing the Brooks range and Gates of the Arctic National Park. The National Weather Service shows Bettles to be the LEAST cloudy spot in Alaska. The author of "The Aurora Explained" is a researcher at the Geophysical Institute at UAF and he calls Bettles a great opportunity so be directly below the aurora. That means you have a much better chance of seeing the lights overhead and in all areas of the sky, rather than low on the northern horizon. I worked at the mine adjacent to Cleary and have seen the aurora well over a hundred times at, and in the immediate vicinity of the Summit. I have seen some awesome displays there. I have also seen the aurora only very low on the northern horizon. I have seen a lot of cloud cover blocking all views while the skies to the south, east, and west have been clear. Maple indicates they have seen the lights in Winnipeg. I would still recommend Yellowknife for those desiring to see the lights rather than southern Manitoba. Location, location, location. Neither of you mentioned the very real possibility at Cleary of having stereos blasting and inconsiderate use of headlights ruining night vision. Nor the prospects of having a half dozen buses idling while their passengers are down the road at Skiland or elsewhere. Sweet smelling diesel exhaust at no extra charge. I take people to Cleary Summit, December to March, am I shilling for the businesses located there? I drive for a man that sub contracts with companies that are bringing Japanese tourists to Fairbanks in the winter. They book in Japan so there is really no point of being a tout for anybody in the tourism industry here, the readers here are not my customer base. They could not find my company in the phone book or the internet (other than by a DOT search) if they wanted too. If you read my responses to questions here you will find I give a lot of advice for cutting costs. There is a local operator that offers trips to see polar bears in the Arctic for around $2400(much cheaper than Churchill, Manitoba BTW). I wrote of how you could do the same trip on your own for half that price, saving a couple thousands. I do not push "expensive" despite your claims.

Von you may be just the type of reviewer that I was referencing concerning Chena Hot Springs. You wrote that your room was a "dump". What was managements response to your complaint? You did bring it to their attention, right? I bet you have never lived 24-7 where you worked for weeks or months at a time. That is very common at CHSR. When people get burnt out the quality of their work often suffers before they walk away. How will management be aware if you don't tell them about it? Water problems? Winter or summer? What was the cause? Lack of power for pump? They are 35 miles beyond any electric service and must produce 100% of their power requirements(hundreds of dollars a day). Broken pipe? In frozen ground? Do you have any idea of what it takes to locate and expose the problem? Broken pump? You don't just call the plumber to come take a look and then have him run back to the shop to get the parts needed when he and the shop are located 70+ miles away. What would your situation be if you had to get all service and supplies from Fond du Lac rather than Milwaukee? Are you suggesting they should have dipped buckets in the creek in the meantime? Many hotel/motels in the lower 48 had water issues because of flooding in treatment plants and raw sewage releases. Do you hold those issues against the property operators?

As for you, Maple, I have been here for four and a half years and I don't need your smarmy tone informing me of the rules. BTW which business do you think I was touting for? You do realize Bettles and CHSR are seperated by a couple of hundred miles? My activity is available for all to read and if you had bothered reading what I wrote you might not have used the, "Ready, shoot, aim" method you chose to employ.

If you can't tell by now I did not appreciate your accusations and ripping my integrity when you knew not of what you spoke. ESPECIALLY, since I directly responded to the questions put forth and NEITHER of you bothered to address redyoga's concerns.

10. Re: Northern Lights in March

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