Are we going to the Arctic Circle today? Maybe. We’ve checked the weather reports and it is partly cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms this afternoon.
It’s a 200 mile drive. Not much distance on a normal day, but the road to Prudhoe Bay is not your normal road.
It’s made for trucks and the winter has damaged it. Heaves, mud, potholes and loose gravel are a few of the hazards. Trucks have the right-of-way always.
And you can’t drive to the Arctic Ocean. It is fenced off. You must take a bus and get security
clearance before you can go. That takes time and we didn’t know, so that part of the trip is out.
So we’ll drive up to the Dalton Highway and see what it looks like from there. How far we get depends on a number of factors.
The Alaskan pipeline is right outside town. It’s not like I pictured. It’s a shiny pipe about four feet wide on stilts. It doesn’t look controversial.
The Elliot highway is rough as the ocean. Up and down over frost heaves. The landscape is changing. Scrub pine, birch and alder crowd the road. Fewer and fewer mail boxes. The mountains are rounded but high. Not much traffic right now. I keep feeling like we’ve dropped into another space. It feels empty, not abandoned, but without human prescence.
There’s mosquitos swarming whenever we slow, but patches of snow remain along the road. And we’re not to the Dalton Highway yet.
At the Dalton highway, the road is no longer paved. It is a mixture of gravel and clay that sticks to the vehicle with the poer of superglue. It is a mud brown, of course and we are covered with it.
The pipeline runs along the road or vise-versa. I stare at the stunted black spruce and then the 120,000 acre burn that occured two years ago. Cause by lightning, it jumped from place to place. The traffic is almost non-existent. Mostly big rigs and a few tour buses. I’m impressed by the bridge over the Yukon River made of wood. Heck, I’m impressed by the Yukon River. All those stories of prospectors and miners heading North repeat in my mind.
We stop at Finger Rock for a photo, then proceed.
The 200 miles takes us seven hours. With a posted speed limit of 50mph, we crept along at 35 mph because of the slick mud and potholes. Not a ride for the faint-hearted.
When we reach the Arctic Circle, Bill looks around “Is this it?” he asks. I take a couple photos and laugh.
There’s nothing but scrub and distant mountains. We debate starting the drive back, but Bill is tired. We are equipped to dry camp. And I don’t want him risking injury.
We’ll return tomorrow and spend a few hours removing the mud. Luckily, the campground has an area to wash the vehicles. We’re not the first to drive out here.
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