Dalton Highway II
After a long night of worrying, Janet decided that she and Vanessa were not going to make it to the Arctic Ocean. It was still pouring rain so there was nothing for her to see out the windows and Vanessa is not an off-road vehicle for heavy mud and wet gravel. Plus, if Vanessa drove to Deadhorse, she might not have enough fuel to make it back to Coldfoot and it was not guaranteed that there would be low sulfur diesel in Deadhorse. Janet encouraged David to head north with Mike in his four-wheel drive Sportsmobile for the final 140 miles of the trip. Besides the possibility of musk ox and beautiful scenery, Janet will miss the tour out to the Arctic Ocean.
David’s Day: The road up was very muddy and parts under construction. They lucked out in that the pilot car was ready to take them through the construction just as they arrived so there was no hold up. There were a few caribou, one fox, and lots of birds for wildlife. We see pictures of large herds of caribou crossing the pipeline area, but that was not the case today. As we arrived in Deadhorse, the sun came out and later a mostly blue sky.
Deadhorse is a construction and oilfield town. Lots of unlabeled buildings are on stilts (to keep the permafrost from melting and thereby shifting the foundation). David and Mike went looking for the place to load for the trip to the Arctic Ocean. The public is not permitted to drive their own cars to the oil fields, but can sign on to a tour from Deadhorse that goes through the oil fields to the ocean. We were signed up for the 8:30 Sunday morning tour. David and Mike were able to make the 3:30 pm tour today; they were able to switch to the earlier tour because they had already been cleared by security for the Sunday tour. This is a new post-2001 procedure.
The tour was about 3 hours and very interesting, but the mosquitoes were even worse than where we had camped. The guide had left the doors of the bus open before they loaded, so the bus was a swarm of bugs. The first part of the trip was spent swatting them. When they got out of the bus for picture taking, bugs covered you when you returned to your seat. They learned from the tour guide that the mosquitoes are so bad right now because all of the tundra flowers are out. Once the flowers finish, the mosquitoes will settle down. Mike realized that the reason he had not had mosquitoes like this on past visits was that he had visited in June before the flowers bloomed, when there was snow and ice everywhere.
In the oil field area there are many small buildings and pipes running everywhere. One of the by-products of the oil extraction process is a great deal of natural gas and oily water which is injected back into the Earth. There has been talk about a natural gas pipeline, but it has not been judged economically feasible. The oilfields here provide 3-4 percent of the US oil supply; oil takes one week to make the trip from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez where it is loaded onto tankers. The Arctic Ocean was cold, but the strong wind blowing off it was even more frigid. Since there are few beachcombers in the area, there were many beautiful, intact shells on the beach.
In addition to the tour Mike and David checked out the commercial area of Deadhorse. There is a population of 4 permanent residents with about 3000 oilfield workers. The latter work on two week shifts with days of 12 hours on, 12 hours off. Shell, Conoco, BP, and Standard Oil are the employers. Mike checked out the hotel he had stayed in last time he visited. A room (two single beds with a bathroom down the hall) is $220 a night with that price including all your meals and a lunch for the road. Low sulfur diesel fuel was indeed available so that was a needless worry.
On the trip back the roads were drier and clear, so they made it back by about 9:30.
Janet’s Day: Meanwhile I spent the day clearing the van of mosquitoes that came in when David was leaving, reading, and watching the rain, clouds, and mosquitoes on the windows. The mosquitoes seem strangely interested in the weather stripping around the front windows of the car; many line up on it and just sit. There are so many of them that they can be heard buzzing from inside the van. As the day wore on, the fog began to lift and the sun could actually be seen peeking through the clouds.
During the night, we were able to see the sun at midnight and at 2:00 AM. The latter time is the time when it comes closest to the horizon. The sun never sets in this area from May until early August. David braved the mosquitoes at both times to take pictures.