Sunday, June 28, 2015
Thursday, June 25, 2015
One of the goals of this trip was to be inside the Arctic circle, on June 21st to see the sun NOT set.
That would involve a 275 mile (each direction) trip down the famed and treacherous Dalton Highway to Coldfoot Alaska. We didn't want to go all the way up to Prudoe Bay. The Dalton is similar to some of the horrible roads we've seen before, but with the added 'feature' of many large long-haul trucks. They barrel down the road, and have the right of way – it is their road. It's also, hard to imagine, even more remote than where we had been so far ... but it is.
We decided that rather than drive Miss Daisy (the RV) , we'd take the 'Dalton Express' public transportation to and from Coldfoot, and stay in the lodge there. The 'Dalton Express' service uses the vehicle size appropriate for the number of booked passengers. We were the only passengers in an E450 van outfitted with beefed up tires, along with the driver, his 9 year old daughter. and 3 oil drums and other supplies that we dropped off at camps along the way. Our driver had driven the route about 60 times, and loves it. It was a very rough ride and Daisy was thankful to have been left behind. She got a good rest, and it turned out to be a good decision for another reason - gas was $4.99 a gallon in Coldfoot.
Daisy stayed at a campground in Fairbanks and the young campground host fed Stinky while we were gone.
The Dalton is considered one of Alaska's most remote and dangerous highways that opened to the public in 1995. It is nicknamed the 'Ice Road' or 'Haul Road' (as featured on a TV series). It was built as the primary access road for transport of goods, materials, and construction crews for the building of the Alaskan pipeline. There are very few and only the most basic services – no cell service, no roadside service etc.
Communication by CB radio is essential – the drivers all talk to each other along the way, reporting their location, giving permission to pass, and driver alerts. We saw massive structures (wider than the road) being transported. In those cases, there is a pilot car that re-routes all oncoming traffic into large pull-outs.
The road is built 6-15 feet above the permafrost with small or no shoulders and, of course, no guardrails. There are 10-12% grades in some areas. Rollovers are not uncommon. The 415 mile long road took 5 months to build in 1974. It goes on, and on, and on ... relentlessly. Notes regarding pictures - please forgive some of the photograph quality as they were taken from the back seat of a truck going down the road over teeth shattering frost heaves, potholes and rocky surfaces.
The highway was built for the pipeline construction, although not beautiful in itself, is an engineering marvel.
We saw a distant wildfire. There are many in Alaska this summer.
We saw several motorcycle groups (mostly international guests) on organized tours.
the highway, we stopped at a way station that was started by a family
many years ago. They raised 6 biological and 18 adopted children, home schooling them all, in
the compound that they built themselves. It's a very interesting
outpost. Free coffee!!!
We saw miles and miles of little white flowers. They turn out to be high protein food for caribou and moose who migrate through here fattening up their new calves before the hard winter.
We saw miles and miles of Black Spruce - a native tree that grows well with shallow roots (as the roots cannot penetrate the permafrost). They grow in this harsh environment and look pretty ratty in their natural state. They don't grow very big. A tree with a 2 inch diameter is about 150 years old.
We crossed the Arctic Circle.
As we approached Coldfoot, there were mountains.
MOSQUITOES. The most we've seen anywhere. Since this area is all permafrost (permanently frozen ground right under the surface), there is no place for rain to be absorbed – so it sits on top of the land in puddles and creeks that go nowhere – prime mosquito producing territory. And so little time for all the multiplication that needs to happen to sustain the population !!!
Sign just outside Coldfoot for those wishing to drive to Prudhoe Bay. There is NOTHING between Coldfoot and Prodhoe
We over-nighted in very basic accommodations (the white building). It might be considered a two star motel because we did have private indoor plumbing in our room, and it appears that the only bugs were mosquitoes on the other side of the screen.
now is a big truck stop – the last gas and services before Prudoe
Bay, 240 miles to the north. It was built on the site of an old
mining camp. It was named Coldfoot because many of the green gold
seeking stamppeeders tasted the northern climate, didn't like it, got
cold feet, and departed. Coldfoot Camp was re-established in the
1970's to house pipeline workers and later as a major truck stop. There is a pay phone on site.
Kris's shadow at 10:30p.m.
has the furthest north watering hole in the United States (the Frozen
Foot Saloon) – we made a point to sample their beer.
office is open 3 days a week.
Sign inside the post office entrance: