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15 September, 2002


Atigun Pass

When I completed yesterday’s journal entry, I was unaware that Toolik would have one more surprise gift for me before I left. Just before midnight last night, I woke up not able to remember if I had put a container of insects back in the lab refrigerator. Calling myself some choice names, I got up and stomped back to the lab trailer only to find the beetles safely in their container in the refrigerator. Then with a little more peace of mind, I started back toward my dorm trailer. About 10 steps outside the lab door, I realized that there were clear skies over Toolik and there directly above me, beginning to glow brilliantly, were the northern lights. I had seen the Aurora once before, many, any years ago, but so far they had eluded me in the Arctic. Last night as I looked into the skies, I once again got to see the glowing, pulsating beauty of the Aurora Borealis. It was so intriguing that I found a spot behind the camp where it was very dark. From there I could watch the spectacle with no noticeable light pollution. There I sat, in the cold Arctic night, for the next hour or so, watching the lights grow and change. I finally had to give up when I could no longer feel my ears. My Toolik experience was finally complete.

I woke up to find the camp nearly deserted. The construction crew had finally headed home leaving just the four members of our team and the four member camp staff. It was strange to see the dining hall so deserted for breakfast. After breakfast, we packed up the rest of the lab and headed south toward the Brooks Range. The Dalton Highway crosses the Brooks Range in a place called Atigun Pass. Atigun Pass is an opening in the mountain range developed partially by the Atigun River. All of my previous trips through the pass had been made when the weather was gloomy and overcast or when it was snowing. Today, the weather through the pass was perfect. We stopped in several places along the way to take in the views. At one point we discovered a herd of Dall Sheep right across the river from the road. They seemed to take no notice of us so we were able to take quite a few photos. Once through the pass and on the south side of the Brooks Range, we could feel the air temperature warm considerably. While still in the Arctic, the temperature on this side of the mountains approached 60 degrees. When we arrived at our motel (or what passes for a motel) in the town Coldfoot, we took advantage of the nice day, to sit on the front porch and watch the brilliant colors of the Arctic sunset. Tomorrow we will visit the nearby town of Wiseman (population 40) and other nearby areas to look for Cucujus larvae. It is believed that this area is the northernmost extent of their range and we hope to find a number of them here. Tomorrow I will take you on a visit through Coldfoot and Wiseman.

As we passed from the North Slope of Alaska back over the Brooks range, we got a very nice view of the Atigun Pass

Alittle closer, you can see the Dall Sheep that were born to the herd this past spring

As we made our way through the pass, we were treated to a visit from a herd of Dall Sheep.

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