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Dalton Highway Alaska: A Travel to the Loneliest Road

Alaska—from history to awe-inspiring highway journey

Despite 1964’s second most powerful earthquake of the world, despite the war scenario between Russia and Ukraine going on now, despite Alaska being transferred to the United States by the Russian Emperor Tsar Alexander II, despite any topsy turvy history between Russian Empire and the United States across Bering Strait in 1867; on the Northernmost and Westernmost part of the States, a beautiful dwelling place lies with a harsh, chilling climate. It’s a craving destination for adventurous hunting and fishing. Yes, I am talking about Alaska where both the summers and the winters are the coldest.

A renowned Medieval Latin proverb by Alain de Lille says that “All roads lead to Rome” doesn’t fit here as most probably there’s the only way to enter into this Arctic landmass other than the air and cruise means of transportation. And that’s the land medium through the British Columbia of Canada into Anchorage. It makes this one of the awe-inspiring drives on earth. Let me take you on this enthusiastic journey.

Beckoning Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Deadhorse

The northernmost expressway of North America, starting from Fairbanks, elongated up to Prudhoe Bay Oilfield of Deadhorse has an approximate length of up to 400+ miles. Let me even tell you to set your clock according to the Alaska standard time (AKST) or the Alaska Daylight Time (AKDT) if needed as this will help you in the rest of your journey regarding the time issues. Although, this State does have basically 2 and broadly 4 time zones if included Daylight Savings too. And that’s Alaska Standard Time and the Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time of Aleutian Island of Alaska. 

While driving on the Dalton Highway, you will witness a scenic beauty outside of a vehicle window where wide stretched nostalgic tundra seems to meet the horizon often. This treeless and vast white scenario near the Arctic Ocean creates Goosebumps. You might feel like you are moving on the loneliest highway but don’t you worry as Nature itself is traveling along with you. That’s psychology, isn’t that? Haaahaa….! Well, one might get a picturesque view of sub-Arctic cats like Canadian Lynx and Snow Leopards along with Snowshoe and Alaskan Hare on the way towards Anchorage, Juneau, and Kenai.

The Dalton Highway is the Northernmost interconnecting road Of the United States into the Arctic region. Driving on this highway is sometimes challenging as the Arctic storms reduce the visibility up to zero and its weather can result in cold death. The ever recorded lowest temperature of the United States in Alaska, once went up to -80F (-62C) in 1971. Oh, God! It’s bone-chilling.

Adventurous traveling to the Loneliest Haul Road

Once the manager (park ranger) John Rapphahn of the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center at Coldfoot, stated that Alaska holds a renowned tag of extreme driving in the summers or winters.

Generally, the dust being blown up by the vehicle in summers, make the muddy roads more slippery, whereas, in winters, the roads witness avalanches and snow fudge all around. So to tackle the traveling situation, one must get a flat tire as you will find only a quarter of the paved road to drive swiftly. In 1974, this Highway was built and was completely for large-heavy trucks to serve the Prudhoe Bay oil patch. And later on around 1994, the Haul Road got a green signal for personal vehicles too by the State. Mr. John Rapphahn even said that he once found a vehicle stuck in -30F winter in a ditch with a couple inside and snow all over. Since the vehicle couldn’t get out of that ditch but Mr. John provided them a distance ride to Yukon River and then a tow truck was called by them and were charged $1,200. So, it’s not always the easy ride here but surely an interesting one it provides. It’s better to carry along a radio tuned to Channel 19 with you on the drive, to get notified about the situations of the road ahead. If any off-situation gets created then the approaching pilot cars or truckers might notify on Channel 19 about any oversize loaded vehicle on the way ahead. 

The Alaskan Loneliest Highway

Why is James W. Dalton Highway being called the loneliest one or what makes this Haul Road the loneliest highway? Well, the answer is that, if someone gets an off-situation and even lacks a means of communication like radio or doesn’t have a personal vehicle, then barely a hitchhiking is possible as the majority of running vehicles are commercial ones and these are prohibited for hitching due to many liability reasons. So, if ambitious to cross the Arctic Circle by the land medium and not having a personal vehicle then better book for State’s unlikely bus services to fulfill the very ambition.

Now let me make you aware of a very enthusiastic fact too mentioned by Kathy Hedges- the marketing coordinator of the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot. According to her, philocalist solivagants come from all over the United States and the majority are American travelers. Since this highway got launched 20+ years ago, it even opens the gate for the Arctic National Park to hike into. Many of the travelers seek budget transportation on the complete scenic route starting from the gates of Arctic Park or the Yukon River bridge either, covering a journey of approximately 17 hours, all the way from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay Deadhorse via Fairbanks.

Most travelers want one-way biking and a ride in the other direction to return between June and August months. That’s why the company runs services of twice a weekly return from Deadhorse up to Fairbanks. Many specifically opt for June 21st as their departure date for Fairbanks from the Deadhorse, just to be a witness of the ethereal midnight sun with 24-hour daylight in the northern part of the Arctic Circle. Yes, this will give you the most sunreal bus rides in 16 hours only.       

More about the Bus services on Haul Road of Dalton Highway

Missy Kathy Hedges also explained that there is no bus service like spontaneous request-stop on the emptiness of the Dalton Highway Express. But you can find little settlements somewhere along the road course to be helped out. Some hikers want the overnight camps and some make plans for the trail-less wilderness of Alaska. 

So if you are having such plans in your schedule then better book in advance for the Bus Services as per the need of your previously arranged travel itinerary. Missy Hedges even claims that travelers can rely completely on the Bus Services being provided to them for their ambitious hiking by road. Even if an excursionist gets dropped off on one day and book in advance to be picked up on their return from the wilderness of Alaska or the loneliness of the Dalton Highway either, then they can rely on them completely and they’ll be there for them, surely.

Regarding the Bus Services and the scenic beauty outside windows, the excursionist leaves their overwhelming notes for this Dalton Highway. For them, it’s just like transiting into a completely new world. Especially for those coming from a lower latitude.

Since on this Highway, there’s a lack of medical facilities, a lack of cellular network coverage, subsistence community of hunters on the highway, and in Coldfoot only two en route Pinprick settlements available, so the reliance is really essential on this intensely lonely Dalton Highway. For the same, the Bus Services are there to count on and you will feel in safe hands too. The drivers are very professional and experienced in their subject.

Missy Hedges also clarifies that in the case of personal vehicles, travelers get some adverse situation on the highway, just because the type of vehicle they are using ain’t meant for the gravel roads of Haul. Moreover, they drive too fast and sometimes make poor turning placements in lanes; that’s why they get into trouble on this highway.

One traveler shared his experience that he left Fairbanks immediately at 6 o’clock in the morning and his vehicle drove along the woods of paper birch and spindly spruce for 8 minutes approximately (2 miles) and got on the beginning of the Livengood road at Livengood Avenue. Furthermore, he mentioned that other than him there was also a Canadian on board and the vehicle was quite spacious. After eight hours, when they crossed the spectacular Yukon River and the illustrious and splendid Arctic Circle, they quickly had their lunch as their final refreshment at Trucker’s Cafe somewhere in Coldfoot after a soothing journey of 250 miles approximately. The traveler added that the Canadian passer-by who was his fellow traveler was supposed to disembark at the same place.

The alluring climb of Dalton highway into a strange new world

The traveler was engrossed in nostalgia and began to thread words to the splendid picturesque memory he had sculpted in his mind. he tried his best to express. It seemed that beyond Coldfoot, before summiting the Atigun Pass which was of 4,739 ft., and before nosediving the formidable North Slope, the Dalton highway started climbing the detached solitude Brooks range. It was like as if someone was climbing to a place that had never been touched by any human settlement on this planet before.

The vast stretched virgin road of the Brooks range and its scenic beauty holding an intact ecosystem was sightful and magnificent and stunning. Suddenly the hatchet-shaped mountains started replacing gradually by the Arctic Tundra, holding shoal lakes and frost dunes blankets. It seemed that everything was carved according to the extreme Arctic Weather. Everything was transiting into a strange new cosmos. By the way, the bus driver needs a salute. He was too keen and skillful to deal with those sharp curves and steep grades. The driver was too silent and focused on the Dalton Highway’s sharp curves. Hats off! And what not was there on the Dalton Highway to express in words and to make that exclusive? Every part of the Highway was a highlight in itself. Indeed it was a complete allure; what else one can state? And yes, its uniqueness and essence aren’t only for a first-time visitor; rather for the regular one too. Even missy Kathy Hedges nodded in yes as she too was listening to this from that traveler. Marvelous utopia! Missy Hedges added that even the bus driver notices the differences even though they are driving weekly. The changes occur within a night as if it was a bit different just yesterday. It’s due to a complete reaction between the 24-hours sun and the greenery around. All Praise belongs to the God Almighty- The Best Creator.

One very funny incident, the traveler mentioned. Well, I really feel sorry as I am forgetting the traveler’s name. He mentioned an irony that how his unforgettable wildlife encounter turned into a tragedy. Actually while traveling, he made one mandatory photoshoot stop to capture at least one wildlife encounter in the Arctic Circle but unfortunately, a swarm of mosquitoes made him their feast. Haaaahaaaa hahaha!

The Polar Tundra gets a break in the southern part where the Arctic Circle is completely surrounded by the meadows of Sedge, Aspen woods, Birch and Spruce trees, and the Cottongrass as well, while the northern part got occupied by Reindeer lichen, the bluish anemone, and Willow shrubs and of-course the fuchsia Lousewort. The wildlife is heritage and diverse in nature. The boreal mountain regions are inhabited by the Grizzly bears, Polar Lynxes, Moose Beavers, and Wolves, while the nostalgic slopes of the northern part are occupied by the herds of Caribou and Muskoxen mostly.

The only stable thing one can witness through his entire journey on the Dalton Highway is the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. It will be as still as mountains. Though in these Polar altitudes, due to permafrost, the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline pumps approximately 500,000 barrels of crude oil in one day. The 500 miles of a vast stretch of the Arctic Tundra on either side of the Dalton Highway finally leads to the Deadhorse by creating a perplexing beauty scenario. It’s indeed magical apart from the snow-adorned hills and the herd of Musk Oxen.

Finally, a Sayonara to Alaska’s loneliest Dalton Highway

After this never tiring journey of about 16 hours, reaching Deadhorse Prudhoe Bay Oil Camp gives a feeling of the Dakar rally in itself. Really, the driver must get awarded for making the travelers reach the top of the continent. It’s stunning as it provides a unique feeling of being a traveler of the most northerly part of the American continent. 

Basically this Prudhoe Bay Oil Camp runs an industrial workshop here with the availability of tasty kitchen food 24*7 along with good hotels; where one has to take off his/her boots before entering their rooms and booze in any means, prohibited completely. Here the oil workers with a ruddy complexion are common and they are generally busy counting the days of their next vacation in terms to meet their prohibited item, most probably.

Although, it was midnight the sun was still in the sky. So, undoubtedly a night walk is enough to mesmerize a visitor. This midnight sun, which was partially visible behind some clouds on the other side of the nearby lake, tried its best to light up this Polar region. This top part of the continent is situated at the southern part of the Arctic Ocean and getting down here with strong blowing winds across the plains of Deadhorse is always more about the voyage than reaching the destination. What do you think?


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