Hope to leave Fairbanks in the morning... (Wed).
Hope to leave Fairbanks in the morning... (Wed).
Will share with you here only the highlights of this trip, so as not to duplicate everything I wrote after my last trip to the Arctic Ocean.. This time I only went as far as Deadhorse.
They've cleaned up the sign, and taken off all the stickers. I recall three years ago, it was covered with stickers.
The first thing most visitors do is visit the pipeline information centre just north of Fairbanks. This had changed quite a bit.
I noted the new exhibits, and lamented the ones no longer there.
My first stop was at the BLM information centre at Yukon Crossing. The bridge over the river here has a 7% grade.
A great run down, but one could constantly hear trucks grinding their way to the top.
Spent quite some time with Linda and her husband, who have come up for the summer (from Oregon, if I recall) to man the post. This was their first year, and they were full of information to impart. When they heard I planned to go the Arctic Circle, gave me my certificate to fill in when I crossed this imaginary line on our globe. They had brought their 38' RV up, and were camped at Five Mile campground - with their five dogs! They actually had quite a nice spot, which is reserved for the Campground Host, part of their job.
It sounded like a good place to spend the night. There were the usual primitive toilets, and bonus was, there was potable water from a constantly flowing well nearby.
I had this spot, all to myself!
Next morning, it was some 30 miles further on, on the top of a hill, that I saw a truck parked, its driver walking around. I pulled into this roadside stop.
Terry is a driver with Carlisle, and travels to Deadhorse three times a week, every week. He shared with me much about the road, and the changes he has seen in the last 15 years or so, not just to the road, but the country of the north in general.
Stopped here, high on the hill overlooking the surrounding northern wilderness, he said was one of his favourite spots to stop, get out of his truck and walk around. Then went on to tell me about a couple of other spots where he likes to stop, or spend a night. As he said, not much could be better than waking up to this magnificent view.
Further on is Finger Mountain, another great roadside stop. It seemed like a good place to have lunch.
There is a short interpretive path which winds it way through the wild flowers - just starting to bloom - to the top of the hill. The view from up there in every direction is just great.
See where the road ahead, leads.
This is also a spot truckies choose to take their break. And hey! who can blame them.
After a good hour or more at Finger Mountain, it was time to head for the Arctic Circle. I have no idea why I took so many photos here. Nothing has changed since last time. (lol)
Half a mile off the road, behind the Arctic Circle picnic ground, there is a very nice little campground... by the looks of it suitable for average size RVs.
I chose to push on to Coldfoot for the night without knowing what was yet in store. At Grayling Lake I got a nice shot of the lake, through the bushes.
Even managed to get myself into a position to take a shot of the seaplane anchored below.
There must be some sort of habitation around, though it was not obvious.
All along this road there are tankers which go up and down spraying water to help keep the calcium dust down. A couple of hundred metres north of the lake rest area is a small pull off, with a pump which these trucks use to fill. Thinking I could get to the water, I went to pull into it, when I noticed what seemed like a cat, sniffing around the pump. Of course as soon as it heard/saw me, it dashed off into the bushes. I was thrilled to still be able to get a photo of it.
Somehow, it did not look like a feral cat, so I decided to wait and see if it would come out of the bushes. After some time - quite some time - it made a move, and my patience was rewarded.
It was not really until I got this shot, that I was convinced I was looking at a lynx.
At the visitor centre in Coldfoot, it was the first report of the sighting of a lynx, this year. On the way back I saw another lynx cross the road in front of me, some distance further south.
Stayed the night at a lovely little BLM campground - Marion Creek.
Nice action shot of the Lynx stalking prey!
When I arrived in Coldfoot that evening, the first thing I did was fill up. So far from the nearest town, and without competition, I was expecting to really pay. In Fairbanks the rate was around $4.30, so I braced myself for something close to $6. I had to wait my turn, there were dozens filling up at the single bowser - half of them motor cyclists. (More about them later.) In light of my expectations, it was a surprise to pay only $5.20.
Decided I would eat there as well. $19.95 for an all you can eat and drink buffett. It is always popular, mainly because there is nowhere else to go. The chicken was not too bad, but the brisket was beautiful. When I asked if they had any gravy... 'sorry! no gravy tonight!' Yeah! it's a case of take it or leave it.
As well as the restaurant they now have what looks more like lots of containers, lined up at the back of a field. These are actually a long row of 'rooms' - $199 a night. That is without facilities. Those are basic, a little further up. Heck, even parking the van there for the night would have cost me $14. Which he followed very quickly with, if you go up the road to Marion Creek it is $8. Which is of course, what I did, and nice it was too!
Before going to camp, I went back to the Visitor Centre where every night they have a presentation relevant to the area. As it is, I was the only one there. Heidi told me about the Gates of the Arctic NP and Preserve. I spent quite some time talking with Heidi, because as well as working for the NP, she is the owner of the Borreal Lodge in Wiseman, where we stayed on our last trip. There you can have a nice room with two single beds, a shared bathroom, showers, laundry and a shared fully functioning kitchen as well as a lounge in which to make oneself comfortable. And all that for $90.
Wiseman is a small community which has been there for more than a century. Heidi was born in Wiseman, and has lived there most of her life, as has her family. She laments greatly what is happening to the traditional lifestyle and country, since the opeining of the Haul Road to the public. I can see why, and share her concerns. Especially when I see all that rubbish strewn along the side of the road... food containers, drink containers, plastic of all description and much more.
True, there is not a rubbish bin to be seen. Just like bears, if we feed them, they become dependent. The same has happened with rubbish containers. People become dependent on them. Whatever happened to:
Take only photos
Leave only footsteps.
It must have been close on 10pm when I arrived at Marion Creek and the campground hosts were just leaving. Their second responsibilty is being janitors at the Visitor Centre. Thanks to them, the place is spotless.
On the way back, I by-passed all of this, and pulled into a roadside clearing about a mile south of Coldfoot.
Whereas there are a great many - besides truckers - who travel the Haul Road, not many get past Coldfoot. The major attraction being the Arctic Circle. The road over the Brooks Range, including Atigun Pass being too daunting for most. Those hardy souls who do brave the North Slope are rewarded beyond imagination.
So it was on that Wednesday morning that I set out from Marion Creek, bound for Deadhorse. My first stop was Wiseman. I was keen to see it in my own time.
Always keen to speak with locals, I stopped when I saw Jeff. His passion about this place was unmistakable. After telling me much of life in the settlement, he went on to elaborate the ongoing battle for nature. One of the latest happened to be the authorities' intention to 'mine' gravel at Sukakpak Mountain. Located not much further north, it is a lovely mountain. Late afternoon, when the sun shines on it, it glows a most spectacular colour.
On the way back, it was at the base of this mountain that the pilot car finished its run through the construction. On seeing the brilliance of the mountain, I pulled over to take some photos. But even in that moment, much of it was gone. It changes by the minute. The photo does not really show how beautiful and brilliant it was. It glowed like gold.
Discussing my trip, and camping along the Dalton, Jeff told me about Nolan a mining area just 'above' Wiseman. I would not be able to get to where they mine, that would need 4WD. But there is a lovely spot up there, where you can camp. As it is, I did not use it on the way back.
From Wiseman one heads into the Brooks Range which rises between the Interior and the North Slope.
This 'convoy' was just heading into the Range. I saw several of these convoys. They consist of a pilot car, well ahead of the rest, which reports well ahead, about the road and traffic. This is followed by another pilot car, just a few hundred metres ahead of the 'oversize' vehicle. Not just a 'standard' oversize vehicle, but vehicles of such size that they virtually take up the complete road... well, not quite, but almost. In this case there were two oversize trucks. Lastly, another pilot car up the rear. I could only assume that this one was there to prevent anyone from attempting to overtake the vehicles ahead. (It was interesting listening to the dialogue on my CB.) One of the best gigs, when you could get one, is to remain behind a convoy, and follow the final car in its tracks. You could be sure that they had picked out the best way through the potholes. (Note the uniform colour of vehicles on the Haul Road.)
Some 45 miles north of Wiseman, and just before one moves onto the Chandalar Shelf, is the Farthest North Spruce Tree on the Alaskan pipeline. Great care was taken when the pipeline was built, to preserve this tree.
As you head north, trees grow scarce until there are none at all. T
.he spruce may look like young trees, but are actually hundreds of years old. This tree was approximately 273 years old, when it was killed by vandals in 2004. Perhaps it should never have been labelled and signposted.
Note the ringbarking.
Fans of Ice Road Truckers will be familiar with the Chandalar Shelf - that long run up the side of the mountain. As I sat in the turnout near the Spruce Tree, I was listening to the truckies as they drove up and down the Shelf. Most would discuss with one another about passing on the Shelf. In some cases, drivers waited in a turn out near the base, for a trucker to complete the descent. I really enjoyed sitting there, and listening to their conversations. The commeraderie and concern the drivers have for one another was heartwarming.
Two trucks passing.
When the trucks were gone - not that there is any obligation to wait - it was my turn. I savoured the moment!
My approach to Atigun Pass was the same, except here it is not possible to 'see' trucks coming around the many bends. One is totally dependent on listening. When it is silent, you just don't know.
The road leading into the Pass.
As on the Shelf, these are not places to take photos. There isn't a single turnout till you get to the top, and I would not dare attempt here to take a photo while driving. The one thing I saw worthwhile taking a picture of was a frozen waterfall coming right down to the road. It looked like a mini glacier dropping down from the top of the cutting.
At the top I stopped in the large turnout for the trucks, and endulged myself. I don't ever want to forget this wonderland. While there, I tried to visualise those who haul the necessary supplies north, in winter. Brave sould indeed!
The road into the Pass from the top.
Truck heading south, grinding its way to the top.
Like all roads, the Haul Road has its fair share of roadside crosses, and here, high up on the pass, are two little white crosses on the railing. Lose control here, especially in a truck, and that railing is not a barrier to a fall of hundreds of feet. And yet, it really is quite a busy road. I was not surprised to see the crosses, and maybe a little amazed I had not seen more.
Despite the ongoing road construction, there was no shortage of wildlife to be viewed. Outstanding for me was a short eared owl - one of the Arctic owls which lives on the tundra. Tried taking its photo, but I think it was camera shy.
The large herds of caribou had not yet arrived, but there were small groups of them all over and by the road.
And then there was the muskox. These do not come near the road a great deal. There was a large herd of them resting in the distance. But this big bloke had gone out for an extra feed.
My run across the tundra was straightforward. Up and down over rolling hills, with the bluffs in the far distance.
About 60 or 70 miles south of Deadhorse the lovely clear days we had been experiencing, turned to cloudy and dull, though no rain. At the same time the temperature dropped from around 70 to the low 30s (with the arctic wind effect).
In Deadhorse my first port of call was the Prudhoe Bay Hotel. There the buffett is served until 8pm, and it was now after 6pm. (Broad daylight!!) In this dining room full of workers, I found two ladies whom I joined.
Connie and Christie both work for Alaska Airlines. Both grandmothers, Connie is from Barrow AK and Christie is from Reno NV. They work two weeks on, two weeks off. When during the conversation I mentioned that I was looking for somewhere to park overnight, they suggested I park in the airport's carpark, opposite the hotel. "There are so many cars parked there, and no one knows who they belong to. I am sure you won't be noticed."
Furthermore, when I mentioned that I guess I would not get any wifi in Deadhorse, they said that Alaska Airlines has wifi, and if I were to park close enough to the building, I should be able to get it. Sure enough, I was able to check my email before going to sleep.
It is said that some people drive the Dalton Highway, and some lucky (?) ones have The Dalton Experience!
After a good night's sleep and breakfast I went in search of the Tesero service station. It's not as if Deadhorse is that big, but it is very spread out. It was almost three miles from where I was parked to Tesero. I enquired in the office about fuel, and a lovely gent came out and filled her up for me. At the mere price of $5.50/gal. Once again I was surprised. I had expected it to be more.
Then I asked if there was somewhere where I could clean the windscreen. He told me to go ask at the workshop. The manager there - who had some connection with Australia - was only too pleased to get two of his young workers to attend to my vehicle. The order was to clean all windows, and lights.
(You see, one thing I did not consider, when purchasing this vehicle, is that I cannot reach the windscreen to clean it. So far I have been fortunate. Just by asking when I fill up, there has usually been someone who will clean it for me.)
It was cold and foggy!
It was time to head back south, back down this road with its steep grades on hills. Some up to 12%. At times you can't see the road in front of you, as you drive over the crest. It's like being on a roller coaster. At one time we saw a huge crane on a truck. There was another truck attached to the rear, to help push it uphill, and to stop it from rolling out of control on the way down. There is a wrecked vehicle by the side of the road, at the bottom of Beaver Slide. I wondered if it had been left there as a sober reminder.
This road with the ongoing construction, the pilot cars, the potholes, the dust and slush. This road which services the pipeline, draped like a ribbon over the country side. This road which beckons the adventurous to Deadhorse in all types of vehicles, trucks, cars, motorcycles and RVs. Even bicycles!
The Dalton Experience!
So it was, just as I was about to ascend Atigun Pass, I stopped to the side, to let a truck pass. As I went to pull off, something seemed not quite right. Right at that moment, two motorcyclists, who had been on the adjacent turnout, came up to warn me.... my passenger side rear tyre had blown out.
The two motorcyclists were part of a group of thirteen, who were on a conducted tour of Alaska which included Deadhorse. One of them had just had a flat tyre replaced, and their support vehicle was sitting there, on the turnout, right beside me. They told me not to worry and went back to speak to their leader.
Once the van was off the road, Brenden did an expert job taking off the injured wheel, and replacing it with my spare. It helps that he too owns an Econoline. Brenden is from CO. During the summer he runs tours for motorcyclists throughout AK. They come from all over the world to ride with him.
Having got me back on the road, Brenden asked me to stop at the first convenient spot south of the Pass, so he could check the nuts again. Which he did.
[If you are going to have a flat, make sure it is right by a turnout where you can get off the road, and then make sure there is a support vehicle present to assist. Someone up high was looking after my interests.]
That evening Brenden advised me to leave early next morning, at least earlier than he would. Said that he would keep an eye out for me, in case I had any further problems. My knight in shining armour, who would not take anything for his troubles. He should by now have found the note I slipped into his jacket pocket, while he was attending to my vehicle.
Back in Fairbanks I arrangements for new tyres, and settled back at Riverview. The plan was to spend the weekend there, and head back out on Monday morning. That was until I heard the road was closed. There was no road contact between AK and the lower 48.
I was comfortable at Riverview, and happy to stay there for a couple of more days. It is at times like this that it really puzzles me how people plan trips to the day, let alone, to the hour.
I'm loving it Lifey, great report ! And Yes I am a fan of 'Ice road truckers. ;-) Always liked the thought of driving one of them big rigs up the haul road, if you could arrange it ..........
It can't be bad, being watched by your guardian angel along the way as well.
It's really quite simple when you only have between a week and a fortnight available to travel with many places you want to visit, trust me ! Maybe one day we will have the time to embark on such a great adventure without the need for careful planning or a set itinerary, untill then I will continue to read your fabulous report and enjoy your photos !I was comfortable at Riverview, and happy to stay there for a couple of more days. It is at times like this that it really puzzles me how people plan trips to the day, let alone, to the hour
Thanks for sharing !
Glad to know you found ready assistance at Atigun Pass. I routinely stop to render assistance, even if just to "block" for someone changing a tire (parking my truck 100' to 200' further behind, with flashers on).
In most large travel plazas, at least those along Interstates in the Lower 48, you're likely to find for sale a long-handled tool with a scrubber/sponge on one side and a squeegee on the other. That and a spray bottle of Windex are good to have on board in the event you don't find a Good Samaritan when needed.
I think total flexibility can only be arranged by the fully retired, and cheers for that group including you. Many of the rest of us are "destination oriented" meaning that we've no choice but to lay down miles to reach the places where we can dawdle and enjoy some flexibility as to schedule.
Enjoying the trip immensely! Thanks for sharing.
Only one person with whom I spoke was able to say, we will just have to skip ....... and drive back home. They had flexible plans and not made forward bookings. Sure most, like myself, did not have time constraints, but some did.