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  • Writer's pictureCherie Claire

Chasing the Northern Lights

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

A trip to Alaska and viewing the Aurora Borealis inspired my latest novel, 'Ghost Lights.'

northern lights fairbanks

By late 2021, the dark days of lockdown had vanished like a bad dream but its remnants lingered like many nightmares do upon waking. It seemed divine guidance when Delta Airlines offered an incredible deal to Fairbanks. It was so inexpensive I had to jump on a plane in the hopes of seeing a bucket list item, chasing the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis. Like Viola, I work as a travel writer so I secured stories from my cache of editors, asked for assistance from Fairbanks tourism, and took off for The Last Frontier.

I witnessed a small show when I traveled to the Arctic Circle but Alaska really delivered the evening before I was to fly home. The lights usually happen in the early morning hours so many hotels will call you when the skies light up. Mine (Pike's Waterfront Lodge which I highly recommend, comes with an aurora conservatory) woke me up at two a.m. and I immediately threw on my clothes and grabbed my camera. During my final hours in Alaska, I witnessed an incredible nighttime display of the Northern Lights, one seared into my memory as one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

cherie claire ghost lights

Naturally, it became a book. "Ghost Lights" hits bookstores Sept. 15, 2023.

(I attempted to capture the experience with my iPhone—see above—but it failed miserably. Still, I hope you can imagine what that sparkling sky show looked like.)

But back to "Ghost Lights." My latest book in my Viola Valentine paranormal mystery series (number eight, publishes Sept. 15, 2023) takes place entirely in Alaska. Almost all the places mentioned in "Ghost Lights" are real:

creamers field fairbanks
Creamer's Field, Fairbanks

Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildfowl Refuge is a nature preserve in Fairbanks that offers miles of pristine trails in different ecosystems. It's a summer home for Sandhill Cranes—lots of them!— and in August they hold a crane festival. I was there right after Labor Day and spotted the last pair heading south, but I did spot some other spectacular birds. Creamer's Field's name comes from the dairy that used to be housed here.

Coldfoot accommodations.

Visitors may hop on a bus or plane to visit the Arctic Circle and I've done both. In "Ghost Lights," Viola travels up the Dalton Highway and stays at the Coldfoot camp above the Circle and near the Gates of the Arctic National Park. I also stayed in a room at this rustic accommodation (see right) and enjoyed a surprisingly great meal at the Coldfoot restaurant. The rooms are small and basic, but I loved every minute. I met two new friends on my trip north—Meghan and Pat—and we experienced our first view of the Northern Lights and spent an afternoon exploring the Koyukuk River in T-shirts, which was odd considering where we were, even if it was September. And we flew back to Fairbanks in a small plane! Boy, was that an experience.

chasing the northern lights in alaska
My Arctic Circle buds Meghan and Pat by the Koyukuk River.

I absolutely adore hot springs and Chena Hot Springs outside Fairbanks pumps its mineral waters into a massive outdoor pool. A dip here is divine, even in winter I've been told although I was thankfully there in early fall. Check out the fall foliage in the photo! It was a gorgeous time of year.

chena hot springs
Chena Hot Springs

Some places I had to invent. The wedding venue of characters Clayton and Tabitha at the Arctic Circle does not exist but I got the idea from the Arctic Hive, a yoga retreat and training facility with rustic accommodations north of Coldfoot.

And yes, there is a North Pole, as I write about in the book. It's just outside Fairbanks. But you'll have to read my story to understand. :)

I hope you enjoy "Ghost Lights," my latest Viola Valentine mystery, set in Alaska. I know I loved every second I spent in America's largest state, and hope to get back there often.

Want to know about The Last Frontier? My twin wrote a travel piece for New Orleans magazine and you can access the digital version here. And do check out the website of Fairbanks tourism. They offer gorgeous shots of the Northern Lights and a real-time aurora tracker to keep you updated on the sun's activities.

But don't worry, I'll be writing more blog posts on my experiences in Alaska. Stay tuned.


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