We got up really early for an all-day tour to and from the Arctic Circle with Northern Alaska Tour Company. We left their terminal around 6:30 a.m. on a coach bus with about 15-20 other tourists and got back around 9:30 or 10 p.m. We spent most of the day in the bus traveling about 200 miles (one way) on the Dalton Highway, but we made several stops. Our driver was a college student named John. He was a good driver and had some interesting tidbits to keep us informed and entertained, like that only about four percent of visitors to Alaska travel as far north as we did that day.
Our first stop was in the town of Joy at the Wildwood General Store (a.k.a. Arctic Circle Trading Post), owned by Joe and Nancy Carlson. They sell souvenirs, handmade craft items, and some food/drink items. They also have primitive restrooms (i.e., outhouses).
We continued traveling from there. The road is pretty rough, with lots of potholes and gravel. There is very little traffic--mostly trucks and the occasional biker.
We stopped at a pull-off to take a closer look at the Alyeska Pipeline (Trans-Alaska Pipeline), which parallels the highway. It has a 48-inch diameter, is 800 miles long (380 miles are buried and 420 miles are elevated due to permafrost), and extends from Alaska's northern coast (Prudhoe Bay) to the southern coast (Valdez).
|Alyeska Pipeline along the Dalton Highway|
We made a quick stop near the Yukon River around lunch time and continued on from there. We stopped again at Finger Mountain. However, it's not actually a mountain, but a broad hill. It's named for Finger Rock, a granite formation that points toward Fairbanks. It was pretty windy and cold. There was a short trail with some information signs. It was a good place to take in some panoramic views.
|Finger Rock (near center)|
|Close-up of Finger Rock|
|Mountain avens (Dryas integrifolia)|
We continued on and finally made it to the Arctic Circle! When we got there, it was 48 degrees F, so it was a bit cooler than the average temperatures in Fairbanks while we were there (60s-80s). There really isn't much there--just the sign, some information signs on that deck behind it, and some outhouses--but it was exciting to be there.
Ed had to get a shot with his "Tiger rag" (Clemson bandana). There probably aren't very many photos like this out there!
On the way back, we stopped to walk on the tundra and touch the permafrost, which was only maybe six inches or so below the surface. It just felt like a solid block of ice.
|Taking a walk on the tundra|
|Yukon River Camp|
It was a long day, but we enjoyed it. The thing that struck me most was how quiet it was. We didn't even see or hear any wildlife all day, except for a few birds. Animals do live there, such as foxes, hares, wolves, and voles, but we didn't see any. It was nice to take some moments throughout the day to enjoy the silence and marvel at this part of God's creation that so few get to see.