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> A trip to Deadhorse with Gus, Deadhorse/Prudhoe
post Jun 26 2005, 04:31 AM
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25 June 2005

Summary--trip to Prudhoe, musk ox, caribou, swim in ocean, expensive nuts, hello to Dan and Tucker, lupin, oil fields

Today we went to Prudhoe Bay with Gus Shaver. Also on the trip were Marselle Alexander-Ozinskus and Simone Lang--women who work with Gus.

Our trip was to take us the 150 miles up to Prudhoe so Gus could catch a flight home. He has been out observing, advising and doing research for the past few weeks and he was looking forward to going home to see his family. Before we got there though we had to stop several times so Gus could check for flowering. He has been recoding flowering along the Dalton since the 1970s so has compiled quite a bit of data. He has sites the entire way along the almost 500 mile road. When we stopped Gus would run off into the tundra with his palm pilot and we would wander around taking pictures like the one below.

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I don't know that mile marker 317 has any special significance but I am apparently really happy to be at it. I also liked this picture because I am wearing both the UVA and Dartmouth gear. I hope my friends Dan and Tucker appreciate that I am supporting their old schools.

As we were driving along Gus began to tell us to watch out for caribou. They are apparently fairly predictable in their location because soon after we began to see small groups of 10-20 of them. The are interesting creatures--taller than reindeer with antlers on the males and the females. When they would lie down in the tundra their mixture of light and dark brown hair made them almost invisible. They were given away only by their antlers. When they run their back legs kick out to the sides and their hips sort of swivel in a way that looks both awkward and smooth at the same time. Not all four legged creatures run as smoothly as a deer or a gazelle but they seem to get where they need to go.

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Gus was again accurate when he told us to start looking for musk ox to the right side of the car. Looking to the right had to have been a guess but sure enough in a little less than 1/2 an hour we saw some big lumps that were not caribou. We pulled over and snapped several pictures of the creatures in the distance. The musk ox was hunted to extinction in Alaska except for on one island (Nunnavak?). In the 1960s someone got the idea to reintroduce them in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge and they have been thriving relatively ever since. [Sorry the details are a bit spotty, I'll do the research and everything will be solid when I write the book--look for it on bookshelves in 2017.]

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I won't blame you if you think these look like a bunch of brown bumps but I assure you this is the absolute best of the 15 or so pictures that I took of these beasts. To be honest they were at a distance that I really couldn't see them clearly and only was able to see features when I looked at the photos.

When we finally arrived in Deadhorse we found that it and Prudhoe are basically the same place. Deadhorse is the 1000 acres of space set aside for entrepeneurs who wanted to come to the area and sell things to the oil companies and their workers. There are some hotels that look like trailers, a general store and many large lots that have equipment that subcontractors use. The area is not one you would want to stay in too long. It is built for the oil industry and that is clear. The hotelier at the Arctic Caribou Inn put it best when talking to a guest. The guest to be asked for a two night reservation and the man replied by saying, "Stay for one night and talk to me in the morning if you want to stay longer."

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I was happy to be able to take this picture showing that I had driven the entire length of the Dalton Highway. The general store sold certificates that proved this for either 2 or 4 dollars but I decided to pass and just take this photo.

After Marselle purchased batteries and cashews at the general store we were off to the Arctic Caribou Inn for our tour of the oil fields and the Arctic Ocean. What is clear about the tour is that they don't really want you there. The restrictions since 9-11 and the fact that you are asking to drive around where big machines are trying to work combine to create a situation where you just don't feel welcome. Our guide, a security guard for the oil companies, arrived and showed us a tape explaining all the ways that oil was good for the country and good for Alaska. After the 17 minute video we all left the room, showed our ids and got onto a little bus to go on the tour. (We had to give our id numbers 24 hours before hand so I wonder what they did with them?)

Our guide was very nice and explained everything that we passed along the 15 minute ride to the ocean. There just isn't that much to see and the big open spaces seem sort of desolate. I understand why they can't let us in closer but I was really interested in seeing where the workers stay. Apparently once you enter they have pretty nice quarters and surroundings. Basketball courts, indoor tracks and things like that--it sounded good and I just wanted to see if inside the cold metal buildings was a place that I could stay for a while. No one stays too long in Prudhoe. They work for 1-4 weeks and then usually have a week or more off depending on how long they had been there. They work 12 hour days and are always paid overtime so they get overtime every day they work so I understand why people like the work.

When we arrived at the Arctic Ocean there was still quite a bit of ice in close but there was enough to squeeze in. I stripped down to my boxers and headed into the ocean. It wasn't too cold because for the first 100 feet or so it was only ankle deep. After that if finally started getting deeper and eventually was 2 feet deep. I had walked for quite a while at this point and didn't feel like going further so my dip in the arctic ocean was more like a water push-up. I did get my head wet and it did taste a little salty so I feel that it was enough.

I didn't have the foresight to give someone my camera so the only picture I have is the one below, taken right after my swim.

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Again I am smiling like a fool. This time I attribute it to the fact that I was on a euphoric high due to just swimming in the Arctic Ocean. It is very odd that after travelling hundreds of miles along the Dalton, amidst some of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, the last few miles before you get to the ocean make you feel dejected and miserable. The contrast is very stark. I admire the people that are able to do the work in a place like that.
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