Thursday, September 13, 2012

Arctic Alaska

"Far North" - north of the Arctic Circle – above the latitude 66°33′44″ North, the remote wilderness of Brooks Range to Arctic Ocean – an area I have found fascinating for over 10 years since my first summer in Alaska.  This part of Alaska is the land of the midnight sun - sun stays above the horizon for 24 hours at the summer solstice, vegetation grows fast under the perpetual light, and wildlife - bears, caribou, moose, and wolves are always busy feeding and reproducing during the short summer. The only road across the remote Arctic is the 414 mile Dalton Highway from Fairbanks via Steese Hwy and Elliot Hwy, a total of 500 miles to Prudhoe Bay (Arctic Ocean), 850 miles from Anchorage!
In mid August, while it was still late summer in Anchorage, my journey to Arctic began.  Passing through Fairbanks, 350 miles from Anchorage, the fall was already starting!  The birch woods were turning to yellow. 84 miles from Fairbanks, the Dalton Hwy started with dirt road and a lot of construction.  After crossing the Yukon River, the highway follows the pipeline to the north.  The Birch woods changed to the land of permafrost with boreal forest.  The open tundra was already a golden fall color when I entered the Arctic Circle.  Countless rivers and lakes lay scattered across the open valley.
The historic gold rush town Coldfoot is now a big truck stop for huge trucks which heading to/from North Slope oilfield.  This is a last place for gas and supplies until Deadhorse, on the north end of Dalton Hwy.
The highlight of the Dalton Highway is north of Coldfoot; the spectacular Brooks Mountains begin. Gate of Arctic National Park & Preserve, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and some other protected lands are laid along the highway.  The colors of the tundra was vibrantly painted in orange and red, glowing in the nearly everlasting autumn sun.
Crossing Atigun Pass, the rivers north of the pass flow into the Arctic Ocean, and the rivers in the south flow into the Pacific Ocean. The dramatic scenery - rugged mountains and tundra valley continues on.
It was an emotional moment when I finally saw the edge of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge after signing so many petitions to protect this pristine remote land from oil development for the past years.  When I first heard about this area and the issue, I was still young, maybe a teenager in Japan, but I was strongly moved and felt pain for the political issue.  Finally I was there, seeing the evening light shine down upon the rugged mountains and the valleys from the Dalton Hwy...  The landscape of the refuge is stunning. I hope this area will be permanently protected for future.
Caribou crossing the tundra on north of Brooks Range.
The darkness of night lasts for at least a few hours...  The northern lights start dancing the Arctic.
To be continued to the next posting...