Monday, November 3, 2008

Prudhoe Bay, 2005

Wading in the Arctic Ocean, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, June 2005.

In spring and summer 2005, after leaving my job in Juneau and before heading back to the Midwest, I took about four months off to travel around Alaska and the Yukon. I had anxiety about it at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

One of my big trips that summer was a roughly three-week odyssey driving up to Prudhoe Bay and back. I have TONS of photos from that trip that, by themselves, could sustain this blog for a year. I'll focus on the end of the road in this post.

Only part of the Prudhoe Bay / Deadhorse complex is accessible to the public - an area of maintenance bases, a handful of hotels, a general store and a few other services. The rest of the area - including most of the oil drilling and processing facilities, and access to the Arctic Ocean - is closed off. To get out there, you have to go on an arranged tour - which is how I got out to the ocean to take the photo above. I think there were about 20 people on my tour - most had flown up as part of a package trip. I was one of maybe four or five who dared wade into the water; one guy took the full plunge (wading was good enough for me).

There were two hotels operating when I was visiting. On a tip from a friendly older couple staffing a visitor info booth about 1,000 miles back, I went to this place, the Arctic Oilfield Hotel:

It, like pretty much every other building in the camp, is a prefab structure built on pilings. At the time I was there, I think it was run by VECO - the oil services company involved in the Alaska political bribery scandal.

The couple had recommended it because it serves oil field workers, while the other hotel was overpriced and "touristy." They were right. I was the only non-oil field worker staying there. The rooms were like dorm rooms, and there was one super-awesome feature: A 24-hour, all-you-can-eat, included-in-the-room price cafeteria:

I still think about this cafeteria. Because oil workers come back at all hours, they have to keep food available. There was a hot food line open most of the time, and even when it was closed, there were refrigerated cases full of sandwiches, salads, cakes and other desserts, etc. As someone who loved college dorm food, this was like culinary heaven.

When work crews came back in their Carhartts, boots and helmets, I did kind of stand out a bit. But everyone was nice and, as I said, the food was great. I've never been to a tropical resort, but I think this was the kind of "all-inclusive" accommodations I'd prefer.

There were a few things to look out for while staying at the hotel:

I never saw polar bears while I was there, but the hotel office had a wall of photos of polar bears hanging around the camp. I DID see some caribou grazing a field behind the hotel.

One other detail - they posted a daily room roster for workers to know who was staying where. My name was at the top of the list:

I don't know that I have a greater appreciation of our nation's energy situation from having visited Prudhoe Bay, but it was an awesome trip - one that I'd like to do again in the future.


Beverly said...

Are the buildings on stilts because of possible flooding or to keep them warmer? Bear protection?

Andrew said...

They are on stilts to protect the permafrost. If they were built on the ground, they would release heat into the ground, the permafrost likely would melt, the area would turn into a swamp and the buildings would crumble.