The fields were an amazing shade of pink carpeted in all the fireweed plants.
Before we left the visitor center at the Yukon River we were informed that there were massive fields of fireweed blooming in areas north of the river. Fireweed is so named as it is one of the first plants/flowers to grow back after a fire and several areas along the Dalton Highway were affected by large forest fires in 2004-2005. Unlike in the continental US, most of these fires are left to burn themselves out as part of the natural cycle of the environment (since there are rarely any structures to worry about). This makes for some interesting views driving through the area to see the vagaries of how a fire has spread through an area. In some cases one can see a large swath of burned trees, but then right next to it an area that has not burned.
All the scrumptious blueberries one could want and fields of fireweed.
All shaped by the terrain and the wind at the time the fire raged. The fields of fireweed were as bright as promised. It looked like pink grass growing on the hillsides as we drove north on both sides of the road. It was too gorgeous of a sight not to get out and take some pictures and enjoy the surroundings. And even better as we explored the area... BLUEBERRIES. Blueberries galore were growing along the ground just waiting to be picked and enjoyed as the fresh delicacy they were. Just needed to keep an eye out for the bears that might come along and think we were stealing their treats. After pictures and blueberries we commenced our journey north. Next stop the Arctic Circle. At MP115 is the marker for 66.56073 Deg (66Deg33Min39Secs) North latitude and the line that marks the true area of 24 hour sunlight.
Arctic Circle. (MP 115)
We stopped to get the requisite tourist pictures at the marker installed along the road. There was nothing else to really do here though, so on we went. By now it was about 5:30 PM and we were 60 miles out of Coldfoot
. But a short time later just past MP130 as we were cresting a fairly long climb, Jody pulled the van over to the side of the highway and got out and lifted the hood of the van. This couldn't be good. And it wasn't. Bill was the first to get out and take a look and after about 5 minutes I decided to at least get out and look around. Without talking to Jody or Bill I walked to the back of the van and down the road a bit. I noticed a small trail of fluid heading back down the hill that ended where we had stopped the van.
The Search Area... (MP 129-130)
Back to the front and Jody and Bill were talking to some people who had stopped to inquire about the situation. Point of fact: we were bone dry on engine coolant. A plug on the engine had popped off and the engine coolant had completely drained from the van. As things stood we were going absolutely nowhere. One of the groups stopped talking to Jody said they would try to make a request for assistance for us when they arrived in Coldfoot, which was 45 miles away. By this time most of the rest of the van emptied as well. With nothing better to do we searched along the area behind the van until Bill came back and informed us that Jody thought that the situation had started much further down the road. So Bill, Lenny, Amy, and I started trekking down the road.
More fireweed photos
Two on each side road, we were searching for a small part about 1.5" in diameter that had come flying off a van moving 45-50 mph down an empty road. And we had literally over a mile of the road to search based on Jody's directions looking down the hill. It was the proverbial needle in a haystack. We slowly walked down the hill and after about a mile we found the scene of the crime where a large amount of water still covered a portion of the road. So we searched diligently in the genreal area along the road. Somewhere around 1.5 hours after we first stopped the van we decided to give up and head back up the hill to the van. As we started walking back up the hill Amy found a small metal piece that she wasn't sure about. She showed it to Bill who stated yes that this was the piece we were looking for.
Close up on a fireweed flower.
SUCCESS!!! We trudged up the hill a happy band of campers, displaying our treasure to the rest of the group. Bill and Jody re-installed the plug and we gathered up all of the water we had onboard the van to fill the overflow tank. Not enough, damn. A van came up carrying some workers and they had a few extra gallons of water that they gave us and we were able to finish filling the system. Woohoo. It was about 7:30 and we were off again. Our excitement was short lived. We made it about five miles (just past MP135) and Emma who had taken up rear window watching duties yelped and Jody started pulling over near simultaneously. The plug had popped again and again all our water was flowing down the Dalton Highway. At least this time we knew where the plug had flown and the search was pretty quick.
But we were also out of water. A stream was back about 1/2 mile down the road so Johanna, Emma, and I grabbed two of the three water jugs while Bill decided to jam the plug in backwards so it wouldn't come out. We partially filled each jug (4 gallons or so) at the stream and carried them back to the van where Bill and Jody were waiting. Refilled the system and it was attempt two to head north. Emma resumed her rear lookout position and we headed north again now heading towards 9:00 PM. If there was one good thing about being out here it was that we didn't have to worry about darkness setting in regardless of where we ended up having to set up camp. We were successful this time and made the final 40 miles into Coldfoot. We made a quick stop at the Truckstop in Coldfoot to determine what the status of our support mission going north earlier had been.
A view of sun, sky, and forest from the Arctic Circle.
Apparently a tow truck had been called, but the only location for them to come from was Fairbanks, 200+ miles from our location back on the road. Jody called and cancelled the tow truck that had been sent north and we drove the final 5 miles to Marion Creek Campground a very nice BLM maintained camp along the Dalton Higway. We settled in and set up camp as 11:00PM approached. Jody began a very, very late dinner as some people pitched tents and someone started a fire. I went to the water pump to clean out the water jugs (potentially contaminated with the creek water used to fill the van) and get fresh water. We also learned that there was a fresh moose kill not far from camp (between 1/4 and 1/2 mile away along the creek) just two days ago which meant keeping a pristine camp in regards to food.
The moon peaks out over the ridgeline at Marion Creek Campground outside Coldfoot (1:30 AM - July 23rd).
Dinner was finally served right around the midnight hour. By the time we finished eating and cleaned up camp it was well after 1:00 AM. With the Brooks Range mountains to our north hiding the sun, it did get fairly dark (still light enough to see without the need of a flashlight), but we did get an excellent view of the moon settling over the ridgeline in the darkening sky. Tonight also got quite cold (even for an Alaskan summer). As the temperature dropped below freezing (finally settling around 26F), ice formed from the condensation on the tents and on the plastic surface of the portable tables. The fire died down and by 1:30 AM or so everyone had dispersed to their tents to get some sleep after what turned out to be a long, long day. We would later learn from a group travelling south that our next campground (Galbraith Lake) received about 2 inches of snow this evening with the temperature drop. That would have something to awaken to in the morning, however in the Coldfoot area we stayed completely dry along with our cool temps.