Dalton Highway

AlaskaPosted by Malin Sun, June 27, 2010 19:58:04

To “start” our road trip we wanted to see the Arctic Ocean and travel from the northernmost point on the American continent to the southernmost point, and that meant driving north on the Dalton Highway. Dalton Highway or the Haul Road as it was called until the beginning of the 80’s, was completed in 1974. The road was built to get supplies and workers up the newly discovered oil field in Prudhoe Bay and to build the 800-mile long Trans-Alaska Pipeline that would transport the oil to the ice free harbor in Valdez. Before we started the drive we had heard about the bad road conditions, and again we think the road is not as bad as we had imagined it. Sometimes we had to stop for road work, or slow down when we meet other cars and trucks. The dirt on the road is the worst, especially after driving on the stretches of the road where they mix calcium chloride with water which is sprayed on the road for dust abatement. Plenty of time in a car wash has to be included in the budget if you plan to drive up the Dalton Highway.

The drive up the Dalton Highway is beautiful and the landscape really changes from hills with boreal forest to the Brooks Range Mountains to tundra and to coastal plains up around Deadhorse. Guess we were lucky with the weather that gave us some amazing views and it was just the right time for the flowers that turns the tundra white and purple.

Another purple flower called “fireweed” grows where there recently has been a forest fire. Information from the visitor centers along the road explains that the forest in Alaska depends on fire to regenerate and maintain its health, and most of them are started by lightning. There are about 200 wildland fires in Alaska every year.

When we finally got close to Deadhorse, we saw caribou’s on the tundra, and muskoxen were grazing along the Sagavanirtok River. It was a bit chilly when we prepared our camp in 0 degrees Celsius and raindrops in the air, and pretty strong wind was blowing in from the Arctic Ocean. Not completely inexperienced with cold weather being from Norway, we pulled out our big sleeping bags for the night, and the only thing waking us up every now and then was the tent making noise in the wind gusts. Should probably have a talk with ARB about how to make tents for bad weather…

For normal people and tourists like us the road ends in Deadhorse witch is the industrial camp supporting the Prudhoe Bay oilfield. Our only way to access the Arctic Ocean is to go on an authorized 1 ½ hour tour that takes us the last 13 km to the ocean and cost 45 USD per person. It is really not worth the money, but it is the only way to get up to the ocean. The tour was taking us to the BP sites and we guessed it was their new method to make some extra bucks these days… J

Looking around at all the equipment and machinery in Deadhorse we understood why the road is called the Haul Road. Everything up there has to be hauled up the road or shipped during the short summer. On our drive we meet a few really oversized trucks and some places support car stopped us on turnouts next to the road. The most extreme was one truck pulling something really oversized, and there were four trucks behind the trailer helping to push the load up hills. We meet them about 150 km south of Deadhorse and it had taken them 5 days!!! to get there from Fairbanks (about 650 km). I total we used four days up and down the road.

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