Wednesday, May 23, 2007
I took this picture yesterday in Bettles, Alaska. In the summer, Bettles is only accessible by air. In the winter, it is accessible for a limited time (sometimes for only two weeks in March) by truck over an ice road. The ice road is part of the famous Hickel’s Highway. The Hickel’s Highway is one of those interesting tales of Alaskan independence from the state’s history. The story goes that when oil was discovered on the North Slope there was an argument between the federal government and Alaska about access to the fields. The only land route to the state-owned North Slope fields is through hundreds of miles of federal land. Alaska’s governor Wally Hickel got so frustrated with the federal government that he ordered a dozer train to bulldoze a road several hundred miles to the North Slope. Mind you, they didn’t survey or engineer anything, they simply cleared a trail three dozers wide all the way to the North Slope. The road was a complete engineering failure. Within one year, maybe a little longer, it turned into a mud bog and was impassible. But the road was a complete political success. It reasserted the right of states and individuals whose land is blocked or surrounded by federal land. There is little left of the original Hickel Highway with the exception of the ice trail into Bettles.