Preparing the Parking Lot

Posted On April 4, 2012

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With the long periods of sunlight we’re getting now, things begin to melt. The solid earth of the parking lot is under about twelve to eighteen inches of ice, built up over the six months of winter by constant vehicular traffic. If all this ice were allowed to melt naturally, this summer the truck lot would be a swampy morass of mud and wrecked vehicles. Trucks would get stuck, axle deep, in the gooey mess. What also can happen is that the sun shines through the icy surface, the sunlight refracting through the ice like a prism, melting the subterranean permafrost. When this happens, sinkholes appear in the parking lot and trucks inevitable find themselves in holes they cannot drive out of. In the spring, the parking lot essentially is one giant headache waiting to happen. Thus, the dozer blades have come in to scrape the parking lot.

For the last few days, grading machines and other equipment have been chipping away the layer of ice to avoid an impenetrable muddy mess in the coming weeks. The parting lot will still be disgustingly gross soon, don’t worry, but at least most vehicles won’t get too mired down in the muck. The ice they’ve been scraping off has been piled high on the edge of the parking lot, waiting for the sun to melt it away. I’m shocked at how much ice accumulated over the winter; near the fuel pumps, there was seriously over two feet of ice built up, just from idling vehicles melting the snow there all winter. Hard to believe we’ve been walking so far above the ground this whole time. A few times we joked about getting ice skates to zip across the parking lot—it would have been entirely possible, too.

The ground of the parking lot begins to emerge:

The Dalton Highway is getting slicker than hell right now. Midday the top layer of ice on the road turns to slushy water, and trucks dangerously navigate the road between Fairbanks and Atigun Pass, hoping not to slide and spin out into a snow bank or off a cliff.  Meanwhile, on the North Slope, it’s still like -20 degrees so they don’t have to worry about any melting for a while. Even the ocean up there isn’t going to fully break up until July.

But because the road is becoming a lot more dangerous to drive, I’ve noticed traffic in Coldfoot is slowly sputtering into nothing. Gone are the crowds of March; pretty soon this place will be a ghost town again, much like it was in October and November. We get a month respite here to recharge our spirits for the brutally busy four months of summer.


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