Saturday, September 8, 2012

To the Arctic Circle and Back

Aug 18- We left Chena early Saturday morning. We were eager to get on the road. Our exact destination….still unclear, but we were headed north. We had heard tales of the Dalton Hwy which heads north from Fairbanks and the intersection of the Elliott Hwy, 415 miles all the way up to Deadhorse and Prudo Bay at the Arctic Ocean.


The descriptions in the Mile Post book of the Dalton Hwy, also known as the ‘Haul Road’ and featured on the TV show “Ice Road Truckers”,  are pretty daunting……steep, narrow, rough gravel road, with sections of paved road, Beware of pavement breaks and potholes. Who could resist?   ;- )  Seriously, though, everyone says that the scenery along the way is worth the drive…….at least on up to Coldfoot.We had a couple of days to kill, so we thought…”Why not?”.

We knew that we did not have time to go all the way to Deadhorse in one day. Gravel road travel is way slower than regular miles. We might have been tempted, if we had had more time, but the description of Deadhorse was not very enticing….and you could not actually drive on up to the Arctic Ocean, you had to take a ‘tour’ to get there. We knew that we could make it on up to Coldfoot, the only place where there was fuel or services (such as it was) if we wanted to.

From Chena, we drove 56 miles west on the Steese Hwy, back towards Fairbanks. Then, we drove 76 miles north on the Elliott Hwy to the intersection with the Dalton Hwy.


We turned onto the Dalton Hwy with an open mind and a “Let’s see” attitude. We did stop at the first turnout, about 1 mile down the road, to tape our camper door shut, remembering our previous experience with dusty gravel roads.


The Dalton Hwy was built to supply the oil workers at Prudo Bay, and follows the Trans- Alaska Pipeline, which runs from the oil fields at Prudo Bay to the shipping facility at Valdez.

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At first, I thought, “Who really wants to see an old pipeline?” But, it was pretty interesting to watch this pipeline snake its way across northern Alaska. And the scenery was beautiful.

About 12 miles on the Dalton, we came to a section of road construction where we were stopped for 40 minutes waiting for the pilot car. We worried that this would be the story for the whole drive, but, fortunately, we did not encounter any other delays.


We stopped for a break at the Hot Spot Café….listed as a ‘must see’ in the Mile Post. Wasn’t much of a place, but they did have ice cream. I had a milk shake and Fred had a root beer float.

We were 60 miles from the Arctic Circle, 120 miles from Coldfoot. It was mid-afternoon, but we kept on driving.


The scenery changed as we continued to drive north……into the tundra.IMG_0025

Fall was arriving in the far north……and the tundra was beginning to color.


About 3pm, we made it to the Arctic Circle, and were greeted by a couple of forest service interpretive hosts who gave us a certificate    : )   and took our picture. 

For those who might be wondering (as we were), the Arctic Circle is at latitude 66 degrees, 33 minutes. It is the latitude at which, on the Summer solstice, the sun never sets below the horizon for 1 full day, and on the Winter solstice, the sun never rises.


We decided that there was nothing, other than the scenery along the way and the bragging rights to keep us heading north to Coldfoot. having seen the Arctic Circle, we were content to turn back around and drive south a bit before we stopped for the night.

We ended up camped at the forest service campground (Mile 5 campground) overlooking the Hot Spot Café. This graveled area had once held temporary buildings that housed 750 pipeline workers. Now, it is just a way stop for campers along the Dalton Hwy.


The Dalton Hwy was not as difficult a road as we had imagined. The gravel surface was mostly good. Actually, the paved road was rougher, as it is more susceptible to frost heaves and more difficult to repair. Our taping did keep any dust from getting in the camper. We did, however, run into some mud along the way which caked our camper. The hazards of the Alaskan back roads……

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