|Light snow above the Arctic Circle, by Carol L. Douglas.|
I didn’t even know I had a bucket list, let alone that painting above the Arctic Circle was on it. But as I crossed the Yukon River, I realized that no amount of bad road was going to stop me from seizing this opportunity. My daughter asked me whether the Dalton Highway or the one-lane roads in the Hebrides were more terrifying to drive. It’s a draw.
|The Dawson Highway is muddy and slick this time of year.|
Northerners know that 25° F and damp feels colder than below 0° F and dry. It hovered in the freezing range all day, with bands of snow. It was beautiful, but not that comfortable.
|The Alaska Pipeline near Yukon River.|
We followed the Alaska Pipeline north from Fairbanks into the Arctic. It snakes from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, and it’s a beautiful companion. It appears to be meticulously maintained; not only the pipe itself but the property surrounding it.
In some ways, Alaska has a “King Cotton” economy, based on oil. However, they don’t do much refining here. That’s part of the reason gasoline is pricier here; the other is the sheer distance between places. In Yukon River, I paid $5.59/gallon for unleaded.
|Ice storm on the Dawson Highway.|
As we approached the Arctic Circle, it got snowier and more desolate. The birch forests dwindled, leaving stunted black spruce forests and low shrubs on the higher elevations. The deep red of blueberry bushes covered the slopes.
A Mercedes people-mover played tag with us on the Dawson Highway. That’s a top-heavy vehicle and it worried me to see it slip-sliding in the deep mud at reckless speeds. We stopped at the Arctic Circle for the requisite photo op; it followed us in.
|Un-mudding at the Arctic Circle.|
We waited patiently while its load of Chinese tourists took every possible photo—the sign with each person, the sign with a hand puppet, calisthenics in front of the sign. A woman posed for a photo with our mud-spattered Maine license plate. At that, Mary and I collapsed in mirth, and they scurried away before I could say hello.
|Visibility issues took a variety of forms.|
After making a cup of hot coffee on our cook stove, we headed back south, intending to camp near Manley Hot Springs. The visibility was too poor, so we stopped where we were for the night. It was mighty cold when we woke up this morning.
It’s sunny this morning. We’re heading in stages toward Dawson City, Yukon, which was one of the base camps for the Alaska Gold Rush.