Alaska, the Last Frontier - Summer 2012 travel blog

at the Wiseman corner

Atigun Pass panorama

Atigun Pass

Brooks Range

Dall sheep

Grayling Lake

Koyukuk River

musk ox

pipe line, river and road

Wiseman cabin

Wiseman home

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Dalton Highway


A short drive brought us to the mining town of Wiseman, a town whose name obviously drew our attention. Huge gold nuggets weighing over two pounds were found in the area, but not by Tom Wiseman who left his food cache here and moved on after his claim didn't yield any gold. About 25 full time residents still live here. We could tell who was home by whose generator was running. A small lodge was the most up to date building in town. It looked like folks getting away from it all or up here in the far north to go hunting might stay here. They sold Wiseman T-shirts; of course, we had to buy one.

North of Wiseman the Dalton Highway became ever more beautiful and we had a bright blue sky day to enjoy it. Every so often, but not often enough, the van driver pulled over to provide us with photo ops of the spectacular Brooks Range. Sukakpak Mountain rising over 4,000 feet over our heads was stunning. Below peculiar ice core mounds known as pingos punctuated the ground. The soil covered large blocks of ice that keep growing and expanding, raised the ground above into hillocks. The next noteworthy sight was a sign for the northernmost spruce. The tree line is not caused by cold or a lack of soil and water. Rather it is caused by in adequate number of daylight days for photosynthesis. From this point on only small ground hugging plants can survive.

Before we crossed the Continental Divide at Atigun Pass (4,700) feet, we passed a series of avalanche guns. The mountains are very steep here and the road must be kept clear since more materials are moved in the winter than summer. When the snow looms the guns are fired to loosen the snow in a controlled manner. Mountain goats which usually are white specks high on the hillside were munching near the road to our delight. The pass was an enormous climb for all the heavy duty trucks driving the Dalton. And what goes up must come down. This part of the drive must be particularly hair raising in the winter.

We began to see more and more primitive campsites set up near the road. Caribou hunting season has begun and every so often a truck with a bloody rack on the back passed by. The antlers are still losing their furry covering, thus the blood. The hunters trek miles off the road to shoot the caribou and butcher the meat on the spot so that they have less to pack out. It seemed cruel to me, but then I'm not an Alaskan.

Above the treeline the land became flatter and and less interesting. The drive was punctuated by potty stops at periodic vault toilets and stops for animal viewing. A family of four musk ox with beautiful flowing hair were grazing near the river. When we saw them at the farm last month they still were shedding and quite ratty looking.

Although the two days of this drive were spectacularly sky blue, when we got within ten miles of Deadhorse, sea fog rolled in and almost completely obscured the view. Deadhorse is the supply "town" for the Prudhoe Bay petroleum facility. What a God forsaken place! You would have to pay me a lot to work here and I'm sure the workers are. Our trailer room tonight does not come with facilities. Since most of the workers here are men, the six of us women are sharing one toilet, one shower, and one sink. There are really two sinks, but one has no water. We ate at the workers' cafeteria and were surprised to encounter étouffée on the menu, a favorite from visits to Louisiana. It made sense that oil people who have worked in the Gulf of Mexico might also be working here. The morning tour begins at 7am. And so, to bed.

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