Northern lights: A cold, dark trip that leaves lasting joy


It’s getting close to midnight, and close to my destination – mile marker 133 on Alaska’s Glenn Highway, where I’m on the road to fulfilling a lifelong dream. Tonight, if the forecast app and my guide are correct, I’m going to see the northern lights. The aurora borealis.

When we at last pull over at the designated spot, we are on the edge of a giant meadow. Only scattered evergreens stand between us and the horizon. No light pollution. No mountains to block the view. 

Why We Wrote This

Our reporter treks through Alaska to see the aurora borealis. Her journey takes her though dark and cold, for a fleeting splendor of light that leaves a lasting joy.

“I can’t tell you how much joy I get from seeing the smile on people’s faces,” says my guide, Scott Stansbury of SSP Studio & Gallery. “That’s the reason I do tours.”   

Eventually, the lights appear, then grow more glorious each time I step outside. Finally, as if playing a visual symphonic encore, a giant streak of phosphorous green seems to swoop down to the treetops and dollop them with a curlicue swirl. I’m smiling inside and out.

It’s getting close to midnight, and close to my destination – mile marker 133 on Alaska’s Glenn Highway, where I’m on the road to fulfilling a lifelong dream. Tonight, if the forecast app and my guide are correct, I’m going to see the northern lights. The aurora borealis. 

More than two hours ago, aurora tour operator Scott Stansbury of SSP Studio & Gallery picked me up at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage. We cleared the city’s exurbs, and then began a long, lonely, and careful drive in the dark, the headlights of his new Kia minivan cutting a tunnel through black forest, his studded snow tires gripping the icy road with assurance. 

As we wind through mountains, a moose suddenly comes into view by the side of the road. Then two more! Later, Scott points to his dashboard thermometer. It’s minus 24 degrees outside. A microclimate. It won’t be that cold when we get there, he promises. Finally, up ahead, Christmas lights twinkle on the left. This is Eureka Roadhouse. Two gas pumps (closed in winter), a population of two dozen, and just a few miles from marker 133.

Why We Wrote This

Our reporter treks through Alaska to see the aurora borealis. Her journey takes her though dark and cold, for a fleeting splendor of light that leaves a lasting joy.

When we at last pull over at the designated spot, we are on the edge of a giant meadow. Only scattered evergreens stand between us and the horizon. No light pollution. No mountains to block the view. I am Scott’s only client tonight, but whether it’s one person or a bridal party from Japan, the professional photographer and videographer loves to come out here to witness one of nature’s most spectacular shows – and to share it with others. 

“I can’t tell you how much joy I get from seeing the smile on people’s faces. That’s worth it right there. That’s the reason I do tours,” he says in his upbeat Texas tones. They seem incongruous this far north, until you remember that most Alaskans come from somewhere else.  



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