February 2, 2010

Richardson Highway – Winter Drive

Filed under: Everyday Life,Photography — Susan Stevenson @ 10:52 pm

Steve is off this week, and we took a drive down the Richardson Highway to Black Rapids Glacier overlook. When we left North Pole, skies were overcast and it was about 5 below. We weren’t feeling very positive about seeing a pretty sunrise, but decided to take the drive anyway. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about living in AK, it’s that the weather can be a lot different down the highway.

We made a quick stop at the new Sunrise Bagel drive-through near the intersection of Badger Road and the Richardson Hwy. We are frequent Sunrise Bagel customers, and this was our first stop at this location.  The food was as good as expected, but the service was very slow. I hope this was just one of those days, rather than the norm. We’ve never had to wait so long (15 minutes) at their other locations. Sandwiches in hand, we headed south.

We could see a narrow strip of orange light down low on the horizon, beneath the thick clouds above. This gave me hope that there would be clearer skies in the Delta Junction and Donnelly Dome area. I really wanted to see the mountains.

As we drove further away from North Pole, we watched the outside temperature climb little by little. In Salcha, it was 5F above zero, and by the time we reached Donnelly Dome, it was a whopping +20F. Skies were blue, with some clouds in places, and the mountains were lit up beautifully.

I hoped to come upon the caribou herd that hangs out in this area, but no luck there. In fact, we only saw two moose the entire drive – and they were along the road leading up to Donnelly Dome. It wasn’t a good day for wildlife sightings.

One of the things that really caught our eye, was the hoarfrost. From the Alaska Science Forum (abridged):

Among winter’s beauties are the intricate crystals–called hoarfrost–that form on branches, wires, poles and other objects. Hoarfrost is a sort of wintertime cousin to summer’s dew and develops by similar processes.

Dew and hoarfrost accumulate on objects when there is more moisture in the air than the air can carry. Warm air carries in suspension more liquid water than does cold air.

Hoarfrost consists of crystalline structures that grow from water vapor evaporated from liquid droplets suspended in air. Once hoar-frost crystals form, they can remain as long as conditions for their existence are favorable. But if the crystals or the air around them are warmed up, evaporation from the crystal surfaces leads to their demise. Hence in late winter we see the sun’s warming rays removing hoar-frost from the south sides of objects.

It is worth one’s while to look at hoarfrost crystals closely. They occur in an intricate variety of forms–needles, cups, plates, fern-like and feather-like–depending upon the temperature at which they developed.

Here is an example of hoarfrost on a Stop Sign. You can see how long the ice crystals are here: