Barrow, Alaska: Perpetual daylight at the (almost) top of the world

Early in my trip to Alaska, I flew from Fairbanks to Barrow with my bird-nerd friends from Cincinnati (Dave and Jill Russel; and Karen and Scott Glum, with their two sons, Elliot and Michael). We were headed to Barrow for some serious bird-watching–Barrow is a major wintering/breeding site for migratory waterfowl, including species we’d likely never see anywhere else–and to make connections with scientists working/living at the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC). Barrow is likely the closest I’ll ever be to being on top of the world; it is the northernmost point in North America, jutting out into the Arctic Ocean, where the frozen edges of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas meet, and it was one of the most memorable, other-worldly experiences I had during my travels in Alaska. And we were there during the summer solstice, with wraparound daylight that meant I could watch birds from our dormitory room window at 2 a.m. if I happened to still be up (and, uh, sometimes I still was). My quick favorite became the phalarope (we saw two types: the red-necked and the red), a quirky shorebird that swims around in circles in shallow puddles on the open tundra to stir up food. We set up our scopes in the windows and could catch glimpses of birds at any hour of the day or night, just spinning away; and you could always hear a chorus of birds outside the dorm’s windows, too, providing a round-the-clock soundtrack that we never grew tired of. These pictures show us pre-flight in Fairbanks, flying over the frozen seas near land and getting our first aerial views of the stark community of Barrow, and arriving at the Barrow airport, which was essentially a one-room building (check out the baggage area) that would be packed when flights came in, as local folks would show up to pick up supplies (dog food, toilet paper, consumer goods) they have shipped up to Barrow. Within 20 minutes or so after a flight arrives, the airport empties (after folks drive right up to the airport door to pick up their supplies) and you can see what a small space it really is. We rented a pickup truck scarred with multiple cracks across its windshield and explored the dirt roads of Barrow, getting our bearings along the frozen Chukchi Sea, before settling into our rooms at the BASC dormitory for our four-day stay.

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