Thursday, July 17, 2008

Call of the Wild - July 5 - Yukon - Arctic Circle

Note: the story begins here:

I woke up early. How early, I have no idea – since there was no reception, I put the cell phone away, and I don’t own a watch. The sun was blazing outside – but it had been doing this since early evening: we were close to the Arctic Circle.

I woke up because of the buzzing of mosquitoes. My wife and I were sleeping in an alcove above the driver’s seat, separated from the rest of the RV by a dense curtain. The two windows on the side and the one on top were open, but they had a net on them. There was a thick cloud of mosquitoes outside all three. I thought with no small degree of satisfaction – “Good luck trying to get through…” Then I noticed a small ring of empty space between the handle that raises the cover above the top opening and the net. Then I saw mosquitoes inside the compartment.


I quickly lowered the outer cover (I had to raise and lower it several times to get mosquitoes that were stuck between it and the net out) and spent the next 15 minutes clapping around.

Alaskan mosquitoes are numerous but stupid.

Mosquitoes both around Moscow and Seattle evolved to be much smarter. They start by driving their victim to the edge of insanity by buzzing around – but not landing on it – for hours. They only do it in darkness – if you turn the lights on to try to track them down and kill, they immediately hide behind the furniture. Eventually one gets exhausted and goes to sleep – and then the feasting begins.

Alaskan mosquitoes are not that strategic. Once they see the victim, they fly straight to it, land immediately… and die, because it is just too easy to kill them. Also, they must be much slower than their counter parts in civilized areas, because I don’t remember being this successful at killing them in the air before coming here.

But they definitely compensate lack of skills with their numbers. I clapped and clapped, but they kept appearing. Eventually my daughter got up and started killing them in the main cabin. Apparently, there were a few cracks between the windows and the mosquito nets through which they were crawling.

Eventually we gave up trying to sleep, and got out of the RV. The sun was blazing. We were on the legendary Yukon!

These parts were well inhabited, at least for Dalton. There was a visitor’s center, as I wrote before, but also a boat launch site, a shop, a motel with a restaurant (various chicken, beef and salmon dishes around low to mid-$20), and a gift shop with various Arctic Circle sweat shirts.

The Visitors Center contains a few pretty interesting interpretive panels about construction of the bridge and the pipeline. One can get quite close to the pipeline itself here…

Yukon must be about half mile wide here, and the bridge is truly a magnificent structure. It is based on massive foundation armored to withstand the ice floe. It carries both the thin traffic and the pipeline…

…but really, it was built here for the magnificent views...

Below the bridge are the service boats of Alyeska Pipeline Company…

This part of Yukon is clearly a favorite with fishermen in the area – a lot of people were launching boats from the landing, and there were a lot of cars parked around it.

There are two more pinnacles of civilization within 4 miles of Yukon – Hot Spot Café and – more importantly – a wastewater dump for RVs. With 5 people on board, our dump tanks were filling up very quickly, even with very sparing use of the bathroom, so a visit there was essential.

Generally, a life of an RV on Dalton revolves around these two essential events – filling the water tank, and getting rid of the wastewater. There are 3 or 4 places on Dalton where fresh water can be had, but only two places – one near Yukon, and one at the very end at Deadhorse – where it can be dumped. Our RV has two tanks – “gray water” for kitchen sink and the shower, and “black water” for the toilet. There are quite a few toilets on the highway, so we did not have as much of a problem with the black water as with the gray.

Hot Spot Café is just off the highway. The menu consists of various types of burgers and ice cream derivatives. I had a milkshake there and it was really good – a European variety with nothing other than milk and ice cream – no chemical thickeners and flavors.

A lot more spectacular scenery along the road…

…is leading to rolling hills with circular outcroppings of stone on top that resemble crowns. If I had to visualize the scenery from the “Fellowship of the Rings” where hobbits get trapped by the dead spirits after the visit to Tom Bombadil, this would be it.

Among them, the famous Finger Mountain, pointing to Fairbanks.

And a huge crow flying overhead.

The soil is mushy – a combination of moss, dead branches, and occasionally water. The water will be more common as we move North. Walking on it is hard – you have to watch carefully where you step, jump from mound to mound, stone to stone. A relatively short distance can take forever.

Right before the Arctic Circle we’ve seen our first wildlife. Several hares were seating on the side of a highway. Here’s one.

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