Day 29 -- Touring Prudhoe Bay and heading back to down to Coldfoot


  From: Deadhorse, AK
  To: Coldfoot, AK
  Distance: 246 mi (396 km)
  Travel time w/brks: 7 hr 15

  Distance since start: 7,269 mi (11,696 km)
Coldfoot to Prudhoe Bay

Wednesday 7/19/2006

I woke up around six and started to work on some of the items that had come lose in the trailer. Since we had no water and the fridge looked like a total mess (more on that later), I popped a bag of popcorn for breakfast. We probably need to drive with the windows open after my stomach gets a chance to process that "meal".... Just before 8 I headed over to the office of the Arctic Caribou Inn and asked about tickets for the oil field tour. They were fully booked for their 8:30AM trip, but had openings for their 10:30AM tour. It cost $37.50/head for the tour and we had to provide them with passports (for a quick background check). While the kids slept, I went over and got the flat truck tire fixed. Since there are no official service stations in Coldfoot you have to ask around until you can find a corporate shop where they have tools and the willingness to help. I made it back with minutes to go before the tour, only to find that the kids had not yet made it up out of bed. There was a quick scramble and then we were all ready to go.

The tour was given in what can best be described as a blue school bus. Security had changed after 9/11 such that ordinary people can no longer drive right out and look and must instead take the only official tour there is. It started out with a video (sort of an infomercial by the two major explorers of the fields there). It was a mix of helpful information plus hints about how they are taking care of the environment, etc. This video was shown in one of the rooms at the Arctic Caribou Inn. After some waiting we boarded the bus that would take us around. The driver appeared to have worked there for quite some time and was quite knowledgable about what happened there. There are several oil fields up here (15+) of which Prudhoe Bay is the oldest. Some of them are tens of miles away from Prudhoe Bay. We got an intro into some of the techniques used to get the oil out of the ground, including gas and water injection. We saw rows of pumps that are part of the Prudhoe Bay field. This is the largest oil field in the US. About 1.2 million barrels (190 million liters) are produced and pumped into the pipeline every day. At least that is what the infomercial said.

Rows of oil pumps in the Prudhoe Bay oil field

Rows of pump stations in the Prudhoe Bay oil field

At the very end, the bus took us to what seems like the end of the road. The shore of the Arctic Ocean, 1200 miles from the real North Pole. Here those who came on the bus had the option of taking a swim. Only five people wanted to do that (from a filled bus). Of those five, three were kids of the Hamnqvist family. The bus driver warned bathers to only go out by a particular orange marker. Scrap metal and all sorts of junk from the oil field was out in the water and people have been known to cut their feet on it after loosing sense in their feet from the cold water. The water was 41F (4C) and the air, with windchill, was 34F (1C). You were not allowed to change on the bus. Instead, you had to run out about 500ft and change in the howling wind.

Getting ready for a dip in the Arctic Ocean

Getting ready for a dip in the Arctic Ocean. Karl yelps as he puts his feet into the cold water.

One official Polar Bear bolts back up on shore

One official Polar Bear bolts back up on shore (full submersion required)

Not sure, but there is something about the view of oil pumps that puts Myrtle Beach to shame

Not sure, but there is something about the view of oil pumps industrial equipment that puts Myrtle Beach to shame
Notice how Erik's shirt is flapping in the howling wind..

After the kids had gotten dressed, the buss snaked back to the Arctic Caribou Inn. We drove by lots of industrial buildings, scattered throughout. These are service buildings for the oil equipment. Here are some random shots of that. In some places you can see housing for field workers. Some of them are not as clear as I would have liked to - I took them from the bus window. We've learned that most of them work a two weeks on, two weeks off schedule.

 Random oil gear
 Random oil terminal gear
 Storage depot

You'd think there would not be much wildlife in the middle of this. There is. While we were out on the tour, a Grizzly bear was walking around some of the buildings. We saw several Caribou grazing in between the buildings. At one point, we came upon a pair of tundra swans!

A pair of white swans in the tundra grass

A pair of white swans in the tundra grass, next to all the oil equipment

Once we got back to the "campground", we hooked up and got ready to pull out. But we had a couple of errands to do. First we needed to buy some fuel since the next station is 240 miles down the road. There was only one single station in town. Not sure if you can call it a station as such, but they had pumps and they had fuel.

At the only fuel station in town

Ready to fill up at the only fuel station in town. No service attendant. You had to call a phone for someone to come out.

This is new. Pumphead in a box and the pump in the building (to keep things warm and lit up during the winter)

This is new. Pump head in a box and the pump in the building (to keep things warm and lit up during the winter)

Isn't this ironic: the most expensive diesel we've purchased in the USA: $3.69/gallon. And where was this? At the largest oil field in the USA... After we had fueled up we headed over to the General Store in Deadhorse, where we stocked up on souvenirs and a few bits of food. At 4:14PM we hit the road south. In some sense, this was late. But, in another, we had midnight sun so we would have daylight all the way down to Coldfoot. The weather was not on our side, with clouds hanging low. After a while, I could feel that this sleep deprivation made me an unsafe driver. So Isabella got to take over for an hour, while I napped. I was quite impressed about her ability to handle the rough and narrow road. We made good progress. We did one more swap like this during the day, giving Isabella two hours of towing experience on the Dalton Highway. This did not seem like it was going to be an unusual day from before. As we were coming down the Atigun Pass we get another flat tire.

Flat tire #4: What turns out to be a two inch metal chunk penetrates the tire

Flat tire #4: What later turned out to be a two inch metal chunk penetrates the tire, near the sidewall.
We're experts now. NASCAR next! Everyone got a pee-break, we changed tire and drivers in 21 minutes.

Maybe I am snowed in, but where does all this junk come from? I was expecting sharp rocks. We continued down to Coldfoot without any incidents, at least as far as we knew. The weather cleared up as we got closer to Coldfoot. At least something was right.

Could this be a mountain of Gold? Naw, the sun plays tricks on you.

Could this be a mountain of Gold? Naw, the sun plays tricks on you.

When we arrived in Coldfoot at 11:30PM the sky had cleared and we could see the mountains. It looked quite nice (if you disregarded all the barracks and other oil junk). Now starts the real fun stuff. Erik walked into the trailer and hinted that things did not look very well. I decided to first explore the issue with the fresh water tank. I started to fill the tank.. and water came out at the bottom. Water drain spigot had been blown off with a rock. I then walked into the trailer. Yikes. The complete list of "issues" is shown on Day 31.


  Name: Coldfoot, AK
  Our hookups: Water and 15 amp
  WiFi: NO
  GSM service: NO

  TV Channels: NO
  Cost: $30/night
  Reservation mode: Phone call (via Skype)

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All Pictures (c) 2006 Hamnqvist, Background features the muddy 4x4 decal on thetruck.