Gates of the Arctic: Arctic Villages

After our trip to the Arctic I read a book by Bob Marshall called Arctic Village. It was published in 1933 and was very popular nationally. It articulated what life was like in wild Alaska. When it was written you have to remember that Alaska was not a state, so people were reading about the wild wild west, the undiscovered country.

Wiseman's Post Office

Wiseman's Post Office

Marshall approached his writing in a very scientific manner. He documented all of the conversations that he had with people in Wiseman by counting the number of minutes that he talked to them about different topics. He used this to discuss the breadth and depth of knowledge of these people that were living on the absolute fringe. People often assume that country folk are less intelligent, or not able to handle city life. Marshall through his meticulous documentation of his conversations demonstrates just what it is that people talk about. He immerses himself in life at Wiseman. He tells of July 4th dances that go until 5am, he talks about going on midnight hikes where the sun is still high in the sky. He talks about eating blueberries, moose, snow and stories of survival. It’s such a complete picture of life in an Arctic Village that you can’t help but be drawn in; you can’t help but want to live in Wiseman yourself.

In our short time we got to spend very short periods of time in some Arctic villages.  The first place we spent much time was Coldfoot. We camped there for one night and then after our scare with a bear in Gates of the Arctic National Park we stopped there for lunch. Coldfoot is comprised of the Arctic Interagency, a gas station, a restaurant and some hotel rooms. It is important for the life of the Dalton Highway though; because it is the only place that you can get gas besides Prudhoe Bay. It’s also basically the only place that you can consistently get a warm meal. The full-time people that live in Coldfoot work as cooks and servers. There are several folks in the area that live there the entire year and forage for food to survive the winter. A whole lot of nothing happens when it is below 0 for days on end with snow up to your eyeballs.

Another Arctic village we got to experience very briefly was Deadhorse. On Prudhoe Bay, Deadhorse is strictly a working town. Everyone that lives in Deadhorse is part of the oil operation. Their job comes with a roundtrip flight to and from Deadhorse. When we were there in mid-August it was forty-three degrees. It is not warm. The weather is severe and the work is hard, but it pays well. I can only imagine life being especially difficult in the winter, when it doesn’t get light at all during the day. 

Our final Arctic Village came at the end of our trip down the Dalton Highway when we stopped Manley Hot Springs. Our thought was that after several days we would go to a hot springs to enjoy something warm. We got to Manley and the hot springs were closed. We learned, when we got there, that they were just owned by this old lady and they didn’t really have hours, you just had to go talk to her and figure out when she would let you use them.