Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Arctic Ocean Trip Wrap-up

We successfully completed our summer trip about a week ago - on Aug. 22.  We had really hoped to spend more time on the way home, but the smoke was so bad it was not healthy to spend any extra time.  We first came into the smoke just south of Watson Lake, Yukon and did not get completely out of until just north of the Arizona border.  We basically drove in smoke for 7 days and nearly 2500 miles.  Sometimes the smoke was so thick the sun was mostly obscured and other times it was a haze on the nearby mountains.

We have decided that this was one of the best trips we have ever taken. The beauty the Prince William Sound at Valdez was awesome but the trip up to the Arctic Ocean was the biggest highlight of the trip.  As we have said before, we cannot find the words to describe the beauty and vastness of the arctic wilderness.  By flying up to the arctic from Fairbanks and driving back on the Dalton Highway, we feel we had the perfect experience as we had the opportunity to view it from the air and experience all 500 miles of the return trip.

One of our major goals in the summer is to see interesting wildlife.  On the way up, we were disappointed in that we really did not see anything interesting all the way through Canada.  However, once we got to Alaska our luck changed in a major way.  Here is a list of our major sightings not including birds and sea life:



Black bear






Musk Ox








Bighorn Sheep








Arctic Fox


Red Fox


Now that this trip is in the books, we are looking forward to our next major trip in the spring, which will be a month long cruise to the South Pacific. We will have ports of call in Hawaii, Pago Pago, Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora.

A few status from the trip:

Miles driven: 8047

Days on the road: 44

Nights in RV parks: 20

Nights in state/province/territory parks: 18

Nights boondocking: 5

Lowest gas price: $2.82/gal (Chandler AZ)

Highest gas price: $6.23/gal (Dease Lake BC)

Average miles/gal: 9.1

Cost per mile: $0.40

Track Logs:

Day 41 – Aug. 19, 2018, 382 miles


Day 42 – Aug. 20, 2018, 314 miles


Day 43 – Aug. 21, 2018, 212 miles


Day 44 – Aug. 22, 2018, 140 miles


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Across Yukon

After leaving Fairbanks, we slowly started making our way back home.  Our intent was to spend several extra days in Yukon and upper BC, as that area is very pretty and one of our favorite places.  However, a few miles east of Watson Lake, we ran into smoke from the BC fires.  The smoke was very think, so we decided to move along as fast as possible.  We drove in very heavy smoke for most of four days as we quickly made our way through BC and Alberta to the border.  We are currently in Montana, and the smoke is still very thick but at least you cannot smell it anymore.  Based on reports, we fully expect to be in the smoke until we get back into Arizona.

Smoke in upper BC and Alberta

In 1942, a lonely US Solder working on the Alcan put a sign for his hometown (Danville, IL) in a forest near Watson Lake.  Shortly, other solders did the same, which started the Sign Post Forest. It has been a tradition for travelers on the Alcan to likewise place a sign in the forest to mark their visit.  We hung our sign in 2014, when we first traveled this road, and on this visit, we added a "revisit badge".  Today the forest contains nearly 80,000 signs from travelers from all over the world.

This is a good example of what the harsh Yukon winters will do to signs. On the right is the sign we placed in 2014, and on the left is the condition of the sign today
DSC_3168 DSCN0389

Spruce Grouse

Beautiful mountains looking toward the Wrangell-St Elias National Park

Porcupine - quills are up and ready for battle

Mountains in the Destruction Bay area of Yukon

Wood Bison – they roam freely in Yukon and upper B.C.


Bighorn Sheep


While at Mucho Lake, BC, we hiked up the side of a mountain to the original location of the Alcan as built by the Army. Not much of a road by today's standards, but it served the purpose of moving men and supplies to Alaska during WWII. This section of the roadway was relocated to run along the banks of the lake many years later.

A few flowers around Mucho Lake, BC

Track Logs:
Day 33 – Aug. 11, 2018, 241 miles

Day 34 – Aug. 12, 2018, 160 miles

Day 35 – Aug. 13, 2018, 230 miles

Day 36 – Aug. 14, 2018, 210 miles
Day 37 – Aug. 15, 2018, 373 miles
Day 38 – Aug. 16, 2018, 450 miles

Day 39 – Aug. 17, 2018, 407 miles
(lost log)

Day 40 – Aug. 18, 2018, 314 miles

Friday, August 10, 2018

Into the Arctic Wilderness

We made it to the Arctic Ocean and took a walk in its frigid waters. The flight up to Prudhoe Bay and the 500-mile drive back on the Dalton Highway (haul road) far exceeded our wildest expectations. Words cannot describe the beauty and vastness of the arctic wilderness. We now understand why people like Bob Marshall, Walter Hickel, and Heimo Korth ventured to Alaska in their early years and fell in love with this wilderness.

We started our Arctic trip with a 2 hour flight on an 8 passenger 1978 Piper PA-31 plane flying from Fairbanks to Deadhorse.


Wish Southwest Airlines would give you cool headphones like these….


This is the view out the right side as we were approaching Deadhorse. The arctic tundra is very much like a swamp in the summer time, with lots of grass growing out of water logged earth. In the winter, the tundra is frozen solid. Most construction work and well drilling occurs in the winter when the ground can support heavy weights.DSC_1991

Safe on the ground in Deadhorse


Previous travelers have left their mark on the outside of the Prudhoe Bay General Store.DSC_2198

After a quick tour of the Prudhoe Bay Industrial area, we made our way to the banks of the Arctic Ocean.  At the ocean, we both took a quick stroll in the ocean.  The water was about 32 F but didn't feel all that cold initially, but after a minute or so the bitter cold was evident.  Some visitors to the ocean do the "polar bear plunge" - where you completely submerge in the frigid waters and swim out at least 50 feet.  We wisely chose to only get our feet wet!DSC_2100

Trying to decide if this is a smart idea or not…DSC_2103

Deadhorse Camp was our lovely accommodations for the evening ($219 per night!). The buildings were left over modular buildings from the building of the pipeline in the 70's.  The accommodations were very basic with a very small room with twin beds.  A common bathroom/shower was down the hall.  These were the type of buildings the construction workers lived in during the building of the pipeline.DSC_2074

A reminder as you leave the building to look for bears before stepping outside.  Bears are not an unusual sight in Deadhorse.


With oil prices fairly low right now, there are a lot of these modular camps stored around Deadhorse waiting for the next oil boom.  There currently are about 3000 people working in the area, but during boom times, that number can reach 10,000.  The buildings are built on skids and can be towed across the tundra in the winter.DSC_2067

These green buildings are the well heads and are located all over the area. The wells in Prudhoe Bay are all free flowing, so no pumping is required. From the well heads, pipelines take the oil to collection points where they feed into larger pipelines that go so separator units. DSC_2193

Small pipelines leading from the wells to the oil/gas/water separator unit located in the background.  The separator separates the oil from the gas and water.  The oil heads to Pump Station #1 where it is put into the Trans Alaskan Pipeline at a pressure of up to 1600 lbs - to begin its 800-mile trip to Valdez.  The water is injected under high pressure back into the ground in an effort to keep the pressure up on the oil formation so the oil continues to flow.  Some of the gas is used locally in Prudhoe Bay to power the pump stations and other equipment.  The remaining un-needed gas is injected back into the ground with the hope that in the future there will be a gas pipeline built that can transport it to market.  The China Investment Corp is currently discussing the possibility of building a gas pipeline alongside the oil pipeline to take this gas to market.DSC_2093

After a good night's rest at the Deadhorse Camp, we were ready to start our long journey down the famous Dalton Highway, also known as the haul road, to Fairbanks - 494 miles away. Fans of the program "Ice Road Truckers" will recall that the first few seasons were filmed on the Dalton Highway.



The Dalton is a remote primitive industrial road primarily built to hall heavy loads from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay.  The road is mostly gravel with a few areas of pavement.  Actually, the gravel is smoother than the pavement in most cases.  There are no services along the road except for a small truck stop/motel at Coldfoot which is at the halfway point.  The Dalton Highway was built in the early 70's, but wasn't opened for public travel until 1994. The northern part the of the road is built on a gravel pad to protect the tundra and frozen permafrost.  The ground is frozen solid about 18" to 24" below the surface. DSC_2070

The heavy loads and the environment/weather are constantly destroying the road surface, requiring constant maintenance during the short summer months.  Most of the really heavy loads wait until the road is frozen solid in the winter months.


There were lots of motorcycles making the trip up and down the Dalton.  By the time they got to Deadhorse they were totally covered in mud.  This rider had a really hard time in one of the construction areas as the gravel was wet and very deep. He nearly went down several times.... We did see a bicyclist from China making the trip, but not sure how he could have made it through the loose gravel and muddy sections.


Shortly after leaving Deadhorse, we met this tractor pulling a trailer.  We had passed them a few weeks ago along the Cassiar Highway in upper BC, and again a few days later in Whitehorse Yukon.  The side of the trailer said "Driving for Diabetes".  Turns out this is a fund raiser by two men from Washington State who are driving a Ford tractor and a 1956 John Deere tractor from Arlington, Washington to Prudhoe Bay and back - to raise money to fight juvenile onset diabetes.DSC_2276

After leaving the north slope tundra we slowly climbed into the Brooks Range and finally over Atigun Pass. The environment quickly changed from the short grass of the tundra to spruce trees.


Fans of the TV show "Ice Road Truckers" may recall several hills along the Dalton had names.  This one is called "The Rollercoaster".  As we approached the crest we could see why as you cannot see the bottom of the hill from the top. Can't imagine going down that hill in an 18-wheeler.


The accommodations in Coldfoot were even more interesting than in Deadhorse.  Actually, we have to say this was the worst motel room we have ever stayed in.


On the second day of our drive back to Fairbanks we finally reached the Arctic Circle. North of this line the sun does not set during the summer solstice.DSC_2809

The bridge over the Yukon River is a 2295 foot long bridge which carries both the road and the pipeline.  This was the last section of the road to be completed.  Prior to its completion, an ice bridge was built every winter so supplies could be hauled up the road.


We stopped just north of the Arctic Circle and picked wild blueberries


The following photos are views of the Trans Alaskan Pipeline, which basically parallels the Dalton highway all the way to Fairbanks.  The silver structures standing on top of the pipeline supports are radiators which use an ammonia refrigerant to help keep the permafrost below the supports frozen.  There were originally 11 pump stations along the 800 mile pipeline to keep the oil moving toward Valdez.  Today several of the pump stations are shut down because of the lower oil flow.  Today, about 500,000 barrels of oil flow per year, whereas in the 80s, about 2 million barrels flowed.








After spending the night in Coldfoot, we back tracked to Wiseman, which is an old mining town nearby.  The guide had arranged for us to meet with a local resident who provided an amazing overview of life in the Arctic.





The wildlife along the Dalton was simply spectacular.  Based on what other travelers were reporting, we really didn't expect to see much wildlife, but were pleasantly surprised with both the quantity and the variety of what we found.

Arctic Fox


Snow GeeseDSC_2096

Red Fox



Sandhill Crane


















Ground Squirrel


Black Bear




Some of the beautiful scenery along the way...







Track Logs:

Day 24 – Aug. 2, 2018, 192 miles


Day 30 – Aug. 8, 2018, 26 miles


Day 31 – Aug. 9, 2018, 233 miles