Above: Trucks at Coldfoot. Coldfoot, formerly a gold mining camp, is today a truck stop about half way between Fairbanks and Deadhorse. The BLM has and interpretive center and interesting story boards depicting the mining history placed throughout the “stop.” I’m not sure you can call Coldfoot a town. Accommodations are similar (modular buildings) to those in Deadhorse and just as expensive. There is a 24 hour restaurant and a gas pump. I found one of the service guys a little brusque. I suppose when you run one of only two hotel/restaurants north of the Arctic Circle, traditional niceties of customer service are not essential.
Last evening, at about 7:00 PM, I repaired to the bar/restaurant to join my companions for cocktails and rehearsal of the day’s ride. A tour bus had arrived earlier in Coldfoot and the tables in the bar/restaurant were filled with tour goers from the bus tour. So, I sat at the bar and had the buffet dinner. I was served drinks by the “brusque” guy and he had transformed into my best friend. Live and let live. Alls well that ends well. Might ‘a been sumpin’ I said.
Several minutes later, a man, dressed in tan bib Carhartts, sat next to me at the bar. He was fit and hardy looking. “Are you driving one of those rigs out there,” I asked? “No,” he replied, “I’m a gold miner. I own some claims about 12 miles from here and I work them throughout the summer.”
After ascertaining who I was and what I was doing in Coldfoot, he was happy to talk. In his lonesome line of work, I can understand why.
Doug (his name) had lived in Alaska for most of his life. Five years ago, he retired as a lineman for the Alaska power company. Hearing just this, and knowing the rugged life of a power lineman, I knew I was talking to one of those guys I had learned to admire greatly during my own retirement: to cut it short… a guy who, unlike mwah (sic), knows how to do stuff.
Doug said he was a union man and that the union had done a pretty good job providing good pensions for retired power company guys. That was how, he said, he had the time and the resources to become a gold miner.
Resources? What resources? 1. A 98 Freightliner truck. 2. A D-6 Bulldozer. 3. A front loader. 4. An excavator.
Mwah: How many employees do you have?
Doug: Just me. I tried to get my brother to join me, but, his wife is making him build a house in Fairbanks. Can you imagine him giving up gold mining for that? (Doug laughs).
Mwah: Are you married?
Doug: Divorced. And happily so. I have a son that comes up here to help me from time to time. He’s a contractor in Fairbanks.
Mwah: Is there really gold on your claims?
Doug: Are you kidding me? There’s tons of gold up there. The guys who worked the claims 100 years ago didn’t have the equipment I do to go deep into the placer deposits. Have you noticed the price of gold lately? (Doug smiles).
During the discussion, tour riding companion Pat came to join us at the bar. Doug and Pat talked for a while and it seemed to me that they had a lot in common. Age. Both divorced. Pat had been a truck driver driving all over the lower 48 for years and now she worked as a security officer for a large trucking company in Florida. I thought to myself…”hey, these two are a good match.” I said to both of them, “look, Doug, I’m glad to meet you. Your work sounds exciting. I’m going over to the store for a few minutes to see if there are any 3X, long sleeved, Coldfoot T-shirts.
I asked Pat this morning if she and Doug exchanged email addresses… she blushed and smiled.
So…. Doug. Doug lives the life of Johnny Horton’s “Big Sam” in the 1900 Yukon gold rush over 100 years later. Only, he does it with a Freightliner. But, it seems, if Doug is not an exception, that the American envelope expanding frontier motif is still very much alive in Alaska. I enjoyed my chat with Doug and Pat immensely and was buoyed by the fact that as the whiners, the takers, and the complainers grow in proportion in our nation, there are still people out there, in what I hope remains am American quality, reaching for the sky.
“Thars gold in them thar hills.” Its not only the spectacular beauty of Alaska that grabs… its people like Doug. You can’t help but like it here… mosquitos and all. There are probably some whiners around… I haven’t met them yet.
Getting back to the trucks. Vickie, from New York City, several days back mused on this log about her dream to, in her next life, to get out on the open road driving an18 wheeler.
I’ve similarly mused. Big shiny Peterbilt… air conditioned cabin…. Mozart or the Eagles playing on Bose speakers. There is romance there, is there not? Solitary. Time for reflection. Time to contemplate people and landscape. The drivers of the two haul road trucks pictured above (trucks, that is) have a great life, no?
Several years back, while motorcycling in the four corners area, I and a buddy stopped for the night in Bluff, Utah, on the San Juan River. There was a convenience store and gas station next to our motel and about 10:00 PM at night I noticed a big, new-looking, red Kenworth with a shiny chrome tanker trailer, pull into the convenience store area to resupply the gas station with fuel.
It was way dark outside… no moon, but the convenience store’s external lights illuminated the truck to sharp relief against the surrounding blackness creating for me a supernatural aura. Trucks have always induced thoughts of the supernatural. There are several pretty good movies about truck personification. One that comes to mind, is “Maximum Overdrive,” starring Emilio Estevez, based on the short story “Trucks” by Stephen King,
Moved by truck atmospherics, I walked over to the forty something driver. In a way, at that time, like New York Vickie, I wanted to be him.
Mwah: (to truck driver) Nice rig!
Mwah: Looks like your on a re supply run.
Mwah: Ya know, I’ve always had a yen to drive one of those rigs around the country.
Driver: Buddy, this is shit work. Its terrible. Why would you want to do what I do? Your never home… you never see your kids. You work late at night. Buddy, you don’t want to do this.
Cue in: (sound of air being let out of the proverbial balloon).
Above: Moose, in a lake about 20 miles south of Coldfoot. I see plenty of moose in Park City, but none this big. I’m wary of moose. They have bad eyesight, but excellent smell. When threatened they can as easily charge as withdraw. Consequently, I didn’t ride up too close to the moose on my motorcycle. I saw later, that others of my group obtained better images than this one.
Because the moose sported no rack, I initially surmised that it was a cow. But, after taking this image, as I rode on, I thought to myself that the moose was way to big to be a cow… and bucks shed their rack once a year.
At cocktails later in the day I learned that most of our group had stopped to check out the above moose. Nicole, our tour leader, said the moose was a cow. Tom, the vet professor from MSU Lansing spoke up. “I don’t know, Nicole, I think the moose was a buck.” Tom said that he thought he saw male parts on the moose.
I spoke up: “sorry Nicole, I’m goin’ with the vet.”
Jeff took a very good video of the Moose and brought it forward to resolve the dispute. He caught some images of the moose walking around and… the vet was right.
Above: Ice remains at Douglas Creek, thirty miles south of Coldfoot. We would see this ice phenomenon frequently in rivers and creeks above the Arctic Circle. Often, the ice condition looked stranger than this image depicts. One would notice white ice framed by the greenest of the green surrounding vegetation and trees.
I learned about the phenomenon from one of the BLM story boards 30 miles south of Deadhorse. The story board explanation described the ice on the Sagavanirko River, which paralleled, and within sight of, the Haul Road on the east. The river drains a section of the Brooks range to the south. The river was extensively iced, but a bit far away for me to get a decent image with my puny 3x lens. So, we settle for the above image of Douglas Creek, over 150 miles further south, but still 25 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
The phenomenon has a name… but, I can’t remember it. When I google “frozen river phenomenon alaska” I get references to the river ice roads… such as on the Yukon river… where the ice on the rivers can support vehicular traffic.
But, the phenomenon pictured above occurs because of the freeze/thaw cycle that occurs even during winter. Multiple thaws cause water to flow over the ice, then, when it freezes again, a new layer of ice is created. Ice, such as pictured above, is visible on the rivers and streams through August.
Above: Mwah (sic). At the BLM Arctic Circle sign on the Haul Road. I had stopped here, with most of the rest of our group, on the ride up to Deadhorse, yesterday. I decided to stop again today. Nicole rolled in a few minutes later and took this image… a better one, with better lighting, than I had obtained yesterday.
Above: Proof that I have crossed the Arctic Circle! The nice couple from Oregon at the BLM office on the Yukon River gave me this certificate. I placed stamps (available at the BLM office) on it, visible here, but not totally legible in the image, for Yukon River, Arctic Circle, and Brooks Range. This certificate will be laminated and find a place of honor in my garage!
The semi top down view on the certificate of the earth showing the path of the Arctic Circle is interesting. There are not many ways to go above the Arctic Circle by maintained road which is accessible from areas of civilization. Tore (or anyone else?) from Norway may revert about arctic travel in Norway.
Above: Lunch at Hot Spot restaurant, near the Yukon River. Good burgers.
Above: The KLR, the Pipeline, and Mwah (sic)… at the BLM station at the Yukon River, sixty miles south of the Arctic Circle. Image was taken by the BLM lady volunteer of a certain age from Oregon. She and her husband have been BLM volunteers for six years, though not always in Alaska. Not seen in pic: mosquitos.
Above: The Yukon River, and the Yukon River Bridge on the Haul Road. The pipeline is under the road surface of the bridge.
I must admit ignorance (a hard thing to do). Growing up in the west and being retired in the west has given me a sense of rivers in the west. They are not big. The Colorado is not that big of a river – 14 million acre feet per year. There are unnamed rivers in Peru that carry a larger volume of water than the Colorado River. The Yukon carries 115 million acre feet per year. Whoa! (Kaeanu Reeves imitation).
So, I was completely taken aback when I saw the massive Yukon. The western US needs water where supply is diminishing and population increasing. Yet, here… still in the “west”… is a river the entire volume of which will empty into the sea. Our children or our grandchildren may see the day when other Alaska pipelines are built… to carry the new liquid gold, water. Dry San Diego.. eat your heart out.
During the gold rush at the beginning of the twentieth century, paddle steamers carrying miners and supplies plied the Yukon River. In winter, today, locals, usually Indians, use the rivers as roads for their trucks and snow machines (Alaskan, for snow mobiles).
The sight of the Yukon river inspired me to get a copy of Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” at a gift shop at Denali National Park later in the trip. I re read the story on the flight back.
What rugged people the gold rushers were to have opened up this hostile but beautiful country over one hundred years ago. I was glad to catch a “through time glimpse” of one during my conversation with Doug last night in Coldfoot.
Above: Edward L. Patton story board at the BLM exhibit on the Yukon River. Patton was the Alyeska Pipleline executive who led the construction of the Alaska Pipeline – officially, The Trans Alaska Pipeline System – and the Haul Road.
The pipeline has been a constant over the last three days of riding. It is the reason we are able to witness this spectacular land. It is, of course, an engineering marvel. At the time, construction of the pipeline was the largest privately financed construction project ever attempted, and cost over $8 billion when completed.
Pipeline construction began in March 1975 and was finished in June 1977. (Note the comments of in the following addendum of Howard, ARCO Alaska General Counsel in the mid -80’s).
Today, many of our kids want to become rock star guitarists or news anchors (I prefer calling them “news readers” as they were called when I lived in Oz. Teleprompter readers?). Our population knows and loves Kelly Clarkson, one of the first winners of American Idol. I suspect few, however, know of Edward L. Patton, responsible for one of the most remarkable engineering achievements ever accomplished.
I “googled” Patton… and found one New York Times obit:
I didn’t find as much as a Wickepedia entry. Even Patton’s sign memorial at the BLM camp on the Yukon River is tattering.
It troubles me to see our society laud the superficial and ignore the consequential. Can’t be a good thing.