Alaska is Open for Business
(Finally)
June, 2002

In out last report from Alaska we wrote about the ice breaking up and buds appearing on bare trees. Spring was finally here!  By late May the tourist attractions were starting to open.

This is Gold Dredge #8 -- an old gold mining operation located a few miles north of Fairbanks.  When the company decided to stop operating and close this dredge, they simply locked the doors and walked away.  All of the inventory, machine shops, tools, crew quarters, and administrative offices were left as is.  Years later, this was all turned into the tourist attraction it is today.  Everything is here as it was left, down to the mess schedule and payroll records.

While we were there we learned how to pan for gold.
Out next tourist stop was on the Riverboat Discovery.  This huge "riverboat" leaves Fairbanks on the Chena River and turns around on the larger Tanana River.  Along the way it stops along the banks of the river to watch a bush-pilot demo, a dog-sled demo, a small herd of reindeer that show up on cue, a fish wheel and salmon smoke house and finally a native Alaskan village.

This is a great trip for tourists spending a few days in Alaska, but after experiencing the real Alaskan outback -- the "freeze your butt off version," riding on the Riverboat Discover seemed like being at Disneyland.  Listening to the tourists ask if the river freezes over and watching a dog-sled team run on gravel and dirt just didn't cut it.

We did slowly adjust back to being tourists, but the initial shock of "Tourism-Alaska" was quite an experience.  But this is still Alaska, as we were reminded by an occasional moose in the grocery store parking lot.
Even late in May we couldn't find many, if any, places to connect a hose to our water tank to get fresh water.  Here, we stopped at the Fox Spring, a natural spring where the locals come to get clear, clean, cold drinking water.  We transferred the spring water to the container at the trailer and connected the water pump to fill the fresh water holding tank. 
A lot of people have commented about the extra work required to live in Alaska. Sure, there's an extra hour a day on average dealing with the cold temperatures, getting water or finding supplies.  We even had to wait an extra day or two for our mail.  However, as we write this, we are back in the "Lower 48" and it takes an extra hour to get anywhere during rush hour traffic, (which seems to extend from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.)
On May 20th we drove to Deadhorse, Alaska at Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean. 

Here's another picture of the Alaska pipeline.  The pipeline runs from Prudhoe Bay, south to Valdez on Prince William Sound.

This was the BEST drive of our Alaska trip.  We left Fairbanks at 5:00 pm and drove the 500 mile long Dalton Highway past the Arctic Circle, all the way to the Arctic Ocean.   We arrived in Deadhorse the next morning at 7:00.  This was 13 hours of driving on a dirt and gravel road with a 1 hour stop to repair a broken air compressor line that was hit by a rock.

This is a picture of the last spruce tree to be seen heading north.  After this there's a few smaller trees and then nothing but Arctic tundra.

Here we are at the rest stop off the highway at the Arctic Circle.  There are tour buses that come this far, but very few people venture much further north.  On the Summer Solstice, June 21st, the sun does not set at the Arctic Circle, but farther north at Prudhoe Bay the sun comes up on May 16th and doesn't set again until late July.

As we drove out of the rest area I turned north onto a small dirt road and Cheryl asked, "where are you going?"  I stopped and looked around -- I thought I had pulled out onto the Dalton Highway, but she was right, it was just a small dirt road headed into the trees.  Then in the same instance I realized that this was actually the Dalton "Highway" after all. 

About 150 miles north of Fairbanks we crossed the Yukon River.  That's where we took this picture of the Alaskan Pipeline.  Another 100 miles further north is the town of Coldfoot.  The population is about 10.  There's a gas station/cafe and a small building with rooms for rent.  I'd call it a motel but you might get the image of a Motel 6 and that would not be a true picture.  Coldfoot is basically an Alaskan truck-stop on the Dalton Highway.

The Highway was built for trucks working the Alaskan Pipeline between Fairbanks and Deadhorse.  The locals call it the "Haul Road" and warned us to watch out for trucks.  The trucks may be driving 50 or 60 mph and kick up 2 inch rocks or dust so thick you loose sight of your car hood.  We only saw about 15 trucks on the entire 500 mile drive.

Is this a sunrise or a sunset?

I took the picture above at midnight and the picture on the left was taken at 1:53 Alaskan Daylight Time which was halfway between sunrise and sunset for Fairbanks.   Had we been North of the Brooks Mountain Range we'd had seen the sun itself. 

I think this is the "sun-set-rise."  Of course the camera can't pick up as much light, but we could see across the field just fine.

These photos are of the beautiful Brooks Range -- a mountain range that few people see, but more impressive than the Rockies.
 

This is north of the Brooks Range and everything is flat Arctic tundra.  The land is flat and very slowly slopes toward the Arctic Ocean.  I guess that's why it's called the North Slope.  It appeared to be a mix of somewhat dry land, marshes and small creeks and rivers, with all of the water flowing toward the Ocean.

There were birds everywhere, mostly geese, paired up and spread out for nesting season.  We heard that bird watchers come from all over the world to observe the many varieties.

About 70 miles south of the Arctic Ocean we came across a herd of wild Musk Ox, about 20 in all.  (These are the ones with the horns that look like a 1960's flip hair style.)  On the way back we saw them again and even saw another group about 10 miles down the road.

Overall, the Dalton Highway's road surface wasn't too bad.  The first 300 miles was either chip-seal, which is several layers of chipped rock spread over several layers of thick, sticky oil, or was gravel.  The last 200 miles was rougher and a 50 mile stretch was nothing but 2" and 3" round rock.  We drove about 15 to 20 miles an hour in that stretch.

In case you're wondering, no; we didn't tow our trailer up to Deadhorse.

We arrived in Deadhorse about 7:00 a.m.  We were surprised to find that there was no "City."  There were no gas stations, per say, no convenience stores and nothing we could really call a hotel.  Deadhorse is strictly an oil production operation -- a work camp, with no tourist facilities.  The complex is about three miles in each direction, not including restricted oil field property which goes on for miles.  We couldn't even find a public restroom until we came across the Alaska Airlines terminal which is used for shuttling workers to and from their homes.

We did find a shop with a Ford sign on the building and I walked in to see if I could find a fitting to replace the damaged one on the line for our air suspension.  It wasn't really a Ford dealer, but rather a contract maintenance shop that supported the oil operations.  They said they couldn't really help me but went ahead and gave me the fitting I needed.

We saw a lot of equipment parked for the summer.  The permanently frozen tundra is environmentally very sensitive.  In the winter when everything is frozen solid, the place comes alive.

Just about everything here is on wheels or tracks to follow the oil production.

We located the only store in town.  Generally, people here don't require much.  Everyone, (that we know of,) are employees of Alyeska, (the Pipeline company,) or companies that service the workers.  They are flown in for a two or three week work shift.  They work 12 hour days and then fly home for two weeks.  Most live in Fairbanks or Anchorage, but a few live in Seattle, Phoenix or other cities that are serviced by Alaska Airlines.  While they're in Deadhorse, they live in "hotels" that serve cafeteria style meals at specific times of the day.  There are small theaters, video games and Internet access.  The workers are away from their families and don't require the businesses found in normal cities.  Tourists can buy gas from from a card-lock pump, (unattended credit card-only pump,) and purchase a meal during "serving times" at the worker's hotels.  There are no restaurants or fast food places, shops, schools, parks, etc.
It's a 500 mile drive from Fairbanks with just one place on the way to stop for gas, (that's at mile 250 in Coldfoot,) and then two stations in Deadhorse.

Notice the tires under this trailer complex.  After fixing the truck and driving around the "town" we thought we'd go into the Marriot and get breakfast.

Well, this is the Marriot and it was 9:01 when we got here.  We learned that the breakfast stops at 9:00.  Lunch would open at 11:00.  Want to spend the night?  $85 per person! That's $340 plus tax for us to stay in these lavish quarters.  So we took a nap in the truck.

Since Alyeska owns everything around here, including the only road, the only way to see the Arctic Ocean is to schedule a tour to go into the oil field.  You must schedule at least 24 hours in advance and provide identification for background security checks to be processed.  We had a 1:00 pm tour so after a short nap we made some sandwiches for lunch.
Well, here it is!  I think this is Cheryl's favorite picture from Alaska.

The Arctic Ocean


A huge, beautiful expanse of frozen blue as far as we could see.

So, now we've seen the Arctic Ocean -- even tasted it, but we couldn't detect a salty taste because of the snow-cone type ice at the shoreline.  

Now for the long drive back to Fairbanks.

I thought this was some sort of a large cat.  It's really an Arctic fox. Maybe it's "Jeep" from the Popeye cartoons.

While we were in Deadhorse, we learned all about the oil field, the drilling, and the pumping operation.  After the tour we had a short snack and headed south.  We drove through the night and arrived back in Fairbanks about 5:00 a.m.  Like the trip north, we saw herds of caribou, reindeer, musk ox, a few moose and some gigantic porcupines.  We even spotted a huge grizzly bear crossing the highway a couple hundred feet in front of us.  We stopped in Coldfoot for a good meal and enjoyed the great views of the Brooks Range and a beautiful sunset/sunrise which went from midnight until 4:00 a.m.
 
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