An open-ended adventure by Bobbi and Rod
Currently traveling
  • Day20

    Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline

    June 4, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☁️ 0 °C

    Traveling the Dalton Highway you see the pipeline. We stopped at one point to get up close to the pipeline. In building the pipeline, engineers faced a wide range of difficulties, mainly from the extreme cold and the difficult, isolated terrain. The construction of the pipeline was one of the first large-scale projects to deal with problems caused by permafrost, and special construction techniques had to be developed to cope with the frozen ground. The project attracted tens of thousands of workers to Alaska. Here are some facts on the pipeline:

    - it starts in Prudhoe Bay and ends in Valdez (800 miles). Fairbanks is about halfway.
    - it was built in 6 sections by 5 different companies costing way over the estimated cost - costing 8 billion dollars and took 2 years 3 months to build
    - the pipe is 1/2 inch thick steel; 48 inches in diameter; has 3-3/4 inch fiberglass insulation
    - the maximum grade of the pipeline is 55% and is at Thompson Pass (see our visit to Valdez)
    - the highest elevation is 4739 feet at Antiqun Pass
    - the zig-zag design in different locations helps the expansion and contraction of the pipeline
    - "fins" on top of the posts of the support structure are filled with ammonia and there to keep the permafrost ground from melting - much like how refrigerator works
    - 'pigs' go through the pipeline. One is to clean the pipes and the other is to record any erosion points and such. A helicopter flies over the pipeline and can pick up the signal from the pigs
    - the first barrel traveled in 1977 and originally it took 1 month for the oil to travel from start to finish. It now takes 2 weeks
    - the support structure has bumpers to allow for movement during earthquakes
    - there are 11 pumping stations; 4 are in use now. They are used to relieve pressure and to maintain the temperature
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  • Day20

    The Dalton Highway

    June 4, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    There are only 3 roads in the world that cross the Arctic Circle and the Dalton Highway is one of them. The Dalton Highway is a 414-mile road. It begins at the Elliott Highway, north of Fairbanks, and ends at Deadhorse near the Arctic Ocean and the Prudhoe Bay Oil Fields. Once called the North Slope Haul Road (a name by which it is still sometimes known), was built as a supply road to support the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System in 1974. The highway, which runs parallel with the pipeline, is one of the most isolated roads in the United States. There are only three towns along the route: Coldfoot at Mile 175, Wiseman at Mile 188 and Deadhorse. Fuel is available at the Yukon River Bridge (Mile 56), as well as Coldfoot and Deadhorse. The road itself is mostly gravel or packed dirt and very primitive in places. The nearest medical facilities are in Fairbanks and Deadhorse. Anyone embarking on a journey on the Dalton is encouraged to bring survival gear - in fact our guide was trained in survival methods, carries a first aid kit, food and a satellite phone for emergencies. Our van also had a CB radio which she used to inform truckers at certain locations that we were on the road or pulling back on the road from a pullover area. The truckers travel fast and don't move for oncoming cars and there are no shoulders. Truckers that travel the highway have given their own names to its various features, including: The Taps, The Shelf, The Bluffs, Oil Spill hill, Beaver Slide, Two and a Half Mile, Oh Shit Corner and the Roller Coaster. The road reaches its highest elevation as it crosses the Brooks Range at Atigun Pass, 4,739 feet (which we saw in the plane). We traveled through Beaver Slide, Oh Shit Corner and the Roller Coaster. They are doing some 'repairs' (putting more dirt on the road and smoothing it - somewhat!). It took us nearly 10 hours (with some stops along the way) to travel the Dalton Highway.Read more

  • Day20

    Along the Dalton Highway

    June 4, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    We made several stops along the Dalton Highway:

    Grayling Lake - two to three thousand years ago Native people stopped here to camp and hunt for caribou and moose. Many of their tools used for hunting were found during the building of the road (Photos 1 & 2)

    Finger Mountain - is not really a mountain but hills. The rocks on the hills were formed over 100 million years ago from magma seeping through the surface and then cooling. The Anthapaskan Indians lived and hunted in this area. (Photos 3 & 4)

    Yukon River Camp - one of the stops where truckers can get a meal, room and fuel. We stopped here for dinner. The bridge crosses the Yukon River and is 2,295 feet long and 30 feet wide. The driving surface of the bridge is wooden planks supported by a steel deck attached to a pair of steel box girders. The wooden deck has been replaced in 1981, 1992, 1999 and 2007. (Photos 5 & 6)

    Arctic Circle - The Arctic Circle is the most northerly of the five major circles of latitude as shown on maps of Earth. It marks the northernmost point at which the noon sun is just visible on the December solstice and the southernmost point at which the midnight sun is just visible on the June solstice. The region north of this circle is known as the Arctic, and the zone just to the south is called the Northern Temperate Zone. As seen from the Arctic, the Sun is above the horizon for 24 continuous hours at least once per year (and therefore visible at midnight) and below the horizon for 24 continuous hours at least once per year (and therefore not visible at noon). The position of the Arctic Circle is not fixed; as of 23 May 2018, it runs 66°33′47.2″ north of the Equator. Its latitude depends on the Earth's axial tilt, which fluctuates within a margin of 2° over a 40,000-year period, due to tidal forces resulting from the orbit of the moon. Therefore, the Arctic Circle is currently drifting northwards at a speed of about 49 feet per year.

    Permafrost- permafrost is ground, including rock or soil, at or below the freezing point of water 32 °F for two or more years. Our guide stopped and dug up a small area only a few inches deep and we got to put our hand in the hole and feel the ice! Plants in this area have a root system that doesn't go deep in the ground. (Photo 9)

    Joy, Alaska - is a trading post. This place was originally set up as a lemon aid stand along the highway. The owners children set up the stand to serve to truckers along the highway. They dug down several feet to keep the lemon aid cold to serve at the stand. Soon, they began to sell other items such as cold drinks and candy bars. The trading post then followed, as a stop for the truckers to come in.
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  • Day20

    Arctic Circle

    June 4, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    It was a busy day as we spent the day traveling to and from the Arctic Circle! We started at the tour company's office which is located at the Fairbanks airport for a briefing. Our original tour was to drive up and back but there was not enough signed up for that tour so they upgraded us to a fly and drive tour which worked out even better!

    Our plane was a 10 passenger Navajo Chieftain piloted by Tod. We were asked our weight and our camera bag and backpack were weighed. Rod was able to sit next to the pilot. Our one hour flight took us to Coldfoot, Alaska which is an oil pipeline camp and about 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Coldfoot Airport, on the west side of the Dalton Highway, is a 4,000-foot gravel strip. There, we were met with our guide, Sabrina, for the remainder of the trip.The rest of our trip back to Fairbanks was in a passenger van on the Dawson Highway. Our first stop was to the Coldfoot camp which is right outside of the airstrip and then to the Visitors Center. This Center is unique as it has 3 federal agencies under one roof - the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife. There was no cell service for the next 10 or so hours.

    Along the way, Sabrina gave us the history of the area, pipeline and the area in general. The town of Coldfoot is said to have gotten its name when between 1899 and 1908 gold miners had been mining for gold in the Slate Creek area and not finding much got 'cold feet' and left. Coldfoot primarily serves as a truck stop on the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay. North of Coldfoot, there are no services for 240 miles until Deadhorse. It has a restaurant and a small number of overnight accommodations that are converted pipeline construction camp quarters. The stop actually started as a summer mobile food truck. Eventually the truckers wanted something year-round and asked the person running the food truck if they helped build a building would he become year-round. Of course, the answer was yes. The truckers provide everything for the approximately 8000 people working in some capacity at Prudhoe Bay.
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  • Day19

    What do you do when at the North Pole?!

    June 3, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    You visit the Santa Claus House! In 1949 Con and Nellie Miller arrive in the community, North Pole. In 1952, the Millers had decided to build a trading post. The story goes that one day, while hard at work on the new store, a young Alaskan boy thought Con was Santa Claus and asked, "Hello, Santa Claus! Are you building a new house?" Inspiration clicked, the new store would be called "Santa Claus House!" In those days the Santa Claus House offered more basic necessities than it did Christmas treasures. Situated between two military installations and right in the middle of developing North Pole, Santa Claus House became an impromptu gathering place for area residents. In addition to purchasing their groceries, locals could mingle at the soda fountain or pick up their daily mail, as Santa Claus House, under the direction of Postmistress Nellie Miller, was a mail contract station and served as North Pole's first Post Office for almost 20 years. In 1972 the state rerouted the Richardson Highway, bypassing the store's location. The Millers built a new storefront just off of the new four-lane highway, where it still is today. Inside, the store's emphasis on Christmas items have replaced the aisles of well-stocked canned goods. Santa even makes a daily visit (when not busy in the toy shop!). The Santa outside the store is 42 feet high and weighs 900 pounds (photo 1).

    We then stopped at the Golden Heart Plaza. This plaza was created to celebrate the silver anniversary of Alaska’s statehood in 1984. Our next stop was the Ice Museum. The museum is located in an old movie theater. You start with a 25 minute film about the ice sculpture contests held annually in March here in Fairbanks. After seeing the film you enter into the "freezer" where it's kept at a cool 20 degrees. You can slide down an ice track and take your picture sitting on or next to numerous ice sculptures. There then is a demonstration on Ice sculpting.

    It was then on to something a little warmer. Rod was able to play a round of golf at the North Star Golf Club. It is located in Fairbanks and it is not only the Northernmost golf course in America, but also one of the most unique. This is not just because of the unusual and ever-changing lay of the land but also due to the likelihood that you will share the golf course with any of a host of wildlife species. We, unfortunately, did not see the wildlife. The golf course has a visitors special where they rent you clubs, balls, tees and you also get a logo hat. The cart path is dirt/mud - you need an ATV instead of a golf cart. Rod played a good round of golf.
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  • Day18

    Made it to the North Pole!!

    June 2, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    Before I tell you about today's travel I wanted to show you what it looks like at 3:00 in the morning - see photo 1. The length of day is 20 hours and 36 minutes and the length of visible light is 24 hours meaning it really never gets dark like we know it. We also met a couple from Delaware at the Tok Campground. We spoke with them and found out that they live in Lewis - a town about 30 minutes away!! Also, I wanted to tell you something else about Chicken. At Chicken they have no electric or running water! All electric to run the cash register, lights etc. are with provided by a generator. Water is brought in - no flushing toilets - just out buildings. And, no cell phone coverage.

    We left Tok and headed north-northwest to Fairbanks, our most north location we will be staying at. We are actually staying at a campground just outside of Fairbanks proper in a town called North Pole. About halfway in to our trip, outside of Delta Junction, we stopped at Rika's Roadhouse. The roadhouse is named after Rika Wallen, who acquired it from a man called John Hajdukovich and operated it for many years. It became a hub of activity in that area of the interior. With the construction of the ALCAN (now Alaska) Highway and the replacement of the ferry with a bridge downstream, traffic moved away and patronage declined. The roadhouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The roadhouse was built on the banks of the Tanana River. The Tanana River was one of the major rivers to be crossed by travelers along the Valdez-Eagle trail. A ferry was established just upriver of the Tanana's confluence with the Delta River. Several log cabins housed the telegraph office, a dispatcher, two repairmen and their supplies. Rika eventually became the postmaster and served in that position for many years. Last year, he Alaskan government wanted to end its support of the Roadhouse so a family from Delta Junction (a city just down the road) purchased it and now runs it. The Alaska oil pipeline crosses the Tanana River not far from this location also.

    The campground is located on the Chena River. The Chena River is a 100-mile tributary of the Tanana River. It flows generally west from the White Mountains to the Tanana River near the city of Fairbanks. We took our camp chairs to the river bank and enjoyed the view. We were surprised at how fast it flows.
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  • Day17

    Another day in Tok

    June 1, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    Even though we are in Tok we did a day trip to a town about one and one-half hours away. On the way there we stopped at the Tok airport - 40 Mile Air. The pilot we spoke to originally came from Maine but has been here for at least 30 years. The airport is open year round and flies supplies to villages that have no access by roads.

    We then headed to Chicken - yes, that's the 'town's' name. It is about 65 miles from here but the road (Route 5 and also called the Taylor Highway) in some areas, is not in the best of shape due to frost heave - some areas were only gravel. It is a beautiful drive through the Sitz Mountains. It was built in 1953 to provide access to Eagle, Chicken, and the historic Fortymile Mining District. After Chicken the road is all gravel and goes to Eagle, Alaska and the Canadian border.

    Chicken was settled by gold miners in the late 19th-century and in 1902 the local post office was established requiring a community name. Mail is flown in twice a week. Due to the abundance of ptarmigan in the area that name was suggested as the official name for the new community. However, the spelling could not be agreed on and Chicken was used to avoid embarrassment. The ptarmigan is like a chicken. A portion of Chicken, with buildings from the early 1900s and the F.E. Company Dredge No. 4 (Pedro Dredge) are listed on the National Register of Historical Places as the Chicken Historic District. Chicken is the outpost for the 40 Mile mining district. There are still active gold mines in this area. Enough gold was mined here to make it worthwhile to haul the huge gold dredges to this remote location. There are still several inactive gold dredges in the Chicken area. There are 17 inhabitants and due to mining, Chicken's population peaks during the summer. They also have an airport which we visited. The last photo is of a piece of gold that was mined from this are.
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  • Day16

    Tok, Alaska

    May 31, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 13 °C

    We left Gakona and headed northeast on the Tok Cut-off road (Route 2). This route saves us about 100 miles and two hours of travel to Tok. We weren't sure about this route as we heard good and bad but overall it was a good route. There was a portion of it that wasn't in the best of shape due to an earthquake 5years ago and they haven't fixed it. There's sections of it like a washboard - the first picture doesn't quite show it very well but hopefully the video will. The locals keep saying 'maybe next year' it will be fixed! The road follows a beautiful route through winding high valleys of the Alaska Range, crossing a low divide near Mentasta Lake and the Wrangell-St. Elias National Preserve on one side. When we arrived in Tok, it was raining with thunder and lightning and even had a short spell of hail! It then changed to a clear blue sky. Our dinner tonight was Alaskan king crab legs that we bought in Valdez - yummy!Read more

  • Day15

    On to another place

    May 30, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    We left Valdez this morning heading north but before leaving we chatted with a local and asked him about the tide in Valdez. We noticed that it was quite a big tide and seemed to occur often. He said the tides occur every 6 hours and there is generally a 12 foot tide. It was 37 degrees when we left. We headed north back on the same road as we came in (there is only one road in and one road out!). We stopped at the old railroad tunnel outside of Valdez. This tunnel was being dug out by hand in 1906. Unfortunately there were nine companies that wanted ownership of it and a big feud and gun battle took place and the tunnel never was finished.

    We continued north until just passed Glennallen, where we stayed a few days ago, and then took the Tok Cut-off to head north-northeast. We are spnding the night in a town called Gakona. The temperature was in the high 40's. Gakona served as a wood and fish camp, and later became a permanent village. A federally recognised tribe, Ahtna Athabascans is the Native Village of Gakona and is located here. In talking with the campground owner the weather can get very cold - as low as minus 60 degrees but last year it got 'to only minus 40'! They only got about 60 inches of snow this past winter. Summers are mild. Once camp was set up we hiked to the Copper River where we saw caribou and bear tracks.
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  • Day14

    More on Valdez

    May 29, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☁️ 7 °C

    Today we visited two of the museums in town to learn some of the history of Valdez.

    In 1897 gold seekers came to Alaska to follow the "All American Route" (instead of going through Canada) over the Valdez Glacier into the interior of Alaska. A tent city sprang up at the head of the bay, thus forming the city of Valdez. Prior to that the territory belonged to the Chugach, an Alaskan Native people in the region of the Prince William Sound. Prince William Sound was originally named Sandwich Sound, after the Earl of Sandwich by Captain Cook in 1779. Editors of Cook's maps renamed the Sound to Prince William Sound after Prince William IV. IN 1790 Spanish explorer Salvador Fidalgo was sent to Alaska to investigate Russian involvement and to establish claim in the area. There is a street named after Fidalgo. The port of Valdez was named after Antonio Valdés y Fernández Bazán a Spanish Navy Minister in 1790.

    In October 1980 the luxury cruise ship MS Prisendam was enroute to Japan, having cruised the inside passage way from Vancouver, put out a distress call as they had a fire that started in the engine room and was spreading. It was determined to abandon ship. The US Coast Guard and a tanker near by came to rescue and bring the passengers and crew to Valdez. One life boat was lost for 12 hours but was found. It is on display at the museum. There was a pilot, Bob Reeve, who became a famous Alaskan bush pilot. He his supposed to be the first to but skies on the wheels of is plane to be able to land in the snow (photo 2 & 3). The other museum was all about the damage done to the town by the earthquake and tsunami. Photo 4 shows what the intersection looks like today - photo 5 show what the intersection looked like before the damage (see where the red VW bus is). Photo 6 is part of a house that was an actual home in the original town.

    Photo 9 is the Valdez Marine Highway Terminal. Alaska is over 650,000 square miles and much of that has no road access. The primary forms of transportation in areas without roads are by air or sea, so the Alaska Marine Highway is a big part of the 'highway system.' It is such a unique set of routes that is has been designated as a National Scenic Byway and an All American Road, the only marine route with this distinction.
    With its southernmost port in Bellingham, WA, the Alaska Marine Highway extends more than 3,500 miles to Dutch Harbor, with over 30 stops along the way.
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