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4 May, 2002

The Drive

After loading some last minute gear into the truck, we left Fairbanks this morning at 9:30. Nine and a half hours later we finally arrived at Toolik Lake. I have so much I can say about the drive that I have no idea where to begin and no idea how to keep it condensed to a single journal entry. I'll try to start with the road itself. The road is the Dalton Highway or otherwise known as the Haul Road. It was built in the 1970's as an access road for construction crews working on the Alaskan pipeline. Prior to the Haul Road's construction, there were no roads north of the Yukon River.

Actually, the truth is that to call the Dalton Highway a highway would be to do an injustice to every other highway in America. I suppose it really does qualify as a road, but only in the most rudimentary sense. The Haul Road is in reality a trail of packed gravel and dirt that is called a road due to the amount of truck traffic it supports . Some sections of the road are barely distinguishable from the rocky terrain it passes through. Still, it gets us where we need to go.

The most noticeable sight from the road is the Alaskan pipeline. The road is never very far from the pipeline and even when the pipeline goes underground, you are reminded of its existence by the numerous access roads found every few miles. As an engineering feat, the pipeline is a very impressive sight.

As impressive as the pipeline is, the true wonder of the Haul Road is the scenery that you pass through on the road. As you drive north out of Fairbanks you pass through a series of low mountains covered with spruce, birch and poplar trees. Many places are just beginning to show the first traces of color for the spring. The road crosses any number of rivers, forks of rivers and streams many of which are still frozen over and packed with ice. We stopped to have lunch on the banks of the legendary Yukon River. So much history and literature revolves around the Yukon River that I was stood in a speechless awe while I looked out over the ice.

>From our passage over the Yukon, we continued our drive north. The most important landmark along the way was our crossing of the Arctic Circle. There is a small tourist turnoff from the road there that has the Arctic Circle identified with a nice sign. While it doesn't have a real practical purpose, it makes for a very nice photo opportunity. From the Arctic Circle we drove north to the town of Cold Foot. Cold Foot has the distinction of being the most northern truck stop in the world. In fact, the truck stop is pretty much the only thing in the town of Cold Foot. The stop consists of a two pump gas station, a truck repair garage, a restaurant and a motel. I am told that there is a school along side the hotel, but being a Saturday I was unable to visit. From Cold Foot the Haul Road climbs into the Brooks Range Mountains. The Brooks Range is as impressive a mountain range as I have ever seen. The passage over the range and through the Atigun Pass is indescribably beautiful. Our trip did slow a bit since there had been a very recent snow and there were signs of avalanches everywhere and snow blowing across the road made for a couple of tense moments. As you pass though the Brooks Range there are mountains that define the term majestic in every direction. I can easily see why some people come to northern Alaska and never go home.

As we started out this morning, Brian took our estimate for how many different types of animals we would see along our route. Our total included the first moose I have seen in Alaska, several herds of Caribou, hawks, ravens and numerous small birds. I was very much hoping to see some Dall Sheep as we passed through the Brooks Range, but the fresh snow eliminated that possibility.

We finally arrived in Toolik Lake to find the camp less than ready to open for the season. The kitchen and dining hall are under construction and communications are very questionable. At the moment, there is only one phone line that works but occasionally. I am hoping that this situation will improve in the next few days so I can keep posting journals daily. If, however, I am out of touch for a few days you will know the reason.

A roadside pulloff for crossing the Arctic Circle

Dalton Highway passage through the Brooks Range.

This is again the Dalton Highway through the Brooks Range.

A view down the Yukon River.

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