Friday, December 5, 2014

Brrrr...Visiting the Top of the World

One of my main reasons for wanting to visit Alaska was to go to Barrow.  Barrow is considered the top of the world or at least the top of United States.  It is the farthest most point you can travel in the US unless you are Native Alaskan or are allowed access to tribal lands to travel to Barrow Point.  Barrow is in the no-roads area which means you have to fly in or reach the town via the Arctic Ocean.

Who wouldn't want to visit a place like this?
Beginning of main street along Arctic Ocean
I did not get to spend much time there.  In fact, I only gave myself a day.  I flew in town in the morning and flew back out in the evening.  Two reasons: one, the cost of a night's stay in one of the few hotels costs more than a plane ticket and two, there is not much to do in Barrow unless you have a tour scheduled or family/friends to visit.  Since I did not go during prime visiting time (summer) or travel with someone, scheduling a tour was not possible.  If you do happen to find yourself in Barrow, call Will at Top of the World hotel.  He is one of the local Native Alaskan guides.  In fact, I waited on guests in Denali who recommended him.   When I talked to Will, two people were required to schedule a tour at a cost of $125 per person.  He takes you in a special vehicle out to the point where you are practically guaranteed to see polar bears.  My guests told me he is an excellent guide with thorough knowledge of the area.  I was disappointed to miss this opportunity.

I went to Barrow at the beginning of November when the sun was coming up at 10:30am, the day after the US had daylight saving time change.  Otherwise the sun would have come up at 11:30am.  So odd.  The sun was setting at 3:30pm.  The area was rapidly loosing daylight.

So what did I do while in Barrow?  I walked around and took turns freezing and thawing.  I was deliriously happy to finally be in Barrow that I really didn't care what I did other than see the town and hopefully see a polar bear.  I started by eating at Arctic Pizza.  Surprisingly, the pizza was not as expensive as I thought it would be.  $19.00 for a small cheese pizza, only $5 more than I paid in Denali.  It was really good too.  Super cheesy.  I would recommend the restaurant.  Although it overlooks the Arctic Ocean, don't expect anything fancy.  It is a regular Joe place with slow paced, super friendly service.

This is where I saw a polar bear.  He was way out on the ice.  My phone camera would never be able to pick up the view, unfortunately.  At first, I wasn't sure what I was seeing.  It was walking back and forth.  It must have been on a piece of ice.  My number one Alaskan goal accomplished.  I did overhear at the airport later that the bear had swum up on shore with it's kill.  Luckily, I had stopped walking around about 10 minutes beforehand.
Looking out at the frozen ocean from the front of Arctic Pizza
 After walking around some more, I thawed in a sundry store.  It had a little bit of everything.  Stuff was jam packed.  Tourist stuff, tons of craft items like cloth and yarn, clothes, food, Western Union, similar to a really really small locally owned Walmart.   More walking.  Time to warm up with some hot tea.  I stopped at Sam & Lee's Restaurant.  Check out the prices.  Whoa! Talk about expensive.

Look at this building.  Notice the electrical hookups.  I had to take a picture because this building reminded me of an oldtime Western horse rail only for modern day cars.  Electrical hookups were everywhere.  People tended to leave their cars running while popping into restaurants or stores.  I mean where would a car jacker take the car anyways.  There are only so many roads in town.

The main thing I noticed about the town, besides the cold (-16F, still early in winter), was the blandness of the buildings.  Everything was pretty much void of color.  Very weathered.  It is a grey looking place. Considering the harshness of the weather, it is a wonder the buildings are even standing. 

Check out the airport.  That little building holds security, ticketing, waiting, cargo, you name it.  I found it interesting that people come early, check in their luggage then leave until boarding time.  Imagine being a teenager and having to take a plane to go to your wrestling meet or football game.  That's what these kids here do.  When I landed, there was a large group of teens headed somewhere.  They travel with pillows. When I was leaving, the incoming plane had the large wrestling team and cheerleaders coming back from a tournament in Anchorage.  Pretty cool!

And that was my visit to the Top of the World.

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