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> July 20, 2006 - Dalton Highway, I'm on my way!
post Jul 24 2006, 07:47 AM
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July 20, 2006 - Dalton Highway

Thursday was an exciting day! The day began at 9:00am with the Dalton Express Van picking me up at the hotel. The Dalton Express travels daily from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay occasionally dropping people at Toolik Field Station on the way.

Our journey began traveling north out of Fairbanks. The Dalton Highway is a primitive road that begins 84 miles north of Fairbanks and ends 414 miles later in Deadhorse, the industrial camp in Prudhoe Bay. This highway provides a rare opportunity to traverse a remote, unpopulated part of Alaska to the very top of the continent. Our destination was only 284 miles.

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Drivers view of the dirt and gravel road. Note the cracks in the wind shield

The only problem with the Dalton Highway is that it is not paved and very bumpy. The speed limit is 50 mph, but you are doing well if you reach that speed because of the potholes.

The scenery is incredible! Everywhere you look you see Spruce trees and mountains.

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Miles and Miles of Blue Spruce

At mile 56 we crossed over the Yukon River. The Yukon winds nearly 2,000 miles from Canada to the Bering Sea. During the gold rush, wood-fired sternwheelers ferried gold seekers and supplies for trading posts up and down this river.

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View of the Yukon River from the Dalton Express

In 2004, Alaska had the largest recorded fire burning over 6.7 million acres (the area of Massachusetts). The fire returned in 2005 burning 4.4 million acres. In these burnt areas there are signs of natural succession taking place. One of the early colonizing plants is Fireweed. This plant will lead the way for regrowth that will eventually feed much more wildlife. And it is very pretty.

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We eventually stopped at Finger Mountain. Finger Mountain is caused by a geological phenomenon called a tor. Tors are surviving remnants of large, unglaciated bedrock hills that have been subjected to intense frost wedging during periods of rigorous climatic conditions, causing an upward protrusion. The most prominent granite tor is called Finger Rock. During the pioneer days of Alaskan aviation, bush pilots used Finger rock as a navigational aid.

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Now we all know why it was named Finger Rock

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Bill, our tour guide

After several hours of traveling, we came to the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle is an imaginary line, drawn parallel to the equator at latitude 66 degrees North, where the sun stays above the horizon for one full day on summer solstice (June 21), and below the horizon for one full day on winter solstice (December 21).

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Finally reaching the Arctic Circle. How exciting!

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This flower asked me to take its picture to document its beauty!

Continuing back on our journey, we passed the Sukakpak Mountain. This mountain is 4,459 ft high. Sukakpak is an Inupiat Eskimo word meaning “marten deadfall.” This mountain is cool because it is formed from limestone (which was formed under the ocean originally), has been uplifted and folded over by plate tectonics.

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Sukakpak Mountain

We stopped at a town called Coldfoot for dinner and then continued our journey. By the way, Coldfoot got its name in 1900 when early prospectors reportedly got “cold feet” and left before winter set in. Thirty minutes down the road, we broke a tire rod and we were stranded. A trucker stop and let us use his satellite phone (thank goodness for modern technology) and we know that someone was on the way. What we did not know was if they would take us to Coldfoot and fly us out or send a replacement van (we were now nine hours from Fairbanks). So, what do people do when there is nothing to do but wait—Take Pictures!

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Charla, Linda, Carol, Bill, Amanda, and Amie

A replacement van arrived two hours later and we were on our way again. We soon noticed that the trees were disappearing. We have finally entered the Tundra.

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Moving along we started climbing in the Brooks Mountain Range. You cross the Continental Divide at Atigun Pass. Rivers south of there flow into the Pacific Ocean or Bering Sea, while river to the north flow into the Arctic Ocean. The southern portion of the pass forms a U-shaped valley. This valley was formed by a cirque glacier that over a period of many centuries the great weight of accumulating glacial ice cut into the bedrock and formed the arm-like depression.

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Going down Atigun Pass to the north. This picture shows the U-shaped valley that an ancient glacier has carved out. WOW!

After 14 hours on the road, we finally pulled in Toolik Field Station—my home for two weeks! We were checked in, assigned rooms, and quickly fell asleep. I will give the virtual tour of Toolik at a later date.

I think my day was amazing because I meet five strangers that morning and ended with five friends, three of whom I will be working with at Toolik. Life is great.

Note: When you see the thumbnail size pictures in the “Photo Gallery” section of the website, you can double click on them to enlarge them for a better view. If you have questions about any of the pictures or my journals, you can e-mail me at cjordantrec@arcus.org which will enable you to correspond directly to my personal e-mail account. If you want to post a question for the public to see, you need to click on “Ask the teacher or scientist” section of the webpage which is the second choice after “Teacher Journal”. “Photo Gallery” is the third choice after “Teacher Journal”.
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