Fairbanks - Coldfoot - Deadhorse - Coldfoot
Trip Start Mar 29, 2009
127Trip End Aug 29, 2010
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After gassing up we stopped at the supermarket for provisions. Sensible food plus heaps of chocolate should we breakdown on this supposedly desolate and bleak Dalton Highway to Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay. The DH, 25% sealed and 75% unsealed has come with some bad press so we were rapt when we ended up having a jolly good ride with only minimal rough patches. Heaven compared to Ruta 40.
Last night we reserved our tour to the Arctic Ocean via the oil wells. It's mandatory to allow 24 hours to be security screened for clearance so we promised to be on our best behaviour
Wonderful scenery today of mainly forest and damp lowlands with the Trans Alaskan Pipeline paralleling much of our route. A very cool and touristy thing to do is cross the Arctic Circle (within which a third of Alaska lies) - we even have a certificate to prove it
Coldfoot Camp, our accommodation tonight and it's not like our usual hotel accommodation! 52 rustic rooms which once housed pipeline workers. It's 'pipeline chic' and now we are off to Frozen Foot Saloon for a pre-dinner drink before dining at the Truckers Cafe!
Friday 23rd July. Coldfoot - Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay. 414ks. (pop. 4)
Out into the wilderness of the forest, light rain making the roads slippery but lovely to be amongst the wandering rivers, deep valleys and spectacular mountain ranges.
Before long we entered the North Slope Borough, where the forest ends and the tundra begins. We crossed the continental divide at the Atigun Pass where rivers south of here flow into the Pacific Ocean or the Bering Sea while rivers to the north flow into the Arctic Ocean. We traversed a major winter avalanche zone (stunning views) where often artillery shells are fired to clear the slopes above the highway.
Cute little arctic ground squirrels often scamper across the road causing Dave to recall his defensive driving skills. These squirrels are a favourite delicacy of the black raven.
This far north, the tundra is wide open and beautiful with only tough ground hugging plants that can survive the frozen ground. Permafrost lies only inches beneath the surface and up to 600m thick. What a shame we're visiting Alaska in the wrong season to see any polar bears.
The Franklin Bluffs are a striking sight with iron rich soils giving the bluffs their vivid colours. Where, oh where are all the caribou and muskoxen that are supposed to be here!
At the end of the Dalton Highway lies the Deadhorse industrial camp that supports the Prudhoe Bay oil field, about 13ks from the Arctic Ocean. The permanent population of 4 swells from 3,000 to more than 6,000 part timers depending on oil production.
Deadhorse Camp. 'Rooms consistent with the industrial heritage of the region'. Ours wasn't too bad at all, clean, warm and toasty. The staff here were wonderful, and we have left with happy memories.
Deadhorse or Prudhoe Bay? Whatever you prefer.
Saturday 24th July
We had a thoroughly interesting 8am bus tour for two hours of the Prudhoe Bay oil field, the largest in the USA. We learned about many different types of machinery, oil wells, drilling, maintenance, construction etc during our in depth commentary. This town is definitely not your typical town. Most of the businesses are here to support the oil field or the pipeline or both. Oil field employees typically work a 2 week on 2 week off, 12 hours a day roster. The Trans Alaska Pipeline covers 800 miles.
PB sits on a boggy tundra so most of the buildings (pre-fab modular) sit on beds of gravel.
Ah, such an interesting town, so much to learn and so glad we came.