Part 10: Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks, AK.


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The Trip

We spent the night in the parking lot at the Arctic Caribou Inn. It was cold and windy. The wind was rocking the camper strongly enough to make us think that we were on a boat at sea. We started the heater and despite running at low setting all night, the cabin temperature was 42 degrees when we awoke the next morning. The objective of the day was to go on the guided tour of Prudhoe Bay and then get out of dodge and head south.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

This was the view out of the rear window of the camper at 11:30pm. Note that there is plenty of sun left. It would have been much brighter but the weather had greatly degraded. Above, Kathleen is hunkered down as she heads into the Arctic Caribou Inn to use the facilities. You can see that the structure is a bunch of trailers bolted together. On the left, you can see the railing above the hoods of the trucks that is used to supply electric power to heat the trucks so they will start in the morning.

We met two chaps from London who were riding their BMW bikes to Deadhorse, then south to Tierra del Fuego in Chile. This makes our road trip look tame by comparison. We passed each other many times on the road back to Fairbanks.

The sign is a joke -- there are no trees in Deadhorse, so the workers made these trees from sheet steel.

The tour took us past a number of equipment yards. Above is a Rollagon that is used for transport of heavy cargo across the tundra.

Our first view of actual well heads through the ice fog. Each structure is one well head.

A mobile housing structure for the workers. This structure goes with the drill rigs as they move.

The oil companies run the only medical facility in the area. We were told they were well equipped and I am sure that is true since they have to be self-contained.

Operations run 24/7 365 days a year. Access to equipment and work sites is critical even when the snow is heavy. These blowers help keep the roads open in bad weather.

We passed several communication centers that have satellite, optical fiber and terrestrial microwave communication links.

The weather continued to degrade as we reached the area where dangerous gasses are vented and burned. The main facility is hidden in the ice fog.

Our only view of an actual drilling rig through the fog.

A view of the plumbing that takes oil from the well head to the processing facility. Note the 80 pound weights that hang from the pipes to help break up harmonic resonance from the mass moving through the pipes and the wind.

A photo smile -- it was biting cold due to the wind. The Arctic Ocean is at our back. The gravel bar was man made to allow handling of cargo barges.

The ice in the ocean was clearly visible.

This small point is the meeting place of the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea. Kathleen decided to walk to the end of the point. I chose to return to the warmth of the shuttle bus.

There are little glacial lakes close to the ocean and this one had an arctic swan.

The tour dropped us off at the Arctic Caribou Inn and outside we spotted this drill bit.

The security guard at the gate of the oil field told us that snow was in the forecast, so we broke camp and headed south at the maximum possible rate. As we approached Atigun Pass, the mountain tops were socked in. We beat the snow and crossed over the pass without incident.

Clouds obscure the mountain tops.

Some sections of the road were actually partially clear.

Over the pass the weather got a bit better and quite a bit warmer.

Some of the ridges to the south of Atigun Pass were quite rugged.

The road south passed by some substantial cliffs.

Snow is still visible on some of the high peaks.

A number of the ponds were still ice covered.

We were nearly to Coldfoot Camp and decided to take a small side trip to Wiseman where we saw the cabin above. Wiseman is an old mining camp now a tourist trap.

The English chaps with the BMWs were staying in one of these cabins but they had to come into Coldfoot Camp to get food and fuel.

We spent the night in the parking lot at Coldfoot Camp and ate in the mess hall. When we were there, we met a young fellow that worked for ATT and was doing and upgrade on the microwave link to Prudhoe Bay. He and his pilot arrived at Coldfoot about the same time as we did and as they were getting out of the chopper, they were told that the project was on hold. So, they got chow, had a few beers and left the next morning.

We were told by our host in Fairbanks that a mutual friend, Kelly, would be coming up the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse on BMWs. We met him just north of the Yukon River on the road. From the left: Kelly, Kathleen and Conrad. What a small world that we would meet a previous Altar veteran on a remote highway in the middle of nowhere.

The bridge over the Yukon River is an engineering feat. The bridge is visible in the photo above.

Just when you think it is safe to travel on the road, you meet something like this. On the Dalton Highway, cargo has the right of way. We were lucky that we passed this fellow on wide paved approach to the Yukon River bridge. The outcome would have been different if it had happened a few miles either way down the road.

We made it back to Fairbanks without incident and returned to our host's home in the hills north of Fairbanks. As we arrived, the weather was starting to degrade.

The following day was a down day where we attempted to do a front brake job on the truck. During a break, we noticed a forest fire to the south of Fairbanks. The smoke plume is visible in the photo above.

The 4 day trip to Deadhorse was worth it if for no other reason than bragging rights. That said, it was a hard trip. The road is rough and even the good spots are not that good. If you decide to go, make sure that you have adequate range with your fuel supply. There is NO room for error and only a few vehicles on the road. We passed only one state trooper and he was in the parking lot at Coldfoot. We never passed one on the road during the entire 1,000 mile trip. Prudhoe has cell service, but it is dark elsewhere, so beware.

Deadhorse is a working town with no real provisions for visitors. The rooms at the Arctic Caribou Inn were several hundred dollars a night for shared bathrooms and showers. If you showed up without reservations and they were full, you would be sleeping in the parking lot.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2009, all rights reserved.
For your enjoyment only, not for commercial use.