Archive for the ‘Alaska 2020’ Category

A Year Later

Last year we arrived in Alaska on Thanksgiving. We only left for 6 weeks to retrieve our new trailer, see our other children, and return here for the summer camp host season. So, we’ve been ‘here’ for one year. Last Thanksgiving when we arrived it was cold, but it rained a lot until mid-December. Today, we have our first winter snow! Nearly 2 1/2 feet! The power went off where we’re living, the same place as last year, Kathnu Spirit, and the shaking of starting the generator threw my phone off the nightstand, but now we have a bit of warmth and a few lights.

Snow from our front door!

About 10 a.m., while still being cozy in my bed, my daughter, son-in-law and two grands appeared outside the door. It’s SNOW MACHINE time! So, off on a snow machine I will go to mail my Hanukkah gifts to my children in the Lower 48. Still lovin’ Alaska!

©2020 Tentstake Ministries Publishing

Wiseman and the Aurora

Snow covered the ground the next morning at Coldfoot along with low fog. We were encouraged by locals that it would lift and become a clear day and hopefully night. We hopped in the royal van and headed north again to the little village of Wiseman, Alaska on the Middle Fork of the Koyukuk River.

Before the pipeline was built in 1970 along with the haul road, the only way to access Wiseman was by bush plane and a rustic runway. A narrow dirt road shooting off the access road to Wiseman leads to Nolan where the there was gold mining in the Hammond River. A 150-ounce gold nugget was found in this river! At $1900.00 per ounce, that would be worth $285,000 today!

Wiseman was established in 1905 and became a booming town in the quest for Gold in 1910. Today it has a population of 13 and is designated as an Alaskan Native Village even though there are no natives who live there. There are two places to lodge, a public phone via satellite, and numerous historic and privately-owned cabins. The Kalhabuk Memorial Chapel is a small, cozy cabin which still has services. The old post office still sits in town though it has sunk into the ground. There are three cabins owned by the tour company. Two are museums and one is the hangout for watching the Aurora Borealis. In the rest of the cabins are residents or those who have summer cabins here.

Part of our trip to Wiseman was to meet local Jack Reakoff who was born in Alaska and has lived most of his adult life in Wiseman. We met his wife Nicole in the early afternoon. Nicole owns and operates an arts and crafts store called the Twisted Willow. As they are both hunters, they use the complete animal. They eat all of the meat for food never buying meat from a store. Jack sells the pelts and furs while she creates unique crafts from the feathers, claws, teeth and bones.

Jack is a true ‘sourdough’ because not only has he spent 30 plus winters above the Arctic Circle, he also has a sourdough starter from the late 1800s that he protects with whatever warmth he can. I thought my sourdough starter was old and it’s from 1928!

We were blessed to visit them in the evening in their home and to enjoy more than a tour talk, but an actual visit comparing notes about log homes, wood stoves, and herbal remedies for everything, even COVID!

Their two-room log house is completely off-the-grid (obviously). Their cool pantry is under their kitchen accessed by a door in the floor. Their refrigerator is in a room attached to the house that stays very cold. They had multiple teapots on the wood stove – some for cooking and drinking, the others for washing even though laundry is done with nothing but cold water. Attached to the ceiling around the stove pipe was an iron-like shelf with holes. They had their boots drying up there, but it’s actually for drying meat.

Like most who live off-grid, they have power through propane or batteries which is a fun topic for my husband to discuss because of our 5th wheel. We sat on fur-lined chairs which kept us doubly warm in the already-warm house. When I had to use the toilet, I was given a head lamp and the general direction toward the outhouse. This is only moments after discussing a female wolf who had been wandering around looking for food! This outhouse was quite nice and decorated; the one later that night at the tour cabin had ice on the seat! Yes, it was about -9. BUT, I learned that even when it’s that cold, your body will perform its necessary duties.

Jack taught my husband how to use his camera to shoot good Aurora photos with long exposure times. Unfortunately, the predictions for the lights that night were not very good. The solar flares and the wind and too many other finer details didn’t line up for the night. Somewhat discouraged, they reminded us that we would probably see something, but not very strong.

We left Jack’s house and headed toward our tour cabin. It had propane heat which felt wonderful after using the frozen toilet seat.

A couple of barrels outside created a very warm fire while we waited for the Aurora to start. Inside, I heated our dinner of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches brought from the lodge. The time was 11:30 p.m.

For two hours, we alternated between the warm cabin and the hot barrels outside waiting for some action in the sky. The clear night revealed stars upon stars upon stars. The the Big Dipper, Little Dipper and North Star were directly above our heads. The Milky Way crossed the sky in brilliant white band. The earth’s weather conditions were perfect; we waited on the sun.

At first we had glimpses of something happening overhead. Remember, these are northern lights to those in the south, but in the Arctic they are overhead. My husband had his tri-pod and camera ready to go – extra battery in the warm cabin because frigid weather kills batteries. Soon, we had flare ups. Small, but something. Reds were prominent though most people see green. Our solar show from the Hand of God was not quite as dramatic as I had hoped for my first experience and being in the Arctic, but the colors manifested themselves and brightened the northern sky while we stood in the frigid cold of the Arctic. Yes, I am blessed to have done something few humans ever do. By 2 a.m. we were in our cozy beds trying to warm our feet and hands, but remembering the display of color in the land of the ‘midnight dark.’

I apologize that there are no photos of what we saw dancing in the sky. When I uploaded the photos, they appeared to be only black like this with the exception of some star spots.

The next morning we woke again to crisp, clear cold weather. We packed our things, unplugged our engine heater, said good-bye to the best Arctic tour guide, and headed south toward Fairbanks and home.

And now, ‘the rest of the story.’

About 20 miles north of Healy, Alaska, the home of Jeff King the Iditarod musher, and 110 miles south of Fairbanks, I noticed the car acting strange, so strange that I had to pull off the road where it just died. I had no speedometer, no tachometer, no electrical power whatsoever. My husband mentioned the night before that he worried about the battery, but was really more concerned about the alternator. So, we sat by the side of the road in our car at negative degrees with no power meaning no heat.

It took 30 minutes for our roadside service to even answer the phone so I began searching for the closest tow truck. Both of us had one bar of cell phone service where we were. I found the number for a tow truck and called Zach. He was in Fairbanks about 2 hours away, but offered to tow if and when he got there, but he couldn’t take us, only our car. I had hoped he could tow us to Healy since it was close and it had a NAPA auto store. How we would get there, who knew?

While waiting for Not So Good Sam to locate us on Google Earth, my husband called NAPA. They had an alternator for our Subaru, but for a manual not an automatic. No one was sure how it would work, but at least they had a part that might work. A second call to Zach only left me more frustrated as he said he would tow our car to Wasilla, close to Anchorage for $1800 where we could get it serviced on Monday or Tuesday – this was Saturday.

While we waited to hear back from our road service who now needed our longitude and latitude coordinates, several people including a state trooper stopped by to check on us. We were fine except the temperature was only +9 degrees and the opened hood blocked the sun. Eventually, we both changed into warmer clothes, heavier coats, and gloves while we continued to wait for some help from Not So Good Sam who has always been Not So Good. (Note: We also had blankets, food and water as well as flares, extra tires, and oil.)

After 2 ½ hours of sitting by the road with the hood up and wearing our arctic gear, a white truck passes by. Further down the road he turns around and pulls up to our car as if to offer us a jump. My husband got out of the car about the same time a shirtless thin young man got out of his truck and put on a camo shirt. There was something about this man and I knew that he was going to be part of our story.

According to my husband, he touched several parts around the engine and then asked if my husband had tried to start the vehicle. We had tried once with no juice whatsoever, but my husband came back in the car and vrooooooom, it started right up! Like it never even had a problem! The two of them shut the hood and the young man climbed back in the white truck drove off into one of the four winds of heaven. I knew at that moment we had divine intervention. This has happened to me other times in my life so I can recognize an angelic visit when it occurs.

My husband and I began driving toward Healy when my phone rang. It was Zach. He had finally received authorization to tow us back to Fairbanks from Not So Good Sam. We told him the car suddenly started and we were heading the opposite direction to Healy.

When we arrived at Healy, we discussed just driving on because the car seemed to be working perfectly, but as we started up the hill out of Healy, the car began sputtering and my husband turned around. We coasted down the hill and cruised into the NAPA at the bottom. The alternator part would work with a little effort and my husband installed it and we drove again down the Parks Highway toward Anchorage.

A final stop to see Denali hidden in the clouds and we continued safely and warmly to our friend’s home in Anchorage just in time for moose tacos and some excruciatingly decadent dessert. Through the Hand of Yeshua and His protective angels, we finished our trip south to the Kenai Peninsula holding only wonderful memories and feeling even warmer temperatures.

Yes, it was cold in the Arctic Circle, but it was also a tremendous decision to visit Tim and take a vacation. I still want to take a photo of my foot on the shores of the the Arctic Ocean and dip my toes into its frigid water. I still want to visit Utqiagvik, perhaps during their whaling festival. Until then, my non-existent bucket list will remain as it is – like water frozen in that bucket.

©2020 Tentstake Ministries Publishing, all rights reserved.  No copying or reproducing of this article without crediting the author or Tentstake Ministries Publishing.

Trekking North on the Dalton

I never get up ‘bright and early,’ so our tour days with Tim began mid-morning. The first day we were greeted with clear skies and bright sunshine. The second morning we had low clouds, snow and much colder temperatures. I combined two days of travel on the Dalton into one which is why some photos are clear and some have snow! Now you know why!

Who is a Sourdough?

As we were the only guests at the lodge at this time, we had the tour van to ourselves. My husband sat in the front and I had a full back seat to myself. Just as my friend who drives vans to and from the airport, Tim had a step for me to climb into the van. As the exits and entrances progressed, I became ‘her royal highness.’ Yes, of course!

My Royal Ride

Our trek north continued on the Dalton Highway as it is the only road in the entire Arctic north. Our destination for the day was Galbraith about 150 miles south of Prudhoe Bay in the North Slope.

After leaving Coldfoot, we crossed Slate Creek and Mile 175. Tim took us to his summer lodging area nestled beside the creek. We also visited his winter hideout which is further from the cold river. Though he does have a warm room as an employee at Coldfoot Camp, he prefers the great outdoors in both summer and winter. He also enjoys his alone time. He is a true Sourdough, someone who has spent an entire winter above the Arctic Circle and protects his ‘sourdough’ through the winter close to his body. Though Tim doesn’t keep a sourdough starter, he did meet the qualification of spending several winters above the Arctic Circle.

We crossed Marion Creek at Mile 179 which has the beautiful turquoise color of the Kenai River though much smaller. Ice had begun to form over the creek giving evidence of the arriving winter temperatures. This area has a BLM campground, the furthest north public campground in America with a camp host. There is no satellite TV or even cell phone coverage – we lost service the first day and only had it at the camp. Maybe this campground should be our next camp host job?

Tim made an unexpected turn and took us down a snowy road to a miner’s camp along Minnie Creek at Mile 187. The miner had packed up his camp for the winter, but the remnants of his operation along with the sluice stood frozen in the chilled morning temperatures.

We crossed the Koyukuk River, a 425-mile tributary of the Yukon River in Alaska. It is the last major tributary entering the Yukon River before it empties into the Bering Sea.  We have a friend who actually stops somewhere near the Yukon River Camp and boats up the Koyukuk to moose hunt. Now you know from whom and where we receive our stash of moose meat!

As we continued to travel north, we had majestic views of the Sukakpak Mountain with an elevation of 4,000 feet. This mountain is considered the traditional boundary between Eskimo and Athabaskan Native territories. All along the road, the pipeline weaves in and out and up and down. Some of the pipeline in this area is mounted on ‘shoes’ to allow flexing as the oil passes through the pipeline. Around the Sukakpak Mountain and the nearby Dillon Mountain are palsas or areas that look like avalanche tubes. In reality they are areas formed by ice beneath the soil pushing the vegetation and soil upward.

The Brooks Range Views

We continued to pass creek after creek, stream after stream. Along the road are many culverts that allow water from drainage creeks to pass under the road and not over it. Each culvert has a ‘thaw pipe’ – that green thing on top of the post. During the ice breakup in spring when water begins flowing, the water in the culverts is frozen. Steam is pumped into the tall piping which thaws the water and keeps it from passing over the roadway.

Each creek has private mining claims so access can be restricted. We passed Gold Creek from where 330,000 ounces of placer gold was produced and is still mined. We passed the Dietrich River at Mile 207 – the halfway mark on the Dalton Highway.

We entered the North Slope Borough. The State of Alaska is divided into 19 boroughs. We live in the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Each borough has independent, incorporated communities within its boundaries. The North Slope Borough is the world’s largest municipal land area in the world with its central government located in Utqiagvik.

The road begins climbing as we head to the Chandalar Shelf at Mile 237. Treeline is at 2500 feet, not the 10,000 we had in Colorado. As we climbed the two-mile long grade, Tim heard on the radio something about caribou to the north. When we began our morning tour, he told us to keep our eyes open for wildlife. His ultimate goal for the trip was for us to see at least one caribou. Up until this point, we had only seen an owl and too many ravens to count.

At the summit of the Chandalar Shelf, we had the wildlife event of a lifetime. Hundreds of caribou crossed the road from a steep hillside on our left to a humongous flatter area – the Shelf – to our right. Just like the PB & J lunch break, we decided that watching hundreds of caribou migrate was a great place to stop and just be.

After watching the last of the caribou descend into the valley shelf to join their family members on the other side of the road, we continued toward Galbraith by ascending a long, steep, uphill winding road to the summit of Atigun Pass. The pipeline remained to our right in a buried, insulated concrete cribbing to protect it from rock slides and avalanches, and to keep the ground from thawing. Imagine constructing the pipeline in such conditions!

Though Tim told us to watch for sheep who like to eat the salt from the road, all we saw was the view of the road climbing up the pass. At the summit, Atigun Pass is 4,800 feet in elevation. It is the highest highway pass in Alaska and it crosses the Continental Divide. Though this pass is the highest pass, many of the mountains in the area exceed 7,000 feet in elevation.

From the summit of Atigun Pass, we descended north toward Galbraith, the pipeline following us the entire way. By Pump Station #4 at Mile 269, we actually had cell service for about 5 miles. I called my dad in Pennsylvania and told him I was 200 miles above the Arctic Circle. He asked what I was doing there and I told him I was on a vacation. His response, “WHO goes on a vacation to the Arctic Circle? It’s COLD!” Yes,that is true but he had to admit he had never received a phone call from anyone above the Arctic Circle before!

North of Atigun Pass, permafrost, a thick subsurface layer of soil that remains frozen throughout the year, is continuous. The vegetation also changes from trees to tundra which means ‘treeless mountain tract.’ Tree growth is especially hindered on the ‘north slopes’ by low temperatures and a short growing season due to the short summer sunshine and long winter darkness. Alaskans know exactly when they see the sun again after the winter. In Wiseman, Alaska, their first view of the sun after it sets in late November is January 9. Though many people think that Alaska has less sunlight than other places, on average Alaska receives 40 minutes more sunlight than the rest of the United States!

North of Atigun Pass

As we approached Gilbraith Camp, the sun shone on the lake in the glorious arctic sun way. Eventually we arrived at Gilbraith Lake Campground where we enjoyed hot cider and a stretch of our legs. We wandered around the campground taking in the frozen stream and photographing lichen, the food of the caribou. I also made a snow angel in the tundra wearing Tim’s delightfully warm beaver gloves. Before returning south to Coldfoot, we stood beside a post that delineates the road’s edge so snow plows don’t lose their way. It also marked the northern-most point of our arctic journey while the pipeline and the gravel road continued on to the Arctic Ocean.

Galbraith Camp

Then, we saw him, the highlight of the entire day – a Cross Fox. This magnificent fox has the coloring of a red fox, but also has a long dark stripe running down its back, intersecting another stripe to form a cross over the shoulders. And, he had a beautiful white puffy tail!

Our return south up and over the pass brought snow and blowing snow. Fortunately, it wasn’t too heavy and the royal van inched its way back down the other side. As we passed through the valleys, across the now-caribou-less shelf, by mountains, and along the rivers and streams, Tim quizzed us on what we had learned. Each of us answered our one question right and received the prize! A peanut butter cup!

A final wildlife sighting along the Koyukuk River of moose standing on the ice shelf drinking water ended our day while the snow continued to fall, the temperatures dropped and the sun set. We knew with this changing weather that this would not be the night for seeing the Aurora Borealis. We hoped the next day would bring clearer skies.

Part 3 – Tour Day 2

©2020 Tentstake Ministries Publishing, all rights reserved.  No copying or reproducing of this article without crediting the author or Tentstake Ministries Publishing.

The Arctic Circle

If I ever had a ‘bucket list,’ I don’t really know. When I was a home schooling mom, I often wondered what it would be like to home school where no one could ever question your motive or your lifestyle. The only place I could find far enough away was Barrow, Alaska, the government seat of the North Slope Borough. Barrow, like Mt. McKinley, are now known by their native names: Utqiagvik (Inuit) and Denali (Athabascan) still, I never imagined when my children were young that I would ever visit Alaska nor have the opportunity to travel north of the Arctic Circle, but not quite all the way to Utqiagvik.

This summer during my husband’s rounds at the campground, he met a bicyclist camper named Tim. Tim loved the Kenai Peninsula, the Kenai River and just the campground itself. He stayed as long as he was allowed. My husband learned that Tim was a tour guide above the Arctic Circle in a place called Coldfoot. Neither of us had ever heard of the place before and it took a while for the name to stick in my head. Before Tim returned to the ‘land of the midnight sun,’ he invited us to visit Coldfoot and allow him to give us the grand tour via Northern Alaska Tour Company. We made plans for October.

The Alaskan Staple of Driving

For those wondering, we did not take our 5th wheel. We were warned by many Alaskans that the road above Fairbanks to Coldfoot and beyond was not suitable for a trailer like ours. So, we invested in a little car, one that seems to be the staple of life for Alaskans – a 2001 Subaru Outback. We made sure it was in good running condition so we would not find ourselves stranded in the great vast unknown. But that becomes the ‘rest of the story.’

We set out on our little vaca heading north toward Talkeetna. For the past four years I had returning campers who offered us a place to stay if ever we were in the area. We took them up on their offer and made our way to their homestead with a guest dry cabin south of Talkeetna. We were not disappointed in their hospitality nor their off-the-grid lifestyle! In fact, we asked them why they even go camping?! They love to fish and come south to the Kenai when the salmon are running. Otherwise, they remain at their home on 80 acres with a breathtaking view of the Talkeetna range and their dog, Stud.

We loved the little dry cabin that at one time was a musher’s cabin. It had some propane heat, electricity from a battery, and no water. We had a ‘honey pot’ for our personal use rather than the outhouse sweetly painted with fireweed, and a nice, warm cozy bed. Who could ask for more?

We left their niche in Alaska on a crisp, cool, clear morning anticipating a view of Denali. We were not disappointed. The ‘great one’ loomed large and distinct through the windshield. We had to stop many times because its grandeur wanted to be captured at every curve or straight-away. Eventually we found an overlook for a phenomenal southern view. I finally saw the highest mountain peak in North America with a summit elevation of 20,310 feet above sea level. And I thought Colorado’s 14ers were high!

Our final destination for day two was Fairbanks. We had traveled through the city when we visited Alaska many years ago. We had reservations at a hotel which required masks – something I just don’t wear. And, I didn’t. No one said a word even the girl wearing a mask behind the long plexiglass barrier. I had no worries as many other guests were mask-less as well.

We also know other campers who live in Fairbanks who told us to call when we got into town. Unfortunately, they thought we were going to be there when I first contacted them so they were out of town when we arrived. We had hoped they would know a good place for dinner; we ordered lousy Chinese food that was delivered.

The next morning the real adventure began. We made it out of Fairbanks via the Elliot Highway until we transitioned onto the Dalton Highway. This 414-mile road begins north of Fairbanks and ends at Deadhorse near the Arctic Ocean and Prudhoe Bay.

Prudhoe Bay has the largest oil field in North America. In 1970 the Alyeska Pipeline was built taking oil from Prudhoe Bay 800 miles south to Valdez. The oil takes about one week to travel from the Bay to Valdez. The field was operated by BP with ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips until 2019 when BP sold its assets to Hilcorp.

The State of Alaska owns the actual land and leases the area to the oil companies. This is why Alaskans receive compensation for the oil produced in the oil field in the form of a Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD). For 2019, the dividend was low due to the world oil market prices and fewer barrels being pumped out, but it was still $1606.00 per person.

The Dalton Highway is also known as the Haul Road because it is on this road that trucks travel from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay hauling necessary supplies for the 1900 or so people who live and work there. In fact, we have met many people who have worked or do work on ‘The Slope.’ It is a major employer for many Alaskan families with people working weeks on/weeks off or even months on/months off. We had one camper who studied X-rays of the pipeline for fractures.

There are driving rules on the Dalton Highway, the most important being that trucks have the right of way. Every place we read about using this highway we were reminded to always pull over to allow trucks to pass in either direction. This allows them to get their job done, but the road is also mostly gravel. By pulling over there is less chance of having rocks thrown at your windshield – even though a cracked windshield is a symbol of a true Alaskan vehicle. We bought ours with the cracks in it!

Following alongside the Dalton Highway is the Alyeska oil pipeline. It goes up and down mountains, crosses under the road in multiple places, snakes underground in areas where animals like moose and caribou migrate, crosses rivers and streams with its own bridge, zig zags up and down hills to allow it to move where there are earthquake faults. It is an astonishing feat but, as we learned, it is 40 years old and in need of repair. Though it is inspected on a daily basis via ground and helicopter, there is corrosion happening in the pipeline giving rise to the possibility of serious cracks at any time.

Of course, I have to mention the pigs. When inspecting or cleaning the inside of the pipeline, devices called pigs are inserted into the line at a ‘pig launcher’ or an oversized section in the pipeline. The pressure of the oil pushes the pig down the line until it’s caught. Who thinks of these things?

There are many side roads to the pipeline every few miles and some of them have ‘headache’ bars. These bars keep oversized vehicles from getting close to the pipeline and knocking into it. There are pump stations that regulate the flow of the oil along with helping to stop the flow of the oil when repairs are being done.

Yukon River Camp

While driving toward our destination of Coldfoot Camp, we made a couple of stops. The first was Mile 56 at the Yukon River Camp. We have seen the source of the Yukon on the Alcan Highway and viewed its magnificence in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Now, we watched it flow in Alaska. On our way to Coldfoot, the weather was cold and windy, but on the way back, it was frigid transforming the Yukon River from free-flowing river to being filled with chunks of ice floating their way toward the Bering Sea.

One of the reasons we stopped at the Yukon River Lodge was to use the rest rooms. We entered through two arctic entrances before we got inside the actual lodge. The place was deserted except for the two of us and one other woman who was wearing a mask. Yes, I keep bringing this up because of the nonsense of dealing with ‘masks’ on this trip into the middle of nowhere. The restaurant area was roped off so there was no one there either. The woman asks if I have a mask and I say ‘no.’ She tells me to leave. I ask why I must mask up when there is literally no one in the place. She stands her ground. I returned to my car and put a scarf around my head like a Muslim woman would wear with the capacity of pulling it over my face. I returned to the empty lodge and pulled the scarf over my face until I passed the woman. I removed it from that point on, even leaving with it off my face. They had a wonderful gift shop and though I saw several things I would have wanted to purchase, I did not. Such foolish requirements doesn’t deserve my financial support. When we returned on the way back, the woman wasn’t there and the two people working were not wearing masks. Why is that?

One last thing, check out the price of gas at this lodge! On our way back, we realized that we had enough in our tank to make the whole trip without buying gas or anything else from the Yukon River Camp.

Finger Mountain

We stopped at Mile 98 and took a small half-mile hike at Finger Mountain. Mostly this was to get some exercise since the drive was nearly 8 hours from Fairbanks. Finger Mountain is not actually a mountain. It is a hill named for Finger Rock, a granite rock protruding from the surface. The trail to the ‘summit’ has alpine tundra and views of granite tors, jutting rocks formed by the freezing and thawing of the ground.

The Arctic Circle

Our second stop was at Mile 115: the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle passes through the Arctic Ocean, Norway, Finland Sweden, Russia, Canada, Alaska, and Greenland covering 4% of the earth. By arriving at this place, I stood where only 2% of tourists ever go and was still 300 miles from the Arctic Ocean and even further from Utqiagvik.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Roxanne with Steve Martin, you may understand the sandwich photo. The handsome dumb dude meets the ditzy bar gal and they discuss San Francisco. He says that he loves to go to the Redwoods and just be. He always takes a meat sandwich. So, we went to the Arctic Circle to just be. We had a PB & J.

Gobbler’s Knob

At Mile 132 we stopped at Gobbler’s Knob to view the magnificent Brooks Range not to spot a Pennsylvania groundhog. Gobbler’s Knob provides the perfect place to view the ‘land of the midnight sun.’ Though the Brooks Range blocks the sun for a short time, a hike up the hill on the summer solstice will provide 24-hours of daylight.

The Brooks Range stretches 700 miles from northern Alaska into the Yukon Territory. While the range is mostly uninhabited, the Dalton Highway and the pipeline line run through the Atigun pass on their way to the oil fields. The only settlements in the range are Coldfoot, Wiseman, Bettles, and Chandalar – all of which we would soon come to know.

Coldfoot Camp

By 4:30 in the afternoon, we arrived at Mile 175 – Coldfoot Camp – and the adventure continued. I don’t remember what the temperature was, but it was very chilly, clear and dry though while we were there, the weather turned even colder and it snowed.

We walked the path and went into the café to retrieve the keys to our five-star lodging. When the highway was being built, numerous trailers were brought in for the workers. Once the road was completed, the trailers had no more use – or did they? Our room-with-a- view consisted of one of those trailers with twin beds, a small bath and very tiny closet. But, it was warm. And when temperatures hover between -9 and 9, warm is good and hot showers are very good.

We met up with Tim to plan the evening’s activities. We ordered dinner from the café which had to be takeout due to some virus that is causing the tiny population in the Arctic to fear becoming sick? Because it had been a long day, we decided to take a nap and wake up about 2 a.m. to search for the Aurora Borealis.

The northern lights this far north are called the Aurora Borealis because you don’t look north to see the lights, you look overhead. This was the main reason I wanted to go to Coldfoot – to see the Aurora Borealis. I had never seen the northern lights, ever.

We did rise at 2 a.m. and walked a very dark and unknown to us path. Eventually, we looked up and saw a green snakelike light waving in the sky. It had a central bulge that grew and shrunk until the whole event ended. Because I was ignorant of all of this, I though that was it for the night. We should have stayed out in the frigid temperatures longer, but we went into our warm cozy room to sleep instead. What I did learn that night was iPhones are not sufficient to photograph the Aurora Borealis.

Part 2 – Tour Day One

Tentstake Ministries Publishing, all rights reserved.  No copying or reproducing of this article without crediting the author or Tentstake Ministries Publishing.