One Man's Alaska

My first Northern Lights

March 11, 2011

Wow, the northern lights in Alaska last night were spectacular! I've never seen them before, so I paid close attention to the aurora forecast yesterday afternoon and evening after missing the lights show the night before. When it looked like the lights would be at their peak in about one hour, I bundled up, got in the car, and drove to an area in town I knew would be dark.

The area I chose was a pull off on the road near the Matanuska river here in Palmer. If you're in downtown Palmer and turn right onto Arctiv Avenue, it turns into the Old Glenn Highway. Just after the area where it crosses over the Matanuska River there is a pull-off on the right hand side of the road where you can park, and well, do things (more on this in a moment). So I parked the car, got out, and looked around.

Seeing my first Northern Lights

At first I didn't know if I was seeing northern lights or not. There were bright streaks and cloud-like things in the sky, but I still wasn't sure what I was seeing because they all just looked like brighter than normal evening clouds.

But then I watched one batch of lights form with my own eyes.

These lights were due north, and they formed vertical, green streaks in the sky. The stripes were magnificent to watch, and they just hung there in the sky, twinkling, rippling, floating in the sky. After a little while I looked around and saw that I had been surrounded by lights all across the sky. They often formed and then un-formed so fast it felt like watching acts of creation and destruction.


During this time, four other cars came into this same parking area. I thought it would be fun to share the experience with some strangers, but each car pulled in the parking lot, paused, and then drove off. I don't know if they wanted to see the northern lights by themselves, make out, or sell drugs, but each car drove around me and then left.

On the road

Satisfied that I had seen some great lights -- and wanting to get to a still-darker area -- I decided to take a chance and drive north. When I mentioned that the first lights I saw were coming from the north, I knew this only because my new phone has a Compass app, and when I looked at it later, I saw that those really colorful lights were coming directly from the north. So I hopped back in the car and headed north on the Glenn Highway (not to be confused with the Old Glenn Highway) towards a town named Glennallen.

On the drive the lights became even more spectacular. They were just within eyesight at the top of my windshield as I drove north, and I tried to watch them a little bit while driving, but I've had so many moose encounters in the evening in Alaska I knew that was a bad idea, so I pulled over several times to watch them and take videos of them. There's very little traffic on this road in the evening, so I often stood in the middle of the road, or crossed the road from left to right as desired to try to get better views. All during this time an enormous band of green lights had formed, and stretched all the way across the sky from left to right.

I tried to take videos of all this, and I do have about ten "videos" on my computer, but sadly the only thing you can see on the videos is my excitement, and occasional views of the moon and car headlights. (It's a really wonderful, thrilling experience to be standing alone in the middle of an Alaska mountain road with nobody around you, taking photos and videos of the Northern Lights.) Neither my iPhone or Pentax camera were able to pick up the lights (or maybe I should say that I don't know how to work with my Pentax camera to make it pick up the lights).

A close encounter of the moose kind

I made it quite a ways past a town named Sutton and was driving up and down some mountain roads when it seemed like the lights were starting to fade. With no traffic on the road, I just did a u-turn in the middle of the highway, very satisfied with the evening and my first northern lights.

On the way home I drove fairly slow, because as mentioned, I've had several encounters with moose at night in Alaska. Sure enough one moose finally ran in front of the car, and I left some of my nice, soft winter tire tread on the highway in an effort not to hit him.

The next thought you need to think at a time like this is that there's never just one moose, so as I thought about starting to drive again I honked the horn several times, and sure enough another moose that had been standing right next to the right side of the car came into view, did some sort of startled jump to its right like it was offended by me, and sauntered off into the woods in that direction.

I drove slowly away, and then continued my relatively slow drive home back to Palmer, satisfied like a had just found this huge buffet of all the foods I love to eat, and ate everything I wanted until I was ready to pop.

YouTube audio

As mentioned, none of my northern lights videos worked out, but if you want to hear the audio from one video, here you go:

Probably nothing too exciting for you, but I'll remember that for a long time. :)

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