Healy. North Pole. Fairbanks.
Low clouds hung heavy over the mountains in the cool, morning air as I sat on the balcony. Swans honked and beat their wings as they flew over the calm water of Otto Lake. Wanting to linger still before we headed for Fairbanks, I sat on the end of the pier watching ducks create ripples as they dove under the water for breakfast. More honks filled the air as hundreds of geese (or maybe sandhill cranes) flew over head, making their way south, following the sun. As I would be inclined to do. As many who spend summers in Alaska do.
Our drive to Fairbanks on Parks Highway continued to glow gold—lined with alders, birch, and cottonwood in full color. We couldn’t pass up the picturesque town of Nenana on the south bank of the Tanana River.
And we stopped again when we saw some stunning color around Nanana City Pond.
Since it was only a two hour drive to Fairbanks, we decided to visit a must see place not far from Fairbanks (a stop not scheduled on the post cruise excursion): the North Pole. We visited the Santa Claus House where we saw Santa’s reindeer.
And I got a sneak peek at Santa’s list. Is it the naughty or the nice, I wonder?
And yes, we actually saw Santa and Mrs. Claus. They are a lovely couple. Mrs. Claus took a video of the four of us with Santa saying Merry Christmas to our grand babies. And yes, Santa will send letters to all of them this year.
On our adventure across Alaska, another animal we hoped to see was a moose. Thus far, it has been quite the elusive animal. Mrs. Claus said the best place to look for moose was out Chena Hot Springs Road. We needed to keep an eye out in the marshy areas and ponds, not the moving waters of creeks and rivers. She told us to drive slow, otherwise we’d miss them.
We also hoped (despite the cloud and rain forecast) to see the Northern Lights. Santa said he thought the best/easiest place for seeing them was to take Badger Road to Nordale Road and continue north to the second pull off.
The Santa Claus house was an amazing place to shop. I have to admit, Jon saved us a lot of money by hurrying me out of there so we would have time to moose hunt while there was still daylight. But not before a quick pic with some new frozen friends.
We followed the Claus’ directions, found the pull off Santa told us about (and I put a pin in it on google maps), then headed out Chena Hot Springs Road.
The beautiful, golden drive continued as we went on our wild moose chase.
We slowed down at every lake, pond, and marshy area looking for our elusive moose. We pulled over at all the places we thought would be prime moose hangout. Finally, after about 40 miles and an hour and a half, we decided to turn around. Maybe we’d see a moose on the way back. As we crossed a bridge we spotted a good turn around spot.
And there, in the marshy waters near the bridge, we found her—a cow moose. Our elusive moose.
We, of course, stopped and took a bunch of pictures, even though she was a bit of a distance away. While we were there, about three other cars pulled over when they saw us looking. They were on a wild moose chase, too.
The clouds thickened and some light rain began to fall on our return trip. After a not-so-quick stop at Walmart (which happens to be a great place for souvenirs), we checked into our hotel, the Fairbanks Westmark. We had an great room and for convenience, we ate dinner at their restaurant, the Red Lantern. They had a limited menu or the off season, but we were able to order coconut chicken Florentine soup and our last fried rockfish basket of the trip.
Despite the clouds and rain, three of us had to at least show up just in case the clouds parted enough to catch sight of the Northern Lights. We followed Santa’s directions, hoping he’d grant us an early Christmas gift. But our persistence did not pay off. At least we can say we tried. Maybe we could catch a flight north in late spring. I’ve read March and April provide the best chance for clear skies to see the heavens light up.
No bears on our last full day in Alaska. But we did catch Jon trying to hide from Santa’s scrutiny. Santa’s sleigh probably wasn’t the best hiding place. I think Santa must have been looking at the naughty list.