The Washington Times - June 28, 2008, 02:46PM

By Nancy Sather-Vogel, Family on Bikes —>

It’s funny – a few months ago I didn’t even know Prudhoe Bay existed. 

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I certainly never would have considered flying there with bicycles, even if I had heard of it. Now I can’t imagine it not being an integral part of my life.   

My ten-year-old twin sons have decided they want to set a new world record for being the youngest people to cycle the Pan-American Highway, and the folks over at Guinness told us we needed to start in Prudhoe Bay in order to get it. 

“Where in the world is Prudhoe Bay?” I wondered.  A quick look at a map of the Americas was all it took.  Follow the road as far north as possible – and that’s Prudhoe Bay. 


Ready to leave the Arctic Caribou Inn

500 miles north of Fairbanks in the land of the midnight sun. 

It was cold and drizzly when we left the airport en route to the Arctic Caribou Inn, the only hotel in town to cater to tourists.  Within a few hours, however, the sun came out and we saw, first hand, just how beautiful the Arctic weather can be. 

The air was fresh and clean, a gentle wind blew from the north, and the skies above were bright blue.  The ice was starting to break up from the lake in the middle of town, and it was easy to see why people would stay – even if there were only a handful of those days each year.  

“Prudhoe Bay is little more than an oil camp that opens its doors to tourists for a few months every year,” local police officer, Mark Ryan, told me.  “It’s an interesting place up here.  Right now is the relaxed, laid back time of year.  Winter is when most of the work happens.” 

Somehow it didn’t look slow to me, with the estimated 800 people flying in and out each and every day.  According to Ryan, though, not much can happen in the Arctic summer when the ground thaws and turns into a swampy mess. 


Darryl at the bay with Oil Rigging in background 

The winter, with several inches of ice and snow covering the Arctic tundra, is when most of the exploration and drilling takes places since workers can drive anywhere on ice roads. 

A quick walk around town (it’s so small there’s no such thing as a long walk) shows little more than support facilities for the oil fields.  Indeed, the general store consists of one whole floor of hardware, with the upstairs cranny dedicated to a few snacks, toiletries, and tourist items. 

According to Chris Williams, a tour bus driver for Taquaani Tours, Prudhoe Bay, an enormous area forty miles long and fifty miles wide, is home to the largest oil reserve in America.  At any given time, one can find over 6000 workers in the fields drilling oil or exploring for additional reserves.  Currently one million barrels of oil are shipped out on a daily basis. 

At its peak, two million barrels flowed through the pipeline to Valdez every day.  Oil exploration began in the Prudhoe Bay area in 1920, but it wasn’t until 1968 that commercial quantities of oil were discovered. 

Construction began shortly thereafter on a pipeline to transport the oil to Valdez, the nearest port which is navigable year-round.  In the early 70’s the Haul Road (now referred to as the Dalton Highway) was constructed to link the oil fields to Fairbanks. 

On June 20, 1977, oil flowed through the 800-mile-long pipeline for the first time.  The Dalton Highway, one of the most remote roads in the United States, is open to the public all the way to Deadhorse. 

The final eight miles to the Arctic Ocean, however, belong to the oil companies and are closed.  The only way to travel those final eight miles is on a tour arranged by the Arctic Caribou Inn.  One of the perks of the tour is the ability to join the Polar Bear Club – by taking a dip in the frigid waters of the Arctic Ocean. 


A group joining the Polar Bear Club

Even though there isn’t much to see in Prudhoe Bay, there’s something special about being at the northernmost terminus of the Pan-American Highway – an oddly exciting proposition.  It’s one of those romantic locations (like Timbuktu) that, even though there’s not much there, is special simply to say you’ve been.

Read more of Nancy’s journey, here at Donne Travels at 

Read all about Nancy’s Journey at:

On the road again – Part 1

On the road again – Part 2

On the road again – Part 3

On the road again – Part 4

and

On the road again - Finding Santa Claus

or

Visit Donne Tempo Magazine and Family on Bikes for more information and blogs from the Vogel family’s journey.

The following video was created by the Vogel family on their journey from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks, Alaska.