dalton

All posts tagged dalton

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I’m not sure why but I very much dislike the term bucket list, so I will just say the Dalton Highway was on my to do list for a long time. I lived in Anchorage, AK for two years during high school in ’78 and ’79 and was vaguely aware there was a road to Prudhoe Bay as they had recently finished the Alaska Pipeline. The full length of the road to Deadhorse was not open to the public until 1994, long after I had departed from the area. I can’t say exactly when or how I became aware that it was open for civilian travel, but the concepts of it being one of only two roads north of the Arctic Circle on the North American continent as well as ending at the northernmost point in North America reachable by road captured my interest. I realize that an untold number of people using many different forms of transportation have made this trip over the last twenty years, but in some respects it still seems to me like a small group.

In my opinion, the most important thing to remember about the Dalton Highway is that it’s about the journey and not the destination. At least not the destination in the traditional sense. Sure, it is the northernmost point reachable by road and all but upon reaching the end of the road you are greeted by a giant industrial complex designed to house 3,000 to 6,000 oil field workers, not a typical tourist destination or scenic wonder. There is no town, there are no campgrounds, and there is not much of anything resembling a habitable place. Even if you pay BP to have a security person give you a bus tour to the Arctic ocean you end up standing on a bleak, man-made gravel beach built by the oil companies. Not exactly tourist nirvana. But if you’re going to go to all the trouble to get that close to the Arctic Ocean, I recommend you take the tour and dip your toes.

The trip up and back is a different story. The climate and topography are ever-changing, rewarding you with spectacular scenery, wide open spaces, and wildlife. Yeah the road is rough, very rough, but in the end I say well worth it. And yes, we took the trailer all the way up and back. Oddly enough we did not see any other camp trailers there. Go figure.

A collection of signs at the beginning of the Dalton Highway

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Impressive hunk of rock!

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The Alaska Pipeline is visible for most of the trip

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This reminds me of a freight train headed uphill

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The obligatory Arctic Circle pic

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Meet Sho. No matter how tough or adventurous you think you are, someone out there is more so. Sho told us he was covering 20 miles a day! He started his journey at mile zero on the Alaska Highway in British Columbia. When this picture was taken he was well past the Arctic Circle and about to climb Atigun pass. On our way back the next day he was several miles north of the pass and still walking. He calculated it would take him another week to week and a half to get to Deadhorse.  Bear in mind once you leave Coldfoot there are no services for 240 miles until you reach Deadhorse. Tougher than me!

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Our “campsite” in Deadhorse. Actually just a man-made levee between the road and the Sag River. 36 degrees and 27 degrees wind chill!

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I guess it helps to have a sense of humor to live here.

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Notice who has their feet in the water and who doesn’t. And after all that talk of “dipping my toes in every body of water I see”.

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Caribou in Deadhorse

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Musk Oxen just south of Deadhorse

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The long journey back made longer waiting for a pilot car.

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Success!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.