Sunday, July 21, 2013

I'm fine

I realise my posting has stalled a bit. Im fine and still roughing it...

First the roast beef, then a small taste of chocolate (above). Then back to the campsite.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Dream Come True

When Philips first taught me the delights of extended career breaks, I bought a biiiig lens with a view to bagging myself a wolf. The lens was stolen before I managed to leave San Francisco. Even though it was covered by insurance I didn't have the heart to get a replacement.

Last year I finally bought a lens of a similar size again. The main reason was to get better wildlife shots in general, especially in Costa Rica. Once I was back in the US and travelling around I started to think maybe I should give the wolf another go.

In March this year I headed for Yellowstone hoping to see some wolves. And I did, but they were always along way away. March turned out to be a good to get into the dramatic lives that these wonderful creatures lead. This is because the National Park has teams of watchers out monitoring them and they will tell you the stories.

So this was one of my first photo(s)...

The big dots are buffalo and the smaller ones are wolves. So that trip was more about wolf behaviour than any face to face experience. I spent that day watching the wolves tour a valley and test out the bigger prey and eventually kill an elk. That elk became dinner for other wolves, eagles, ravens, coyotes and more. An interesting insight into the impact of an apex predator like the wolf. I should blog about that trip properly.

So heading north to Alaska everyone one who looked like they might know where I'd see a wolf was inundated with questions.

Nobody suggested doing the Dalton Highway for this reason, I did that mainly to see the Arctic Ocean. So when, on the way back, I saw this guy trotting down the road, I made such alot of noise he turned around to see what was going on.

He allowed me to follow him around for about half an hour. At some point I got out of the car to get a better view and he took off immediately.

A wonderful experience, and like I said a dream come true. I'm not sure how to top that now.

Driving The Dalton Highway

So what was driving on the Dalton Highway really like? As my post on preparing for it showed, there is alot of info out there and sorting out the useful parts takes a bit of time.

The first 100 miles actually does give a taste of the worst. In fact there are road works just outside of Fairbanks where the road is rough and very slow as you have to follow a pilot car through. It is not a very good start to a long journey.

There are some paved sections, but these actually turn out to be some of the worst driving. You get up to speed and settle into making some distance when suddenly large potholes appear in the otherwise smooth road. They show the thin veneer that the tarmac is over the gravel, and some of them are deep enough to give a wheel a good wrench if you are unlucky. The paved sections also suffer most from frost heaves, which is where the road becomes a roller coaster forcing you to slow down.

I preferred the unpaved sections which were generally smoother and more consistent than the paved sections. Any change in the surface quality was also much more visible, giving you time to slow down or just brace yourself.

Look how smooth this is ...

Pounded into this shape by all the trucks. The trucks themselves were not too much of a problem as most of them slowed down alot and pulled to the right (as you do too) as you pass. I was pleased not to have rocks hitting my windshield.

On these unpaved parts there were rocks spread around which sometimes needed avoiding. Most 4x4s would have sufficient clearance, but personally I wouldn't take a car.

This guy knocked his transmission out and the highway guys wanted $2500 to tow him to Fairbanks...

I was surprised to find he'd done a nice conversion inside his car...

But despite that he was on the verge of just abandoning it there, especially as he didn't know if it was fixable.

I don't think anyone was coming back for this one...

I did manage to get a puncture myself on the return trip. It wasn't on the highway itself. I was headed down a side 'road' looking for a 'wild' campsite when I drove over a log (because I could). The next morning one of my 3 week old tires was flat. The branch was so secure in its hole that I was able to reinflate the tire and drive the 80 miles back to Fairbanks, where I had to buy a new tire. So the 'free' campsite wasn't quite so free, the hole wasn't pluggable being too close to the sidewall.

The Pipeline

The Dalton Highway exists because of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Originally mere tourists like myself could not use the road. Whatever you think of the environmental consequences it is an impressive peice of engineering.

It basically conveys crude oil for 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, right across Alaska. That white line down the blue inksplodge is the route.

In a number of places you see it zigzag so it can shrink and grow with the extreme temperatures...

They send pigs down it to clear up blockages and keep it flowing smoothly. No they don't use the pink squealy types down and chop em up for crispy bacon at the far end.

They're more like this...

The pipeline has to endure other hazards, especially with this being America the locals have a habit of shooting at it. Drunken hunters are prone to this. Quite how drunk they are and what they think it is I have no idea.

The crude oil is warm as it flows down the pipe. Consequently they have to be careful that it does not melt the permafrost. when the permafrost melts the ground turns to mud and would no longer support the weight of the pipeline.

It will be interesting to see the effect of global warming on the whole area as it is also the permafrost that keeps the ground wet. If it melted too much the surface water would drain away leaving the ground looking more like the desert it really is.