Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Call of the Wild - July 8 - Toolik Lake - Deadhorse

Note: the story begins here: http://1-800-magic.blogspot.com/2008/07/call-of-wild.html

I wake up at 7 and go outside. The rain is intermittent. I leave a little bit of bread in the water not far from where we have parked to see if there is fish there, and go back to bed. At 9, I check back – the bread is all still there. There is no point to even attempt fishing, so we have breakfast and leave.

Mountains recede, and the landscape changes to rolling hills and then plains. It is completely deserted, except for a few birds. The plains look flat, but they are composed from millions of mounds 15-20 cm in height with a bunch of grass on top. The grass spreads around and covers the troughs between the mounds. But when you walk, you have to watch very carefully where you foot lands – the surface is very uneven. Often there is water in the troughs, too. There are many lakes all around. Some waterfowl starts appearing – ducks, geese, swans.

Once in a long while we see bicyclists on the road. This is masochism in one of its purest form. First, it rains every few days – and when it rains, it pours. One gets completely, thoroughly wet within half an hour of being in the rain, even in rain gear. Second, the mosquitoes. Bicyclists are not moving fast enough to shake them off, especially uphill, and the road is so bad that one can’t accelerate downhill either. Third, the trucks. When they pass, they pelt one with a shower of small stones. We always pull to the side of the road and stop when a truck passes by, but the rattle of stones on the windshield and the RV body still makes quite a racket. I wonder what happens when one of the bigger pieces strike the bicyclist. Fourth, you have to carry all your food with you – there are no stores that sell food anywhere on the highway. Finally, wild animals. There are definitely bears in the area, and wolves – we’re seen the foot prints. Trying to outrun one on a bike is not a good idea.

After the Brooks Range, the road stays mostly within the basins of two rivers – Atigun, and then Sagavanirktok, of which Atigun is a tributary. Both are quite shallow this time of the year.

The weather clears for a moment, and we make a stop along Sagavanirktok.

There is a boat landing here, and an automatic weather monitoring station. The river is wide and could in theory support fish. We try to fish, but don’t catch any. In the end our kids get completely entangled in the string, and I have to cut it.

We arrive at Deadhorse around 7PM that day. The drive is uneventful – the weather spoils again, so the endless plains around us are gray and devoid of the wildlife. We see a few birds – seagulls and others that we cannot identify, and we snap this picture of a swan at the very entrance of Deadhorse.

Deadhorse is not really a settlement. It’s a large industrial area that looks like the insides of the gravel pit – a lot of heavy equipment intermixed with units of temporary housing. These are called “hotels”, but they are not hotels in the normal sense of the word – they are companies that provide housing services to oil exploration corporations. They also house the few visitors that come to the area, but treat this part of their business as a public service rather than moneymaking enterprise.

The staff at the Arctic Caribou Inn is not very interested in our money at all – they tell us to pay for parking tomorrow, and fail to charge us for the tour – I have to remind them the next day to take our money. Simple parking is $10, parking with “hookups” is $25. The hookup is just electric, but they also do give us water fill-up on the side. More importantly, inside the hotel they have showers and a Laundromat – for free – which we use.

Before settling in on Arctic Caribou Inn, we drive around to see if anyone has RV hookups with water. We soon find out that The Milepost information about Prudhoe Bay is outdated. The only hotel company that has RV parking at all is the Arctic Caribou Inn. We also keep asking about RV dump, but nobody has heard about it. Yet it is very prominent on every map, and given the fact that this is the only one on Dalton Highway after Milepost 60, it is a very important location for us.

As a side note, the lack of RV dumping facilities alongside the Dalton is the biggest limiting factor for us – because of it our use of the RV bathroomis very limited. There is also no water between Coldfoot (milepost 175) and Deadhorse (milepost 415). We try to conserve water and almost always use the outhouses alongside the road, but still cannot stretch our water tank for longer than two days.

The Milepost lists Brooks Supply as a general store and a great source of information about the area. As far as a store, it is not very useful for a traveler – it carries neither food (except for snacks – potato chips and candy), nor water. The vast majority of the Deadhorse population are oilfield workers that live elsewhere, and the companies provide all meals while they are here – so there is no need for a store selling unprocessed food: nobody cooks. Other than that, the second floor of the store (general supplies) is Wal-Mart condensed into a couple thousand square feet. The first floor is hardware, and it is Home Depot’s tools section condensed into the similar floor space.

The good thing is, people here know where the RV dump station is – it’s at Nana station right next to the Arctic Caribou Inn.

So we go back to the Arctic Caribou Inn and settle in for the night, which means that we shower and do the laundry for the next two hours, then finally fall asleep at 3 AM. It is raining again.

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