Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Haul Road - Day 2 - July 2010

What a beautiful day in Alaska! Woke up at 5:30am and let Dave sleep. I walked over to the Coldfoot Lodge to work on the blog and grab a cup of coffee.

This is the last truck stop before you get to Deadhorse, so it is where everyone stops to fill up their tank and grab a hot meal. Every evening there is a buffet with good food, and a nice bar area with Alaskan and Canadian beer.

It’s important to remember that there are no medical facilities between Fairbanks and Deadhorse (500 miles) and Coldfoot Camp is the last truck stop – so no more gas or auto repair service. Therefore, it is really important to be prepared for the trip. We brought a big first aid kit, 2 spare tires, two 2.5 gallon jugs of water, all of our food and drinks, camping gear, bug spray and plenty of warm clothing with us. Last time, we saw two vehicles changing tires along the route, and a motorcyclist crashed and had to be airlifted to Anchorage. We’ve seen more bikers this time, and more bicyclists too, plus about twice the number of RVs. The road is constantly being repaired in the summer, because it is impossible to get equipment on it during the 9 months of winter.  Plus, remember, only a few sections of the Hwy are paved!

Built in just five months (1974) the “Haul Road” was originally closed to the public and only commercial traffic servicing the oil development in Prudhoe Bay was allowed. The highway was named the “Dalton Hwy” after James B Dalton, a lifelong Alaskan and expert in arctic engineering who was involved in early oil exploration efforts on the North Slope (everything north of the Brooks Range is called the “North Slope”). The road opened to the public in 1994, and adventurers from all over the world pit themselves against mother nature and make the trek north.

Big trucks have the right of way, so you MUST slow down when passing other vehicles coming the opposite direction to avoid damaging them with flying rocks – and damaging your own windshield! Everyone must drive with their headlights on and always pull over if someone wants to pass you. Your car will get filthy from the mud on the road, so you must keep your mirrors clean – because your back window will become completely coated with mud and you won’t be able to see out of it.  Our truck is green.

Mile 132: Just before you reach Coldfoot, there is a nice pull off at Gobblers Knob, where you get excellent views of the Brooks Range to the north.

Spring/Summer is beautiful here. Just driving along the highway provides glimpses of beautiful flowers quickly blooming before Winter comes in September.

About 5 miles up the road, we spotted a Moose with two babies along the side of the road. She quickly disappeared into the bog when we slowed to take photos. You have got to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife along the Haul Road, because you will come up on them quickly and are likely to hit them if you aren't careful!  There are 7 pump stations associated with the pipeline between Prudhoe Bay and Valdez, and a stop at Pump Station 5 to use the “Green Room” proved to be very rewarding.

We got good looks at 2 Veerys, Juncos, Violet-Green and Cliff Swallows, White-crowned sparrows, Gray Jays and a Red-tailed Hawk. Across the road in the pond were Ring-necks, Lesser Scaup and Canadas.

Mile 150: Grayling Lake: An ancient glacier carved this U-shaped valley and left a shallow lake where moose feed on the nutrient-rich aquatic plants in summer. Charcoal, stone scrapers, and other artifacts found nearby indicate that Native hunters used this lookout for thousands of years. We stopped to bird and added Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Varied and Swainsons Thrush, Butter-butts, Shovelers, L Scaup and Widgeon to our list.

We spent a little while collecting mushrooms – I’m ever on a quest to get more Amanita muscaria. Not that I want to eat them, or even make tea out of them.  I'm just fascinated with them chemical composition - and I think they're pretty!  We found one Amanita, but it had already been half eaten by some critter. So, if A. muscaria is hallucinogenic and toxic…. Why do the squirrels eat them? Hmm….. To catch a buzz? That’s what Dave thinks. But, I don’t think so.

I love this cool Boletus subtomentosus we found! They say it has a lemon flavor – but who in their right mind would WANT to eat a mushroom?!!

If you pull off at the South Fork of the Koyukuk River just north of Grayling Lake, there is a great spot to pull in and have lunch. We made our PB& J and fished a little here on our first trip in June. Dave caught a few butterflies – but no fish.

Mile 175: Coldfoot Camp. That brings us to Coldfoot Camp today, Friday, July 23, 2010. The original gold rush town of Coldfoot was located on the Middle Fork of the Koyukuk River near the mouth of Slate Creek. It got its name in 1900 when early prospectors reportedly got “cold feet” and left before winter set in. So, unlike us Russells who have no cold feet, Dave is still sleeping in the tent, I am finishing my cup of coffee and I have just finished catching you up on our adventure so far. It’s about 6:15am now, and a bunch of truckers and stranded tour groups are making their way into the lodge for breakfast. The tour group and some of the highway workers stayed at the Slate Creek Inn.

A bicyclist just came in and said he had just ridden down from Galbraith Lake (north of the Brooks Range) and the weather was miserable – rain and cold. Dave arrived for breakfast, and we were back on the road heading north toward Sukukpak Mountain at 9:40am.

A massive wall rising to 4,459 ft that seems cloudy in the morning sun, Sukukpak Mountain is an awe-inspiring sight. Peculiar ice-cored mounds known as palsas punctuate the ground at the mountain’s base and the size of it just blows you away. “Sukukpak” is an Inupiat Eskimo word meaning “marten deadfall.” Seen from the north, the mountain resembles a carefully balanced log used to trap marten.  Pretty cool, huh?

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