Arctic memories

During various moves over the years a lot of the Alaska trip photos have been lost, particularly shots I took on the Dalton Highway. So, I was delighted to discover recently that Google Street View now do the Dalton Highway. It’s been rather surreal to relive that record-breaking journey again, and I’m going to inflict parts of it on you, dear reader: the Dalton Highway is a rock and dirt road in Alaska that runs due north for about 440 miles to Prudhoe Bay, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. It’s known as the Haul Road, because it’s used to take supplies up to the Prudhoe Bay oilfields. There are no towns along the way and there are only two places where you can get gas: the Yukon River crossing, 129 miles north of Fairbanks, and Coldfoot, 248 miles north of Fairbanks and described as the northernmost truck stop in the world. Coldfoot is a natural stop-over on the 2 day drive to Prudhoe Bay. When you leave Coldfoot, heading north for the Arctic Ocean, you see this sign…

Coldfoot01

There is absolutely nothing between Coldfoot and Prudhoe Bay. You are driving on a dirt road through pristine arctic wilderness. The biggest challenge along the way is the Brooks Mountain range, which is the northernmost spur of the Rocky Mountains. The Brooks are crossed via the Atigun Pass, which is the highest mountain pass in Alaska. This is the steepest part of the Dalton Highway – 1 in 3 in places – and I had to put the Yukon Queen into 1st gear in order to beat the gradient. At the top of the Atigun Pass there is a short stretch of level road before the Dalton plunges down the other side of the mountains. This next Street View clip is looking down at the south side of the Atigun Pass. From here it’s a 400 mile drive south through the wilderness back to Fairbanks and civilisation. I’m not sure if you can make out in this pic just how steep the road gradiant is…

Atigun_ss

This next clip is a view of the north side of the Atigun Pass. When I drove through here 14 years ago there weren’t so many crash barriers and the Dalton Highway was in a very bad state of repair. From the Atigun Pass it is more than a 100 mile drive north to Prudhoe Bay, most of it across the arctic tundra. Once you get out of the mountains, this stretch of the Dalton Highway gives the smoothest ride…

Atigun_s

The tundra that stretches for a hundred miles to the Arctic Ocean is known as the North Slope, the famed ‘Alaskan Serengeti’ because of the abundance of wildlife. When driving this part of the Dalton Highway you are very much aware that you’re in a vast wilderness. This next pic has been taken out on the tundra, looking south towards the Brooks Mountains. From here it’s a very long drive back to Fairbanks; that is, if your vehicle survives the journey, which includes the infamous Atigun Pass…

Tundra01

When driving the Dalton Highway you are never far from the Trans-Alaska pipeline. The pipeline is 800 miles long and carries oil from Prudhoe Bay down to the ice-free port of Valdez, in southern Alaska. This part of the pipeline is carried on insulated stilts so that it doesn’t melt the permafrost beneath the tundra (the oil is at a temperature of 140 degrees)…

Tundra02

Deadhorse is the support town for the Prudhoe Bay oilfields and is the end of the line for the Dalton Highway. This next clip shows the drive into Deadhorse. From here you are 500 miles and two days drive away from Fairbanks and civilisation…

Prudhoe_Dalton

Deadhorse is not a very pretty place. In fact, if you built a holiday camp there for manic depressives it would probably make a profit. As far as The 2CV Alaska Challenge went, Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay were purely symbolic: the ‘challenge’ had been successfully completed. We had driven almost 8000 miles from Savannah, in the southern States, to reach this lonely place at the top of the world.

There used to be just two hotels in Deadhorse, The Arctic Caribou Inn and the Prudhoe Bay Hotel. Both establishments are subsidised by the oil companies and help to house the transient workforce. Tourists and independent travellers can also use the hotels. I checked into the Prudhoe Bay Hotel (imagine a Citroen 2CV parked outside!) and spent just one night there before heading back south…

Prudhoe01

The Yukon Queen: A Record-breaking Journey and the Story of an Amazing Car

YQ_cover

Spiritual Brooks

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Prudhoe_post

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