Seeking aurora

Paula and I are preparing for our longest-ever road trip. Our hope is to reach Yellowknife, which is the only city in the huge Northwest Territories of Canada. NWT is twice the size of Texas, but only 45,000 people live there, mostly indigenous people. The goal of the trip is to observe and photograph the aurora borealis (Northern Lights). The best time to photograph them in NWT is around the autumnal equinox (first day of autumn) because the lakes are not frozen (good for aurora reflections) and the temperature is warmer than in March.


If it weren’t for the pandemic we would fly to Yellowknife and rent a car, but that involves 3 different flights and up to 24 consecutive hours of having to wear a mask, not to mention being in close proximity to many, many people. Even though I have been vaccinated twice and Paula has been vaccinated three times, that is not a risk we want to take. So we are driving. From San Diego to Yellowknife, the shortest route is 2,700 miles, which is almost exactly the same distance as SD to New York City, only due north.


Alas, even though Canada is now allowing fully vaccinated Americans to cross the international border (provided they have a negative COVID test within the previous 3 days), NWT is still not allowing any tourists to enter, even Canadians. Unless that changes in the next couple of weeks, which seems unlikely, we will not be able to get any further north than the border between Alberta and NWT, which is at the 60th Parallel. That is “only” 2,375 miles from SD (175 miles south of Yellowknife’s latitude, or about 2.5 degrees of latitude). Fortunately, the aurora should be nearly as good there as in Yellowknife, although the landscape may not be as photogenic.


On the way north and back south we plan to stop at lots of national, state and provincial parks, and we will be camping part of the time, which is the first time we will have done that since we met. We also hope to see colorful autumn foliage in some of the national parks, such as Banff, Jasper, and Glacier. We have no fixed itinerary because where we go and when will depend upon variables such as terrestrial (local) weather, space weather (how active the aurora is), wildfires and smoke, and the timing of autumn foliage, none of which is predictable long in advance. We plan to be gone about one month.


We depart Monday, Labor Day. Olive and our house will be well looked after by Alex and our extremely helpful neighbors. Hopefully there won’t be any San Diego wildfires while we’re away. If there are, we might have to come home prematurely.


It goes without saying that I plan to post lots of photos.

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