This post could have many titles – The Arctic Circle, The Dalton Highway . . . Follow the Pipeline!
Our tour was with the Northern Alaska Tour Company and spared our truck the thrashing of the Dalton Highway which was reported to be a little rough! Our guide was darling Rachel, a Texas transplant that has been living in Fairbanks for 2 years. Her observation of winter is that it makes social life very difficult.
We had a small tour coach with comfortable seating and Rachel initiated a pattern of seat rotation so that we would all have equal chances at the front of the bus, as well as the back of the bus. The schedule for the day: up at 5:00, on the shuttle at 5:45, leave the tour company at 6:30 – back sometime at 10:00 or after!
Note from Ella: at this point I am tired of blog-writing! As indicated, Tom is going to help me out a bit with the technical writing!
TOM: Leaving Fairbanks heading north is the Dalton Highway. When Black Gold (oil) was discovered at Prudhoe Bay in 1968 and new Rush was established. America needed energy and Alaska would provide it. But, how to bring the oil to the south was the problem. The best solution was an 800 mile long pipeline stretching from the Arctic Ocean to Valdez. Because of environmental and tribal challenges the pipeline and the road were not started until 1974. The road, built in just 5 months, began as a Haulroad and once the pipeline was built it became the property of Alaska and became a highway. Today it is a mix of pavement and gravel roadbed.
Ella: There were frequent stops along the way where there were small tourist information posts, cabins of historical importance . . . . and outhouses! Our first stop was at Joy -- a very small rural community (of two houses) with a Trading Post.
TOM: The country we drove through was mostly Spruce and Aspen forest. The land was rolling hills and low mountains with an occasional outcropping of granite spires. The hills were steep and the road, as well as the pipeline, twists and turns up and down these mountains. The road crosses over the Yukon River as the pipeline dives underneath. The road is often a part of the TV series Ice Truckers.
TOM: All of the forest is on the surface, but just below the surface is permafrost. Permafrost is the reason you see the pipeline above the ground. When the oil enters the pipe at Prudhoe Bay it is heated to 180 degrees (when it arrives at Valdez it is 135 degrees) and that temperature would melt the permafrost and cause an unstable base for the pipe. So the pipeline is elevated and insulated so as to not affect the underlying surface of the landscape.
TOM: Permafrost is the permanent ice layer of the land. This is difficult to explain because there is life and plant growth just above the permafrost. When walking on the surface it is like walking on a lumpy mattress or a trampoline with many strips of the bouncy material missing. Your foot sinks in to the soft moss and lichen and yet blueberry and raspberry plants grow abundantly as do others. Even the Spruce trees are able to grow on top of the permafrost without penetrating the ice. As seen in the pictures we are dipping our hand about eight inches under this top layer of growth onto a solid sheet of ice that never melts. Amazing!
Ella: At 1:30 we crossed over into the realm of the Arctic Circle. Rachel had gone out of her way to make this a momentous occasion with a little ceremony where she greeted us each with a certificate as we walked across the circle. The challenge was that we were to each "do something that is totally you" as we crossed. This Tennessee girl took off her shoes and walked across barefoot. The English teacher, Tom, stopped and recited Shakespeare's "And this above all things, unto thine own self be true."
On the way back we had a few more stops to make. One was for supper at the Yukon River, one of the two main thoroughfares to reach the Yukon Goldrush. Tom got a water sample, and we went inside the way-station where supper was served. There is nothing at all pretty about this stop -- big dirt parking lot and lots of out buildings and stuff just laying around. But the inside was nice and clean and had a nice shop where we got t-shirts!
For all practical purposes that was the last of our stops except for a couple of outhouse stops. As we loaded on the bus, I took a picture of it to show how dirty it was. Our day would be done in 4 hours when we got back to our tour headquarters -- Rachel would not be done until she washed the bus for tomorrow's excursion!
On the way back we saw a double rainbow and I grabbed a picture out the bus window. By 11:00, after 17 hours, we were back at the Silvermine and ready to drop in bed. All that is planned for tomorrow is a trip to look over the downtown!
We don’t go camping any more . . . we go ‘streamin’ ! The “SIlvermine and His” is our 2016 23' Airstream, and ‘streamin’ is the name we use to describe our adventures. Stream along as we document everything from weekend trips to longer summer excursions and full-blown vacations. You know what they say: if you’re not in an Airstream – you’re just camping!
Tom & Ella Brown