Exploring America's Arctic: From Alaska's Heart To Her Northern Shore
The story of Alaska is as big as Mt. McKinley, colorful as the northern lights and cool as an arctic polar bear. Come see for yourself as you learn about and explore this unique region.
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Program No. 1015RJ
9 days
Starts at
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9 days
8 nights
23 meals
8 B 7 L 8 D
Getting There
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Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Fairbanks Alaska
Cutler Student Apartment Complex at University of Alaska Fairbanks

Dinner: Board the Denakkanaaga mini bus at 5:00pm for dinner at the campus dining hall, where we will be eating with other students of the university. Meals are buffet style and include soup, salad, two entrees, and dessert, plus water, coffee, team, hot chocolate, milk, and soda.

Evening: Orientation: The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the program theme, the up-to-date Daily Schedule and any changes, discuss safety guidelines, emergency procedures, roles and responsibilities, and answer any questions you may have. That first night, the coordinator will ask to see your picture ID that you will be carrying in Deadhorse. We will write down the information and then send that information to the company that is taking us to the Arctic so they can pass it on to the Alyeska security people. Alyeska is the consortium of seven oil companies that built the pipeline. All transportation in Fairbanks will be via a private 15 passenger mini bus and van unless specified otherwise. Portions of this program will depend on local conditions. Our visit to the Prudhoe Oil Fields will depend on the current national threat level. Indicated times are approximate. Program activities, schedules, and personnel may need to change due to local circumstances. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Field trip to the University of Alaska Museum of the North
Fairbanks Alaska
Cutler Student Apartment Complex at University of Alaska Fairbanks

Activity note: We usually spend about 2 hours in the UAF museum, walking around, looking at the exhibits. At the Large Animal Research Station, we will have a lecture about the musk ox, caribou and reindeer who live at the farm, standing up to an hour while viewing the animals.

Breakfast: Breakfast in campus dining hall

Morning: NOTE: This itinerary has been crafted a year ahead of time, using the best information currently available. Everything on this schedule will be covered but the sequences may change by next summer. Also, as we get closer to the starting date, events in Fairbank may be announced which we may want to participate in and these will be added to our program if possible. Class: History of Fairbanks. We have a number of people who teach history for us. All of them have studied and taught Alaskan history and most of them have also written books on it. Having been founded as a gold rush town, Fairbanks has an interesting history that it shares with much of Alaska. Hear about the flood of immigrants that came to the far north in the early 1900's to make their fortune--and the people who made fortunes off of them by "mining the miners", providing provisions, tools and various entertainments. Fairbanks was different from most of the other boom towns in that unlike most gold rush towns, Fairbanks is still here a century and some later and is now the second largest city in Alaska. Fairbanks is also home to the states' oldest university – the University of Alaska Fairbanks, or UAF as it's known locally. Fairbanks is situated only 120 miles south of the Arctic Circle in the heart of Alaska. Due to its central location and easy accessibility by road, rail and air, the city is considered the gateway to the north. Orientation to the Arctic. A guide from the company that takes us to the arctic will talk with us about the trip. They will give us times for departure and discuss traveling in the Arctic and the rules of the road. They will have suggestions for clothing and what to bring along on the trip. They will hand out copies of the daily schedule and go over the details with us and answer any questions about the trip.

Lunch: Lunch

Afternoon: Field trip to the University of Alaska Museum of the North. The Museum Of the North is an outstanding facility for a town the size of Fairbanks. Focusing on the history, culture, and environment of the North, the museum has nearly 1.5 million artifacts and is a research center for climate change, genetics, and other issues facing the circumpolar regions. There are collections on the gold rush, the Indigenous Peoples of the state, all of Alaska's ecosystems, natural history, human history, world war II and natural wonders such as the Northern Lights, glaciers, extinct surprising fauna and an astounding local temperature range of about 170 degrees between record high and record low. Walk around the museum at your own pace. There is recorded information on the exhibits which can be accessed using a cell phone app that the museum has set up for its visitors.

Dinner: Dinner

Evening: We often have a very early departure for our flight to Prudhoe. We provide a selection of breakfast foods in the coordinator's apartment that you will be invited to choose from and pack for your breakfast tomorrow. We offer boiled eggs, yogurt, cheese, breakfast bars, fruit, muffins and individual boxes of juice.

Flight to Prudhoe Bay, Prudhoe Bay Oil Fields Field Trip
Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse

Activity note: Approximately two hour flight in small 4-12 seater planes to Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean. We will take an approximately two hour guided drive in a school bus through the oil fields with a stop on the shore of the Arctic Ocean. Take a dip! We usually go to the store in Prudhoe which requires climbing one flight of stairs. At Deadhorse Camp, there is a flight of stairs up to the restroom in the dining hall building. In the housing building, all rooms and bathrooms are on the ground floor.

Breakfast: Details on our flight to Prudhoe will be finalized shortly before our program starts. The time frame for taking off is anywhere from about 6:00am to 9:00am. The schedule depends upon transportation needs and requests that our arctic vendor has to schedule for us and their other customers. Be sure to take along the breakfast you packed the previous night. Coffee or tea can be made using the resources in your apartment. Eat your breakfast at your leisure. On our very early departures, we often eat our breakfast at the airport while waiting to board the planes.

Morning: Departing the apartments, we’ll board our minibus and transfer to the Fairbanks small plane airport for our flight from Fairbanks to Prudhoe. We fly in small airplanes, from four seaters up to twelve seat planes. The planes we use depend upon the load we have to carry. The flight takes about 2 hours and if the weather is clear, we fly low enough to see the land we will spend the next three days driving over. Please refer to the “Travel Details/Transportation” section for more information.

Lunch: Arrive at Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope of Alaska. Called the North Slope because it is a vast plain that slopes "down" to the north; its rivers empty into the Arctic Ocean. Lunch at Deadhorse Camp. We usually order lunch off the menu. They have sandwiches, burgers, sometimes hot dishes. Water, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, soft drinks. It's possible that they might prefer to give us a buffet lunch--it depends upon how many workers they are housing and if any of the work crews will be in the camp for lunch or not.

Afternoon: After lunch, we often take a little field trip around "town". Deadhorse is the small private community in the Prudhoe Bay oilfields that consists of two hotels, one store, and one post office.We will stop at the one store where you may purchase t-shirts, mugs, sweatshirts with Prudhoe Bay logos on them, calendars, postcards, little necessities, etc. The store is interesting to visit, to look at what the people who work and live there want to buy. There is some hard core work clothes but also regular stuff that you might see anywhere in a small town store. The store is primarily for the "locals", the workers who are there for weeks at a time. But tourism is also now part of the oil fields environment and part of their customer base and so there are some souvenirs available for purchase. There is a little post office in the store where you can mail some postcards to the folks back home.

Dinner: Dinner at Deadhorse Camp. Dinner is usually a buffet. There are hot food choices and the usual beverages, coffee, tea, water, juice and soft drinks. There is always desert. We will also fill out a lunch request form for tomorrow. You will have your choice of bread and meat and cheese for sandwiches. There are also vegetarian choices. Fruit and carrot or celery sticks are also included. Soda, juice or a bottle of water. And a bag of chips.

Evening: (NOTE: THIS SEGMENT IS DEPENDENT UPON THE U.S. TERROR LEVEL WARNING IN PLACE AT THE TIME OF OUR TRIP.) After dinner we will leave Deadhorse Camp in the camp vans to go to one of the hotels in Prudhoe. We watch a film there on the building of the pipeline and then have an orientation to the oil fields by Alyeska Pipeline Company employees. Alyeska is the consortium of seven oil companies that built the pipeline. They will discuss safety, proper bus behavior and the areas we will be allowed to drive through. We must show the same picture ID's to them that we recorded on your first night in Fairbanks. They also record our information and verify that we each are carrying the same ID we already faxed to them. We also need to have eye protection to ride on the bus--regular glasses or sunglasses are acceptable for that. After the orientation, we board the Alyeska bus which is a school bus type of vehicle for an excursion to the oil field. This is the only way for visitors to get out on the oil fields. There are usually other visitors on the bus with us. The bus drivers are Alyeska security workers. They will talk about the history of Prudhoe Bay and point out the various work areas and facilities as we drive by them. We’ll continue our ride north through the camp until we eventually reach the shore of the world's northernmost ocean. Dip a toe in or take a full submersion BIG DIP into the Arctic Ocean. Towels are provided by Deadhorse Camp. Changing into dry clothes would be done on the bus (hopefully an empty bus). Then we get back in the vans and return to Deadhorse camp to spend the night. And remember--the sun never sets on the North Slope in the summer.

Atigun Pass, Brooks Range to Coldfoot
Coldfoot, Alaska
Slate Creek Inn

Activity note: We start our 500 mile trip back to Fairbanks. We’ll be on the road for the next two days. We will be driving for about 8-10 hours each day in 15 passenger vans. We try to have no more than 12 people in a vehicle. We drive on the Dalton Highway which is mostly gravel--it can be a bumpy ride. We take stretch breaks, a lunch break and plan for bathroom breaks about every two hours. While traveling on the Dalton there are no flushing toilets--only State of Alaska maintained outhouses.

Breakfast: Breakfast at Deadhorse Camp. Usually a buffet offering eggs, breakfast meat, sometimes pancakes or muffins. Fruit. Coffee, tea, milk, water, soft drinks, hot chocolate.

Morning: Begin our drive south on the Dalton Highway, which was built in the 1970's to enable construction of the pipeline. Today it is the access road for the pipeline maintenance camps and the Prudhoe Bay oilfields. We will pull off the highway to get close to the pipeline so you can look at it during a talk about it. Learn about the technology and engineering of the pipeline and get some close up pictures of it. Many people take pictures of themselves underneath it or leaning on it. As we ride along, there will be commentary in the van by the very experienced drivers. Topics may include the surrounding ecosystems, topography, history, geology, land use, the indigenous people of the area, etc.

Lunch: Lunch will be at a stop on the side of the road where we can fully appreciate the surrounding beautiful landscape, we’ll eat the lunches we ordered from the Deadhorse Camp kitchen the day before. Choices of meat, cheese and bread for a sandwich, fruit, some vegetables, a cookie, and juice boxes. Vegetarian choices are also available. Anyone is also welcome to eat in the van if they get hungry before the group is ready to stop.

Afternoon: Continue south on the Dalton. Drive the boundary area between Gates of the Arctic National Park and The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Politicians refer to The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as "ANWR" when they battle over whether to open this area for oil exploration or to leave it as undisturbed wilderness.) The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge lies about 1/2 mile east of the highway and Gates of the Arctic lies about 3 miles west. Continue our drive over the highway summit of the Brooks Range with a stop at spectacular Atigun Pass to take photos and look for wildlife. The Brooks is the farthest north mountain range in the United States. Some scientists believe it is the northernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains but some dispute that. As we head for and summit Atigun Pass, look up and search the mountainous terrain for the visible scars of glacial activity -- scooped out cirques at the top of the mountains created by former glacial deposits, the U shaped glacially created valleys, tundra covered moraines and the left behind kettle lakes on the flats. The Brooks Range is a continental divide—on the south the waters flow to the vast Interior rivers that feed into the Yukon River, crossing Alaska east to west and ultimately flowing into the Bering Sea. On the north, the waters flow down to the Arctic Coastal plain of the North Slope and on into the Arctic Ocean. Continue to Coldfoot.

Dinner: Buffet dinner in the Frozen Foot Saloon in Coldfoot. The buffet offers a number of options. Meat dish, starch, vegetables, soup, sauces, salad, dessert choices, coffee, tea, water, soft drinks. We will fill out a lunch request form again for tomorrow's lunch.

Wiseman, Yukon River, Return to Fairbanks
Fairbanks Alaska
Cutler Student Apartment Complex at University of Alaska Fairbanks

Activity note: Another full day, driving approximately 250 miles on an often rough gravel road. With rest stops and side trips and lunch, we are usually on the road about 10 hours or so. In Wiseman, we walk around the town for about two hours or so. People may go back to sit in the van if they need to.

Breakfast: Breakfast buffet in the Frozen Foot Saloon. Buffet meal with many choices. Scrambled eggs or omelets, meat, pancakes or French toast, hot cereal, bread and muffins/pastry.

Morning: After breakfast, we pile in the vans for our field trip to the former gold rush town of Wiseman. Flooded with hordes of hopeful prospectors in the early 1900’s, today Wiseman has only about fifteen residents living among the intact remains of its glory days. In Wiseman, a local will lead us around discussing the history of the town and pointing out old structures and historical cabins. Visiting with the locals who live there, we will learn how to make a subsistence living in the Brooks Range from people who are doing just that. Leaving Wiseman, we’ll continue our drive back to Fairbanks.

Lunch: We usually have our lunch on the north shore of the Yukon River. There is easy access to the river--feel free to walk down the boat launch ramp and scoop up some Yukon River water. We’ll also make a short stop at the Bureau of Land Management Yukon River Visitor’s Center. The center is very small--its primary purpose is to give information to visitors about the public lands of the area. It has some very nice pamphlets about the various parks and wildlife refuges of the Arctic that you may take with you if you wish. And it has a couple of outhouses.

Afternoon: Continuing south to Fairbanks, we drive over the only bridge in Alaska that crosses the Yukon River. We'll continue south to also cross the Arctic Circle, stopping for pictures of us at the Arctic Circle sign before we return to the Alaskan Interior. Driving to the end of the Dalton highway, we’ll transfer to the Elliot Highway for the final 70 miles to Fairbanks. The Dalton is the newest highway in Alaska and the Elliot Highway is the oldest. The Elliot was built in the early 1900s to access the gold fields further north in the state. The Dalton was built in the mid 1970’s for access to our North Slope oil fields. As we get closer to Fairbanks, we’ll make a brief rest stop at a homestead and observe a small private gold mine visible from the road. Arrive in Fairbanks.

Dinner: Since we're never sure when we'll get back to Fairbanks, we usually have a pizza dinner in the coordinator's apartment about 45 minutes after we get back to town. We order a variety of pizzas and also serve salad and dessert. Coffee, tea, soft drinks, and water also available.

Denakkanaaga Elders & Staff Lunch, field trip to WEIO
Fairbanks Alaska
Cutler Student Apartment Complex at University of Alaska Fairbanks

Breakfast: Buffet breakfast in the campus dining hall

Morning: Class: Broad overview of the Native Nations of Alaska. Many people who visit us think that the Inupiak and Yupik people of the Arctic Coast (commonly known as Eskimos) are the only indigenous people in the state. Due to Alaska's huge size, there are six major and distinct Native nations that live within its boundaries. They have very distinct cultures that have developed over thousands of years in response to the very different ecosystems they inhabit. Come learn the names of these other very early inhabitants of Alaska. Road Scholar is hosted in Fairbanks by Denakkanaaga, a non-profit educational organization founded by the local Athabascan Elders of the indigenous tribe of the vast Interior of Alaska and Canada. Denakkanaaga is housed in the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor's Center in downtown Fairbanks. The center has exhibits and dioramas on the people of Interior Alaska and the ecosystem we live in, with a focus on Athabascan life in the past and in the present. The Alaska Public Lands Information Center, a storehouse of information on the public lands in Alaska, is also located in the same building, as is the Fairbanks Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Lunch: Lunch with Athabascan Elders and Denakkanaaga staff. We will have a "make your own sandwich" lunch in the Morris Thompson classroom. We provide meat, cheese and rolls, along with vegetable trays, dessert and beverages. Some of our Elders and Denakkanaaga staff will join us for lunch. The Elders will share some of their personal history with us, talking about growing up in rural villages before statehood, living a subsistence life style of hunting, fishing and trapping.

Afternoon: Free time in downtown Fairbanks. We will start with a drive around the downtown area to familiarize you with where things are. Then we suggest you walk around at your own pace to visit some of the places we have pointed out. Check out the Ice Art Museum, featuring a video on carving the ice sculptures for the March Fairbanks Winter Carnival World Ice Art Championship. The museum includes actual ice sculptures shown in a refrigerated case. The Fairbanks City Museum is also downtown, along with statues commemorating the "first family" to cross the Bering Land Bridge into the Americas. There is another set of statues nearby that commemorates the Lend Lease program, when the American government was flying planes up to Alaska and then on into Russia to support the Allies during world war II. There are also history plaques about Fairbanks and Alaska and beautiful flowers in Golden Heart Plaza on the banks of the Chena River. You may also visit the Yukon Quest Headquarters. The Quest is Alaska's other thousand mile sled dog race that is held in February every year, a month before the Iditarod. The race course runs between Fairbanks and White Horse in Canada's Yukon territory. While not so famous as the Iditarod, the Quest is just as challenging, if not more so. We usually stay downtown about two hours or so. Return to the Cutler apartments.

Dinner: Buffet dinner in the campus cafeteria

Evening: Field trip to the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO). WEIO is an annual event held over a four-day period. The games were originally developed centuries ago to preserve cultural practices and traditional survival skills essential to life in the arctic and subarctic areas of the world. WEIO features games rooted in ancestral hunting and survival techniques devised by the indigenous people of northern Alaska and Canada. The games help keep people strong and dexterous, and also help them endure and persevere through tough physical challenges. Traditional dancing and singing is a very important part of the games. Many people dress in full traditional ceremonial regalia. Arts, crafts and traditional food such as smoked salmon are for sale in the hall.

Field trip to a famous musher's house and kennel.
Fairbanks Alaska
Cutler Student Apartment Complex at University of Alaska Fairbanks

Activity note: At the Large Animal Research Station, we will have a lecture about the musk ox, caribou and reindeer who live at the farm, while we're standing looking at the animals through the fence. The talk takes about an hour or so.

Breakfast: Breakfast at campus dining hall

Morning: Field trip to the Large Animal Research Station. The research station is a branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Arctic Biology. Studies of the large ungulates of the Arctic, the musk-oxen, caribou and reindeer, have been ongoing for decades. A researcher or station guide will talk about the biology of the animals and the ecosystems they inhabit. A strong focus is on the different adaptations that the species have made to the same environment. Life cycles and survival strategies will be explained. Pelts, skulls, antlers and horns will be available for hands-on examination and study. One of the highlights of this field trip is the opportunity to see and learn about the musk-oxen. In the same way that seeing giraffes and zebras in the wild indicates you are in Africa, the musk ox is an iconic emblem of the Arctic-you could see bears, wolves and whales in their natural habitats in many other places in the world, but if you want to see musk-oxen in their natural habitat, you must travel to the Arctic.

Lunch: Lunch on campus

Afternoon: Famous for the Iditarod, dog mushing is Alaska’s state sport. We will take a field trip to Mary Shield’s house and kennel. Mary was the first woman to finish the Iditarod. She hasn’t stopped running since. We’ll hear about her various other races along with her non-race enjoyment of just winter camping with her dogs. We’ll hear the inside stories and techniques behind the sport and will hear about preparation, strategies while racing and odd behaviors that some mushers display. Gain a unique perspective about the ecology of the Arctic and Alaskan Interior as seen from the back of a dog sled.

Dinner: Buffet dinner on campus

Evening: Field trip to WEIO

Field trip down the Chena River on the Riverboat Discovery
Fairbanks Alaska

Breakfast: Buffet breakfast on campus

Morning: Class: "Daily Life Of An Oil Spill Worker" A medic who worked on the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill will show pictures of the spill and the people who worked on it, discussing strategies employed, daily schedules and lingering effects from this disaster. Field trip to the UAF Georgeson Gardens. The University of Alaska was founded in 1917 as the School of Mines and Agriculture. It still does research on plants that will not only survive but thrive in a sub-arctic region. The university has developed hardy grain stock and still seeds grain fields down the hill from the garden. Migrating birds use these fields as a food source and a resting place, most heavily in May and September on their way in and out of the state. The gardens include vegetables, flowers and a water garden. The vegetables are huge and the flowers are both huge and extremely colorful, due to the almost 24 hours of possible sunlight we get from mid-May into mid-August.

Lunch: Lunch at a Fairbanks restaurant

Afternoon: Take a cruise down the Chena River to its confluence with the Tanana River on a modern day stern wheeler boat. Members of a family that has been captaining riverboats since the beginning of the last century share their knowledge of the river with their passengers. Stop on the banks of the Chena where local people will show traditional Native arts and crafts, talk about trapping hunting, food preservation, dog-mushing, aviation and life in the far north.

Dinner: Graduation dinner at an outdoor Alaska Salmon Bake.

Evening: Graduation ceremonies in the coordinator's apartment.

Program Concludes
Fairbanks Alaska

Breakfast: Breakfast will be served in the coordinator's apartment. Start time will depend upon people's departure times and will last until about 10 AM. Check out is at 11 AM.

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