The word of the day is MOSQUITO.
Well we finally got on the ground. Thank God. After way too many days of training we rolled into Deadhorse yesterday. And while I expected it, I was still surprised at how ugly it is here. Don't get me wrong, the tundra and scenery is amazing, but the "town" is nothing more than an industrial complex full of metal buildings, dirty trucks, and oil drilling machines. While the sun hasn't set since we arrived, you can see large orange flames burning from various places on the horizon. In short, not exactly a place I would come to on vacation. Yet people do. We have seen countless motorcyclists, several tour buses, and various shell shocked people wandering about. All I can say is I am glad I am getting paid to be here.
The nicest hotel in town (ours is the place next door)
Our bear guard couldn't make it up here in the morning so we had a slow day yesterday. We got our gear ready, picked him up at the airport and headed out to scout sites for today. We made our way down the Dalton Highway (featured on the show "Ice Road Truckers") to see what we had in store for today. As I mentioned, I am up here to conduct hydrology surveys of streams for a new pipeline alignment. However we quickly realized this wasn't going to be as cut and dry as we thought; the streams are not very well defined and in most cases they are nothing more than a swale with some unconnected ponds that connect at some point during the ice break-up to form some sort of conveyance. Whatever, enough boredom for you, let me tell you about the cool stuff:
Yesterday was incredible. The weather was great, partly cloudy with a nice breeze to keep the bugs down and great visibility. I wore a short sleeve shirt for most of the day and no bug gear with the exception of some DEET. As we headed south from Deadhorse, we spotted an arctic fox running by the road. We then saw a couple of Arctic peregrine falcons and a couple of caribou. Then a few more. Within a few minutes, we were surrounded by the largest herd of anything I have ever seen. There must have been 1,000 caribou around us. It was absolutely amazing and wouldn't you know it, I forgot my damn camera. I hope to get copies from one of my coworkers and will post them up when I do.
Today was different. Completely different.
We started out with high hopes but the weather was not cooperating. It was cold, rainy and windy. It truly is amazing how fast things can change and how incredibly at the mercy of mother nature you are up here. We headed down the Dalton highway, now a large muddy track to our first site. Even before we stepped out of the truck we were swarmed by mosquitoes. Millions of them. They were everywhere and they were huge. You could actually hear them bouncing off the windows. Thank God for our bug shirts. If you ever come up this way get a bug shirt, it will save your sanity and life. Mosquitoes were the only wildlife we saw today except for a few gulls, some Arctic terns, and some ground squirrels. It truly was impressive how many mosquitoes there were. It was also a little disconcerting to look up and see a guy with a big ass gun standing near us all the time (our bear guard). Don't get me wrong our bear guard was great; a nice guy, funny, easy to get along with, and willing to help out with work (so long as he keeps one eye open for bears). And the fact that he is with us makes me feel quite secure. But I can't help but think I am working on a chain gang, with the shotgun carrying guard standing watch. Alas, no bears.