Walking out the door of the Deadhorse General Store, I knew right away there was no way we were going to take off that night. The fog had become thicker than just an hour earlier when we had arrived at the small airport and unloaded our luggage. I could see across the dirt road but no further and figured I’d better start thinking about plan B.
Being opportunistic has benefits and one of those is that you are always looking for ways to make a potentially bad situation better. As the airline representative announced that our plane could not land and that we were to be booked on the next day’s flights, I cheered out loud. Others groaned, viewing this as a burden rather than an opportunity to spend more time in a place they will most likely never return to. I was thrilled to be booked on the 5:00pm flight rather than the 9:30am flight, because this meant I got to spend an entire day in Prudhoe Bay.
Because of the fog delay, a new adventure started! One of our contacts back at Toolik Lake called a friend who arranged for us to come to the work camp that she works at. For $200 per night (places to stay, of all qualities, run about $200/night in Alaska) we could stay in a work trailer dorm and get dinner and breakfast, plus a ride to and from the airport. We were extremely lucky to find this as the one hotel in town was booked and our group of 13 was on the waiting list, meaning we were likely to end up sleeping on the floor in our sleeping bags in the hotel’s t.v. room.
Deadhorse Camp is literally a bunch of work trailers, a garage, and rows of heavy machinery stored on a gravel pad out on the arctic coastal plain. There are large trucks of all kinds and SUVs parked near every building. Buildings are surrounded by piles of wood, metal in all forms, and either earth moving machinery or mobile trailers on skis made to travel across the frozen ground. Clearly this is a place for hardy people doing work in a hostile environment.
At 64 feet above sea level, the ground alternates between coastal grasses and sedges and pools of water on which many species of water birds can be found. It is so swampy that in order to have buildings that don’t sink, tons of gravel is brought in to create stable ground on which buildings are placed. The roads are also gravel bars built up to 10 feet high above the water and vegetation.
At dinner we meet a fascinating man who is staying at camp while working for NOAA through a school in Tennessee. His job is to fly with a small plane pilot out over the Arctic Ocean along 60 mile transects each day. During these flights he records the marine life that he sees, and this information is then used with nearly 20 years of data collected by those in the oil industry to show whether or not drilling here impacts the wildlife. He spends 30 minutes with me giving pointers and ideas about where I should camp and hike a week from today near Seward which gets me fired up for the next leg of my great Alaskan adventure.
What luck! I think to myself as I walk across the pad to my room. I can just feel the big grin plastered across my face.