James. W Dalton Highway, the highway commonly referred to as the Haul Road is the stretch of patchwork asphalt and gravel that leads the 414 mile route to Prudhoe Bay/ Deadhorse Alaska from Fairbanks Alaska.
First Impression of the Dalton Highway: “This is easy! Pavement and no real obstacles or debacles on the drive. Mom! Dad! Bring your camper!” Our first night we camped at a beautiful campground, Marion Creek. This peaceful campsite is nestled in the serene mountain landscape of the Dalton Highway just outside of Coldfoot. With the cedar scented outhouses, level and root free campsites it was an immediate winner. We were joined by the gradually increasing number of mosquitoes, as what is to happen when traveling into the far north (thank God for our bug-spray which simply had them running into our faces but not biting).
Second Impression of the Dalton Highway (at about 260 miles in or 418 km): “Atigun Pass,pffft…more like the stairway to heaven, holy smokes that’s steep!” The Atigun Pass, a high and treacherous mountain pass guarding the way through the Brooks Range into the tundra. As we climbed our little 3RZ couldn’t pump out enough power to keep us cruising along at the speed we had become accustomed to and we were forced to shift into third and settle for a slow climb of 40km/h; a considerably slower pace from our previous 110km/h on gravel roads!
Third Impression of the Dalton Highway (326 miles (524km) in and another 173 miles(278km) to Deadhorse): “Rain!” “Mud!” “Pot hole!” “Big truck, big truck, big truck…” “My butt is sore.” MY butt is sore!” “Ee! Ah! Oh! P-p-pot holes!” “Whoa – look at that tundra – it just keeps going! Farther than Saskatchewan!!” In reality it was mostly Alex saying all this since Alison had started sawing logs in the passenger seat near the bottom of the Atigun Pass.
We arrived in Deadhorse at approximately 10 o’clock PM. The weather was overcast and the temperature, on July 2nd, was 1oCelsius and wet. To be honest we couldn’t have asked for a better experience. The cold made a challenge for us both. As Alison attempted to prepare a quick meal she found that not only did she have to stand in the wind and with no cover, water wouldn’t boil near as quick therefore prolonging the food prep process, good thing she had finished knitting at least one mitten before arrival. For Alex changing the oil in the truck was made difficult when fingers went numb and the inevitable bashing of knuckles began.
The morning after we awoke to more cold and had to pack quickly so as to arrive at our tour on time, 7am sharp. Our tour which would eventually lead to the shores of the Arctic Ocean first allowed us a glimpse at the many incredible mining structures seated upon the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. Giant self propelled drill platforms and pump houses riddle the 1000 acre facility with massive artery-like pipes leading from processing plant to processing plant. The entire persona of Prudhoe Bay was completely alien to us, with the stilted and highly insulated pre-fabbed buildings it was like being transported into the future and we were on a different planet being shown a space station instead of an oil field operation.
The Arctic Coast was bland and the water cold to say the least, nonetheless it was very exciting to be setting foot in an ocean that very few people see much less go in.
After the tour we made a quick visit to the Deadhorse general store to procure evidence that we had indeed been there (two stickers, hooray!) and some snacks for the road. We were both surprised by the fact that our meager goods did not amount to an outrageous price at the till, somehow inflation has no ravished the sale of goods that far north. Our direct journey back down the 414miles to Fairbanks cost us an entire day of driving but was colored by the funny conversations between truckers on the CB radio.
To those seeking adventure and spectacular views and vistas we whole-heartedly suggest driving the Dalton Highway. It can undoubtedly be treacherous at times but with a reasonably equipped vehicle and some common sense on the road a safe and successful journey can be had to the top of North America.
We’ve rested now in Fairbanks overnight and now head further south to Anchorage to enjoy another coast.