Arctic Adventure – Initial Impressions of Barrow


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I can’t fully capture all of the feelings and emotions I experienced in Barrow, Alaska.  A lot of these observations will seem random and scattered, and that is the point.  The trip was a sensory overload with every hour bringing amazing and memorable observations.  Barrow is truly unique.  So here goes…….

Trip Report

  1. Introduction
  2. Initial Impressions of Barrow
  3. Exploring Barrow
  4. An Unforgettable Encounter

I knew I was in for a unique adventure right from the start when my walk down the jet way at Anchorage International Airport turned into stairs.  Outside, myself and an airplane of Inupiats and oil drillers boarded a 737-400 Combi from the rear on the plane.

Destined for Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay) and finally to Barrow, the 737-400 Combi has freight located at the front half of the aircraft and passengers located in the rear. This is one strange aircraft.

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Pit stop in Deadhorse, Alaska (Prudhoe Bay)

Deadhorse was not cold enough so we decided to continue north to Barrow!

My Collection of Scattered Thoughts and Observations on Barrow

I tried to organize my thoughts and observations on Barrow but that proved too difficult.  Instead, I give you a scattered collection of  thoughts and observations that stood out the most to me.

Barrow is actually the big city

When I was planning this trip to Barrow, I thought I had found one of the most remote areas on earth.  It wasn’t until I spent some time here that I realized it isn’t quite what I thought it was….it’s actually the big city!  For those Inupiat Eskimos living in several small Alaskan Northern Slope communities, Barrow is the city center where people come to have medical care, purchase supplies, and is their gateway to the rest of the world.  Like everything in life, it’s all relative.  Our tour guide living in Barrow noted that his friends give him grief as the ‘city person’ living the ‘city life’.   In fact, Barrow is headquarters of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, a company whose revenues exceeded $2.3 billion in 2010.  Not exactly what you would expect in a town of 4500 people where not a single building or residence suggest any elevated financial wealth.

Barrow Residents have thick skin.

I witnessed a young female teenager casually chatting with her friends outside the Supermarket wearing a short skirt, sleeveless top and heels. Unbelievable!  It’s 10 below zero!

Barrow is expensive.

I walked through the supermarket with my mouth open in awww as I saw a small box of Lucky Charms for 10 dollars.  In those smaller, Northern Slope villages, a six pack of coke costs 30 dollars.  This gallery should provide a few more laughs.

Whaling is a way of life.

Whaling is legal in Barrow and is core to their heritage.  On the day I was there, two of the whaling teams that went out that morning came back with bowhead whales. I was told this is a very exciting day for the community.  Half of every catch is distributed to the community.  A total of 200,000 lbs. of whale meat came into the town that day!  You could sense the excitement.

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Jaw of Bowhead Whale

Privacy is cherished.

Our guide called ahead to a family member of the whaling captain to ask if we could drive past them to see the whale meat.  Even with permission, we drove past quickly in the car.  From what I understand, it is considered rude to gawk or take pictures.

There are so few colors.

Everything looks white.  You don’t see a blue sky or the sun because it is just a white foggy haze.  You don’t see the blues of the Arctic Ocean because even though you are oceanfront, the ice extends farther then the eye can see. There are so few signs of life.  There were a few Ravens and the King Eiders flying around.  There are no (real) trees.

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View from the wing

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Top of the World Palm Tree

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Orange stands out when everything else is white

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The whale meat brought signs of life!

The sun never sets (or rises).

The sun rises on May 11 and does not set for about 80 days, until around August 1.  The sun never really set when we were there.  It was very strange to be walking around at 2AM with the sun out.  I can’t imagine the months when the sun never rises!

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The sun is up.  What time is it again!?

Barrow is cold.

The mean temperature for the entire year in 9.75 °F.  July is the warmest month of the year, with an average high of 46 °F. We were told you can see grass and the ocean in the summer!

The Bottom Line

Thank you for putting up with my scattered thoughts.  I tried to organize them but ultimately, they don’t belong in order.  Barrow wouldn’t be Barrow if everything made sense.

Stay tuned for my next (more structured) post on my day exploring Barrow and one unforgettable encounter.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed on this site are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

About alex

Alex loves to travel and does so a lot. Logging 100,000 flight miles each year over the past 4 years, Alex uses points and miles to power his passion. Alex is continuously striving to experience the far reaches of the globe. In his day job, Alex is a Management Consultant frequently on the road advising Technology organizations. I love thinking about, reading about, and talking about all things travel. Feel free to reach me at pmmalex@gmail.com

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