27 Jul 2016

Driving the Dalton

" ... anyone embarking on a journey along the Dalton Highway is encouraged to bring survival gear ... "

The highway, which directly parallels the Trans Alaska Pipeline, is one of the most isolated roads in the UNITED STATES. There are only three towns along the route: Coldfoot (pop 10) at Mile 175, Wiseman (pop 22) at Mile 188, and Deadhorse (25 permanent residents, 3,500-5,000 or more seasonal residents depending on oil production) at the end of the highway at Mile 414. Fuel is available at the E. L. Patton Yukon River Bridge (Mile 56), as well as Coldfoot and Deadhorse. Two other settlements, Prospect Creek and Galbraith Lake, are uninhabited except for seasonal residents. The road itself is very primitive in places, and small vehicle and motorcycle traffic carries significant risk. The nearest medical facilities are in Fairbanks and Deadhorse. Anyone embarking on a journey on the Dalton is encouraged to bring survival gear. (Source: Wikipedia)

Driving the Dalton Highway has always been an option for us during this trip. That plan was dependant on weather and the timing required to get back to Whitehorse in time to meet my brother Tom and his wife Peg for three weeks of truck camper travel in and around the Yukon Territory. Both the weather and our schedules panned out and allowed us two days of return travel on the road; just enough time to get to the Arctic Circle, dry camp for a night and return to Fairbanks.

From the Dashboard and Along The Road ...
Photography is in chronological order, north from the start of the Dalton and ending at Mile 115.5, the Arctic Circle Crossing.

That's Wry, navigating, lower right corner, on the dashboard.

Road Condition WARNINGS and Gasoline COSTS (our most expensive to date) at Yukon Camp

September 16: After driving 16414 kms, through ON MB SK AB BC & YT in Canada and here in AK USA, this was our most expensive fuel at CDN$ 1.99 / litre. Next closest was Eagle Plains on the Dempster Highway YT at CDN$ 1.42 / litre. Both locations are just south of the Arctic Circle.

Helen (squinting) with her Mom (in the coddler)

There are almost 24 hours of daylight at the Arctic Circle on July 26. 

At times, even late evening the sun is quite intense.

We drove a total of 326.6 kms along the Elliot and Dalton Highways from camp last night at North Pole to the Arctic Circle Crossing at Mile Marker 115.5. Both highways are in fair condition and there was some construction.  

We drove more than 1/4 of the Dalton. This trip is mostly about 'The Drive'. With the exception of hunting and fishing opportunities by ATV in the area, there are few outdoor activities available along the roads' corridor. Oil resource activity and the commercial transport that supports it dominates the area. Hiking trails and birding are present but are often through marshy, boggy areas and usually only travelled as ski trails in the winter. 

When we drove, the roads were dry and quite dusty. The section from the start of the Dalton to Yukon Camp at Mile 56 is mountaineous, long grades up to 9%, big views and the nicest part of our drive. Past Yukon Camp the landscape is not as interesting; fewer significant grades, flater landscape in places. Expect ... mostly gravel, some patchy pavement, large potholes, some washboard, soft shoulders, uneven pavement, centre damage ... our average speed was around 60 kmph (top 70 kmph). 

We shared the road with commercial truckers, oil resource crews, some travellers, motorcycle riders, locals working the few settlements along the road and a hitch-hiker ... Tag from New York City ... on his way to swim in the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay!

We loved his enthusiasm and we inhaled his inspiration ... you'll do well young man!

We spent the night dry camped at the Arctic Circle with a few other travellers. Met Steve from Mission BC on his motorcycle travelling through to Prudhoe Bay; he woke to a dead battery, we boosted his motorcycle. We probably passed 50 bikes heading north today, saw that European MAN Expedition Truck at the entrance to the Dalton on our way out. Different views heading out but still fair to poor road conditions, good weather for the drive and not much traffic heading south. 

Since this post attempts to detail highway conditions while driving the Dalton, I felt it appropriate to describe a situation we experienced, a couple of days after we got off that roadThis isn't the first time we've had this question, so it's now been added to our FAQ file.

How are the roads up there in Canada? 
LOCATION: Tok, Alaska
SITUATION: I was speaking with a traveller. He was in his 70’s, from Michigan, towing a large fifth wheel and on his first road trip to northern North America. The conversation was initiated by him, as a complaint; ‘ That Road in Canada was the worst I have ever driven. ’ He was referring to a highway improvement project northwest of Burwash Landing, along the Alcan Highway.
MY RESPONSE: ‘ Really!, hmmm? ... well ya know ‘ We have traveled to this part of North America numerous times since 1988 and have driven most roads in northern BC, NWT, Yukon and Alaska. That includes rough roads like the Dempster (in Yukon) and Dalton (in Alaska) Highways. The roads crews that build, maintain, repair and improve these highways in Canada and the USA do an exceptional job; on BOTH sides of the border. They work in some of the most adverse weather and rugged landscapes in the world. Roadwork is a never-ending process in these northern regions and the condition of routes traveled one year in either country, can be quite different traveled the next. Appreciate the work they do; don’t complain! To paraphrase James A. Michener ... ‘ If you’re going to critisize the condition of the roads when you drive to remote places, you might best stay home.


Crusty & Wry ... just another Arctic Circle Crossing


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