canol road

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Jim  Jim at the Dalton Highway Junction

For years Jim talked about driving the Dalton Highway and visiting Deadhorse at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. So of course when we planned our journey here, it was definitely on the itinerary. The morning that we set off to begin the two-day drive from Fairbanks to Deadhorse, I was very excited and anticipated a great adventure. The drive was challenging but I didn’t mind the poor road conditions, road construction and tractor-trailer rigs creating dust clouds so thick that they impaired visibility because the destination, I thought, was going to be worth all that and more.

Truck

I was pleasantly surprised that the sun was shining and the temperature was balmy as we began our trip. We drove to the Yukon River and had a wild-caught salmon taco lunch at the Yukon River Camp that we enjoyed immensely.  At mile marker 98 of the Dalton Highway, we stopped for a half-mile hike across the alpine tundra (good thing we had both purchased rain boots) to reach the Finger Mountain tor.  From there, we drove to the Arctic Circle.  I was a happy camper when it was 73 degrees Fahrenheit there.  The trip was progressing great so far.

     finger mountain

arctic circle

We drove a total of eight hours before stopping for the night just past Coldfoot at Marion Creek Campground. The next day, we continued our trip down the Dalton and enjoyed the changing landscape. We saw majestic green mountains, rocky mountains, avalanche zones, a glacial lake, and struggling spruce trees due to the permafrost. We crossed the Continental Divide at Atigun Pass and saw vivid bluffs.

3 layers of mountain mountain 2

grassy mountainButtes

I noticed a distinct temperature change after we went through Atigun Pass. The beautiful views began to erode and the undulating terrain gave way to flat, desolate land. Ugly, cold, barren, and not fit for human habitation. That was my first impression of Deadhorse when we arrived and it all deteriorated from there.

We camped on the Sagavanirktok (Sag) River the night of our arrival. The camper was beaten non-stop by the howling wind, which only added to the already 36 degree Fahrenheit temperature (wind chill 27 degrees) we were experiencing. Did I mention, there are no trees AT ALL for miles to assist in blocking the wind that comes off the river? Even though there are 22 hours of daylight this time of the year, there was absolutely no sunshine AT ALL, not even a glimmer while we were there.

In order to gain access to the Arctic Ocean, we had to pay for a guided tour because the oil company, BP, won’t allow unauthorized personnel on their property. So the next morning, we were escorted behind BP’s guarded gate, and the tour guide/security officer drove us around the yard and pointed to buildings and recited facts which could be obtained from Wikipedia. The tour culminated with a stop at the Arctic Ocean with the caveat that no swimming was allowed, as if I would swim in that freezing cold water!

artic oceanThe Arctic Ocean with driftwood from Canada on its shore and a pipeline to the left

We left immediately after the tour. I did not want to spend an additional minute there in spite of the fact that I knew I had to endure the same two-day drive back to Fairbanks. To drive the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse appears to be a right of passage for overlanders, but to say it was anti-climatic for me would be an understatement. I don’t understand the pull it has for many. Perhaps had I known the trip to Purdhoe Bay was about the journey more so than the destination, I could have altered my expectations. As it stands, I feel I should have checked into the Chena Hot Springs Resort in Fairbanks while Jim fulfilled his dream of driving the Dalton Highway and experiencing Deadhorse. When we were in preparation mode for the trip, if I had the foresight to have questioned the wives of some of the men we met in Fairbanks who had just returned from their voyage up and down the notorious Dalton, I would have a different story to tell, filled with minutiae about my body massages and relaxing soaks in the hot spring.