This was my splurge side-trip. I had to do some fast talking since Pat was ok with just crossing the Arctic Circle. Me? I HAD to get all the way to the Arctic Ocean. Just had to.
There are a few ways to do this, and we investigated them all. You can drive the Dalton Highway, better known as the Haul Road. Also famous for the show Ice Road Truckers. It’s a 414 mile gravel road, that was built for the oil industry. About 160 trucks travel this road daily and anyone driving it in a car is encouraged to carry survival gear. Given the cracked windshields and flat tires on top of all that, we nixed that route for both Lucy and Bitsy.
You can rent a car, but it is still a significant time commitment and still all that bad road risk. You can also book a tour to get to Prudhoe Bay, but there are only oil fields there and no Arctic Ocean access. So, fly we must. Plus we can get to Barrow, see the Arctic Ocean, and visit the Northern-most city in the United States.
The flight leaves Fairbanks around 8am and takes us to Coldfoot, AK and the city closest to the Arctic Circle. The pilot dipped the wings to let us know when we officially left the Tropics and entered the Arctic. Here we are at the Coldfoot airfield. This city was named for the gold rush folks who got cold feet and headed back south.
Fashionable in our headsets to drown out the engine noise and to hear the pilot’s commentary. I know I look maniacal and you can see up my nose, but that’s the best shot I have.
This trip came with a risk. We had to have good weather in Barrow to make it all the way. The pilot took us to Coldfoot to add enough fuel to ensure we could turn around and make it back if the coast took a bad turn. Todd, our pilot, was constantly checking on weather reports right up until landing. Fortunately the weather was bad in Fairbanks coming and going, but fabulous in Coldfoot and good enough in Barrow.
The Arctic Ocean was the goal, but I was completely taken with the stunning Brooks Range. This mountain range spans 700 miles and was incredible from the air. These are a few of my favorite shots:
The last one is a great view of the Yukon River with the Alaska Pipeline and Haul Road running side-by-side and criss-crossing the river.
As we neared the coast, the mountain range gave way to the frozen tundra. Completely different look.
Barrow is now back to a variation of its original name. Inupiats, the native residents, call it Utqiagvik and it involves rolling the ‘g’ when you say it. We had an Inupiat guide in Barrow and I tried, but couldn’t duplicate her pronunciation.
The original name means “the place where we hunt snowy owls”. Phoebe told us they no longer hunt the snowy owl, but it is part of their heritage.
The native residents still hunt the bowhead whale in Spring and Fall to provide their main food source all year long. Pat’s telling his big fish tale next to a whale skull. The community whaling teams go out on the ocean and kill up to three whales at a time. After that, they call a cease fire so the whales can be butchered and the meat put up properly. They eat everything except the brains and share it all equally among all the residents. We’re amazed at how collaborative and tight-knit the community is, but then their lives depend upon that way of life.
We discovered from the town sign-post that we were closer to France than to Florida at this spot! Pat was amused by the Arctic Pizza place and we made it to the Top of the World Bridge. No longer in service, but a historic spot nonetheless.
Scenes from Barrow. They have leftover quonset huts from the military that have been re-purposed for housing. Also, the houses and the town buildings are on stilts. We thought it was for flooding, but no. It is to prevent thawing of the permafrost. That permafrost is what provides the firm foundation, so no buildings touch the ground.
And here we are! I’m grinning like a fool and so happy to have made it to the frozen Arctic Ocean. I wanted to dip toes in, but it was not to be. This water doesn’t thaw until around the 4th of July.
The lagoon across from the ocean is home to the “summer cabins” used to hang out on the weekends, and they have their own palm trees made from driftwood and whale parts.
All total, we were in Barrow for about 2 and a half hours. A short stop, but it’s roughly a three hour flight each way. Alaska is so vast, and this trip helped us to really understand that firsthand. We landed and it was cloudy, 31 degrees with light snow flurries. When we left, the sun was shining and it was gorgeous. Still a biting wind, but a lovely day in this part of the world. The pilot said we picked a great day. Indeed!
The return flight was back towards stormy Fairbanks. Made for grand cloud formations and different lighting to showcase the Brooks Range once again. Just couldn’t get enough of these mountains.
Jackson’s Big Adventure
This trip involved some risk of weather delays. The kind that could keep us in the Arctic overnight. So, we found a great kennel for Jackson for two nights. Holy Dog Kennels took great care of him. He hung out with the other “seniors”, got playtime outside, treats, and a manicure.
They call this the Holy Dog hangover. I’d say a good time was had by all!
Next up – Denali! See you on the way!