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One to three days above Alaska's Arctic Circle.

It's 4 A.M., and the sun, which has skirted the horizon since midnight, is slowly climbing in the July sky. Out on the tundra, an occasional three-wheeled motorcycle rumbles by, setting off a chorus of barking from vigilant dogs. Sunlight streaming in the cracks around hotel blackout curtains convinces you it's time to get up. Another endless day begins above Alaska's Arctic Circle.

Although you can go on your own by four scheduled airlines or dozens of charters, touring here can be expensive and problematic. Tour operators have a hammer lock on most available hotel rooms, and Eskimo cultural demonstrations are usually done only for tour groups, so a brief visit is most cost effective with a group.

This summer, regularly scheduled tour packages are being offered from Anchorage of Fairbanks to five Arctic towns (including Nome, which is actually some 150 miles below the Arctic Circle).

Nome and Kotzebue

Both on inlets off the Bering Strait, these two very different towns are the most popular Arctic destinations.

Called Kikiktagruk by the Eskimos, Kotzebue is a town for walking. Front Street edges Kotzebue Sound, and by July the beach should be loaded with large racks of split sheefish drying in the sun. Small houses lining the beach are adorned with caribou antlers. At the NANA Museium, a cultural show explains traditional Eskimo hunting and fishing methods and demonstrates songs, dances, and games that fill long winter evenings.

In 1898 the cry "Gold!" rose from a town on the Seward Peninsula, and within a year some 30,000 prospectors had turned Nome into a boomtown. Today a few remaining cabins and false-fronted shops along Front Street preserve the town's gold rush character. A small new museum describes the early days.

Day trips to Kotzebue as well as two- and three-day trips to Nome and Kotzebue are offered through mid-September. Cost of $284 of $427 includes air fare, lodging, museum admission, and guide services.

Barrow and Prudhoe Bay

If you feel on top of the world while in Barrow, it's because you are--almost. Nearby Point Barrow, northernmost point in the United States, is home to Alaska's largest Eskimo village. Harsh winters here have dwarfed vegetation: a mature willow stands only knee-high. Yet summer days can be pleasantly temperate.

Day trips and overnight tours to Barrow are available out of Fairbanks and Anchorage daily through August. Package prices range from $258 to $369.

Prudhoe Bay, 200 miles southeast of Point Barrow, is the site of one of this century's richest oil strikes. Here visitors see the stark wilderness, populated with more than a hundred species of birds, 30 species of animals, and more than 400 kinds of plants, juxtaposed with the costliest commercial project in U.S. history--the TransAlaska Pipeline.

Through August, you can take a day excursion to Prudhoe Bay or a two-day tour that includes an overnight in Barrow. Fares out of Fairbanks and Anchorage range from $252 to $445.

For more information on the above tours, write Exploration Holidays and Cruises, 1500 Metropolitan Park Building, Seattle 98101, or call (800) 426-0600. These tours can also be booked through independent tour operators or your travel agent.

Fort Yukon

The oldest community in interior Alaska, Fort Yukon was established on the Yukon River around 1847. The rebuilt fort is now a museum with a small collection of artifacts. Audi Air and Harrold's Air, Inc., offer tours out of Fairbanks daily until Labor Day. Prices for their day packages--around $150--include air fare (in lower-flying, twin-engine planes), museum admission, ground transportation, and lunch. Harrold's also offers a walking tour map with its basic air fare of $125. Call Audi Air at (907) 456-2834 or Harrold's Air at 456-4411.

For lists of wilderness outfitters and bush pilots operating in the Arctic, write to the Alaska Division of Tourism, Pouch E, Juneau 99811; (907) 465-2010.
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Date:Jul 1, 1985
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