Fairbanks, Alaska—named for former Indiana Sen. Charles Fairbanks—is truly a frontier. The gateway to the Arctic is spread out on a seemingly endless plain in the Tanana Valley, with only a few downtown high-rises and plenty of log cabins dotting the residential districts.

Fairbanks, 125 mi/200 km south of the Arctic Circle and the northernmost large U.S. city (as well as Alaska's second largest), is a hub for interior Alaska's commerce, education, arts and, more recently, tourism, even in winter. It makes up for the dark winter months, though, by almost constant daylight in summer.

One of Fairbanks' main draws in winter is the northern lights, the colloquial name for the aurora borealis, which means northern dawn. The multicolored displays illuminate the night sky for hours, in colors ranging from yellow to blue to green and even red. Because of the long daylight hours, most summer visitors do not see the northern lights from late May to early August.

Residents cheerfully joke about their weather and field their visitors' endless questions about daylight, or lack of it. The Fairbanks nickname of Golden Heart City, because of its gold-rush history, could just as easily apply to its residents.

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