Monday, July 09, 2007

Driving the Dalton Highway

We had house guests this past week. They were husband/wife scientists studying the effects of ground cover on climate and weather. While they were here, they wanted to drive up to the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay, looking at and photographing vegetation and land forms on the trip.

So, last weekend we drove the Dalton Highway with them. It is a 13 hour drive up and also back (i.e., each way) and was a real experience. It is a good thing we did it in a rental car or our car would have taken a real beating. We were bombarded with rocks on long stretches of bumpy "road" and by the time we got back, the car was covered in mud, from where they spray the road with a solution of calcium chloride and water to try to keep the dust down. Of course, it was even worse on the motorcyclists, of which there were, surprisingly, quite a few.

On the plus side, we saw lots of caribou, quite a few sik-sik (aka arctic ground squirrels), swans, geese, and 4 moose. We also saw lots of gorgeous scenery - mountains, hills, wild flowers, etc. And I learned about pingos, tundra polygons, and solifluction lobes.

On the negative side: Deadhorse is a dump. It is purely functional, with virtually nothing aesthetic around. It is a good thing the trip up and back provided for a lot of that. We took a tour of Prudhoe Bay. The tour guide was very interested in giving us good oil company PR. I would have welcomed more candor. There wasn't one word about the fact that they had to shut down a huge portion of the oil fields in the past year, due to massive leaks in the pipes and in the pipeline itself.

We did, however, also get a chance to go into the Arctic Ocean on the tour. It is - surprise - VERY COLD. I went in - just wading and got a certificate and our guests did, too. My husband didn't - he said he had gone in when he was in Barrow and that was enough.

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