Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Crossing the Brooks Range - July 2010

As we head north from Coldfoot, at the southern edge of the Brooks Range, we approach the headwaters of the Dietrich River.  Trees grow scarce until they disappear altogether.  At Mile 235, is the last tall spruce tree, approximately 273 years old, which was killed by a vandal in 2004. 

What a moron!  The good news is that about 50 yards to the north of this, now dead spruce tree, is another spruce, that truly is the fartherest north spruce on the Dalton Highway.  Let's hope no other idiot decides to kill this one too!

We have arrived at the point in the arctic, where the forest ends and the tundra begins...

Oh, I forgot to tell you that while we were driving along, enjoying the beautiful scenery, Dave decided that he needed to listen to some ABBA.  Now, I like ABBA, but when Dave sings along... well it makes your ears bleed... sort of like listening to Fluffy shriek.  Anyway, we're driving along, and I'm trying desperately to squeeze my ears closed, when Dave yells, and I think he says, "Jynx"!  "What jynx?"  No, he says, "Lynx!".  We slam on the breaks and slowly creep up to a spot along the side of the road, as I scramble to grab my camera and start snapping photos.  I didn't even know what I was looking for, I was just pushing the button hoping that something would be in the view finder!  And, there it was..... a lynx.  How cool!


We crossed the Dietrich River, and approached the headwaters of the Chandalar River to the east.  Around miles 237 - 245, the highway traverses a major winter avalanche zone.  State transportation workers stationed here at the Chandalar Highway Station, fire artillery shells to clear the slopes above the highway.  We pulled off the road across from the station and pished for Blue-throat. 

What we got instead was a rather peeved Arctic Ground Squirrel...

a baby Northern Shrike...

and, flying overhead was a Golden Eagle!!!  We watched it glide and perch on a cliff across the river and I took this shot through the scope.  It's not very good, but you can tell it's a Golden!

Even though we are constantly looking up for birds, I can't help but look down! 

I'm fascinated with the low-growing flowers and shrubs in the arctic.  I swear I belong here.  Check out this adorable Dwarf Fireweed.

And, of course, since my Birder husband is also an entomologist, we had to get out our nets and see what cool butterfly species are up here!

Once again on the road, we continue north of the Chandalar River headwaters toward Atigun Pass.  Here you cross the Continental Divide (elev 4,739).  Rivers to the south flow into the Pacific Ocean or Bering Sea, while rivers to the north flow into the Arctic Ocean.  We kept an eye out for Grizzly Bears and Dall sheep, as we wound our way up toward the Pass.

If you look closely in the next picture, you can see the line on the left hillside that is the road as it cuts its way up into the pass.

Driving up the pass is no easy job.  The road is dirt, and the guard rails are flimsy at best, and the truckers own the road.  You just get out of their way if they are coming down! 

Once you reach the Cotinental Divide you are humbled by the vastness of the mountains around you.  That's Dave (6'5") in the picture below.

The scree slopes at the top of Atigan Pass form this giant avalanche bowl that was just too interesting for me to pass up.  So, we parked, and walked right down into the middle of it! 

Yep, we did!  And to our amazement, there was flowing water, and tiny little tudra flowers, moss and fungi everywhere! 

Check out this way cool lichen parmelia that is a combination between a green algae, a fungus and a cyanobacteria.  Pretty cool!  The fungus can obtain the water and the minerals, the bacteria fixes nitrogen and the algae, through photosynthesis, is able to produce glucose.  The black spots are the cyanobacteria.  Thus, the combination of these process allows each to survive the harsh environment of the Brooks Range, together... none of these individuals can survive alone.

Is this not the cutest mushroom you have ever seen?!!

Or, how about this adorable purple Russula?  I just love it's fat belly!  Reminds me of family.... :-)

Dave pished and we saw a Northern Wheatear,

Semi-palmated Plovers ...

and Snow Buntings!

Once you come down on the north side of the pass, you are in arctic tundra and you enter the Atigun Valley where a large glacial lake once occupied the entire area.  All that remains now is Galbraith lake with a nice campground within hiking distance of the Arctic National Wildlife refuge.


Grant Grooms said...

Wow - what an adventure! You two are so lucky to have this experience that so many humans aren't even clued in enough to know what they are missing. Please post more when you can. Take care!

Norma said...

Jill and Dave. I have been following your wonderful trip via Paul. He sends me your link and your pictures are wonderful. What a memory. What a great photographer you are. I want to know about that camera..... Love to you both. Norma