Sunday, July 25, 2010

Arctic Roadshow- VI (Denali Hwy)

To conclude our Arctic escapades and in hopes of breaking the 2000 mile mark on the odometer we headed for the Denali Highway.

A byway originally constructed before the Parks Highway to give access to Denali National Park, this road is now referred to as the Paxson-Cantwell Roadway. Connecting these two towns is 134 miles of unpaved road. The first portion reaching elevations above 4000 feet, it goes through Maclaren Summit, the second highest highway pass in the State of Alaska (Atigun Pass being the first). With views of the Wrangell-St. Elias and Talkeetna Mountains to the South and Alaska Range to the North. Despite heavy cloud cover and sprinkling rain we were greeted with decent views and a lot of wildlife.
Coming down from the pass Gretchen spotted a Porcupine, luckily Jack was secure in the back of the truck.
There are two designated camping areas along the 134 mile road, with hundreds of gravel pull offs to "squat camp" where ever you want. We found a nice private lakeside gravel bar about mile 55 to call home for the night.
First class kitchen with homemade tarp to block the constant drizzle
A Loon providing the background ambiance for the evening
Another handsome Jasper photo
Lake with Alaskan Range in the background and Fireweed in the foreground
We motivated fairly early and hit the road with cloudy skies and more drizzling rain. Most of the campsites we passed were still quiet, so we had the road to ourself.
The first Caribou herd we came across.
The second Caribou herd about 8 miles East of the Susitna River crossing.

15 Caribou blocking the roadway. Along with 4 calves. We spent a couple minutes observing and photographing from a safe distance until a Chevy truck came screaming up, scaring away the wildlife. On passing I noticed a typical "Fear No Fish" sticker in his rear window...

Getting closer to Cantwell the mountains started to peek out and we spotted more Caribou in the distance.

After Cantwell it was a short 3.5 hour drive home. The total trip distance just about 2200 miles.

Arctic Roadshow- V (Southbound)

Just outside of Deadhorse we came upon a herd of Muskox along the Dalton Highway.
These huge fury beasts were just hanging out in the Arctic plains grazing for food.

Semi-prehistoric looking, these beasts are hearty enough to survive the winter up on the North Slope with temperatures reaching -60 F on a good day...
The cliffs along the "Sag" River to the East of the Dalton Highway.
Only real terrain feature amidst an ever flat plain of ponds and marsh growing upon permafrost.
Brooks Range rising out of the North Slope.

Jasper on the lookout
Unknown creek coming from unknown glaciated peak in Gates of the Arctic Natl Park near Galbraith Lake
After climbing about 1500ft above Galbraith Lake we were greeted to awesome views looking into drainages bordering Gates of the Arctic National Park
Looking back towards Galbraith Lake, campsites center of the photograph

There is no real way to me to show or explain just how bad the mosquitos were North of the Brooks Range. Gretchen and I have both visited many locations across Alaska and the lower 48 with bad mosquitos, let me tell you no place compares to the North Slope. I tried to photograph them in front of my face but it just didn't turn out. Finally I captured about 40-50 mosquitos on Jack's back.
I love this photo.
Jack getting into a Caribou leg or rib, or something...

The Brooks Range is an indescribably beautiful landscape, unlike anything I have seen in Alaska or elsewhere. Driving the Dalton Highway only grew my appetite to see more.
South of Coldfoot looking into the foothills of the Brooks Range and Yukon Flats/Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The beautiful Koyokuk River
More of the Koyokuk River
My second favorite brewery in Alaska, Silver Gulch located in Fox, AK; just 7 miles north of Fairbanks. The "Epicenter Ale" is for sure the best, with "AK-IPA" being a close second.

Arctic Roadshow- Part IV (Prudhoe Bay)

There are only a couple places for "non-oil workers" to stay in Deadhorse. We picked the Arctic Caribou Inn from the guidebook.
Everywhere we went in Deadhorse I was reminded of being back on a FOB (Forward Operating Base) in Iraq. The buildings are all containerized housing units or aluminum garages for maintenance. Several of the more permanent buildings are built on stilts as not to damage the tundra. Even the chow halls reminded me of KBR dining facilities. It was flat, and windy.
Our cozy room at the inn. Outside it was 60 degrees and sunny, some would say the best summer day of the year in Prudhoe Bay, but we were to afraid to step foot outside or be eaten alive by mosquitos.
These tundra tires only exert 3-5lbs of force per square inch. Story goes an oil worker forgot to put his truck in "park" while standing in front of the truck it rolled forward over him; seconds later he hopped up and climbed inside to engage the parking brake...
Snowcats and snow tires for winter exploration on the North Slope.
Deadhorse Airport.
One of the oil pumping stations visible from the driving tour of Prudhoe Bay.
Methane gas power plant sends energy to all of the North Slope.
Tundra Swans.
Finally, the Arctic Ocean.
The water was only knee deep hundreds of feet off shore.
Its not getting any deeper...
First dive into the Arctic Ocean
Shocked it wasn't colder
Oh yeah, this is nice!
Swam in 3 Oceans so far!
Gretchen was going to swim to Russia, but the tour guide said he didn't want to miss dinner.
Where do the sky and ocean meet? Where is all the pack ice? Where are the Polar Bears?
Sunbathing Arctic Ocean beach.
Clean your Chaco's on a real North Slope oil drill bit!