Ramble through Alaska - the Arctic Circle

Leaving Mt Denali behind we left with optimism for the Arctic Circle, into the ragged latitude of the midnight sun

Disappointed with the weather at Denali National Park that denied us a view of Mt Denali on the first day of our trip to Alaska, we looked for an suitable alternative and found it in the Arctic Circle.

We headed out of Denali National Park early morning towards Fairbanks en route to the Arctic Circle. Aware that we could not hope for lavish feasts on the way we stocked up on food. It was a hastily planned jaunt with many unknowns, all of which added to the sense of adventure. 

The unpaved road dotted with aspens
First, we had approximated distances as we had used paper maps for planning. Moreover, we had little knowledge of the pockets of civilization and amenities we might find on the way. Additionally, we did not have a complete picture of the road conditions. Yet, the temptation to seek exploratory salvation grabbed caution from our senses and threw it into the air. We were on our way to seek a place in the plaque for the ones who crossed over to the frontier of the midnight sun.
The tundra close to Denali National Park
The Arctic Circle is an imaginary circle of latitude that runs around the earth at 66 ½ degrees north of the equator. Due to the axial tilt of the earth the regions north of this circle experience at least one 24-hour day (in summers) and one 24-hour night (in winters) during the year. The Arctic Circle is not a single geo-spatial coordinate; it is a number of geo-spatial coordinates strung together, and we were hoping to cross over into the Arctic on the Dalton highway that connects Fairbanks with the offshore drilling region near Prudhoe Bay. All we could learn from our limited research was that there would be a signpost by the highway indicating the Arctic Circle.

We crossed Fairbanks and further north got onto an unpaved road that significantly slowed us down. Soon we were driving along the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, which connects the offshore platforms in Prudhoe Bay in the Northern extremity of Alaska with the Southern Alaskan port of Valdez (rather infamously known for the 1989 oil spill involving the tanker vessel Exxon Valdez at Prince William Sound). Raghavan added a trivia that the Mother Ship of the smokers in the movie Waterworld was named Exxon Valdez. The day was clear and sunny and our thoughts went back to Mt Denali, for on a day like this the peak would have been clearly visible, yet the landscape around our route specked with aspens made the drive to the Arctic a visual treat. 

The Trans-Alaskan Pipeline
We crossed the mighty Yukon River and entered the tundra, which was dotted with fascinating land formations including a cluster of rocks shaped like fingers called Finger Mountain.
Rock formations on the way to the Arctic Circle

Finger Mountain
Just after noon we reached the rather nondescript Arctic Circle. We could not appreciate the faunal value of the region, though we were spellbound at the artistic landscape that told of nature's craft of creating visual masterpieces. The vegetation in the tundra supports Caribou and with them follow Brown and Grizzly bears; yet the highway we took was a trifle compared to the expanse of the tundra and therefore diminished our chances of spotting wildlife.
Board indicating the Arctic Circle on the Dalton Highway
On the way back the sun painted the scenery with vivid hues and just before it went down we got a glimpse of the Northern peak of Denali from George Parks highway. Inundated with zeal infused by a lively day we looked forward with hope for the next day’s foray – the Exit Glacier in the Kenai Peninsula.

A glimpse of Mt Denali from George Parks Highway
Text and photos: Anand Yegnaswami

Previously in this series: Part 1 - Ramble through Alaska