As my last few weeks in Prudhoe Bay were coming to a close, I got the opportunity to do some pretty awesome stuff. When June started rolling around, there was an incredible amount of tours to the Arctic Ocean through the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and regularly scheduled plane flights to Barrow, a native village on the coast.. I’m fortunate enough to be able to work for a company that lets their employees do these tours for free, which is an added job incentive that I took full advantage of.
The first tour was the Prudhoe Bay Arctic Tour. This consisted of a two hour bus ride through the town of Deadhorse, the oil fields near the ocean, and a stopping point at the beach of the Arctic Ocean. The tour guide I went with, named Branden, was an employee of one of the oil companies during the winter and a bus driver for tours through the fields during the summer. The only way the oil companies let people come through their roads is if they’re escorted by an employee with security clearance across the check points that have submitted every tourist’s license ID number 24 hours in advance. The security around Prudhoe Bay is incredibly strict, for whatever reason. You can’t even take a picture of the guard posts, or I probably would have to show everyone. Haha. I did get a picture of me standing on the Arctic Ocean (Shown Left)
I ended up going with a really nice family from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with Branden the tour guide. The family was traveling through Alaska for the summer in a truck/RV combo, though the Arctic winds almost blew it over while they were sleeping in it the night before. The bus we went on was a regular tour bus with wide windows and copious amounts of heaters under the seats. As Branden drove us around Deadhorse and the oil fields, he explained everything he could about all the different animals, birds, machinery, and buildings we were looking at. The most interesting thing I learned about the oil fields was about the processes of refining the oil, shipping it thousands of miles through steel pipes, and how many safety features they have in place for just about anything that could go wrong. It’s a pretty impressive operation and the facilities that the employees live at are much better than I ever imagined.
The other tour I went on was a flight to Barrow, Alaska. Being the most northern point in America, I definitely couldn’t pass that opportunity up. Barrow is a small Native Inupiat village way up north on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. It’s roughly and hour to an hour and a half’s flight time from Deadhorse, Alaska, the town at the very end of the Dalton Highway. There are no roads in or out of Barrow and their only mode of transportation to the outside world is a small airport that taxis people back and forth from various airports in Alaska. My company allowed me and Kendra, another coworker of mine, to tag along on a flight that wasn’t full. There was a tour van waiting for the tourists. Kendra and I didn’t want to pay the exorbitant amount of money in a town that we could easily just walk around in. The sign to the left shows how far popular cities and countries are from Barrow.
The first thing we decided to do was find some kind of city office that would have maps or instructions on how to get across town. On our way there, we came across the middle school and high school. They had an excellent bowhead whale skull in front of the high school. (Shown Left) Apparently the high school’s mascot is the whalers, which my partner-in-crime thought was pretty funny. (Shown Above Right)
As we walked further into town, we found their city hall. We walked in to inquire about some sort of map. Interesting enough, the first person we met was a nice Mexican lady that had just gotten there. The second person we met was a very chipper Indian man that described how to get around town.
The city is split into two provinces that are only connected by a bridge. One half seemed like they had most of the industrial areas and homes in it and the other half had all the grocery stores, cultural centers, and any other business you could imagine. Another bowhead skull outside the visitors center was on display while we walked around town (Shown Left). On the far side of town by the post office, we found their grocery store. Apparently orange juice is a valuable commodity in this town haha. (Shown Above Right)
After walking around an actual grocery store for the first time in 5 months, Kendra and I tried going to the cultural center but they were closed for an hour. I guess even Barrow villagers have to eat lunch, too. We decided to walk to the ocean and see the famous Whale Bone Arch and whaling boats on display (Shown Left). There was a recent whale hunt and a flagged whaling boat on the ice still (Shown Right).
When we got done with our lunch on the beach while staring off into the icy ocean, we walked back to the cultural center. They had opened back up and were starting a tour for some school children. We wanted to see the displays around the whaling museum but admittance was $10. Luckily for us, you get free admittance if you work on the North Slope. While we walked around, I found an interesting chart of the division of meat among the villagers after every kill (Shown Left). Something else I found interesting was the small boat made completely out of baleen, the ridged teeth from a whale that filters water from their food (Shown Right).
A beautiful mural of the legendary man, Eben Hopson, caught my eye, too. Eben Hopson was the single most influential person in the government of Alaskan Natives in the north. He helped enact several bills through the US Senate that have preserved his native ancestry and traditions throughout the years.
The museum even had a native bird exhibit. I was excited to see this since they had detailed descriptions of several birds. My 2 favorites, as usual, were the snowy owl (Shown Right) and a Rough-Legged Hawk (Shown Left).
When we left Barrow, I was in awe of it’s beauty as we flew over the village. My experience there was extremely fulfilling and I got to do almost everything on my To-Do list. With that over, the following week was a blur. It was filled with somberly packing up my room, or Arctic Cave as we came to call it, saying goodbye to my fellow coworkers and crew workers that filled the camp, and traveling 260 miles down the Dalton Highway on rough dirt roads and snow-capped mountains through the Brooks Range. As I sit here writing this, I’m encircled by about a dozen coworkers of Coldfoot Camp in a room that resembles a college dorm lounge. Magazine clippings and pictures cover the walls, incredibly intriguing books stack shelves high, and sport wagering charts are tacked to cork boards. With this complete sensory overload in the amount of people at this camp compared to the 7 coworkers in Deadhorse Camp, these next 4 months will come with it’s own challenges and unique experiences. But for now, my time in Prudhoe Bay has come to a close.
***I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while, people. Limited internet access and working upwards of 80 hours a week have limited my time on being able to carve out time to sit in the coworker lounge. I’ve resorted to writing a journal during the week and copying my writings when I do have internet. I’ll have plenty more to come, as I’m already working on 3 more posts from my journal. Feel free to write me a letter, if you want. 🙂 The address is:
P.O. Box 9041
9000 Dalton HWY
Coldfoot, Alaska, 99709