[Cdt-l] The Deadhorse 500 (Prudhoe Bay)
Jim and/or Ginny Owen
spiriteagle99 at hotmail.com
Tue Jul 22 02:28:10 CDT 2008
Y’all have been neglected – sorta. It’s been a month since we told anyone where we’ve
been or what we’ve been doing. But it’s been a very busy month with little time or
opportunity to write anything. So – for those who might still care…….
We left Homer, AK – and the eagles – behind and went off to find some solitude for a
few days on the Resurrection Pass Trail (an old gold rush access route). But while there
as it passed between snowy ridges. There was a beautiful waterfall four miles in. A herd
of Dall sheep and a couple of moose were our main wildlife sightings there. They have a
cabin system with some very nice cabins (hence the popularity of the trail) but we
camped the two nights we spent heading over Resurrection Pass to the town of Hope.
We spent the July 4th weekend holed up in a campground at Cooper Landing avoiding the
hordes of tourists and fishermen who crowded the Kenai Peninsula that weekend. We
did a “sorta successful” hike on the Russian Lakes trail. We made it to the falls to watch
the salmon jumping but when we tried to get to the Lower Lake, we didn’t get very far
because there were two yearling black bears who decided the trail belonged to them – and
we decided they were right. Got some good photos and video, though.
A “not-so-successful” hike was our attempt to get to Lost Lake (north of Seward) via the
Primrose Trail. At the 2,000 ft level we were postholing in snow and decided we
didn’t need to be doing that for several miles. This is the second time we haven’t made it to t
he lake – 4 years ago we ran out of time to do the full hike and just went 4 miles up to a trail
junction before turning back.
The Johnson Pass Trail –another Stampeder Trail and the original route of the Iditerod—
was “interesting” – it’s an easy hike in most ways – and the first few miles are even well-
maintained. But once past the halfway point, between the results of the rain and the
snowmelt runoff, the trail became a “stream-walk.” In fact, one stream had changed its
channel and is now located about 30 yards from the bridge that once spanned it. Again –
a beautiful trail with fewer people than Resurrection Pass. We were visited by a moose
before breakfast at our campsite near the Pass.
We also spent a day or so in Seward. The Sea Life Center there is really worth a visit.
We actually stayed in a motel one night in Seward. Expensive and not quite what most
people in the Lower 48 would expect for the price. But it was our first motel night on
over a month.
On the way north from Seward, we stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
It’s a rehabilitation center for sick, orphaned and injured wildlife – caribou, moose, bears,
Musk ox, etc. They’re kept in large (40 – 50 acre) enclosures until they’re ready to be
released. We spent a long time watching a couple of grizzlies play in a pond – first
wrestling with each other, then with a piece of rubber or plastic that became a good toy.
Watching one with all four paws up in the air while it chewed its toy was hilarious.
Another spent a few minutes getting a good scratch on a log while we watched. A baby
moose with a cast on its leg was a reminder of the main purpose of the Center. They are
also breeding woods and plains bison, trying to reestablish them in Alaska. Judging by
the number of babies, it’s a fairly successful program.
As part of the northward trek, we stopped to play at Crow Pass. The trail climbs 2,000 ft
in 3.5 miles to Raven Glacier. The last mile of the trail was still under a LOT of snow –
there’s a USFS cabin a half mile from the pass and the outhouse was still under 6 ft of
snowpack. Tree-line in this area is somewhere around 2500 ft. It was a beautiful hike,
That was a really popular trail – we must have seen 40 or 50 people there, despite the
steep climb and snow.
We zipped past Anchorage again and returned to Denali where we lucked into a space at
Teklanika Campground, in the middle of the park. In order to stay there, you have to
agree to stay for at least three days, but you can drive farther in than most visitors are
allowed and then use the shuttle system anywhere in the park during those three days.
Basically we got three days on the bus system for the price of one. Nice. We had one
beautiful day to start: we saw Denali several times on the way out but it was hidden in
clouds again by the time we reached the new Eielson Visitors Center. The next two days
were rainy and foggy so we spent a lot of time riding the bus and a little time getting wet
as we walked the tundra in whiteout. We saw some wildlife every day – bears, Dall
sheep, caribou, several moose and one big gray wolf that trotted right past the bus on the
road. On the way out of the park, it was clear and sunny again so we climbed up to Healy
Overlook – a gorgeous view from the top included the tip top of Denali.
We headed north to Fairbanks and decided to try the “Deadhorse 500”, also known as the
Dalton Highway aka the Haul Road. It’s the road, largely gravel, that follows the
Pipeline up to Prudhoe Bay. It’s 500 miles and took us two long days each way, partly
because we had to go slowly to dodge potholes and washboard, partly because we
stopped often to look for wildlife and take pictures. It’s a beautiful route that goes
through the edge of the Brooks Range, over the North Slope and down to the Coastal
Plain. Lots of green, lots of wildflowers including miles and miles of fireweed in one
burned area and arctic cotton on the coastal plain. The road officially stops at the
industrial complex (not really a town) of Deadhorse. We took a tour through part of the
oil fields the last 8 miles out to the Arctic Ocean where we dipped our toes in the frigid
sea. A half dozen people jumped into the mucky water, but we didn’t feel the need. Then
we headed back out. We were lucky enough to spot four grizzlies (a mother and two
cubs plus another solo one), a herd of muskoxen and several caribou. Birds were
abundant – all sorts of arctic birds as well as golden eagles, jaegers, gulls, terns, merlins
and falcons, etc. Despite the rough road (that destroyed one of our tires), the journey was
worth it. There is some fantastic hiking along the road – maybe next time?
We ran away from home (Maryland) in February. After 5 months, we got as far away as
we could get (Prudhoe Bay) --- and there was no place else to go, so we had to turn
around. On the way south we also got our Arctic Circle certificates – not sure what we’ll
do with them, but we’ll figure that out later.
Now we’re back in Fairbanks gearing up for a couple of days on the Pinnell Mountain
Trail (and possibly a couple of other hikes if all goes well) before heading back out to the
Alaska Highway to begin our journey south.
Alaska has been a really good experience, though different from our last trip here. It’s
been wetter, grayer, colder and a lot more expensive than we expected – but definitely worth it.
A popular bumper sticker on the Dalton Highway says something along the lines of
“There’s not a single mosquito along the Dalton Highway – they’re all married and
raising large families.” But we haven’t had nearly as much trouble with them as we
expected –a pleasant surprise. Living with the midnight sun hasn’t been as much of a
problem as we expected either, despite the fact that we’re camping. It is odd to never see
stars or real darkness, but we’re enjoying a lot of reading in the evenings. We just have a
tendency to not realize how late it is, until we see the sunset and realize it’s midnight or
Jim & Ginny
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