There are various ways in which the Dalton Highway, an Alaskan transportation route built in 1974, could be described. Some people find it almost untouched wilderness, while others raise their eyebrows with curious curiosity. I, for example, consider the James Dalton Highway, Alaska Route 11, an endurance race with no ropes, and you’re just racing against yourself or the small number of semi-trucks crossing the road. You can’t expect anything else from the North Slope Borough, Alaska’s northernmost region (1).
Ice road truckers
The Dalton Highway has begun to receive more deserved recognition thanks to a TV show, Ice Road Truckers, in which drivers regularly use the road. Its length is nothing short of impressive. Alaska Route 11 stretches for 414 miles and a significant portion of its length is made up solely of gravel and dirt roads.
Before reaching the Dalton Highway starting in Livengood, you must cross a significant portion of the Elliot Highway. Seventy-three miles is all that stands between you and the Dalton Highway, but Alaska Route 2 is forgiving and welcoming at first. On your trip you’ll only experience paved roads with sweeping curves, but further down, the asphalt gives way to the same dirt and gravel you’ll find on the Dalton Highway.
Experienced travelers advise you to be careful against the rocks that the semi-trucks throw at you while on the Dalton. I guess the Elliot Highway didn’t take this advice to heart if it is also full of dirt and gravel.
Living well in Livengood
Comparing the James Dalton Highway to an endurance race is by no means an exaggeration. Saying the path is remote doesn’t do it enough justice. It’s ingot.
There are only three small towns along the route. Livengood, the city of departure, had 13 inhabitants in 2010. Don’t expect to find more than a handful of people on your journey, aside from the numerous trucks that cross the highway every day. The only man-made object you will regularly observe is the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, a crude oil transportation system that spans the whole of Alaska, from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Alaska. (2)
After driving approximately 50 miles of the freeway, you will be greeted by the Hot Spot Café. An ironic name especially as you will regularly experience freezing temperatures down there. A petrol station is also nearby, at mile 56.
Coldfoot and Wiseman
After that, you’ll need to drive 120 miles until you find another settlement. It would be Coldfoot, which has a census of 10, and exists primarily as a truck stop. The city is adequately supplied despite the circumstances. This is where you will most likely spend your first night and where you can enjoy some properly cooked food at their local restaurant.
Further down the road, at the 188 mile mark, you will find Wiseman, a small town that is home to 22 beautiful souls. Keep in mind that you won’t refuel there, but there are three cozy log cabins you can rent, after which you’ll be on your own until you reach Deadhorse, the end of the highway.
Between the Hot Spot Café and Coldfoot, there is an interesting hill nicknamed the Rollercoaster. There are many geographic spots nicknamed by truckers who regularly pass the Dalton Highway. Shortly after the coffee you will be greeted by a high and menacing hill that apparently has no end. After reaching the top, slowly and surely, you are greeted by a steep descent, which feels like a roller coaster.
Smart huh? After several similar hills, you will encounter an ascending curved corner that will strike you with a puzzle. Go too slow and you will lose traction and roll back, go too fast and you will fly off the road. Sitting in a tall semi-truck doesn’t even help visibility, so there were a handful of people who went too fast in the dead of winter and decided to give it the nickname “Oh, Shit Corner,” which now has the its appropriate sign. (3)
Potholes and truckers
The road itself is strange and bumpy, regularly met with pavement that apparently turns into rocky roads in the blink of an eye. Some curves are blind, so you have to take great precautions against truck drivers who regularly cross the highway as they have to take them wide.
Pits are a significant problem and something you have to adapt to. You have two choices for the most part. One is to drive at a snail’s pace so as not to wreck the car by the end of the journey. Another is whizzing across the highway dodging all the potholes until you hit one hard enough to turn your car into a tricycle.
Wildlife and Brooks Range
Driving on the motorway is nothing short of peaceful. There is no telephone signal for miles and miles. All you have is the car, the road, the hills, the grass and trees, the Trans-Alaska pipeline, the wildlife, the beautiful mountains of the Brooks Range, and a random truck driver who most likely views you as a nuisance. . Attempting the Dalton Highway at any time other than summer is not recommended. In fact, it’s possible for temperatures to drop well below minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It is so cold up there that if the pipeline had no oil flow it would freeze in a short time.
Remember, you will not have adequate pit stops for miles. You will need to take care of yourself with what you have brought with you. A car emergency kit, a winter kit, food and water and two spare tires are essential for driving.
Bar and Dangerous
However, the experience is unique. There aren’t many places out there that can make you feel so small and insignificant. In fact, there aren’t numerous places in the world that have apparently been torn from it entirely. Driving in the wild is always only possible if you are an avid off-road fan. Swinging as you hit all the holes could never have been so therapeutic.
It also couldn’t have been more dangerous. An untold number of truckers, including drivers with millions of miles of experience, have lost their lives on the treacherous Dalton Highway. (4)
(1) United States Department of the Interior – Bureau of Land Management. Dalton Highway. [Online].
(2) Alaska.org. Dalton Highway (from Livengood to Deadhorse). [Online].
(3) Wilson, Scott “Shrugs”. Day 8 – The Dalton Highway. [Online].
(4) Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. Dalton Highway. [Online].
Bureau of Land Management Alaska Photo by BLM Alaska / Karen Deatherage, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
JKBrooks85, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons