The Dalton Highway leg of our journey was one of those on and off again ideas. There is a lot written about this highway (highway being a very loose term). There are little or to no services and the theory is you are on your own and left to your own devices to solve any problems you might encounter. In talking with others who had made the trip it was never clear if this would be a good thing or a bad thing. My take away now after making the trip is you either love it or hate it, there is no in between. As we were pulling out of the RV park to start the trip we talked with a couple who had just returned and they said it was the worst thing that had ever happened to them. Of course he had to show us his two flat tires and the story of getting replacements. I had already purchased a second (heavy duty) spare tire. The night before had talked to a couple who had made the trip several times and he challenged us as to why we would think we would need a second spare?
To make a long story very short, it was an excellent experience. It was the right decision to go but will never make the trip again, well never is a long time! No, we did not need the extra tire. With our auxiliary fuel tank we have a range of over 650 miles. Many folks have to carry extra fuel in containers as Coldfoot is the only place to get low sulfur diesel fuel which is 250 miles out. I think the truck took the washboard road and bumps better than we did. The scenery was spectacular, wildlife was everywhere, the road was bumpy, dusty, muddy, and rocky, the mosquitoes plentiful and found the folks we encountered along the way do not fit into any one box easily. The lodging options limited to work camps at $200 a night came with outstanding food prepared by various chefs. I could devote an entire blog to the lodging and meal experiences.
Our staging area for the trip was the Rivers Edge RV Park in Fairbanks. It is located on the Chena River and just a couple of miles from downtown. The park had sites where we could hook up water and electric and could leave the RV as we headed north. Actually we should have had another day to prep as living out of the truck for three days took a bit more turn-around time than we had planned.
The Dalton highway begins 90 miles north of Fairbanks. It is 414 miles in length with Coldfoot at mile 175 and Prudhoe Bay at 414. The road was built in 1974 in five months to provide supplies for the construction and continued operations of the Alaskan Pipeline.
You cross the Arctic Circle at mile 299.5. This of course is a photo opt stopping location.
The first night and third night we stayed at the Coldfoot Camp. Here you are able to buy fuel, great food, get beer called Coldfoot and have a place to spend the night. Here we had our own bathroom, twin beds and lots of mud and Mosquitoes. Across the Dalton from Coldfoot is an interagency facility for the BLM, US Field and Wildlife and the US Park Service. It is a very nice facility with displays and staffed with knowledgeable interpreters. We attended their nightly program going and coming back.
If you find Coldfoot service basic wait until you see Deadhorse Camp. Coming into Deadhorse saw this run down building and told jan I have a bad feeling about this. Well it ended up that is where we had booked. Once inside it was not too bad. The food was outstanding…the room very basic…the bathroom down the hall and around the corner but with no Mosquitoes. The mud was everywhere and you were required to take your shoes off, the same as Coldfoot. There are no keys so you could not lock your room door. We had the opportunity to talk with lots of interesting folks all who were there for different reasons. I guess if there was a common theme it was the journey was the driver, not the destination.
Purdhoe Bay became Deadhorse when the zip code was assigned. Most of the folks who stay/live here call it Prudhoe Bay. The area is 1,000 square miles all devoted to the oil drilling operations. Just industrial complexes with one store and several housing camps.
There is a visitor center at the Yukon River. It has information on the pipeline and what to expect along the highway. The Yukon River carries 60% of the water in the North and ends at the Bering Sea.
Traveling the Dalton you get to see and have plenty of opportunities to learn about the Alaskan Pipeline. It was built 1974 to 1977. It extends 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. You are never far from it along the highway. The area has permafrost so it was a good opportunity to see and to learn more about it. New think for me was the pipeline cannot go below ground where there is permafrost as the oil is 180 degrees when it leaves Prudhoe Bay as it would have a negative thawing affect. As a side note the oil is 115 when it reaches Valdez.
We took the tour to the Arctic Ocean. This is a restricted area and you have to have security clearance to make the trip. The highlight is we got to wade in the Arctic Ocean. The tour was informative as it was narrated with lots of behind the scenes information.
We always had dinner at the camps. For breakfast and lunch we ate on the road again sharing our time with the Mosquitoes.
There was plenty of wildlife. We got to see the Musk OX and Caribou. Jan had logged over 500 Caribou who migrate to the area in the summer. There are lots of ground squirrels (bear food) and we saw two moose crossing the road. It had been our hope to have a bear encounter somewhere along the trail.
The big surprise of the trip was the scenery. It was magnificent, ever changing and a true wilderness. Once again we captured several hundred pictures and here are a few selected somewhat at random.
The badge of honor for the Dalton Highway is a mud covered vehicle. You can tell who made the trip by the how dirty and the color of the mud. I am still working on getting rid of the mud and salt…which may now be a permanent part of the truck and a support for the lasting memory of the trip.
Larry and Jan