Monday, March 14, 2016

Alaska: The Last Frontier Part VI - Arctic Circle

On our way up to Alaska, we crossed paths with a woman who had decided that if she was going all the way to Alaska, then she was going to put her toe in the Arctic Ocean. She intended to drive the Dalton Highway all the way to Prudhoe Bay to do just that. I don't know whether or not she actually got there, but it inspired me. I knew I could only wish to get to the Arctic Ocean but, thanks to the woman in the office at our RV park who gave us several brochures on the many things to do and see in the Fairbanks area, the bus trip to the Arctic Circle jumped out at me. I looked at my sister, Pam, and asked "you wanna go to the Arctic Circle?" Of course the answer was yes.

The tour to the Arctic Circle started out at the tour company's office on the back side of the airport at about 6:30 in the morning. Everybody was given a sheet of paper to tick off our choices for lunch, then we boarded a commuter type shuttle bus and set off on our fifteen hour day. Our tour guide was a real estate agent making a little extra money on the side. He was full of interesting facts about the the Dalton Highway, the history the area and the Alaska Pipeline.

I've asked many people since that day what they think of when they think of the word tundra. Most people respond with exactly what I imagined when I thought of the tundra: A vast expanse of ice and snow as far as the eye can see and not much of anything else except a polar bear or two. Well, I was wrong. At least in the summer months. The tundra is an amazing place teeming with beautiful, colorful plants. We got to walk onto the tundra and it is like walking on a sponge. It is soggy with water and sits upon permafrost. The tundra is very delicate and can damage easily. Our guide described how if a truck drove across the tundra its tracks would fill with water, killing the plants, and leave behind black swaths that last for ages. The growing season is only 60 to 90 days long, which isn't enough for the plant life to grow over the damaged areas.

Getting to see and walk on the tundra was the highlight of the trip for me. The second highlight was standing under the Alaska Pipeline. The building of the pipeline was big news during my teenage and early adult years. It provided a lot of people good paying jobs.

Surprisingly, finally getting to the Arctic Circle felt a little anti-climactic but, just to know, just to say that my sister and I have been that far north on this earth, to have been beyond the mighty Yukon River, to have the memories of it, to point to it on a map, to have gone somewhere I never dreamed I would ever go, is, and may forever be, one of the greatest highlights of my life. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. Not a damn thing.

A beautiful birch forest that was damaged by fire.

Just a little color to decorate the side of the outhouse at the Wildwood General Store.

Our tour driver, Aaron Lojenski, on the left. Such a cute place located along the Dalton Highway in Joy, Alaska, just about 95 miles north of Fairbanks. Joy is named after one of the original founders of this outpost, the Wildwood General Store. It is now being run by the second generation.

I loved this handwritten sign. I guess you just have to keep running.

The great engineering feat called the Alaska Pipeline.

Pamela standing under the pipeline.

The Dalton Highway. That beautiful pink patch is none other than Fireweed. Love, love, love Fireweed.

Pamela's feet sinking into the beautiful tundra.

The tundra is made up of so many colors and textures.

Looking out across the tundra to the Black Spruce in the distance. Those trees which look to be maybe 8 to ten feet tall may be well over 100 years old.

Our tour driver, Aaron, showing folks the permafrost under the tundra plants. 

Pamela's special ceremony marking her official crossing into the Arctic Circle. Aaron said we were actually about 20 miles inside the circle, which I thought was extra cool.

We walked a little way into a birch forest.

Tree roots growing along the surface.

Just so beautiful.

More arctic/tundra plants.

I love this photo of Pamela.

The mighty Yukon River next to the Yukon River Camp where we picked up our lunches on our way up and stopped to have dinner on our way down. This photo was taken about 7:00pm.

Some of the beautiful, windblown grasses by the Yukon River.

Chena Hot Springs, Fairbanks, AK. This was the hottest hot springs I've ever been in.

Alaska colors. 

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