Sunday, December 18, 2016

Day Three: Moose Crossing

Moose Count: 14
Arctic Hare Count: 1

What a day! It was an exciting one, that saw us start our day at 7:30am, and saw it end at 2:30am (last night as I write this). I’ll be honest and say that I would have written up this post yesterday, if not for the fact that I was absolutely exhausted from the day’s activities.

After a great breakfast at the Denali Dome Home (10/10 would recommend), we headed off to Denali National Park for a morning hiking and visiting with the Denali sled dogs. These pups were bigger than the ones the day before, and the puppies that were born over the summer weren’t there because they were out training with the sleds! We went back just before sunset to see if they were back, and they were! They like for people to come and socialize with the pups, so we spent a good 30 minutes each visit petting them and playing,

After our first trip to the pups, we went walking on the snow covered road to sight see and take pictures, because that’s what college students on a trip do. As luck would have it, we all learned that it is very easy to overheat when you are hiking with lots of clothes on. We also, however, learned that the best way to cool off when that happens is to flop down and make a snow angel, obviously. A small tip: don’t drop your phone in the snow, it will make your life difficult when your hands are cold and don’t work well enough to be able to get your phone case off.

After the people who went mushing were done with their adventure, we all met up at Rose’s CafĂ© for lunch, which was great. The food tasted great and the amount of it was a little insane. But, that’s been par for the course since we’ve been here. The price of the food is a little shocking when you first see it, but everything is more expensive, simply because it has to be shipped an extra 4000 miles. According to our trip leader, it is a safe bet to budget about twice the normal amount of money for groceries.

After lunch and a second trip to the dog kennels, it was back to the bed and breakfast for some R&R before dinner. After a good dinner, we sat down in front of the fire to watch a movie and wait for favorable aurora conditions. They were forecasted to be out around midnight, right when the weather changed from cloudy to partly cloudy, which makes for good viewing. At a quarter to midnight, we rolled out and drove to good place to watch for them. We took in the scenery and waited for our eyes to adjust to the moonlight for a good thirty minutes until the clouds on the northern horizon cleared out. After a few minutes those of us who hadn’t seen auroras before looked to the sky and all had the same sort of ‘is that just a cloud, or is that the beginning of an aurora?’ kind of mumblings.

It was indeed the beginnings of an aurora.

It was very faint, to the point where you couldn’t see that it was green until you took a photo with a 15 or 20 second exposure time, but it was there. As the night went on, the aurora waxed and waned, and we actually got to see curtains with them, which is what you want. Finally, the sky seemed to go to sleep again around 2am, as expected. However, on the way back to the B&B I noticed what I wasn’t sure was an aurora but it looked like a strange cloud, which apparently means aurora. It was a large aurora, that extended across the sky. It strengthened some as we were pulling in, and made for a great view. It was a bit chilly, so I headed inside, pulled pictures off the camera, and went to sleep.

These are two of my pictures from the beginning (top) and end (bottom) of the aurora. 

As luck would have it, our professor takes great photos, and shares them with us. 
Aurora Borealis over Denali Dome Home, Photo by Dr. Malcolm Manners

The most hair raising thing about the day was the fact that we were all on moose alert on the way back and it actually came in handy; there was a large moose calf in the road. It was dark so no pictures, but it was there!

As I write this, we are on our way to Fairbanks. The views are spectacular, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the day holds. 

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