Next day, we had breakfast at the hotel cafe and did some souvenir shopping at the hotel shop. After that, we headed towards a viewpoint that we saw on the previous day while coming. You can see Nenana river flowing from there. The river has carved out a small canyon. We took some photos and started driving towards Fairbanks. We reached Fairbanks and checked into the hotel. We had booked a 12-13 hours tour that would take us to Coldfoot and back. The shuttle was already waiting for us and we had no time to have lunch. Shuttle took us to the tour office where we ordered lunch and dinner for the day. Lunch would be served at Coldfoot and dinner at Yukon river camp. We were supposed to take a one-way flight to Coldfoot and then come back in a van from Coldfoot.
We boarded a very small plane which accommodated about 8 people, including the pilot. It was my first time on such a small plane and I was little scared that the ride may be bumpy. But I was wrong. It was much better compared to the big commercial airlines that we usually fly on. Everything was very scenic outside the window and we kept clicking photos. After some point, it became foggy and we could only see fog and clouds outside. After we landed in Coldfoot, we were provided boxed lunch and we had it at a cafe there. From there, we drove to Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot. It is a great visitor center with lot of information and maps. We took some maps and got some more information from the lady behind the desk. We were planning to drive back to Coldfoot the next day if it was possible. I bought some DVDs and books at the visitor center. They even played some videos for us to watch, while we waited for other people who would accompany us on the van to join us. They were coming on the next plane.
When the time came to board the van, we were late and had to sit in the last row. We were 11 of us, including the tour guide/driver. Now we were driving back from Coldfoot to Fairbanks on Dalton highway and then on Elliot highway. We heard that people need to take special permissions to drive on this road. Oil pipeline runs parallel to the road and hence it is pretty much restricted. We hardly saw any vehicles on the road. In some places, the oil pipeline went underground but in most of the places, it was above the ground. And this time we got a better view of the tundra. The photos that I have taken on this tour are some of the best photos I have ever taken. Everything was so colorful around us. The guide gave us plenty of stops to admire and take photos.
At one point, he let us walk on the tundra. It was amazing since we got to look at those plants closely, walk on them, pick berries and learn facts from the guide. What was interesting to me was that even though there were so many plants, flowers and fruits, I did not see a single insect anywhere. When I checked with the guide, he told me that it was because of the cold weather. After driving for some time, we saw some mosquitoes. The tundra had a prominent red colored small plant called Fireweed. We spotted cranberry, blueberry etc shrubs growing in the tundra.
The road was in a very bad condition and since we were sitting at the back, it was a very rough and bumpy ride for us. At one point it was so foggy that we would hardly see the road. We were wondering how the driver managed to drive.
And then we got to cross the Arctic Circle. It was a dream come true for me. We even got a certificate saying we crossed it. There were two desi girls on our trip who were too enthusiastic about everything. We had to wait for our turn for a very long time since the two girls kept posing in every crazy way they could . On top of that, one of the men on our tour encouraged them and kept clicking their pics. When everyone was done with photos, we thought of taking some photos. We did not realize but after I downloaded the photos, I realized that one of the girls stood behind us and she was there in every single photo that we took. I have no idea why Indians fail to show courtesy towards others. I mean, she could have waited for us to get done with our photos before standing there or posing for more photos. After all, we had waited for her to finish posing for photos.
By the time we came to Yukon river camp, it was completely dark and it was raining heavily. We had dinner at the restaurant there. Dinner was pretty good. After we left Yukon camp, hunt for Aurora (northern lights) began. We were looking at the sky for any sign of aurora activity. At one of the spots where we stopped, hubby spotted the aurora. We saw this green light moving in the sky. I immediately took out my camera, set it up and took few photos. By the time I could really determine what exposure and settings to use, it was gone. It just lasted for few minutes. We were all so disappointed. We kept searching for aurora in the sky. I even checked a compass to determine which direction to look for. The problem was that it was a very cloudy day and hence aurora was not visible. We could not see aurora again. Also people were not much interested and probably sleepy. I thought I saw aurora few times but the driver did not stop the van. It was a very disappointing tour at the end. He dropped us back at the hotel and we tried to look at the sky. There was so much of light pollution near our hotel that it was impossible to see anything.
The auroras, both surrounding the north magnetic pole (aurora borealis) and south magnetic pole (aurora australis) occur when highly charged electrons from the solar wind interact with elements in the earth’s atmosphere. Solar winds stream away from the sun at speeds of about 1 million miles per hour. When they reach the earth, some 40 hours after leaving the sun, they follow the lines of magnetic force generated by the earth’s core and flow through the magnetosphere, a teardrop-shaped area of highly charged electrical and magnetic fields.
As the electrons enter the earth’s upper atmosphere, they will encounter atoms of oxygen and nitrogen at altitudes from 20 to 200 miles above the earth’s surface. The color of the aurora depends on which atom is struck, and the altitude of the meeting. Green (what we saw) – oxygen, up to 150 miles in altitude. Source: HowStuffWorks
People kept asking us if we saw any polar bear since we crossed Arctic circle. We did not see any polar bear. My guess is that probably they stay further north, maybe closer to Arctic ocean. I don’t think we are allowed to go that north, because of the oil rigs that exist there. We watched a documentary on how they put the pipeline and because of the extreme weather, it was very challenging to put it and also to maintain it.