Day 15: June 30, 2016
To the Circle

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In the early planning for this trip I saw the Arctic Circle seemingly not far from Fairbanks on maps and briefly looked into it. I only had to read a little about the road involved to decide I'd pass. Then, on the day before departure, I was discussing my route with a friend who asked if I had any side trips, such as to the Arctic Circle, planned. When I said no, he quickly pointed out that I'd probably never be closer. I remembered that when I reached Fairbanks and, although there was still no chance of me driving it, I poked around some outfits offering excursions there and found one I liked with an opening on Friday. Terry Wolf, this is your doing.

At 1st Alaska Outdoor School I was the beneficiary of two couples from south-west Indiana being enough to get the tour scheduled. Our party of six meshed well. As I had visited our first stop, the pipeline park, yesterday, it wasn't a particularly exciting beginning and the rain lowered the excitement level even more. But Cassie, our driver/guide, did convey some useful info about the pipeline during the stop. We would see a lot more pipeline before the day was over.

The second stop wasn't exactly exciting either, but it sure was tasty. When my breakfast arrived, I was reminded that, when the menu offers the option of a single pancake, there's a reason. I ate about half of my short (but very wide) stack and about half of my reindeer sausage. The other half of the sausage went home with Cassie along with half of her own order.

We took "before" pictures of ourselves and the van at the start of the Dalton Highway. The fun is about to begin.

What is now the Dalton Highway was known as the North Slope Haul Road when it was built in 1974 to support pipeline construction. It has been under construction and under repair ever since. There are no flaggers or stop lights out here. Drivers must spot the equipment themselves and make sure the operator is aware of them before trying to pass. The Dalton Highway has been featured on a reality show called Ice Road Truckers. Big rigs are a common sight and so is the pipeline. The pipeline, in fact, is almost constantly in view.

Trucks and construction gear are hardly the only things on the highway. We saw a couple of other tour vans and a few private vehicles along with a variety of two wheeled conveyances. This panel contains some out of sequence photos of people traveling on two -- or less -- wheels. We monitored the CB all the way and sometimes picked up information from truckers. We knew the walker was up ahead when we heard "Look out for Forest Gump.". Although the rain had stopped by the time we passed him, we were pretty sure it was the fellow in the last picture who prompted a truckers sarcastic "Just the vacation I wanted. Riding the Dalton south in a rain storm by myself."

Here we are heading down to the Yukon River and over the only bridge to cross it. The deck was originally steel but wood turns out to be better material in dealing with the temperature extremes experienced here. The Bureau of Land Management has an office near the bridge and a path leads from there to the riverside.

An assortment of Dalton Highway views. The third picture may or may not be the section known as Roller Coaster. The fifth picture may or may not be the section known as Beaver Slide.

This is by far the funniest thing I've seen in a long time. Placing a "ROUGH ROAD" where it can only be seen by someone who has just covered more than 100 miles of the Dalton Highway proves that Alaskans have a superb sense of comedy.

The first picture as taken from the van which Cassie has parked so that half its occupants are above the Arctic Circle and half are below. I'm above. There were a few drops of rain as Cassie hurried through handing out certificates and taking pictures. That's Ida, Tim, Oopsiforgothername, and Gene in the third picture. Not only did Cassie suggest the shrugging Atlas pose, she positioned it so well I had to post it. The couple in the last picture pulled up just before we left. They are from New Zealand and have been traveling for over to years. Now that's a road trip.

I'm fairly confident that the first two southbound pictures are of Beaver Slide and Roller Coaster. The others were taken at the Finger Mountain rest area. While there we scoured the landscape looking for caribou known to frequent the area but saw none. This as actually something of a setback for me. I was thinking that, of the big animals I expected to see on this trip, only moose remained unseen. I simply hadn't thought of caribou. Now I had two big critters on the unseen list.

That's Margaret in the first picture. She makes everything offered in her gift shop just across the road from the BLM office we had saw on the way north. She lives nearby in a house that she and her son built. While Ida and Cassie have an animated discussion, folks from another tour go shopping in the tiny shop. I visited the riverside before walking to the Yukon River Camp main building for dinner.

We were getting used to dark spots on the road turning into cyclists of one sort or another but this dark spot didn't look quite right. That was because it was not a cyclist but a moose and my unseen list was back to one. Today I broke even.

At the end of the day the van didn't have quite as much dirt on it as I expected but it was enough. The picture of Cassie at work in her office was taken earlier. Cassie is from Australia and worked as a guide on similar tours there. She gave us instant confidence in her driving and her knowledge of the area and its plants and wildlife was just as impressive. Having her as a guide was another bit of luck.

Cassie says this stop light, which I think is at the intersection of Steese Highay and Farmers Loop Road, is the northernmost in the US. Bonus!

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