8 September, 2002
The Dalton Highway (part two)
Today I made my second trip up the Dalton Highway. Known to the Alaskan residents as the Haul Road, this 300+ mile dirt road is primarily used to truck supplies up to the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay. The road was initially built as an access road for the construction of the Alaskan pipeline. Consequently, the pipeline is almost a constant companion as you travel the length of the Haul Road. The pipeline itself is about 800 miles long and goes above and below ground. The four foot diameter of the pipeline makes it easy to see off to the side of the road. There was a great deal of controversy surrounding the original construction of the pipeline, but regardless of opinions about the pipelines existence, once you see it, you have to acknowledge the incredible feat of engineering that was required for its construction. No less impressive are the maintenance requirements. The Alyeska Corporation is responsible for the operation and care of the Alaskan pipeline. As we drive up the Haul Road we regularly pass by red Alyeska trucks and see Alyeska aircraft carrying the crews that keep a constant watch for leaks and other problems along the line.
I am told by the local authorities that every foot of the pipeline is checked everyday. Hopefully some of the photos will give an idea of the scale of the pipeline.
The drive up the Haul Road today was very different from my trip up in April. There is very little snow in the mountains and the temperatures for most of the trip are quite a bit warmer. We had mostly partially overcast skies and passed in and out of very light rain showers. The rain along the Haul Road is a mixed blessing. A little rain keeps the dust down preventing heavy dust clouds from obscuring the view, but too much rain turns the dirt into deep treacherous mud. Today's light showers made the conditions on the road fairly nice, or at least as nice as is possible on the Haul Road.
Luckily, the overcast skies didn't prevent us from enjoying the scenery. In the journal page I posted yesterday, I mentioned how much Alaska impresses me with its raw beauty and immensity. Today's trip just served to reinforce my awe of this place. Everywhere we looked today, the birch and poplar trees were in autumn colors. Entire mountainsides were covered in bright gold and orange hues and when there were no trees the blueberry bushes cover the ground in deep red tones. Every hillside and mountainside looked like it could be the subject of an artist's brush.
With the road conditions we encountered, we made good time and arrived in the Toolik Lake camp after only an eight hour and forty minute drive. Toolik Lake and the surrounding tundra were familiar to me, but yet looked very different. The lack of snow
Actually makes this North Slope area look even more immense. As far as the eye can see is open country covered by low growing plants. The tallest plants on the tundra are three foot willow bushes that are found behind sheltered ridges and along stream banks. The camp itself looks the same, but Toolik Lake is now open water rather than being covered by three to four feet of ice. I can now see an occasional Loon out on the lake rather than seeing the small groups of Caribou that crossed the frozen lake in the spring. I could spend days here just looking at different parts of the landscape.
While the sightseeing is fun, we do have work to do here as well. Tomorrow (weather permitting since its supposed to snow tonight) we are going to make our way to the banks of the Sag River. There we will begin collecting Click Beetles and Carabid Beetles to work with in the lab. I'm looking forward to seeing what Alaska will show me tomorrow.
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