June 24, 2012 The Arctic Ocean!
My alarm going off at 4:30 am is not normally something I'm excited about, but today is the day I have reservations to go on the tour to see the Arctic Ocean!
I need to drive about 130 miles north of here to Prudhoe Bay, which can be a three hour trip due to conditions along the Dalton Highway.
I gave myself an extra hour and headed off to meet the tour at 8:45 am in Deadhorse. On the drive up, I was hoping to see some wildlife, and sure enough, just out of camp I spotted a yearling caribou.
About 30 miles up the road was a muskox. Evidently he is a fixture near Pump Station Three, and has been named Melvin. Regardless, he didn't seem to mind as I pulled the truck over for a quick snapshot!
I arrived at our meeting spot in Deadhorse with time to spare for a look around.
It sure seemed cold, so I grabbed my extra layer and went inside for a quick change, a cup of coffee, and a look at the ever present thermometer.
Forty-two degrees and windy felt cold after a nice week of short sleeve weather days in Toolik! These folks at Deadhorse are pretty serious about their cold weather, so I entered into one small room; then opened a freezer door to come inside. I guess that works for insulation from the outside cold! The whiteboard was festively decorated, so I thought I'd add a little to it for the folks back home at Macon Early College.
I took a few snapshots around this hotel, which turned out to look like fairly typical oil field housing.
These are one story, but most of the complexes are 3 and 4 stories high, and all rest on large sleds in order to be easily moved around.
Once winter sets in, the roads are iced down in order to better support the heavier equipment moving around. These vehicles get a lot of use in the winter!
I met up with the tour, having to show the tour guide my identification previously given over the phone.
Grant is native Inupiat, and works as a tour guide and security guard for NANA, a corporation specializing in hiring natives that contracts workers at Prudhoe Bay. By the way, there are plenty of jobs for the hardy; the jobs are year-round or seasonal and much of the drilling is done in the coldest, darkest part of winter. The typical winter temperature ranges from around -25 to 10, and 24 hour darkness lasts for about 94 days. An interesting website for North Slope jobs is hosted by a former teacher at: Alaska North Slope Jobs
In order to see the Arctic Ocean in this part of Alaska, one has to go through the oil fields to get to it. Once we passed through the East security gate, a few caribou from the Central Arctic herd were grazing in the fields.
I think their black eye patches are very pretty! These caribou are from one of several large herds of caribou that use the coastal plain area of Alaska as their calving and foraging grounds. For more information about these beautiful animals and their biology, check out the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge page about caribou: Arctic Refuge: Caribou
We pulled up to our beach access point, not a sandy beach but a rocky jetty out into the ocean. As we walked out to the water, an Arctic fox came sprinting past us; apparently he had been out for a morning hunt! We see a lot of red foxes around, but this was the first one I was able to confidently identify as Arctic, his fur was still white, and he was much smaller than the reds we see. Of course we all took pictures of ourselves in the Ocean. I had been advised back at camp to bring along my knee boots, which were perfect for wading!
Some people really got into it!
By then the wind chill factor made the air feel like it was about 39 degrees, so I was more than content to stay out of the water. Just a few hundred yards away, the pack ice was still visible.
Grant told us that once it was gone for the season, there would be good chances to see polar bears on land; I was a little disappointed we didn't get to see one today!
Our two hour tour was really informative, and it was fun to meet people along on the tour. A small group of birders were from California, and they were as excited as I to see the snow bunting in the parking lot at our meeting place.
Sorry for the rear view, looks like he got a case of the shys.
Afterwards, I took a side trip into the community of Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay for souvenirs.
Then it was time to head back down the Dalton Highway; I wanted to make it back in time for a wonderful Sunday dinner of turkey and all the fixin's. I had the road to myself for most of the way back and enjoyed some beautiful views. Here are a few pictures, showing the quiet road, the Sagavanirktok River Valley, and the expansive landscape. Enjoy!