During the summer solstice in June 2010, I spent eight days and no nights in Fairbanks, Alaska. Here is a portion of the journey.
June 21, 2010
Seventy-two miles to the north of Fairbanks is the crossroads of Livengood. There are no structures and no amenities. But it is situated at the head of the Alaska Route 11, the Dalton Highway. The highway opened completely to the public in 1994. Since 1974 the road was restricted to commercial traffic supporting the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and oil fields at Prudhoe Bay. The haul road was designed to carry trucks, equipment and manpower.
Our destination this solstice day is the Arctic Circle nearly 200 miles north of Fairbanks. It is suggested that vehicles traveling the highway carry two full spare tires, flares and other supplies to make you self sufficient. We had only the doughnut spare in the borrowed Subaru were traveling in. We had extra gasoline, which we did not need, and plenty of water. The pavement changes to dirt and mud at the junction. Stretches of pavement reappear as the road winds north across a desolate boreal forest.
Along the Dalton, provisions are light. There is just one gas station along the way at Yukon Camp located at mile marker 56. The camp was a series of prefabricated buildings configured as a restaurant and rudimentary hotel. Here we had hamburgers for lunch. We were served by a young Californian who was working at the camp for the summer, a job he found on the internet. By coincidence, I was wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers t-shirt. Because of the shirt we attracted the attention of another traveler from Oil City, Pa. We chatted briefly about the route while we filled the tank. It was another 60 miles to the Arctic Circle.
Juxtaposed into the surrounding landscape is the nearly omnipresent Trans Alaska pipeline. The pipeline is elevated above the permafrost silently carrying crude oil at a rate of six miles per hour from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. The pipeline is elevated to provide caribou a way to slip back and forth on the landscape. In fact it provides a place of shelter for the caribou in the winter time and has reportedly made the herd bigger and stronger because of the protection it provides. The pipeline goes underground at Fairbanks and points south due to the absence of permafrost.
At mile 86 there is a rare left turn off of the highway to a wayside overlook situated at a gravel pit above the highway and pipeline. From here the pipeline and highway can be seen traversing from horizon to horizon across the still dormant forest.
Finger Mountain Summit, at mile 98, provides a wind-blown preview of the tundra situated further north. Rocks covered with green lichens dot the surface. Little vegetation survives in the subarctic desert where, on average, only five inches of rain is recorded each year. An arctic squirrel scurries about the rocky outcropping curious about the human visitors. It playfully interacts with me, almost posing, while I photographed it.
Another seventeen miles to the Arctic Circle, the northern most of five circle of latitude circling the earth. Located at 66° 33′ 44″ north of the equator, the line represents the southern most point of the midnight sun. The circle itself blends into the landscape, nothing differentiates it from the surroundings except for the wayside sign marking the line.