If you've never seen the midnight sun, it is a glorious sight indeed. You can never quite get over the fact that what your watch says and what the sun says don't exactly square up. On this night, nearby wildfires have lofted a smoky mist into the valley below, creating a natural filter for the sun's fiery orange glow. The sun's rays shimmer through the fog, creating a reddish haze across the valley. It's a perfect backdrop for something like … an album cover. Supposedly, the sun is down for two hours on this particular night, though it never truly goes away.

While everyone seems a tad happier - and a tad less insane - in the summer, I can't help but think that the charm of Fairbanks lies in the snow and ice. Take the new Museum of the North, for example. It's now fully up and operational at the University of Alaska. The stunning architecture is meant to evoke Alaska's glacial landscapes - but it somehow falls short when the luminous pinks and blues of the low-lit winter skies aren't bouncing off its whitewashed walls.


What You Should Know

American Airlines offers daily service in the summer to Anchorage from Dallas/Fort Worth and Chicago, and offers daily codeshareservice year-round via Anchorage and Seattle on Alaska Airlines.

For more information, visit www.aa.com.

Still, the museum's exhibits (notably Craig Buchanan's junk-strewn Great Alaska Outhouse Experience and the conceptual prurient photography of Mark Daughhetee) are worth an afternoon stroll. And, of course, the building remains the most architecturally interesting of all the others in the state - that hasn't changed since last winter.

In Denali National Park (125 miles south of Fairbanks), we discover a cozy little restaurant called McKinley Creekside Café. It's full of Alaskan charm and tasty entrées like coconut-battered salmon and perfect Alaskan halibut and chips. Everything is going along swimmingly until a transformer blows in nearby Healy, cutting the electricity to the entire area.

Being journalists and all, Chad and I are cashless. The power outage means, of course, that the Creekside cannot run our credit cards. In the Lower 48, we'd either be washing dishes or leaving the rights to our firstborns as collateral until we could return with payment.

"Lunch is on us," says assistant manager Leigh Anne Williams, a Georgia transplant going on her seventh year in Alaska. Yeah, they definitely do things differently around here. Perhaps it's the light?

"Obviously, the 22 hours of light is better for your psyche," says Ryan Binkley, ­captain of the riverboat Discovery. "In winter, you get cabin fever - the pioneers would literally go crazy. When spring comes, it's a weight off your shoulders."

So in the end, Alaskans tend to put up with the unrelenting darkness and bitter cold of winter as a penance for what many consider to be the perfect summer. After all, what other reason could there be for wanting to colonize the harsh extremes of the last frontier?

Well, there is that business of the Permanent Fund Dividend as well. What's that, you say? You're not familiar with the good ol'PFD? Well, neither were we. Turns out, up this way yearly checks relating to oil royalties - sometimes upward of the $2,000 range -are doled out to all permanent residents of Alaska … just as away to say thank you.

I told you, they do things differently around here.


IF YOU GO...


El Dorado Gold Mine
www.eldoradogoldmine.com
(866) 479-6673

Fly Denali
www.flydenali.com
(907) 733-7768

McKinley Creekside Café
www.mckinleycabins.com
(907) 683-2277

Museum of the North
www.uaf.edu/museum
(907) 474-7505

Riverboat Discovery
www.riverboatdiscovery.com
(866) 479-6673

Silver Gulch Brewing & Bottling Co.
www.silvergulch.com
(907) 452-2739