June 10, 2012 Another Day Off, Another Hike!
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. John Muir 1901
Today was a day to drag out some brand new thick hiking socks and head for the hills. John Muir knew a thing or two about hiking; he spent a good portion of his life exploring the Sierra Nevada range, and even traveled to Alaska to study the glaciers. Our goal today was no glacier, but certainly the valley we walked up has known its share of glaciers. The Atigun River valley is about a ½ to a mile wide, with tundra covered slopes mixed with talus slopes (loosely packed, mostly football to basketball sized rocks). High cliffs rise up on the sides; we were always looking out for Dall sheep, a species whose habitat the nearby Arctic National Wildlife Refuge helps to manage and protect. Our destination was Atigun Falls, a beautiful falls cutting through limestone rock, about 150' above the valley floor.
Seven of us spent the afternoon on this pleasant hike just off the Dalton Highway near Galbraith Lake. Team Spider PolarTREC joined our lab and a few other folks to check out some Brooks Range scenery for the day. Fellow PolarTREC teacher Nick LaFave has joined the wolf spider research team for the summer, and when he is not too busy hunting spiders he is always up for a hike and a chance to take a few photos!
Along the way there were some wildflowers of particular interest to me, especially a chance to see blooming rhododendron. Back home in the Great Smokies a dominant shrub along the streams is the rhododendron, which I've seen growing in stands with individual plants attaining heights of 10 feet or more. Here's the sweet little Rhododendron lapponicum we found along our path today
These plants were barely an inch or two tall! Another wonderful discovery was crinoid fossils in a huge boulder along the way.
Crinoids are fossils of marine invertebrates; some of which still live today. The fossils in this rock were probably close to 126 million years old; evidence of a piece of geologic history occurring long before the last ice age around 50,000 to 10,000 years ago whose glaciers formed this valley.
The views from the top of the slope, where we could see the falls, were incredible
Looking down, we could see where the water from the falls formed a stream; notice the braiding of the stream as it edges toward its merge with the Atigun River far below. Looking on toward the top of the picture, you see the Atigun River flowing downstream toward its meeting with the Sagavanirktok River.
The falls themselves were extraordinary; action of the water over time has carved its route through the limestone…the effect of the water falling through the hole it carved was really stunning.
Less than a month ago, May 28, PolarTREC teacher Melissa Barker took this same hike. It's really interesting to check out her pictures with snow and the frozen waterfall, and compare them to what we saw today. Check it out at the PolarTREC site.
Here's another view I took of the falls, a short video for you to enjoy the sights and sounds of Atigun Falls. Maybe this bit of raw video will give you a glimpse of what we are getting to see here in the Arctic!
I hope you enjoyed our hike today as much as I did!