Arctic Circle and Beaver Village Flightseeing Tour

Was I crazy to hop on a 2-propeller plane to fly 8500 feet over the Alaskan Mountains to go to the Arctic Circle? Probably but, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Four of us opted to take the Chena Springs Resorts Flightseeing tour to the Arctic Circle and explore Beaver Village.

Alaska Aerial Views

Alaskan mountain range view from the planeAlaska is a beautiful state with a vast amount of uncultivated land as far as you can see in any direction. First, we flew over the mountain ranges, rivers snaking through them, dotted with evergreen trees and rocks growing right up at the top. We even flew over working gold mines.Erratic Glacier Rocks growing on top of Alaskan White Mountains Then we flew over the flat tundra. All you could see now was snow covered water spaced throughout the trees. Then we passed over the Arctic Circle. Turned around and headed back south the 13 miles to Beaver VillageAlaskan mountain range and lakes view from the planeView from the plane over the Alaska wilderness

Seth, the Pilot

Seth was super knowledgeable as we flew over the Alaskan White Mountains and Yukon Flats. Pointing out creeks, rivers, mountains and even gave us some history of Alaska on our flight. He also played a joke on us. Mentioning the bump, we just felt as we crossed the Arctic Circle was the sub-zero air meeting the warmer air from the south. I almost believed him until I heard him over the headphones that he made the bump happen. Funny guy!

We spotted moose on a snow covered lake. Seth did a circle over for us to get pictures of them. It was so funny watching four photographers with cameras, taking pictures of everything we could out the plane’s windows.Aerial view of moose on a snow-covered lake

He lands on this snow-covered runway almost every day. It’s very surprising that pilots can’t get a smooth landing on dry land most of the time but, Seth’s landing was smooth!2 Propeller Piper Plane

Beaver Village

Aerial View of Beaver VillageAs we circled over Beaver Village, it looked like a little town with log cabins that you put together on a train model village. Beaver Village was founded in 1910 as a trading post for Inuits and gold miners.

We landed on the snow-covered runway and met the Adams, Cliff & Ai who came out to meet us. Cliff, a native Indian, has lived in Beaver Village all his life. Ai is a Japanese transplant, who came up to Beaver Village as a tourist five years ago from Tokyo. Ai met Cliff and ended up staying and marrying him. She has completely uprooted her life from living in a huge city to living off the land. She is so incredibly happy!  Her smile is so infectious.Cliff and Ai AdamsAi pronounces her name “I.” Ai took us around the village pointing out what each building was. She showed us the school where one teacher teaches seven kids (Kindergarten to Highschool). We walked passed the Post Office, then the laundromat (Washing Building).

Beaver Village Wash buildingThe water tower gets filled by hand. The villagers carry buckets from the Yukon River. We stopped in the middle of an intersection (one of two) that Ai said was Main Street. Not one person to be seen anywhere only us walking through the village. Main Street at Beaver Village, AlaskaWe passed the cemetery that had all wooden crosses. I asked about the burial process, and they don’t wait until the ground is unfrozen to bury them. Frozen ground or not the villagers are buried. There isn’t much sickness here. Most villagers live to a ripe old age.Beaver Village graveyard

Snow-covered Yukon River

Life along the Yukon River

After that, we walked one block to the next road and stopped at the Yukon River. There was another building which houses the government and the clinic but, the doctor is long gone. This village has shrunk from over 100 people to 80 down to today’s 46 people.

Ai told us in September the Post Office and the school will be closing. I asked, “What will happen to the kids? What will they do?” Ai answered, “They will be shipped to live in Fairbanks with their aunt.” This was so disheartening to hear. This village’s future depends on having these kids return but, once they get a taste of city life what that possibility is? Zero to none. 

Abandoned Trading Post in Beaver Village AlaskaAs we walked along the Yukon River, we passed the now defunct trading store, which Cliff’s grandfather owned. We checked out at a 95-year-old deserted cabin filled with antiques.96-year old abandoned cabinAcross from this one is an 116-year-old cabin which is about as old as this village. I couldn’t see inside since it was covered in snow. 101-year old abandoned cabin next to the Yukon RiverOur group passed the one Bed & Breakfast in the village. If you want to experience living off the land in the middle of Alaska, come here. 

The Adams House

Heather Raulerson posing with moose antlers in Beaver Village AlaskaWe got to Ai and Cliff’s house which was so inviting and warm inside. They offered us fresh Wild Alaskan Salmon and Moose samples. Moose is quite tender. We asked Ai what her favorite meat is and she said black bear. Her face lit up when she mentioned it was so tender and moist. The Adams spend their time trapping and using every bit of what they hunt. Ai was wearing beaver gloves, fox scarf, and a Lynx hat.Ai Adams Japanese tour guide to Beaver Village Alaska Ai Adams decorated Beaver gloves with beadingShe has won awards and is one of the top trappers in the world. China is their biggest customer seeking out their pelts. They usually go for over $300/pelt. Animal pelts from the Adams

Living off the Land

We spent time at the Adams house enjoying their hospitality and seeing how they live there all year round. Ai has a little greenhouse to grow vegetables. We also saw where they caught the Salmon and checked out the Smoke House. Cliff hunts and provides food for the whole village.Smoke House in Beaver Village

Of course, if you live in Alaska, you have to own Huskies. The Adams have three beautiful dogs, which were so friendly despite their ferocious looks. I love those blue eyes!Adams' blue-eyed Husky dog

I can’t imagine how beautiful Beaver Village is in the summer right on banks of the Yukon River. Minus the mosquitos, which they told us were horrible. We walked down and took some pictures of all of us on the Yukon River.Heather Raulerson standing on the Yukon RiverBeaver Village tour with Nyla Mischke, Lola Biuckians, George Lehmann, and Heather Raulerson

When our time with the Adams was winding down, we started walking back to the plane. Ai noticed a white rabbit hidden in the snow and trees. “Aww, how cute!” we said while we got our cameras out. Ai quietly said “Snack!” Love this lady!White rabbit hiding in the trees in Beaver Village Alaska

If you need a place to get away from everything, want to commune with nature and learn to live off the land, Beaver Village would be the place for you. Info for Beaver Village Tours. This village now depends on tourists to keep this community from not completely disappearing.

Shooting the Northern Lights in Alaska

Trees standing against a yellow, green, and purple Northern Lights sky with stars and cloudsHave you ever wondered how photographers capture the Northern Lights with all those colors? I got to have such an experience with a small group from Great Escape Publishing on a Northern Lights Photography Expedition. This was five filled days & nights of dedicated time to practice our photography skills and learn new ones from acclaimed photographer Kristen Bentz. We stayed at the Chena Hot Springs Resort which caters to photographers trying to capture the Northern Lights.Ice Museum with green and purple Northern Lights display behind it

The first night of shooting was extremely cold, somewhere between -20 and -10deg F.  The beginning of the night was spent getting our camera’s settings accurate. We needed to set our lens focus on infinity to capture the Aurora Borealis. Once we got our focus set, they taped down our lenses so, we couldn’t accidentally change it while we were outside. The next step was to make sure all the other settings were accurate. You want to set your Aperture at F2.8, increase your ISO to 800-4000, and set the shutter speed to 1″ -15″. Unfortunately, the lens I had couldn’t get down that low of Aperture. So, I had to play with my settings to get more light through my Sigma 10-20mm lens. I ended up mostly at F5.0, ISO 6400, and 13sec shutter speed using my Canon 7D. I might look into a newer lens that can admit more light in the future. 

When you are looking at the sky you might notice a green, blurry haze of light. That is the Aurora Borealis. The best time to see the lights is obviously in the winter time when it is darker. The best months are March & October. Plus, the closer you get to the Arctic Circle the more intense the colors are. If you are not sure what causes this, it is when the solar wind reaches the Earth’s atmosphere and reacts with Earth’s magnetic field. Each color (red, blue, violet, and green) in the lights pertains to a particular gas. Such as when you see red, oxygen is present. With the naked eye, it is harder to see these colors that your camera can capture. But, the more you witness them, you will begin to notice the other colors in the sky before your camera does.Bright yellow and purple Northern Lights display behind evergreen trees

Northern Lights Checklist

Some of the steps to get good Northern Lights photos are:

  1. Create a Shoot List – things you want in your photos
  2. Scout Locations – open area, higher vantage point, low traffic
  3. Make sure camera settings are set
  4. Mount camera on a tripod
  5. Set up your remote trigger
  6. Compose your foreground
  7. Switch lens to manual focus
  8. Shoot in RAW – better for editing later

Of the 700 photos I took, I got about 24 good ones. The good thing about this trip is that they were also teaching us how to edit them in Lightroom. Keep taking pictures though, you will never know which ones will come out until you look at them later.Trees silhouetted against a purple and green Northern Lights background with a shooting starGreen and purple Northern Lights display shaped like a ghost

The most important thing to remember is to dress warm! I was out every night from midnight to 3:30 am and you will get cold. Bring plenty of hand & foot warmers. But, it is worth waiting to see the show start. When the Northern Lights start dancing they are amazing! You will need to know all the tricks ahead of time because the lights are quick and you don’t want to miss anything!Snowy Trees foreground with Purple, Green, and Yellow Northern Lights Display

Alaskan Dog Sled Adventure and Lots of Puppies

Walking up to the dog sled, the four of us stare at it while the dogs are all barking and jumping ready to move. Who will get in first? Tallest goes in first the musher says. Well, that is definitely not me. As we pile in, I slide into the third spot. My friend Nyla sits in front of me, and by the end of the ride, I think she regretted it. The sled is narrow so, we are all sitting on top of each other and putting pressure on each of our legs. Nyla was practically lying on top of me when we start moving.Four ladies bundled up for dog sledding with their cameras

 Race Sled Dogs

Brown eyed husky sled dogBlue eyed Husky sled dog waiting with packTeam Dogs waiting to pull sledCandy, the wheel dog, waiting to pull sledThe lead dog, Sheba, starts us off and Candy, the Wheel dog, is impatient to be running. They start running and the sled is trailing behind controlled by the musher. Musher with Dog Sled TeamKnowing that doesn’t alleviate the feeling like we will be tossed out as we go around each corner. We all can’t stop giggling and laughing. Then we hit the first bump, and the sled goes a little airborne and BAM! I knock Nyla in the head with my camera lens. I’m apologizing to her and asking if she’s ok and not even two minutes later, I do it again. Reminder to bring a smaller camera when on a dog sled or even a GoPro would have been better. But, as we were all on this photographer tour together, we laughed it off as hazards of getting the perfect shot.Sled dogs running around a curve

Beautiful Huskies

Dog sledding is such an adrenaline rush as the sled banked high on the curves and the dogs kept on going. The entire ride lasted only 12 minutes but, it felt longer. When we returned to the kennel we took lots of pictures of the Huskies. Husky Sled Dog with Light EyesThey were so lovable wanting to be petted by us and trying to give us kisses. All these dogs are bred to be race dogs. These Huskies race in the Iditarod and Yukon Quest. Grizzley came in sixth place one year. Grizzley 6th place Iditarod sled dogChena Dog Kennel does adopt the dogs out when they no longer want to work as sled dogs and would rather play with someone who loves them. If interested and want to visit and see the dogs, check out their adoption page.

Puppy Power

After our ride had finished, we walked into the kennel to warm up and stooaround for awhile. We weren’t sure what we were waiting for but, the next thing we know is that they are bringing in puppies. Seven of the cutest 4-week old puppies you ever saw. They were so adorable. I held one that was the tiniest of the bunch and it would not stop shaking. Me holding shaking puppyHe was so nervous with all the people around. When the guide was discussing their parentage (could be between two dads) and that neither of them was the best race dog. My puppy started yapping. He didn’t like the disparaging comments about their dad. These puppies do not have names yet. They don’t get their names until they become race dogs which their future as that is uncertain.

I sat on the ground to play with them and then all chaos erupted. All of the seven puppies were climbing all over me, playing with my scarf, licking my camera, and nipping at my pants. I felt like an obstacle on an obstacle course for these little pups. They kept climbing up and over and falling down the other side over and over again. Me surrounded by puppies climbing over meOne, in particular, a cute black one with white paws kept coming back toward me and curling around in between my legs. He almost fell asleep right there.Me with black puppy resting in my lap

When play time was over, I took him back out to his pen cuddling him as I walked. I dragged my feet until I was the last one to give the puppies back. Me holding black puppy with white feetLifted him up to return him and he started whimpering. I asked the worker if I could just put him in my jacket to take home with me. She said no. 🙁 This experience totally makes me rethink getting a pet.

Yes, There is a Santa Claus!

The first thing you see when you get to the North Pole is the candy cane covered light poles by all the snow covered streets. The next thing you notice is the giant Santa Claus at 42 feet watching over the highway. Giant Santa Claus statue at North Pole, AlaskaThe North Pole is a cute little town with its own library and many restaurants to choose from. The highlight though is Santa Clause House on St. Nicholas Drive. Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska

Antler Academy

Red barn of the Antler Academy in North Pole, AlaskaRight behind the giant Santa is the Antler Academy. This is where all the reindeer train to get a spot on Santa’s team. As I looked around the academy, I noticed that some of the reindeer were without their antlers, some with one and a few with both still on their heads. This happens every year when the reindeer shed their antlers around January. The antlers start growing back in April. Fun Fact: Antlers are one of the fastest growing tissues on mammals, growing up to a 1/4 inch per day.Reindeer eating at Antler Academy in North Pole, Alaska

Ice Sculptures were scattered around the back of the Antler Academy for you to peruse at your leisure. The only thing is that it was wicked cold and you could only stay out for a bit before you felt it down to your toes. Amazing that the reindeer are used to this climate. I was definitely not acclimating as quickly.Train Engine Ice Sculpture

Santa Claus is in the House

The main shop is where you can meet the big man himself. Once inside, the store reminded me of Bronner’s in Frankenmuth. The displays and ornaments were beautiful.

Plus, Santa Claus, himself, was holding court on his throne. Laughing and greeting everyone that crossed his path. Santa Claus sitting on his throne

Santa Claus House is filled with all kinds of gifts from the North Pole. You can even purchase postcards to send to kids that have the North Pole stamp on them. And for those who wondered where their Christmas Wish Lists go when they send them to Santa Clause care of the North Pole…well here of course!Christmas wish lists sent to Santa Claus in the north pole

Alaska Here I Come!

As I stepped onto the AlaskaAir airplane, my nerves finally quieted down. I was on my way for the first time to Alaska to photograph the Northern Lights and explore Fairbanks. There is no easy way to get to Fairbanks from Detroit, the flights are long and you have to make several connections. AlaskaAir was nice to fly, and I got Delta miles on the trip. Make sure you sit in F seats on the way up and A seats on the way home. You might be able to see the lights from the plane. 

I met a wonderful lady on the flight from Seattle. Myra is a professional pool player that lives in Fairbanks. She gave me great info about Fairbanks & Alaska. She made me want to come up here in the summer, and I wasn’t even there yet. 

First Impressions of Fairbanks

Ensure you have a rental car set up ahead of time. I got there late in the evening, and there were no cars available. Good thing Hampton Inn, where I was staying, had a shuttle.

The shuttle driver was so friendly and made sure that I saw the Northern Lights that were there to greet me to Alaska.pointed out the Northern Lights to me as we drove to the hotel. A misty, blurry green haze above the trees. It almost looked like a glow from a nuclear power plant from a sci-fi movie. The driver mentioned that some people come up to see the lights and don’t see them. There was one couple that visited, and the Northern Lights were on their bucket list. As he was driving them back to the airport, he pointed to them in the sky and fulfilled their dream so; they wouldn’t go home without seeing them at all.

As I was working with Fairbanks public transportation for my first full day, I started it by walking across the street to Walmart to pick up the bus. Shit! It is cold out here! -10 degrees! There are no sidewalks so, I slipped & slid all the way over across the busy street. I’m sure there are sidewalks but, you can’t see them over the mounds of snow plowed on the side of the streets. I didn’t know where to pick up the bus so, went to the store and got directions. Found the bus stop but, I had to wait 40 minutes for the bus. There seem to be fewer buses and more time between runs. This is what I get for saving money. I wandered around Walmart until the bus was going to arrive. 

Meeting the Locals

When I headed over to the stop, there was already a guy there. He was very agitated because he couldn’t find his bus pass. This man I’m standing next to was taking everything out of his pockets and throwing it in the snow. He was all chatty telling me his name was Patrick O’Shanahan, the first black Irish man I would meet. Patrick talked to me constantly while he looked for his ticket. He told me about all his jobs he had over the years. He mentioned how he had worked in the union and that he looked old but, was only 53. Told me about his lazy ex-girlfriend and how he ditched his car and claimed it was stolen and now rode the bus. Right before the bus turned the corner, he found his bus ticket. You never know what kind of characters you will meet on vacation.

As I was transferring to another bus at the transit center, my boss called. Why is it that I can never go on vacation without having everything at work go up in flames without me being there? I talked with him for over a half hour to straightened it all out while standing outside freezing my face off. This is why I need vacations to get away from work and sometimes that doesn’t even go well.

I wish UBER were up in Fairbanks; it would have been more convenient than all buses & taxi’s that I took my one day in the city. What I didn’t like about the taxi service which I used at least five times was the wait. It took a minimum of 20 minutes or more for a cab to pick me up. I also didn’t like knowing how much it would cost until the ride was over. The weird thing I noticed that in every taxi, they had damage to their windshields (cracks going across the bottom of the glass). I asked my last driver if they all shared the same cars because I kept seeing the same damage. He said it was from all the pebbles being kicked up at the intersections. They don’t use salt up there on the roads; they use dirt.

The Northernmost Southern BBQ

Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwich at Big Daddy's in Fairbanks, AlaskaI wanted to experience some authentic Fairbanks restaurants and chose to visit Big Daddy’s, showcased on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. The food and the atmosphere were fantastic. This place was hopping. I sat in the bar area and watched for over an hour and a half a line out the door that never slowed down. It seems that everyone in Fairbanks comes to eat at Big Daddy’s. 

Ice Alaska

The ice sculptures at the 2017 World ICE ART Championships were outstanding to see but, it was frigid. I went quickly around the park to see as many ice sculptures lit up at night as I could before I froze. The ice art was incredible. Peakcock ice sculpture lit in pinkTeh lizard and the butterfly ice sculptureCompared to the snow sculptures we made at Michigan Tech, these ice sculptures blew us away. So much detail on these design. Alice and the Mad Hatter Tea Party Ice SculptureThe Last Leaf Ice SculptureI made it through most of them before I had to call a taxi to go back to the hotel for the night.

Thoughts from My First Couple UBER Rides

My first UBER ride was surprisingly easy to set up while I was visiting New York City. I did everything over my phone using the UBER app. The concierge at the hotel mentioned that they were the cheapest way to get to the airport. So, I gave them a try. Looking down a New York street with the Empire State Building in the backgroundI waited outside of my hotel, and the driver was there super quick. It was a pleasant ride back to the airport and it included a little New York history lesson thrown in from my driver. There was no hassle being dropped off at the airport and I didn’t have to worry about paying. Funny thing when I landed back in Detroit I was walking behind a group of young guys discussing who was going to set up UBER to pick them up & which car would fit all of them. Sign of the times, I feel sorry for the future of taxi drivers. 

UBER Rides in Myrtle Beach

I flew into Myrtle Beach on a Friday afternoon, and UBER picked me up at the airport and dropped me off at my hotel, Carolinian Beach Resort. This ride was my second, and I’m impressed with how convenient and easy it was to use the app. Myrtle Beach beachfront view with pier and ferris wheelPlus, I am enjoying talking with the locals. They have been giving me great tips and have so much knowledge of the area. My driver, Pierre, told me how Myrtle Beach just got their first fair. They have been asking for it for a long time, and it so happened to be on the weekend I was visiting.

UBER vs. Taxi

Pierre also talked about the battle between the taxis and UBER. He mentioned how they have to park in short-term parking, pay $7 to be able to pick up airport passengers. Pierre seems to be ok with this as he states “It is just part of doing business and it is only $7”. Personally, I think taxis need to re-look at their business model if they feel so threatened by UBER drivers.

My first night in Myrtle Beach, I just didn’t feel like walking back after sight-seeing all day. I scheduled a ride with Richard to take me from the Boardwalk on the Beach back to my hotel. Surprisingly both of the UBER drivers were retired. Pierre retired from Home Depot and lived in Myrtle Beach all his life. Richard retired from Ford and lived in Michigan many years ago. We ended up chatting about cars and how there is so much technology in them now. It reminded me of talking to my grandpa.

With the ease of using the UBER app and the interesting people I have met, I can’t wait to schedule my next UBER rides when I’m visiting new cities. Have you met some interesting characters on your UBER rides? I would love to hear about it.

Chocoholics Meet Chocolate Garden

The Chocolate Garden sign at the entranceIf you love Chocolate, you have to stop into the Chocolate Garden. This shop was designed with you in mind! It is filled with handmade Chocolate Truffles, and they are amazingly creamy all the way through. Now if you know me, you would be saying, “But, Heather you don’t like chocolate!” Yes, sorry to all you chocoholics out there but, I am in the minority. I don’t particularly care for chocolate and usually, don’t go out of my way to eat it. Although on a couple of road trips driving home from St. Louis, Kayla and I have stopped here. Kayla is my Chocoholic so, for her, we stop and pick up some truffles.

The Chocolate Garden shop

So Many Truffles to Choose From

The Chocolate Garden is in Coloma, Michigan a very short drive off the I-94 exit. They have plenty of parking with the lot surrounded by a white picket fence and vineyards in the back. It is quite scenic stopping at this little shop. When you walk in you might be overwhelmed with all the chocolate Truffle choices. The neat thing is that they now offer samples. You can taste them before you buy so, you can narrow down your choice from the 20+ different Truffles you could purchase. My personal favorite is Cinnamon Love that even has a cinnamon heart on top. Kayla gravitates toward the milk-chocolate right when we walk in there. As I mentioned before that I’m not a huge chocolate fan so, I tend to take my Truffles to work and share them with my coworkers. I’ll cut them up so, I have a little piece and give the rest away. My coworkers love these!

Online ordering is available

As I was looking into more details on the Chocolate Garden, I found out that they have online ordering. Kayla is going to love this! I don’t mind taking a little detour on our way home to pick up a couple of Truffles but, now she can get them anytime. Plus, if you want to surprise your sweetheart, order some super delicious Chocolate Truffles! Or if you are like me, get them to share with your friends.

Have you stopped here and picked up your own selection of Chocolate Truffles?