Alaska Day 6- Chena Hot Springs Itinerary
It was our sixth day in Fairbanks and my friend Annette and I had been staying at the Pike’s Waterfront Lodge for the duration. We had a reservation at Chena Hot Springs Resort that night and were eager to get on the road.
We grabbed breakfast at Pike’s and packed up our stuff. The night before we had finally seen the Aurora borealis and were still wild with excitement. We were getting a late start after sleeping in. We grabbed a couple warm chocolate chip cookies and coffee from the lobby and were on our way.
Road to Chena Alaska…
The road to Chena from Fairbanks is pretty much a straight shot but due to the amount of snow the last few days, the roads were still a bit covered so it was slow going. We crawled along and the hour and 20 minute ride dragged to well over 2 hours.
It was still light out when we arrived around 2:30. We had made the trek to Chena a couple days prior but it was dark after we arrived at around 4:30. That day we had a chance to soak in the springs but not much else.
Signing up for Everything at Chena Hot Springs Resort…Yes and Yes
We checked in and signed up for an Aurora wake up call. Many hotels in the area offer the service. If the northern lights should become visible during the night, they will wake you up.
“There are no phones in the rooms so you will receive a knock instead, is that ok?” The tall woman behind the desk inquired.
“Yes!!” We replied happily.
“The forecast looks promising for tonight, we will let you know.”
We then booked a reservation to tour their ice museum that same day. We also booked a dogsled ride on the property for the following day. The forecast for that evening was clear and -2°.
Exploring at Chena River Alaska
There were walking paths behind the soaking area. The trees were frosted with snow and a geothermal spring ran through. Steam was rising from the dark water bubbling through the snow. Families of geese paddled around in the warm ponds, no need to migrate.
The Long Cold Intro at Chena’s Aurora Ice Museum Alaska
After exploring, we grabbed a wildly delicious coffee at the lodge to warm up. It came time for our Ice Museum tour so we piled back on our multiple layers and activated our battery powered socks. We crunched our way through the snow over to the ice block building. Our guide gathered us together around the entrance and we stood in the cold, our breath visible.
“Hi my name is Otto, I’m your guide.”
“Hi Otto,” the group chorused back like we were at a 12 step meeting.
“We are waiting for the last group to finish up so I’m gonna give you some info that you need to know before we go in,” Otto continued.
We stood shivering. The little twinkling lights embedded in the ice made it look as if it was made out of glowing glitter.
“The ice museum is built from over 1000 tons of snow and ice, all harvested here on the Chena property. It is kept at a balmy 25° F and is open every day of the year.” He went on.
We jumped up and down a little…smushing together for heat. It was weird that we were anticipating all the warmth that the 25° interior would offer.
“The museum has a patented absorption chiller to keep the temperature steady year round, even in the summer months. The interior is created entirely of ice by world champion ice carvers.” Otto continued from under his giant furry hood.
“It is r-really flipping c-cold.” Annette shivered.
“I can’t take it anymore.” I huffed.
Otto went on, “The dry temperature in Alaska is such that if the museum ever did melt, it wouldn’t actually melt into a puddle. It would evaporate and just disappear.”
Annette and I sounded a chorus of, “Brr, brr, brr, brr, brr.”
“OK, it looks like the other tour is coming out, everybody move to the right. We are going to be heading straight to the ice bar 1st for our Appletinis.”
“Yes…and yes.” I thought.
Checking out Aurora Ice Museum Fairbanks Alaska
The door finally opened and we scurried up to step inside. The 1st Room we entered was where they carved the ice sculptures and made the martini glasses made of ice. A loud grinding sound of ice being cut echoed through the area. Large blocks of gleaming ice were stacked about along with various saws and cutting tools. A row of fresh ‘icewear’ lined a nearby table.
“Head over and have a seat. The bar itself is carved entirely of ice and so are the stools,” Otto informed us. “Make sure your seat has the fur liner on it before you sit. I will come around with your drinks.”
Annette and I scrambled to find a seat. The room shined with neon colors and our breath was visible when we spoke. Otto came around and placed an ice glass in front of us. Our drink seemed to glow in the light.
“Are people allowed to spend the night at the ice museum?” I inquired.
“Well, yes and no…” Otto answered. “It costs several thousand dollars and I don’t think anyone has made it the whole night, as it is quite cold and the bed is also made from a large block of ice.”
We sipped our delicious apple drinks, the frosty cup melting slightly at the rim with each sip. When we finished, Otto told us we were free to explore for the next half hour.
We headed from room to room, looking at sculptures as delicate and intricate as blown glass and whole rooms fashioned from snow and ice. There was a room with an ice bed and an area with a functioning ice xylophone. We passed a burning
‘log’ in a sparkling fireplace. The whole museum sparkled and glittered.
“Otto’s group, our time is up,” we heard, “Make your way back towards the door.”
We snapped a few additional shots and padded along the rubber floor mats laid over the snow and ice. We were chilled to the bone and ready to warm up.
To Chena Hot Springs! Warm at Last…
Back in the room, we quickly grabbed our swimming suits and headed for the hot spring. Unlimited spring access was included with the room and we intended to soak as much as possible.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of being outside in your bathing suit in -2° weather and speed walking to enter 105° water, then floating under the clear sky. We scanned all around above us for hints of green movement but spotted only stars.
Once we were relaxed and overheated, we raced up the ramp towards our towels, feeling ice forming on our wet skin. We quickly dried and dressed and headed to the lodge for a late dinner and a drink.
It was around 11:30 p.m. We were wiped out from the hot water and the late dinner and decided to call it a day. We jammied up and said our good nights.
A Not So Rude Awakening…Aurora Borealis Alaska Style
I was snoozing soundly and was jolted awake by a loud, ‘Bam,bam bam.’
Then a loud voice, “Northern lights are starting”…then another loud knock.
We were like firemen getting ready to extinguish a blaze…slapping on our clothes as fast as possible. 3 pairs of stretch pants…3 pairs of socks, including my battery activated socks… 2 sweatshirts…3 pairs of gloves…the battery powered scarf…my hat, and then launching ourselves out the door. We went from snoring and out cold to barreling out the door in under 3 minutes.
Hearts pounding and bleary eyed, we arrived behind the building where the lights were said to have been seen across the field. Our eyes tried to focus, squinting at the dark sky.
“It was over in that direction.” someone pointed.
There was a small crowd gathered and squinting into the night, shivering. Several people had tripods with very serious looking cameras set up across the field. It was after 1 a.m. The cold had already seeped through our layers and it seemed that our eye liquids were turning to solid.
Being that no green streaks were visible, we huddled onto folding chairs set up in a viewing tent with a small heater to de-thaw. Suddenly there was a lot of yelling and excitement and everybody who had been piled into the tent charged out the door into the frigid night.
A neon green paintbrush shot a glowing light across the sky. The crowd gasped and exclaimed and the streak melted and grew. The wavy green curtains billowed across the black night.
The Aurora shined and dimmed for about a half hour and the sky went dark. After about 20 minutes, we made our way back to our room, stripping off our layers and huddling back into our beds for warmth. My body was warm and my brain was getting fuzzy with sleep. I drifted off and was jolted awake again with a sharp knock.
The Alaska Aurora Borealis Makes a 2nd Guest Appearance
“Aurora in the sky…head outside for northern lights.”
We bolted from our beds again, hearts pumping, clothes flying…battery socks, check…3 layers all over…check…racing out the door and into the arctic freezer, the cold punched us in the face like a real wake up call. A few sharp neon streaks were shooting across the sky, the crowd exclaiming loudly. It was after 3 a.m. We took several trips to the warming tent when the sky went black, then hustling back outside when the dancing lights reappeared. We were exhausted but eager to see more.
Again, after about 20 minutes of darkness we crunched through the snow back to our room and collapsed into our beds. As I drifted off, I was filled with gratitude and happiness for being fortunate enough to witness such a wonder.
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