Seeing EVERYTHING In Barrow, Alaska
Even though my hotel closed for fire damage leaving me without a place to stay, at least the tour was still on! And there was no charge for anyone who was staying or scheduled to stay at the hotel, so a $150 savings was at least a silver lining.
A small note about my footwear: prior to leaving, several people asked if I would be wearing heels in Barrow. I hadn’t really thought through it at that time, but I accepted their challenge and navigated the tundra, muddy beach, and 20 degree weather in my wool lined wedge boots (I know some purists will say wedges don’t count, but it was the best I could do). 🙂
Our flight got in around 10:30, but the tour didn’t start until around 12:15 while post-fire logistics were being figured out. Since my flight was now leaving at 6:30 PM that night, I was a little worried there wouldn’t be enough time to see everything, but hoped for the best.
The tour started with a drive out in the Tundra to Emaiksoun Lake where the road ended.
Along the way we passed the burial grounds where my unspoken question answered. It IS possible to do burials in winter even though the ground is frozen.
This stretch was popular for nesting birds and Arctic cotton, which look like dandelions, and was amazingly scenic.
One of the reason why I love taking these trips is that it helps me remember (or learn for the 5th time) facts I’ve never been able to internalize. For example, I felt silly being surprised there was so much water everywhere. I know about permafrost, but hadn’t thought through the implications. With the ground permanently frozen a few feet down, obviously water has no where to go, but still not something I’d really considered.
After a brief stop at the site of the original mud huts we headed over to the Iñupiat Heritage Center for a demonstration of native customs.
I’m not a huge fan of tourist-focused demonstrations of local culture, as they often feel forced and the participants themselves seem anxious to get back into their jeans and sneakers. This presentation was rather fun though — the performers were of various ages and there was one particularly cute little girl who was really into it.
After the show we went into the arts workshop to see (and buy) examples of native art. Most of it centered around whale bone and baleen and there were some really gorgeous pieces. Unfortunately, like many things in Barrow, even when it was a good deal, it came at a premium and I had to walk away from the beautiful $40 Christmas ornaments.
Next was the moment many of us had been waiting for! We were headed out to the most northern point of the city. Along the way we passed the famous Cathay Parker football field. The wife of a Florida football coach raised $500,000 to help the city of Barrow build an astroturf football field for their new high school team.
Its pretty scenic with the Arctic Ocean a mere 100yds from the field!
From there we went as far north as we could, but couldn’t quite make it to the furthest point since the road required 4×4 capabilities.
The ocean waves seemed pretty strong to me, but we were informed the waves were often several feet high or more. I toyed with getting as close to the water as I could without getting wet and seconds after this picture was taken, I amused everyone with my sudden, squealing retreat as a wave came several feet closer.
Remember my fear at not getting to see everything? At this point we’d seen all the major points of interest and more, but it was only 3 PM. So we were dropped off at the supermarket to have fun looking at the prices and the were given a very detailed tour of almost every street in town, including a tour of the “new” neighborhoods, details about all the schools, and a stop at the Napa auto parts to see the whale hunting equipment they sold.
We visited the Will Rogers memorial and destination sign.
Next we stopped at one of the few places to buy souvenirs. I admired the furs, but not the labeling…
The airport is basically one room, so there’s not a lot of space to hang out before a flight and definitely not much to see. So we were driven around some more til about 5 when we could be dropped off.
So I’ll admit it was not quite the romanticized experience I’d envsioned for myself, but I did have fun and now I can say I’ve been to the northernmost point in North America!!!! Stay tuned for details of when I go back sometime in the winter to see the ocean frozen over!
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