Frozen Experiences of a Lifetime: See the Northern Lights (Alaska; Northwest Territories)

The ultimate North American winter bucket list

    Photo: Beverly & Pack/Flickr

The first time I saw the Northern Lights in their full glory—I’m talking the real show, not just a faint, colored smudge on the horizon—I was in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, deep in the Alaskan interior. I’d stayed up late three nights running hoping to see them, and finally there they were. Just two green curving lines on the northern edge of the sky at first, their ends curling and reforming, then expanding into a series of long parallel streaks stretching from horizon to horizon like the lines on a blank page of sheet music. The ends vibrated, sometimes lengthening the line with their motion and sometimes rolling it back up again.

Never mind that one of the old Alaska hands I was sharing a public use cabin with declared that unless the lights appeared in multiple colors, they weren't "worth getting dressed for." The all-green show was enough for me. I stood with my head back and watched as the lines became fat spirals and then short, medium, long lines again, until my neck ached and my fingers started to go numb inside my sheepskin mitts. They were worth the wait.

If you’re going to go on your own aurora hunt, this is a good year to do it. The magnetic activity that causes the show is cyclical, and the upcoming season has been dubbed “aurora max” because we’re at a high point in the cycle. Fairbanks, Alaska, and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, are your best jumping-off points for aurora viewing.

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