Jorge rubbed his weary eyes this morning from the truck gate and said, “Today is the day we go all the way to Prudhoe Bay!” The tundra was covered with a thick blanket of fog, but we were determined that nothing would stop us from reaching this milestone in our journey. The driving conditions were wet and mucky, but that didn’t stop the road crews from continuing to build up the permafrost road to the edge of North America. It may be difficult to tell from the photos, but that is two-inch dense foam being laid on the road and covered with rock/gravel to keep a buffer between the roadway and the permafrost.
Just as we began to approach Deadhorse, (…there are some stories behind the names Prudhoe Bay and Deadhorse…however, they are basically one in the same) we came upon our first close-up visit with wildlife – a small herd of muskoxen. We had been told there was a resident bunch along the pipeline as far north as you can go, and there they were!
The ‘town’ of Prudhoe Bay has an interesting feel – industrial, and much larger than we anticipated. It has pump houses, oil wells, employee housing (for about 6000 shift workers), maintenance shops and so much heavy equipment that you can imagine just how they built this whole town. The access is restricted, the amenities are scarce, alcohol is forbidden, but there is a brand-new Arctic Oilfield Hotel complete with 450 rooms for the shifters and a delicious all you can eat lunch for $14 per person…they even let you take a bag of snacks for the road! Everything is controlled by the petroleum companies, primarily British Petroleum (BP). Everything – including what is served for dinner each night.
We found our Arctic Ocean stickers, mailed another post card to the kids (Are you guys getting the post cards, yet?) and headed out to the ocean. Our tour consisted of a woman from Canada traveling by herself, a guy from Oregon, and a young engineering student from Texas on his last day of summer internship in Prudhoe Bay. Our guide, David, gave us the scoop as we drove through the complex and reassured us that he would come to our rescue should we encounter a polar bear in the water. Yes, that is correct. The polar bears occasionally swim to the shore of the very spot from which we plunged into the Arctic Ocean! Okay, we did not all plunge. Some of us waded, some of us watched, and only one of us plunged. (You guessed it – the kid from Texas, but not without some serious encouragement from the Spokane travelers.)
A seashore of icy rocks and frigid salt water with a backdrop of cloudy skies and misty showers in 45-degree weather dressed in long johns, parkas and winter hats is not my usual idea of a beach day. Most of you know I prefer the warm sand on the sunny banks of the beautiful Coeur d’Alene in a bathing suit with a bottle of beer and temperatures in the 90’s! Jorge and I braved the frosty water for more than a few minutes, and with frozen toes and chilled noses boarded the bus back to our truck, returning to Galbraith Lake and our favorite spot on the tundra for the night. This time, the Tepui will share the view!
Day 12 – 282 mi…All the way to Prudhoe Bay! (Total mileage so far = 3344)