Flight to FAI, Chena Hot Springs.
03.02.2016 - 10.02.2016 0 °F
Seeing the Northern Lights (NLs) has been on my bucket list for a few years. When Chris was here in August, I told him I wanted to fly to Fairbanks (FAI) AK to view the NLs in Jan. His vote was 'no.' OK, I would check with my friends and see if anyone wanted to make the effort to see the NLs this winter. All voted no either because of cost or cold weather. OK, I would go alone.
I started my planning and found out it would be best to be there with a new moon. With that info, I looked at the calendar and decided on Feb. 3rd through the 10th. New moon was Feb. 8th, so my entire week in FAI would be as dark as possible. Unfortunately, to get the best price, I will arrive in FAI at midnight. All the cheaper flights: LAS-FAI leave Seattle around 9pm, arriving in FAI at midnight. I picked the 9th Ave. Hostel for my bed and e-mailed Cho, the Korean owner. I needed a lower bunk as I am too old to climb up to the top bunk. He locked in a lower bunk for my 7 days and told me taxis would be waiting when I arrived.
Feb. 3rd arrived and I drove over to McCarran's park & ride lot. Best deal IMO for my situation. You can park for free for 7 days and take the shuttle bus over to the airport. $2 each way. I parked, bus to T-1 where Delta flew to Seattle. Flight OK, had plenty of time in Sea-Tac, ate, teeth, walked, stretched, read my book. Alaska flt 117 left at 9:30pm for FAI. Got in on time and got my gear together. I only had a carry on bag. If it did not go in that bag, I did not bring it. Rolled my bag outside and got my first intro to AK. It was zero, (-17c) outside! Back inside, got on my gloves, hat and rolled my bag to the next taxi in line. He knew where the 9th Ave Hostel was and off we go. About 15 minutes and $20 later, I was there. A 'closed' sign was in the window, this is not good news at 12:30am. Knocked on the door and then saw the sign, 'door is unlocked'. Cho was waiting for me and checked me in using his smart phone. Swiped my credit card and a receipt was sent to my e-mail. There is a computer in the front room for all to use. I checked my e-mail and there was the $210 charge for 7 nights at the hostel. I joined Scott, Nancy & Debbie at the kitchen table and had some hot chocolate. They were on the same plane and got in 5 minutes before me. All 3 were there for the Yukon Quest dog sled race. They volunteer each year and are friends of Cho. He showed me my bunk, stored my gear at the end of my bed. After about 30 minutes of chatting with Scott, Nancy, time for bed. I used my flashlight rather than wake-up a guy sleeping in the lower bunk across from me. My long first day was over.
Thursday I was up early, 6:30am. I don't sleep very well in my own bed, let alone a single bunk with a guy snoring. Had some hot chocolate, e-mailed, waited for someone else to come upstairs. Scott came up and I got some news. Cho had flown to China shortly after I checked in. The reason for the 'closed' sign was no more guests would be allowed in until Cho came back in 2 weeks. Scott, Nancy, Debby would be running the hostel in his absence. I asked about walking to the store and was told Debbie has a daughter in FAI and they could use her car. They walked over to get it, came back for me and we went to Safeway. I bought my oatmeal, bread, apples, bananas, eggs, PBJ, etc for the week. Back to the hostel, meet the guy snoring, Till from China. Two brothers from Mexico, Andre & Fabio were having BF. They were bunking in the downstairs living room. Cho put 2 bunk beds in that area when you come down the stairs. The other room is for ladies. At least this week. That room has its own bathroom. The guys use the one upstairs. Andre told me they were off to visit Chena Hots Springs. OK, see you this evening. Quiet day, read, computer, TV. When the bros. came back around 6pm, I asked them how it went. They ended up not renting a car and just did some sightseeing downtown FAI. They would go to Chena Hot Springs on Friday. I asked them if it would be alright if I joined them and paid half of the rental. They agreed and we chatted, dinner, TV, computer, my exercises, bed at 10pm.
Friday I got up early, oatmeal, toast, computer, and waited for someone else to get up. By 10am the sun was up, the bros. had BF and then called for a taxi. We went over to Enterprise Rental and Andre started getting a car. The roads were clear, no snow in FAI for a month. But, he wanted the Dodge Challenger that had all wheel drive. OK, my half was $40 with insurance. We had the map and headed for Chena. It is about an hour outside of FAI and colder as well. The resort sits in a valley and cold air settles in the valley. FAI was about 15 (-9c) when we left, Chena was 8 (-13). Parked, photos, found the building for the hot springs. Paid the $15 to use the facilities for all day. Chena has a box of bathing suits available, free to use. We all grabbed one, changed, showered. They have several indoor hot tubs, but we wanted to outdoor main hot springs. With no footwear, we stepped lively on the concrete to the warm water. It was around 102 (40c) and has a sand bottom. Really a nice set-up. I recommend visiting Chena when you are in FAI. We stayed in too long, almost an hour. You really start to feel weak if you overdo it. Out, shower, time for lunch.
We decided to visit the Ice Museum while we were there. Signed up, $15, had lunch at the snack bar in that building and waited for our tour. Chena has a proper restaurant, but we made do with soup, sandwiches. Tour time arrives and we follow our guide over to the Ice Museum. It was close to where we parked. There are double doors to keep the temp at a constant 15 (-9c) so the ice won't melt. It was warmer in the building than out! We lasted about 30 minutes, had our photos and wanted to warm up in the car. Final photos, fire up the car and head back.
Andre turned the Dodge back in and Enterprise drove us back to the hostel. Scott, Nancy & Debbie were treating all of us to a chicken stir fry dinner. Cho keeps the hostel at a constant 70 (35c) so we got out of our cold weather gear and waited for the big meal. Great dinner, some of us even had seconds! Friday had been a good day and was glad I could tag along with the brothers to visit Chena. I would not have rented a car and done it on my own. Friday was clear but cold and conditions looked good for viewing the NLs. Most vans leave FAI at 10pm, so I had plenty of time after dinner to decide. I called and they thought it would be a good night for viewing, clear skies. It is $75 to go out to Chandalar Ranch, so I called and signed up. The van came, paid the driver and then make the rounds of FAI hotels to pick up the rest of the group. The NLs were on display when we got out of the van at 11pm. Unfortunately, by the time I got downstairs and ready to shoot, the clouds rolled in. A wasted night as the NLs were not visible all the way to 2am when we drove back to FAI. Win some, lose some. Friday night was a loss.