Friday, July 18, 2014

North Pole, Eskimo Olympics, and the Alyeska Pipeline

     Our visit to the Fairbanks area was just ahead of the latest rain front which dumped several more inches of rain to the already swollen Chena River.  This area was already the victim of heavy rains and flooding just a month ago.  The Chena River Recreation Area campground we intended to stay at was still open, but recommended air mattresses, but for floating, not sleeping.  Time for another overpriced RV Park. 
     What visit to the Fairbanks area would be complete without stopping at North Pole, Alaska to visit the famed Santa Claus House.  It is, however, just a single shop of not much size.  In fact it is only about 20% of the size of the famed Bronner's in Frankenmuth, Michigan. 

     It does have a nice selection of holiday memorabilia and cheer.  It also has a very nice wall full of letters from children the world over addressed to who else?  The busiest building in town is the Post Office.  EVERYBODY wants that postmark!  The only other thing about North Pole that I found fascinating is the town only consists of about 4 blocks yet has 2 traffic circles.  We did receive our 2 latest mail forwarding shipments, but I had to 'jump thru several hoops' to get a prescription refilled. 
     Fairbanks (32,000) is a nice city not nearly the size of Anchorage, but still has all the bells and whistles needed for supplies.  We got Barb a better pair of hiking shoes and stocked up a bit more on reindeer meat which has become a new edition to our freezer since arrival in the state.  A bit spicier than beef, it is a deliciously lean and tasty meat.  The Mad Chef created a very tasty Venison Tater Tot Casserole for our first two nights here. 

     Fairbanks is the center of all things in Alaskan First Nation culture.  I highly recommend a tour of the Morris Thompson Culture and Visitor Center  We were lucky enough to be able to attend the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics held  at the University of Alaska Fairbanks   All too often incorrectly referred to as simply Eskimos, the largest indigenous group of Native Americans in Alaska are the Athabascans, followed by Inuit, Tlingit, and then Eskimos.  The cultures are also that incredibly diverse as well. 

      The games that are played by these people display the preparedness one needed for survival.  They require skill as well as strength, agility, and endurance. In this manner, the people could at least teach the children that they had to be tough to make it on their own, not just in one area, but in all. The games leave no part of the body untested.  These included the Knuckle Hop or Seal Hop, Four Man Carry, Ear Weight, Ear Pull, Drop the Bomb, One Foot High Kick, Two Foot High Kick, One Hand Reach, Alaskan High Kick, Kneel Jump, Indian and Eskimo Stick Pull, Toe Kick, Arm Pull, and Nalukataq (Blanket Toss).  I have uploaded several pictures, but suffice it to say you can see detailed descriptions of all the events at

     We were most impressed with the dance and ceremonial rituals, an integral part of every event.
     It was a pretty cool night for something a little bit out of the ordinary.  The Mad Chef even topped it off by springing for Concession Hot Dogs, Popcorn, and Water for dinner.
     Located just 9 miles north of Fairbanks is the Alyeska Pipeline Viewing Center.  This area allows you to pull off and view a section of the pipeline complete with informational signs and models.  The Alyeska pipeline is owned by 4 companies:  BP, Unocal, Exxon Mobil, and Conoco Phillips.  This pipeline spans the 800 miles between Prudhoe Bay and the Valdez Marine Shipping Terminal, which we visited last month.  There are 11 individual pumping stations which keep flow at a constant rate and can stop flow completely (if needed) within 4 minutes.  The pipe moves 534,480 barrels of oil each day (down from a high of 2,932,928 barrels in 1988).  In fact the pipeline use is declining 5% per year.  This is a governmental regulation.  

     Construction and engineering of the pipeline is fascinating.  The pipe is bolted to plate mounts that 'free ride' (not attached) to another plate mounted to the ground support pillars.  This allows for movement due to freeze/thaw and even earthquakes. 


     Mounted on top of each ground support pillar are also two heat conductors which are buried deep into the earth to transmit ground heat for dissipation into the air in order to keep the ground stable and not so subject to the rigors of permafrost.  Some 380 of the 800 total miles are buried due to the support problems of permafrost. 

     The pipe itself is nearly 1/2" thick and 4 foot in diameter and sits high enough off the ground to allow wildlife to cross under. 

     Due to the decreasing flow in the pipeline, oil moves much slower and results in a wax buildup within the pipe.  Alyeska utilizes what are called 'Pipeline Pigs' which are movable plugs pushed by the oil acting much like a scrubber moving the length of any section in order to clean the pipe and remove any unwanted buildup. 
     We move on now back to the east gradually approaching the border.  We will await a mail drop in Tok and then head NE to the village of Chicken where Barb will learn the skill of gold panning in an attempt to pay for our trip.  We will cross the border back into the Yukon around the 25th of July.  This upload was made via our Verizon Hot Spot which had incredible signal strength during our stay.  


1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to your report on Chicken and the Top of the World road. Good luck, Barb!