Saturday, March 14, 2009

The LONG road to Toolik.

So we (Joe, Faye, and I) left UAF at around 9:10AM Alaska time as I was finishing my four cups of coffee.  I managed to stay awake and not need a bathroom break for the first 45 minutes of the trip.  Then, as I slipped in and out of consciousness, I was wishing I had gotten up and finished my coffee earlier.  We drove the Dalton Highway with the pipeline almost always in sight.  I was surprised to see that there are quite a lot of outhouses along the highway and our first stop was at one of these where the highway and pipeline cross the Yukon River.

Back to napping and knitting - although the views are amazing - and eventually we stopped at Coldfoot which is the northmost truck stop on the highway (see picture).  I heard that Miguel Larsen had some students stay at Coldfoot to provide down range support for a rocket launch.  Seeing this place made me feel better about moving on to Toolik Lake.  We didn't see any caribou or muskox but we did see the northernmost spruce on the Dalton and it has a sign saying "do not cut".  Faye says that the sign used to be in front of another tree (presumably further north) but that somebody did cut it down so the sign had to be moved.

The Dalton Highway and the pipeline cut through the Brooks Range (see picture by John Wingfield) via Atigun Pass which is almost completely an avalanche zone with signs to prove it.  In the pass we met up with lots of big rigs and had to pull over to let them pass because the road with all the snow is too narrow for two way traffic.  This took forever (they just kept coming!) and resulted in even more sleeping.  Finally we were on the other side of the range and Faye pointed out the nearest neighbors to the Toolik Station - 8 miles away and they even have an EMT.  The trip ended up taking about 9.5 hours with two short stops.

Along the way I noticed that the pipeline would sometimes inexplicably dip underground.  Meghan has figured out (via Wikipedia) why this is the case:  the pipeline sometimes goes underground in avalanche zones.

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