An All-night Northern Lights Road Trip

Just after 9:00 last night, taking my puppy out for a short walk turned out to be the start of a very, very special night. At that time, there was just a small aurora borealis display showing on the north-eastern horizon. I think that it’s worth noting that none of the images in this post have been manipulated in any way – this is what came out of the camera. You’ll see a lot of very heavily manipulated aurora images being published in magazines and online, but these photos show what the lights actually look like.

After bringing Bella back in the house, I posted a note to a Yukon Aurora Alert page that I set up on Facebook, got my camera gear together, and, still dressed in my pyjamas so I didn’t miss what I expected would once again be a brief show, went out in the driveway and shot a dozen or so images. I came back in, posted one of the photos on Facebook, and when the display was clearly getting better, decided to go for a drive.
The Northern Lights from my drivway in Whitehorse, Yukon
I shot this in the back yard in case the display quit while I was en route to my favourite photography spot, the Yukon River Bridge at Km 1393 on the Alaska Highway (that’s about 17 km – just over 10 miles – from my house).
The aurora borealis from my back yard in Whitehorse, Yukon
The bridge area offers a lot of variety in possible shooting locations. It takes patience if you want a vehicle, or vehicle lights, in your photo – there’s very little traffic on the highway late on a winter night. This was shot at 10:18.
The Northern Lights at the Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway
The lack of traffic means that I can set up my tripod in what would be a driver’s normal viewing position on the highway, even for 30-second exposures. Thirty seconds feels like a very long time when you can hear a vehicle coming, though!
The aurora borealis at the Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway
One of the places near the bridge that I always visit on my aurora shoots is a bluff high above the Marsh Lake Dam, or Lewes Dam. The orange lights in the distance are the lights of Whitehorse, the purplish light to the right is from the dam. The vertical shaft of aurora light in the centre is very unusual.
The aurora borealis over the Yukon River
It takes a very strong auroral display to be visible over the lights from the dam!
The Northern Lights at the Marsh Lake Dam, Yukon
My “itinerary” for the night was open – while I had told Cathy that I’d probably be a couple of hours, she knows that that is a very flexible number 🙂 I headed down the Alaska Highway, taking a few shots looking north along Marsh Lake at the truck pulloff at Km 1376. The streak of light at the lower left is almost certainly a small plane taking off from the Whitehorse airport.
The aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway at Marsh Lake, Yukon
Further south along the Alaska Highway towards Jake’s Corner. The red glow on the snow is from my car’s taillights.
The Northern Lights over the Alaska Highway near Marsh Lake, Yukon
Before getting out of cell phone range, I pulled up the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center site to see what they thought the night might look like. Excellent – an all-nighter coming!
NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center
Reaching Jake’s Corner at 11:40, I turned off the Alaska Highway and headed back towards Carcross on the Tagish Road. This is a loop that I enjoy in any season, in/on any vehicle 🙂
Tagish Road, Yukon at night
There was an excellent aurora display as I neared the Tagish Bridge, a spot that I had high hopes for. There’s a lot of open water there, though, and with the temperature sitting at -23°C (-9°F), there was also a lot of fog, and the Northern Lights had changed to just a glow by the time I got a fairly clear view of the sky.
The Tagish Bridge, Yukon, in a winter fog
The stunning view to the west on the Tagish Road at Choutla Lake, at 12:46 a.m..
The Northern Lights on the Tagish Road, Yukon
The viewing deck over Lake Bennett at Carcross. The focus is off – more than once, I’d forgotten to re-check to focus ring every time I set the tripod up (auto-focus doesn’t work in conditions like this – you have to go manual, and because it’s so dark there’s no way to check whether you have it exactly right) 🙁
The aurora borealis at Lake Bennett, Yukon
I shot this in Carcross specifically to post on the Cadillac page on Facebook 🙂
My Cadillac CTS under the Northern Lights at Carcross, Yukon
The moon rose at about midnight, and even at 80% full it has enough power to dull the aurora quite substantially. This was shot near the Bove Island viewpoint on the South Klondike Highway at 1:35 a.m..
The aurora borealis Yukon
Looking south down Windy Arm at the historic Venus Mine. By this point the aurora was simply a bonus to an incredibly beautiful night. I hadn’t see another vehicle in well over 2 hours at this point.
The Northern Lights over the South Klondike Highway, Yukon
The aurora borealis over Windy Arm, Yukon
This is where I turned around – the boat launch on Tutshi Lake at Km 64.3 of the highway, at 2:30 a.m.. By now the aurora had changed to a fast-moving, vaporous sort of cloud – fascinating to watch but impossible to photograph because of the combination of low light and fast movement.
Tutshi Lake, BC, on a winter night
I drove past Emerald Lake, then decided that the auroral light might have just enough power in it still to photograph, so backed up to get this shot.
The aurora borealis Yukon

I got home at 4:00 a.m., and Monty was happy to share his basement couch with me so I didn’t wake up Cathy and Bella. While I really wanted to go through the photos I’d shot, I was absolutely exhausted. I got about 2½ hours sleep before I heard Cathy getting ready for work, so an afternoon nap is planned for a bit later today!


Comments

An All-night Northern Lights Road Trip — 8 Comments

  1. thank you for sharing your photos. They are beautiful even if they are not photo shopped
    Much nicer

  2. Great photos I wish that I could be up there to see the auroras in person. Maybe Monty is feeling that Bella is invading his house but is ok out side. I am sure they will work things out and be great friends. What exposure settings do you use for these shots ? Far too many photos are manipulated now. Thanks

  3. Thanks, everyone 🙂

    Bruce, you’re right about Monty being better with Bella outside, but he’s getting better day by day. It’s been a very long time since he’s smiled this much, so getting her was a good idea 🙂

    My starting point for shooting the aurora is 30 seconds at f8, ISO 800, and with bright lights I often get down to 20 seconds.

  4. Great pictures Murray, all worth that night outside I’m sure. Hope you had a good nap !

  5. You are so lucky….probably the wrong word, fortunate ? to be within a stones throw of such a magical show.

  6. I enjoy your logs with the photos. I have spent a little time in your neck of the woods over the years. Brings back memories! I drove to Alaska last summer (4th trip) and the Yukon road from Haines J. to Tok was very bad–worst I have encountered. However, return trip was great. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing!