Most extreme places in America
The Northern Lights from Fairbanks, Alaska, America's coldest community. (Photo: Karrapavan / Dreamstime.com)
The United States has always been a land of extremes. European explorers were staggered by the sheer vastness of the land, and generations of immigrants have arrived here with the biggest dreams imaginable.
Coldest community: Fairbanks, Alaska
With average winter temperatures below -5 and highs only in the mid-40s, you may wonder what draws visitors to Fairbanks. Sure, the city's population is warm and welcoming and its gold rush history is still tangible in sites such as the Pioneer Museum, with its dioramas and murals. But most tourists are here to see the Aurora Borealis.
Also known as the Northern Lights, the aurora will be at its peak in 2013 because of heavy sunspot activity at the end of an 11-year cycle, producing the appearance of crackling skies filled with bright blue, green, and red patterns for more than 200 nights over the course of the year. August through April is primetime for aurora-viewing, and if you spend three nights in Fairbanks you have about an 80 percent chance of a clear night.