The wife and I have wanted to make the drive up the Haul road, also known as the James W. Dalton highway, for quite some time now. After talking about it for a few years, and watching "Ice Road Truckers", we finally decided to make the trip. We spent a lot of time doing research on the wonderful web. I had read stories about needing several spare tires, lots of extra fuel and to expect several windshield chips. I decided that I would take an extra 10 gallons of diesel and since I would be making the trip in a Ford F-350 with dual rear wheels that was capable of driving with one tire off of each side I didn't need to take any extra spare tires. After months of planning I wasn't sure I wanted to take my new truck and our camper up what sounded like such a terrible road. My aunt, uncle and my wife had been looking forward to this trip for over a year so I couldn't back out now. It was 824 miles one way from our house in Palmer to Prudhoe Bay (Deadhorse). We decided to take several days and enjoy the trip. Here is a map of the trip from Palmer, Alaska to Prudhoe Bay(Deadhorse) and back to Fairbanks, Alaska.
Map of out route, all 1320 miles.
** Note if you fly up and are planning on renting a vehicle and want to make this drive you will want to check with the rental company as often they do NOT allow the rental vehicles to make this trip. There are some rental companies that will allow it, but you need to ask as there are often very hefty fines if they need to come rescue you from the haul road**
Some handy things to bring on the trip:
CB Radio: not a must but was nice to have when we got chirped and asked to hold up for the very large load coming around the bend.
Mosquito Spray: Something with lots of DEET in it as the mosquitos are about the size of a 50 cent piece, not kidding.
Bug Net: You will need this if at any time up on the haul road you need to be outside for an extended period of time as the mosquitos and tiny flies can be a bit annoying.
Binoculars: These come in handy when you spot things that you can't get very close to and are nice for spotting the babies in the foxes dens and wolf dens.
Camera: Make sure you invest in a really good digital camera or video camera as the scenery as you will see is VERY worth the money for the good camera.
A good attitude: This is important as there are times when there are delays and understand in Alaska you are on "Alaska Time" which means that things aren't always as speedy or as technologically advanced as the lower 48. :)
Cash: Bring cash to use as at times, out in the bush (remote areas), there is not always an ATM, credit card machine or a bank.
Handy Terms you may hear:
Lower 48: Here in Alaska you will often here this term, it applies to anyone not from the state of alaska and who typically live in the continental 48 states.
Sourdough: This is a lifetime resident of Alaska.
Ulu: This is a knife that a lot of Alaskans use and there is a factory in Anchorage that you can take a tour. The knives are great for everyday use and camping.
The Bush: This means you are somewhere that is not easy to get to, and typically can be only easily accessed by plane or by boat.
On the Road system: Alaska is a HUGE state and less than 1/2 of it is populated, let alone accessible by roads. When you hear this term it means these are places that you can drive to and don't need a plane or a boat to get to them.
Off the Road System: Like above Alaska is huge and there are tons of villages and towns that are not accessible by roads, hence they are called "The Bush" or "Off the Road System" you will need a plane or a boat to access them.
BLM: This stands for Bureau of Land Management and they are in charge of all the state land and the up keep and permits for land use.
Prudhoe Bay/DeadHorse/North Slope: These are all the same place, just the locals tend to refer to this area with all of these different terms often in the same sentence or conversation.
Denali: Alaskans call it Denali, some refer to this as Mt. McKinley, it is the same mountain like above we tend to use them interchangeably :)
We left in the afternoon on July 13th 2011. The four of us in our cab over camper, hoping that we all return. We enjoyed a wonderful drive up the parks highway past Denali, that happened to be covered in clouds.
We stopped at Hurricane Gulch bridge to take a few pictures.The bridge is only 551 feet long but it is 258 feet above the water and opened to traffic in 1971.
Since we left in the afternoon we decided to stop along the side of the highway just south of Nenana to enjoy the sunset, well more accurately the sun "dip" as the sun never really sets in the summer, and have some dinner. Nothing like a couple of nice Bratz on the grill and a cold beer to wash it down.
We were up early and on the road to Fairbanks before 7 am. Once in Fairbanks we topped off with fuel and a couple extra bags of ice and on the road by 9 am. It is 498 miles from Fairbanks to Deadhorse and we had no specific plan on how long it would take. Leaving Fairbanks you have to take the Elliot Highway 84 miles to the start of the Haul rd. (Dalton Highway). The scenery was spectacular as expected. We stopped and took lots of pictures.
Around mile 56 of the Dalton Highway you cross the Yukon River on a wooden decked bridge that is 2290 feet long and has a 6% grade. Doesn't sound like fun in the winter time. The bridge also carries the pipeline across the river.
Just after getting off the bridge you can drive under the pipeline and visit a small park that has some great views of the bridge and loads of information.
View of the bridge from below, notice the 6% grade. The picture does not do this justice as the expanse of this river is huge.
Along the way there was some amazing areas of the fireweed that we just had to take a few pictures of and were lucky enough to see some black bear, my wife didn't get the camera out in time to capture the bear.
At mile 98 there is the Finger Mountain BLM(Bureau of Land Management) Wayside that is a great place to take a rest and enjoy the views.
For you Ice Road Trucker fans below is Finger Rock out in the distance.
We borrowed a handheld CB from a friend of our so we could listen to the truck traffic. We were hailed on the radio and asked to wait in a wide spot while an over-sized load made it through an area that wasn't quite as wide. Here is a picture of a Carlile truck headed south.
At mile 115 is the long awaited Arctic Circle, now I have actually lived north of the Arctic Circle, as I lived in Barrow for two years, but everyone else was really excited to actually drive north of it.
Back on the road again and it didn't take long for more excitement. There is an old saying "Does a bear go in the woods". Well we don't think so, we managed to catch a blurry picture of a bear just leaving the outhouse. So I think that old saying may be incorrect.
At mile 174 is Coldfoot. We had a half a tank of fuel so we topped it off at the price of $5.29 a gallon. There is a restaurant and hotel with a nice little gift shop. On the other side of the road is the Arctic Inter-agency visitors center, which is well worth the time to visit. After spending some time in Coldfoot we pushed down the road another whole 5 miles to the Marion Creek BLM campground. The campground is very nice with several restrooms throughout the 26 sites. There is a hiking trail that starts at the campground and takes you to Marion Creek Falls. We decided to stop for the night and had a wonderful meal of Pork loin on the grill with some pasta salad and potatoes, followed by a few smores.
Stay tuned for the rest of this trip. Day 3 through 5 will be posted soon along with the total cost of the trip.