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Views from Alaska’s first university

optical phenomena in Alaska
Alaska University Hills as seen from the UAF campus
View from the eastern part of the UAF campus to the northeast onto the University Hills

This year the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) celebrates 100 years. It is a land, sea and space grant university with several rural campi in various little towns in Alaska. The main campus is in College, a city that is adjacent to Fairbanks. In some places, you just have to cross University Avenue and you are in Fairbanks. College also covers a large stretch of College Road.

Focus Alaska Geophysical Institute
Geophysical Institute (middle) and Akasofu Building (left) as seen from south south west in March 2017. The blue satellite dish is visible from various points in the Fairbanks area

The UAF campus is on top of a ridge. This ridge is higher to the West than the East, for which it is common to speak of the West Ridge and Lower Campus. On the West Ridge, there are the Geophysical Sciences, Biology and Wildlife, the school of Fish and Ocean Sciences as well as Arctic Health. The eastern part of the campus houses the Fine Arts, Languages, and all kind of Engineering disciplines. In the middle of campus, there are dorms, the Museum of the North, Geology, Chemistry and Physics as well as a beautiful park.

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View from the West Ridge to the South onto the Tanana Flats on a cloudy day with medium visibility. In the middle ground are the fields of the experimental farm

The agricultural experimental farm is at the foot of the ridge in the Tanana Flats. Here also many reindeer/caribou are grazing. They have calves at this time a year. Calves are black at birth to stay warm. The low albedo of their fur heats stronger in the sun than the light fur of the adults. The mom has started shedding already. Note that both male and female caribou have antlers. The farm also has one reindeer that walks on a leach like a dog. It is actually a student job to walk the animal in winter. In summer, it is shows to visitors. To the North of West Ridge is the musk ox farm, another tourist attraction in summer with guided tours.

 caribous
Caribous at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Experimental Farm

On the West Ridge, a rocket is displayed. It refers to the World’s only university owned rocket range – the Poker Flat Research Range. This rocket range was built beneath the auroral oval for optimal conditions for aurora research. The range is 30.2 miles away from the main campus. Note that you can also tour the rocket range in summer. Check the Geophysical Institute webpage for times and appointments. When the roads are cleared it is just a 44 minutes drive to the range via AK-2 W and AK-6 N. When the road turns to be a dirt road you are a couple of miles to far.

fashionover50 mature woman posing in front of a rocket
Me posing in front of the rocket in a Cami leather coat, Keep Calm t-shirt, Oliveo denim skirt, GNW tight, statement belt, 3.1 Philip Lim bag (all own), and Musse & Cloud sandals c/o Coolway

The term “auroral oval” refers to the oval-like ring across the circumpolar North where auroras usually occur. This means the Fairbanks area is a great place for aurora watching from mid August to mid April. When you come to watch the aurora in these months be prepared to have the right clothes to enjoy the aurora to the fullest. While the aurora also exist during the white nights of summer, it is not visible because of the 24/7 daylight.

fashionover40 Mature casual outfit
View from the West Ridge parking lot to the south showing the foothills of the Alaska Range

Given the elevated location, there are many places on campus from which one has great views. On days with great visibility the Alaska Range can be seen. At some points on campus, one can even see Denali on a clear, dry day. To the southeast one has a view on Fairbanks. To the East, the view is not so great as it is on the dumpsters of one of Fairbanks’ transfer stations. The view over the Taku parking lot to the northeast shows the University Hills.

Fairbanks university Hills
View from the eastern part of campus over one of the parking lots and a transfer station. In the background, the University Hills neighborhood can be seen

When you walk over campus in summer you see a lot of flowers. There are also many trees on campus. In winter, some of the trees are decorated with twinkle lights. At the entrances of campus and in the roundabout there are ice sculptures for decoration starting in late February (The ponds need to be frozen to a certain depth to harvest ice for the sculptures.).

Focus Alaska Swan ice sculpture
Swan ice sculpture at the UAF culinary arts scholarship fundraiser standing in front of the door to greet visitors

The It point to have your photo taken is the eastern entrance on Alumni Drive. Here is a temperature display. On days with temperatures below -40F (-40oC), there is even a queue!

Alaska travel a shoot UAF Photo by JR Ancheta (2017)
A shoot UAF Photo by JR Ancheta (2017)
fashion over 50 woman in winter outfit at -41C
Me in front of the temperature display in a Halogen skirt, GNW Luxe sweater, GNW leopard print cardigan, GNW tight, Kieselstein Cord belt, H buckle, Jord bamboo watch (all own) and boot topper c/o Top of the Boot

Did you know that UAF also has its own power plant, fire fighters and police?

College, Alaska power plant
View on the UAF power plant
optical phenomena in Alaska
22o halo with sun dogs

It is always worth to not only look around, but also up. There are often nice optical phenomena to see like this beautiful halo with arc and sun dogs. Sometimes between May and September you may even see a funnel cloud.

Focus Alaska funnel cloud over Fairbanks, AK
Funnel cloud over Fairbanks. Photo with permission by U.S. Bhatt (2016)

Focus Alaska is a weekly series on Alaska lifestyle, events, curiousa, insider travel tips, and Alaska street style.

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