2014 Aurora Borealis

at Chena Hot Springs

near Fairbanks, Alaska

(11/13/2014 - 11/15/2014)



On 11/13/2014 Katherine and me (Brian) went to Chena Hot Springs Resort (outside of Fairbanks, Alaska) to view the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).  Pictures and commentary are on this page, click on any picture below to get the very highest quality version. 

The first picture below is of the "Clear" booth in SFO with Katherine in her long black hair reading the brochure.  This is a system to supposedly allow you onto the plane faster, but in San Francisco it is so badly run it takes 35 weeks to get an appointment.  Some people are flying to other airports to apply for Clear - other airports that don't have the long wait badly run SFO has. 


Katherine "opts out" of the backscatter radiation all over body scanner, so usually they make her wait a little while to punish her.


I like this sign: "Talk to TSA - Send us your Feedback, Suggestions, Ideas".  I have a suggestion - disband the TSA, it is security theater, IT DOES NOTHING to make flying safer.


Katherine in her airplane seat, and away we go!


Here we are arriving into Fairbanks, Alaska.  You can see the airport landing strip out the window.


On the ground at FIA (Fairbanks International Airport).


Welcome to Fairbanks, Alaska.


Our shuttle driver Robin drove us the 50 minutes from Fairbanks Airport to the Chena Hot Springs Resort.


I look back at the Fairbanks Alaska Airport building as the sun sets as we drive away to Chena Hot Springs Resort.


Robin (the shuttle driver) explains he has three headlight settings: 1) low, 2) high beams, and 3) "moose lights".  The "moose lights" are probably High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights, illegal in many states in the USA, but a safety precaution when you could crash into a 1 ton bull moose at 60 mph on an icy road.


We climb into bed, and an hour later the front desk calls us to let us know to get dressed and walk outside to see our very first Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)!   What you see below is actually a very small air landing strip next to the hotel, we walked out onto it to get away from most of the ambient light.


Another picture a few minutes later.  It changes just barely too slowly to see the change, but you realize it is different every 5 or 10 minutes.


The picture below is probably one of my best.  I don't have low light picture skills, but I wanted to get my own pictures just to prove we saw the Aurora.  :-)


The next day we got up and wandered around the resort.  Here is a picture of the general resort.  There are some small "cabins" that are less expensive and not as nice, and then we stayed in the nicer "Moose Lodge".


Two of the older cabins, we heard these aren't as nice as the "Moose Lodge" but that's just tragic.  These could be made really really cute.


In the afternoon, Katherine and I went for a soak (?) in the actual "hot springs" at Chena.  It never got above 20 degrees F while we were in Alaska, but in the hot springs it was often too hot to stay in for too long.  This is all natural heat.  Below is a picture of the hot springs steaming.


Another picture of the steaming hot springs at Chena.


Another picture.


This is a different angle that shows how you enter the outside hot springs. You go into the building in the background, change into a swim suit, then walk through a little covered tunnel and down a gentle ramp (ending at the bright orange floating ball) and you are in 104 - 106 degree water. It would actually be too hot for humans but they monitor and cool it to keep it reasonable." You can feel the different "hot" zones as you walk around in the pool.


Besides the outdoor rock surrounded area, there are some fiberglass tubs filled with the same ultra hot water.  The one below was too hot to enter.


This is inside the main building, the "tunnel" leads outdoors to the main big outdoor rock encircled hot spring.


Through the door above leads to a covered tunnel seen below.  You hang your towel in the tunnel and enter the hot springs.


Below is Katherine in the mist in the hot spring.  Notice the snow all around her. 


Katherine coming out of the hot spring.  She will walk up the gentle ramp.   The hot spring keeps her warm even when you aren't submerged, just from the steam and heat rising.


Katherine has a silver bracelet, it SHOULD be like silverware color, but when dipped in the sulfur hot spring it instantly turned the colors seen below.


There is a large "pool" inside the building next to the outdoor hot springs. 


Behind the "pool" are some indoor hot tubs made out of fiberglass with "jets".


Lockers cost 25 cents to lock up your stuff safely while you are in the hot springs.


You shower before entering the pool or hot springs, you can see in the picture below the facilities are very reasonable (not luxurious, but Ok, like a YMCA).


That night, we wandered around, below is the car entrance to the Chena Hot Springs Resort all lit up in the snow, very pretty.


At the Chena Hot Springs resort they light the buildings at night, it's very pretty (and also bitterly cold so you can't spend much time enjoying the pretty lights wandering around at night).  The "wagon wheels" leaning up against the building right under the lights in the left part of the picture is the front desk reception for the resort.  I'm taking the picture below in the round about that allows cars to drive through on snowy icy ground.


This was a Friday night (11/14/2014) so the resort was WAY busier than on the previous Thursday night.  Below is at about 10pm and shows the main outdoor hotsprings has about 20 people in it.  The bar and restaurant were packed, and some people even drove in and just sat in the parking lot in running cars waiting for the Aurora to appear.


Another angle of the main outdoor hot springs.  It's hard to get a good picture because it's dark, plus there is steam obscuring everything, plus I'm bad at night time photos.  :-)


Another picture of the outdoor hot springs at night.  It's about 15 degrees Fahrenheit and the people below are in swim trunks and PERFECTLY comfortable to hang out for hours.  The water is really, really hot, like 106 degrees Fahrenheit hot.


Final outdoor hot springs picture.


This night (Friday, Nov 14, 2014) the Aurora was even better than the previous night.  At 9:30pm it lasted for about an hour.  Then later the phone rang again (11:30pm?) waking us up and supposedly it was really awesome, but by then we decided to sleep.  :-)  Anyway, the picture below shows the green Aurora.  The "purple" in the picture is not Aurora activity, it is part of the resort.


The Aurora Borealis seen at Chena Hot Springs.


As the Northern Lights fade, my last picture.


During the day, I wandered around and took a few pictures of the resort.  Below shows the "Ice Skating Pond" at Chena Hot Springs resort.


Another angle showing the steam rising from the main outdoor hot spring area.


So much steam, you can't even see the water.


So much steam you can barely make out the buildings behind the outdoor hot springs.


Another gratuitous picture of the hot springs.


Below is the "Gold Panning" cabin, I'm assuming you can pan for gold there, but I'm not sure.


At Chena hot springs there are dedicated hot spring ponds for the ducks and moose to enjoy.  The sign below says "These Ponds are for ducks & moose only!"  I feel it is speciesist to exclude moose from the hot springs dedicated to humans.


All around Chena Hot Springs resorts are interesting antiques and sculptures.  Below is a sculpture of a dragon?


Below is the dedicated "duck pond" which is a hot springs for ducks.  Notice the ducks around the left edge.  Ducks can survive for up to 36 hours in 20 degrees below zero, but would die after that.  Luckily the hot springs provides eternal heat so they can stay comfortable.  The colder the outside air, the closer to the hot springs they can sit to stay warm.  Some are even paddling around in the center. 


Ducks happily taking a sauna in Chena Hot Springs.


This is some sort of antique contraption, looks like a motorized gate.


Below is (I think) an antique snow plow at Chena Hot Springs.


The Chena Hot Springs main lodge sign and the parking lot.


Below is an antique McCormick Deering International Harvester Company contraption, probably to harvest things.


A close up of the same antique contraption.


There is a small plane runway at the tiny airport inside the Chena Hot Springs resort.  You need permission to land on this runway.  It is 3,000 feet long.  They give "tours" on a small plane - 4 people at $99 each for a short flight.


The plane they use for tours at Chena Hot Springs is a Piper PA-31 Navajo seen below.


Below is an antique (water pump?) from Morris Machine Works in the town of Baldwinsville, New York.


The antique below looks like an antique tractor and disc harrow to me.


In the lobby of the "Moose Lodge" hotel rooms (not cabins) are a stuffed moose and a stuffed caribou.


Below is a picture of an antique 1959 Polaris Sno Traveler Snowmobile. 


A different angle on the Polaris Snowmobile.


Below is a 1917 Dodge Brothers Convertible Truck.


At dinner, I wanted to have Alaskan King Crab legs (since we are in Alaska) so we got "Surf and Turf" to share.  :-)  It was good.


The picture below is of the bar area in the main restaurant of Chena Hot Springs.  This was by far the nicest place to be at the resort - it had the most character and was decorated by someone who wanted to make the place feel inviting.


Up behind the bar is a little surveillance camera, this one looks like a Cisco (Linksys) WVC80N Security Camera.


So we get up twice in the night to view the Aurora Borealis, then get up again at 2am for a 3:30am van ride to the airport to make sure we arrive in time for our early flight out of Fairbanks.  Robin is again our shuttle driver.  Robin's life is some sort of purgatory where he sleeps a couple hours, then gets up to drive tourists back and forth to the airport, then sleeps a couple more hours, etc.  Robin worked 70 hours this past week doing this.


Back in the Fairbanks Alaska airport checking in.


Katherine is opting out of the backscatter radiation full body scanner. I adore her for screwing with the TSA and their nonsensical security theater. Katherine says, "On this particular trip, one of the male TSA agents tried to convince me that the scanner isn't harmful by spouting off a bunch of stats as if that would prevent me from opting out. As if."


The Alaska flight home had specially designed torture seats only available on Alaska airlines (on their new Boeing 737-900ER Alaska custom).  These seats in coach DO NOT RECLINE and are ultra thin for maximum discomfort, but on the plus side have USB recharging units in every seat.  The crazy universal outlet is seen below.


Landing into Seattle Airport.


Our next hop (Seattle to San Francisco) my seat was next to this little guy named "Van" and Van's mother.  Van was pretty cute for short durations, but at 20 months old he squirmed and cried a bit from time to time.  Van's Mom worked hard the entire flight to keep Van under control, she did a good job. 


Van climbing out of his seat grabbing onto me. 


This is the "Air Train" in San Francisco airport, it takes us to our cars in our secret parking spot in the "International Parking" lot.  We are tired.


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EVERYTHING BELOW THIS POINT is just notes, reviews of the hotel, pictures of boring stuff.  DO NOT waste your time reading it!!  STOP!  Why are you still reading?


This is a picture of the main bar and restaurant area at the Chena Hot Springs resort.


Another room in the restaurant.


This looks like a banquet area in the Chena Hot Springs restaurant.


There is an "Activities Center" at the Chena Hot Springs resort.  It is a good place to stay warm waiting for the Aurora activity.  It's free to hang out, lots of information on stuff to do in the area like dog sled rides, plane rides, tours of the dog sled kennels, tours of the Ice Museum, etc.


Through a doorway in the activities center is the "Aurora Cafe" at Chena Hot Springs. You can buy frozen burritos and microwave them here, and get an espresso or latte coffee drink. There's also a Wii Video Game Console for anyone who needs to a fix.


This is the menu at the main restaurant at Chena Hot Springs, below is the Breakfast page.


Main Fare page.


Entrées page.


Just for kids page.


Menu of fancy cocktails, I had the "Moose Juice", it is very girly.  :-)


The dessert menu.


The nicest rooms at Chena Hot Springs are in the "Moose Lodge".  Below is a picture of the room we stayed in.  It is "ok", but very basic.  There is no mini-bar, no hotel Wi-Fi (in fact only Verizon has any coverage, AT&T phones do not work at Chena Hot Springs).  There is no room service, you cannot even get the restaurant to deliver breakfast (it is 40 feet away).  The room was mostly clean, although the carpet was a bit dirty and greasy.


The only sink is in a nook outside the toilet/shower room.  There is a hair dryer and a little coffee pot, but I would recommend you bring your own coffee filters and your own coffee.  ALSO YOU MUST BUY BOTTLED WATER to make coffee, you can get some from the vending machine in the front lobby for $3/bottle.  The water that comes out of the tap is technically drinkable, but tastes like iron and sulfur (well water) and would make hideous coffee.


The room comes with 4 lonely hangers and an inexpensive coat rack.  Everything so far is pretty clean, but also VERY basic.


While we were there, there were TONS of Japanese tourists at Chena Hot Springs, clearly they are a major market for Chena as there is even a Japanese Guest Directory in the hotel room!!


Here is the entire guest directory in English preserved here.  If you have trouble reading it remember you can click these images for a higher resolution copy.


Guest services info, page 2:


Guest services info, page 3:


Guest services info, page 4:


The toilet and shower area, very basic with linoleum on the ground.  The linoleum was peeling and a little dirty along the wall closest to the tub.


Every showerhead we saw was covered in red rust.  The one in our room, and all the ones in the hot springs shower rooms.  Our tub in our room also had a red rust shade near the bottom of the tub, plus the shower curtain was discolored the same dusty red color.  It just didn't fill us with a feeling that the room/shower was that clean.  The water smelled like iron and sulfur, it was hard to rinse entirely off your skin. 


That's it!

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