Monday, August 25, 2008

So Gail & Don went to visit Alaska..close up and personal...

From Cousin Gail :

We have returned from our Alaska and Vancouver, BC 3 week trip. We left on July 24th flying into Fairbanks through Minneapolis without any problems or delays. Arrived to cloudy, rainy weather which plagued us the 3 weeks!

The next morning up early and on Alaska Airlines to fly to Barrow, the northern tip of Alaska, stopping at Prudhoe Bay, the oil fields. Couldn't get off the plane.

The plane going up North stopped in Prudhoe Bay and was filled with oilworkers. They work 2 weeks on and two off returning home for those two weeks. Most put in 16 hour work days for 2 weeks. They make their money working overtime. The oil company pays their airfare to and from the oil fields to Fairbanks and Anchorage but if they fly further south than that they have to pay that extension to home as many are from OK, CA and TX oilfields. (You old timers may remember Barrow is where Will Rogers and Willie Post died in an airplane crash.)

We left Fairbanks in cool weather and arrived in cold weather - 47 degrees. The (Eskimo) village population, 4,482. had only muddy streets with permafrost mud heaving and pot holes that one could loose a tire in. There were no trees and the houses looked like the ocupants gathered up things that had washed up from the Arctic ocean. It rained, sleeted and snowed all in one day.

Four wheelers, snowmobiles were stored on the roof of the porches. Four wheeled trucks were sitting outside the door. Over an inch of mud on the vehicles. The permafrost (dirt) is 1,500 feet deep. Only the sun defrosts the top layer of the soil.

The Arctic ocean is one side of the high school football field. They have 4 home games a year and fly out to the other schools to play the rest of their games. The team does not want to win as they have to take a dip into the ocean. The field is Astroturf and painted bright blue.

Their only dump was closed as it was too close to the ocean. So garbage has to go to a dump by barge. Don said he was so depressed there that he was glad he visited the place but couldn't wait to get out.

The normal temp is 45 degrees below zero in the winter but last year got down to 85 degrees below. I asked how they kept warm as their houses looked like 'shanties' from the outside but was told that they had a foot of insulation on the walls. They were drying caribou meat and salmon on the lines outside.

The village is allowed to hunt 22 whales a year and all villagers share the meat - every thing isused from the animal. They still use the bone canoes covered with skin and have to harpoon the whales and seals and haul them into shore or on an ice float to butcher. No roads lead into this area, so everything that they use from the outside comes in by barge or flies in. They had a huge material department with hides in their store.

We flew back to Fairbanks in a cargo plane. Up front was room for their cargo and passenger seats in the back. We arrived back in Fairbanks around 10:30 pm, still light outside and then had to be ready for our van trip on the Dalton Highway North to the Brook Mountain Range, northernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains, leaving at4:30 am. Only a short drive was blacktop and the rest was gravel that was graded frequently to cover up the permafrost dirt heaving as well as the truck traffic causing large pot holes. The landscape was pretty, but after 20 minutes it made one's eyes get heavy.

Breakfast was a box lunch from the hotel - $16.95 each for a muffin, orange, small pastry and a bottle of water. A box lunch was provided by our tour; sandwich, chips, apple and water.

The guide stopped and dug a hole in the soil. Don was able to stick his arm about mid way down to feel the permafrost. Frozen soil, only 1,500 deep! Walked on the tundra. Stopped along the pipeline and the guide explained how this was constructed.

Did you know it is 30 years old? It was to cost 80 million but it turned into 88 billion. They are only pumping oil at 30% to reduce the pressure on the pipes as they want to conserve the pipe. All oil is shipped to Korea for refining and then put on the open market. We do NOT use any of this oil. There is enough oil in Alaska to furnish oil to us for years. The oil companies have enough rights on the land to drill for more oil for two generations.

When Pres. Bush says he wants to drill for oil in Alaska he means he wants to allow the oil companies to be able to buy up more rights from the owners of the land. Every Eskimo gets $30,000.00 every year from the oil companies as their residuals because the wells are on their land. Every Alaskan that lives there over a year (baby on up) gets a % of the profit from oil. This year they are expecting $1,500 up to $2,000 each person. I just heard on the news today it will be paid on September 12th.

OnlyAnchorage has sales tax, most other cities do not. Stopped and viewed theYukon River. The water is cold. Don and I straddled the Arctic circle. Of course I put him on the South and I stood on the North! We had a great guide, talked all the time. Born in Alaska and was a college graduate in law enforcement but was continuing on to get a degree in psychology. His wife was a college student also. As a police officer he has to work his first year in the Eskimo villages. Police are not looked upon kindly as Eskimos do not want to live the law of Alaska but of their own tribes. So police have a very difficult time! (The Eskimos do not want to be called Eskimos but by their native name tribe. Good Gawd, I can't even pronounce the names.) That is why he wants a degree in psychology.

He hunts and butchers his meat, fishes for salmon and freezes it as well as raises a garden. A short growing time but the vegetables are huge. The cabbage head was at least a foot and a half across.

After talking with people living in this frontier land I wonder why they like to live in such a hard, cold area. (Talk about how our parents worked hard, these people are doing it now.) I am too much a pansy to live in those elements. Response: freedom and very few people!

We stayed at Coldfoot (Bates Motel - remember Psycho movie) motel and a gas station with a restaurant across from it. The motel is construction trailers put side by side, with a hallway down the middle; in the corner of each trailer a toilet and a shower stall was installed and a trailersize sink was outside the contained bathroom. Twin beds and that was it! It was clean but old. Our shower head did not have any internal workings so we had a steady stream of water coming from the shower. It served the purpose.

Changed guides and the next day drove the Dalton Highway up to the Continental Divide, saw Dahl wild sheep. Dalton Highway is used by the truckers to take supplies to Prudhoe Bay. Some areas of the road are narrow and very hilly. I see danger lurking for the drivers all around them!

We rode a raft down the River to Coldfoot. Arriving back we had to take an 8 passenger plane back to Fairbanks. Itwas rainy, foggy and I was just a little nervous sitting in this small plane, flying above the mountain ranges with dense fog and the pilot playing with the control buttons continually. I could have kissed the ground in Fairbanks upon arriving, but they would have had to rent a crane to get me off the ground once on it.

We were up early again and took a bus tour to a gold mining attraction. We panned for gold and got 6.7 grains which was worth $22.48 combined. I bought a locket to put this gold in so spent $20.00 to hold $22.48 worth of gold.

Had a miner's lunch there. Delicious.

In the afternoon we took a riverboat ride on the Chena and Tanana Rivers and toured a Chena Indian Village.The next morning up early and out the door for a train ride to Denali National Park (Mt. McKinley). We did not see the mountain as it was raining and foggy. Only 10% of the population ever sees the top of the mountain due to fog. Stayed at Chalets at the foot of the mountains. We were able to walk up the hill and visit the quaint shops.

The next day we were to take a 6 to 8 hour (school) bus tour of Denali National Park, to look for wild life and scenery. It rained the whole time and every few miles the bus driver had to stop and wash the windows so we could see out them. The road was gravel (muddy). Saw more sheep, and a wild wolf walked along side of the bus. Caribou way far off. Moose walked in front of the bus and into the trees and brush. No other wild animals.

Returning to our Chalet, we were tired so after supper, instead of lying on the covers, we got ready for bed. We were to have our luggage outside the door by 9:00 am. I was sound asleep and I heard Don's frantic voice and shaking me to wake up. He woke up, heard voices outside and looked outside, daylight and no ones luggage was out, thinking that it had been picked up - yelling that we had missed the luggage pickup. Now what were we going to do. He was really in a panic! I looked outside but of course it was daylight. I finally called the desk to check what to do and in the middle of the conversation asked what time it was? She confirmed that itwas 9:20 PM. What a dork!

We traveled by train to Anchorage arriving in the evening. We only walked a two block square of Anchorage as fatigue was setting in. We had to be up early the next day to meet the bus for a 3 hour ride to Seward where we were to meet the cruise ship. Waited over 2 hours and still the bus did not show up, so crowded two tour groups on one bus; not enough seats so one person had to sit on his luggage in the back of the bus.

I was disappointed with the cruise - Yes, it was nice to have meals cooked and could eat as we wanted. I didn't care for the bed having to be prepared for me to sleep. To me it was a bunch of adults playing -"pretending to be rich, wanted to be waited on and dressing-up". Every evening they were in their gowns and tux's going to eat at the fancy restaurant, carrying their drinks in their hands with fake laughs. I don't think I will go on another cruise. Not impressed!

The boat let us off at each port; Sitka, Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. If you purchased the side trips, then you didn't have time to walk around the quaint little towns. So a choice had to be made.

Did you know that Juneau is Alaska's capital but it does not have any roads leading in and out? Only three ways getting there; birth, by water or fly in. After 7 days on the cruise ship, we left it and waited two hours for a bus to whisk us away to sightsee Vancouver, BC for the day. 9 of us got into trouble with the bus driver as we didn't return from eating lunch on time. Some old New Yorker women yelling at each of us as we stepped on the bus. The driver told to eat there but it took a little too long to serve us. And the food was NOT that good to be chewed out for.

The next day we went to Vancouver Island, BC and saw the town Victory which is on theIsland. Here again, Victory is BC's capital but can only get there by 1 ½ hour ferry ride or fly in.

Arrived home at 3:30 pm on August 10th and the limo driver took the slow route to Geneva where we were to pick up our car at Don's house. Needless to say we fell into bed that night. It was great to be HOME and sleep in OUR own beds! I think the Rockys out West are more beautiful since we have camped in them several times. For the cost of the trip, would I go again???????


What was really facinating was Barrow and the land portion of the trip. The pipe line was something else. I didn't go into detail as I figured the letter was long enough. On the pipeline, the pipe is craddled in a U-support system. Antifreeze is poured into the top of the two points in the U to keep it cool so the heat of the oil doesn't heat the support system and melt the permafrost. If the permafrost were melted, the support system would give way.

Barrow was something else. They have a hospital with 16 doctors and a staff of nurses. But only 4 hospital beds. If anything comes in that can't be done there, the patients are medivaced out to Anchorage. Clear down South of the State. Remeber Barrow is on the Northern tip. These 16 doctors have to fly around the northern part of the state to care for the sick. Like Australia, the doctors travel to the sick.

There was a mound found that they dug into and they found a mother with two children craddled in her arms just like she had died yesterday. These bodies were dated back to be in the 1500's. Frozen in time. They now have machines to dig with to bury their dead instead of waiting until the middle of summer.


No comments: