Jun 19, 2015
The Arctic Circle is a destination for many, especially as the summer solstice nears. There is only one highway and it is mostly dirt, gravel and the few parts that have been paved are generally worse with potholes, frost heaves or in the process of being repaired.
Apparently it is so difficult and expensive to maintain and with only a few months of construction weather, the road becomes quite a patchwork. Our favorite quote from The Milepost Book, "the Dalton Highway is Alaska’s most remote, dangerous and challenging roads.” We drove about 250 miles (about half of the entire Dalton Highway) and crossing the Arctic Circle along the way. As we turned off the highway it was a bit anticlimactic but we of course needed to stop for a photo and to find a geocache.
We spent 4 days staying in primitive spots along the creeks and remote "dry" BLM campgrounds. Jack was a little hesitant about putting Beatrice through this torture, but she did great! Of course driving 25-40 mph is the best way to avoid problems.
One of our first stops was the Arctic Circle Trading Post where we met the affable owner Joe and his neighbor Pete and talked about everything from Texas to social work to the highway! Joe, Nancy and their 23 children (18 of whome were adopted) built their 11-bedroom homestead and the trading post to great visitors on their journey north.
The scenery, views and unique landscapes were great. We especially were fascinated with the arctic tundra and what can grow in that very limited soil and climate! We were also ever curious with the various "characters" we came across on the highway, including walkers to the Arctic Circle to catch the Solstice, bicyclists from Japan, motorcyclists riding from sea-to-sea (Arctic Ocean to Key West, Florida) and huge safari four-wheel RVs.
By far our favorite spot to explore was the small village of Wiseman (pop. 16) just north of Coldfoot. This hamlet was established by gold miners in 1905 and has maintained a population ever since. We met Heidi, a part-time staff with the National Park Service who gave a great presentation about living year-round "above the Arctic". Her family has lived in Wiseman for 3 generations and continue to trap, hunt, pick berries and grow vegetables to get by in the winter. In addition her family provides unique services to the tourists such as viewing of the Midnight Sun and Winter Aurora and historical renditions of the town.
Our final destination was the surpise-around-the-corner view of Sukakpak Mountain. It is said that this mountain marked a traditional boundary between Eskimo and Athabascan Indian territories.