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Alaska's Dalton Highway: the Adventure Awaits!

A Guide to Fairbanks, Alaska

A Guide to the Dalton Highway

    Perhaps no other road system in Alaska captures the true pioneer spirit of the Last Frontier as does the Dalton Highway. The 414-mile gravel road blends Alaska's past and present on a drive through majestic natural scenery that includes boreal forest, arctic mountains, rivers, tundra and coastal plain; as well as passing along Alaska's man-made wonder, the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline.

    The Dalton Highway begins at the junction at Mile 73.1 of the Elliott Highway north of Fairbanks and ends at the community of Deadhorse, just a few miles away from the shores of the Arctic Ocean and the Prudhoe Bay oil complex. The highway is still referred to by many as the Haul Road because of its origin as the rough and tough truck supply route that was built during the construction of the pipeline in the mid-1970s.

    Travelers on the Dalton Highway are as hearty as the construction workers who built the pipeline that the highway follows. The Dalton is unpaved, and you won't find a convenient store every five miles. Roadside services are few and far between.

    So what is it about the Dalton Highway that lures people to point their vehicles north to trek through some of the wildest land in Alaska For many people the attraction is the awesome scenery along the drive north. Drivers who accept the highway's challenge are well paid for their efforts, as they get to cross through the majestic Brooks Range and over the mighty Yukon River. That's not to mention the many miles of spectacular tundra near parks and refuges such as the Yukon Flats Wildlife Refuge, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. These areas are home to pristine Arctic environments that are difficult to find anywhere else.

    The highway's passage through four different geographic regions also means that the lucky traveler may find an abundance of wildlife. Grizzly and black bears, Dall sheep, moose, musk oxen and fox can be seen from the road. The Central Arctic caribou herd can often be seen from the highway on the north side of the Brooks Range in June and July. The terrain along this part of the highway is covered with lichen, the caribou's food of choice.

    The area is rich in culture as well as nature since it is the traditional hunting and fishing territory of the Athabascan Indians, who traveled through the area thousands of years ago. Many Athabascans live in permanent villages that are close to their traditional use area where they hunt, fish and harvest plants and berries. The Athabascan culture is among the very few Native hunter-gatherer cultures that remain intact in the U.S. today.

    Another reason people travel the Dalton Highway is simply for the adventure of it. Anyone can drive the other highways in Alaska such as the Parks, Richardson or Glenn. And some can boast about driving the 1,530-mile Alaskan Highway. But you know you're a tough traveler when you can put the Dalton Highway on your been there, done that list.

    The Dalton Highway gives you the chance to cross the Arctic Circle and stop by the famous Arctic Circle sign, at Mile 115. Other memorable mile markers include Mile 56, where drivers cross the 2,290 foot E.L. Patton Bridge over the Yukon River; Mile 175, the location of the town of Coldfoot, the only stop for food, gas and other services before Deadhorse; Mile 244 - 248, where drivers cross through the scenic Atigun Pass; the Coastal Plain viewpoint at Mile 356; and Mile 414, where the stalwart traveler reaches the end of the Dalton at the community of Deadhorse. Private vehicles are not allowed to drive past Deadhorse to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields or the Arctic Ocean, but access can be gained through one of several commercial tour companies.

    Travelers of the Dalton Highway will want to take a few precautions before they head north as the road still serves high-speed heavy traffic today. Make sure your vehicle is in good working order and that you have at least one spare tire, a tool kit and extra food and water. Because phones, as well as other visitor services and amenities, are scarce on the road, it is advisable to take a citizen's band radio for emergency purposes. While the road is regularly maintained by the state, it is still subject to the forces of Mother Nature. In the spring much of the road's surface turns to mud, while in summer the road can be scattered with potholes. And as winter sets in, the road is best left to the truck drivers as the blowing snow, darkness and temperatures that often dip down to 50 degrees below zero can create dangerous situations.

    For more information of for a free copy of the Fairbanks Visitors Guide, call 1-800-327-5774 or write to the Fairbanks Convention & Visitors Bureau, 550 1st Avenue, Fairbanks, AK 99701. Internet users can contact the Bureau at info@explorefairbanks.com or visit the FCVB web site at www.explorefairbanks.com.

Copyright Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau. Used here with permission.