The remote Ambler Mining District contains massive lodes of minerals essential to cleantech, but extracting them will likely make an ecological mess.
Coldfoot, Alaska, is a lone truck stop-cafe-bar-motel 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It’s the last spot for northbound semis to gas up on their way to Prudhoe Bay and a place where camo-clad hunters smelling to high hell eat stacks of burgers and swap stories while dead moose lie in pickups parked outside.
On one of Coldfoot’s brisk September mornings, a rumble grows into steady thunder. Man-made wind sends grit whipping across the dirt driveway where someone, a few weeks earlier, placed a wooden sign with red-stenciled letters: “Helicopter Parking Only.”
As the four choppers warm up, out from the motel come about two dozen men wearing orange helmets, sunglasses and heavy boots. They make their way to the aircraft and load chainsaws, daypacks, brush trimmers and shovels into long baskets hanging beside the struts, then climb aboard.
One at a time, the aircraft rise above the frozen ground, turning first to face the sunlit peaks framing the valley before banking west toward the foothills of the Brooks Range.