Alaska, the Last Frontier - Summer 2012 travel blog

Arctic swans

Prudhoe National Forest

Arctic ocean


building more

foggy medical building



permafrost freeze patterns

from the air

After a less than adequate night's sleep we were awakened by loud conversions from neighboring cubicles. Workers were getting up to begin their shift. The Prudhoe pipeline facility is open 24/7. Most folks work 12 hour shifts, two weeks on two weeks off. While they are here they get all their food, dorms, and work clothing. They are flown back to Fairbanks or Anchorage for free. Some folks who work here commute from FL and AZ. They are so well paid it's worth into them.

We took a bus to tour the facility almost visible in the fog. The area is marshy and difficult to work with during the summer. Moving all the heavy equipment required for drilling and pumping the oil is more easily done when the ground is frozen. In between all the industrial ugliness, Arctic swans were floating in the lakes busily raising their babies who better be ready to fly away soon. Grizzly come to the area and dig into the soft ground to make dens where they hibernate the winter away. Once the ground is frozen polar bears come into the area. At times the winter conditions get so severe workers cannot see their hands at the end of their arms because the snow is swirling in hurricane force winds. At that point they have to stay put where they are. Generally they know when things are going code red and everyone is somewhere safe when lockdown begins. And in the midst of it all people are drilling holes two miles deep into the Arctic ice to bring gas to you and me. The place is huge. We only scratched the surface. Once the ground freezes there are 500 miles of road in Prudhoe.

A highlight of the tour was the opportunity to dip our toes into the Arctic Ocean. Some people really did so. A fellow tourist from India seemed to really enjoy the cold. She told us she had never seen snow and there was none here today, but it was cold enough for us to wimp out on the toe dip stuff. So I can honestly say I have dipped my hands in the Arctic Ocean. Pretty cool in more ways than one.

We had a long wait for the flight back to Fairbanks. Fortunately the "airport" had free wi-fi and we got reconnected with the world outside while we waited. The lounge was full of burly pipeline workers and two rotund geezers - us! Airline staff encouraged us to check in our back packs and wouldn't you know it, they weren't there when we got off the plane. It would be hard for them to catch up with us since we will start some longer driving days tomorrow so I went ballistic and a second look in the hold found them in the section bound for Anchorage as the flight continued on. So a few loads of laundry and a major photo download and we'll be ready to head out tomorrow.

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