Monday, July 17, 2017

Mud Road Truckers... The Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay

We just spent 3 amazing days traveling round-trip,  north from Fairbanks
to Deadhorse, Alaska.

Deadhorse is the town created to service the oil fields on Prudhoe Bay.

It was 1,017 miles round trip up the Dalton Highway (aka The Haul Road)

Anyone who has watched the show "Ice Road Truckers" would be
familiar with this road.

About 75% or 300+ miles of it is dirt road of varying condition.  It travels thru some of
the most remote country in North America and ranks high on several lists of
the worlds most dangerous highways.

In summer I think that moniker might be a bit overblown but can see that
winter would be a whole different story.

The stretch from Coldfoot to Deadhorse is 250 miles with no towns
or fuel/repair shops of any sort.

Our route from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay
At the start of the Highway we posed with the Doodles for a photoshoot.

It does not take long to realize that this is remote country and you are on your own.

The Dalton Highway stretches out to the horizon
At milepost 56 you reach the Yukon River Bridge.
On the north shore is a small BLM Interpretive Center (hut)
Across the road is a small fuel stop that sometimes has fuel. 

Dalton Highway - Yukon River Bridge
The Doodles pose in front of the Fireweed.

At mile 115 we cross the Arctic Circle.
There is a small BLM campground there.

It is here that most "tourists" turn around and head back to civilization.
Only us die-hards (and truckers) push on another 300 miles to Prudhoe Bay.

Arctic Circle Wayside - Dalton Highway
At mile 175 we stopped at Coldfoot Camp - the last fuel for 260 miles till
we would get to Deadhorse.

By then the truck had already acquired a thick coat of mud.

The Coldfoot Post Office
Open Monday and Weds.

Leaving Coldfoot - these signs tell it all.

5 miles north of Coldfoot is the Marion Creek BLM Campground.
We were tent camping and spent a couple of nights here coming and going.
$4/night with the geezer pass and free firewood.
Water from a hand pump and pit toilets.

We only had a small 12v cooler for some perishables so we brought Freeze Dried
Backpacking Meals for our main meals.  Easy to prepare, no cleanup and only needs hot water.

I brought extra freeze dried food for about 10 days in case we got stranded due 
to breakdown, road washouts or whatever.

Here I had Lasagne.  It was quite good.

Marion Creek has about 35 campsites.  Only 3 were occupied.
There were at least a dozen large pull thrus that were 100+ feet long and very level.

On Saturday Morning we departed at 0730 for the 250 mile push to Deadhorse.
About 55 miles north of Marion Creek we came to Treeline.
It is north of here where no more trees will grow.

In the picture below you see the last of the spruce.
Behind me - the trees are gone.

Treeline along the Dalton Highway
To get to the North Slope you must cross the Brook Range of Mountains.
The Dalton Highway crosses the Brooks Range on Antigun Pass.

At about 4,800' - it can snow on the pass anytime of year.

Antigun Pass Dalton Highway
When you descend from the Brooks range you enter a completely different world.
On the south side there are trees...
On the north side it is Arctic Tundra and Mosquitos...

Not just a few mosquitos - but hordes of the blood suckers.

Dalton Highway - North Slope Tundra

Stopped at one of the 3 construction holdups on the North Slope, you can see the car in
front of us is covered by Mosquitos.

Looking out the window there we thousands...  millions...  
The air was filled with Mosquitos any time the wind was not blowing.
When the wind did blow - the downwind protected side of the truck would be covered with them.

The flag men (woman) wore full body covering and head nets.
(we had head nets in the truck too)

Road construction in the Arctic Permafrost requires specialized construction techniques.
Here, stacks of foam board insullation are waiting to be installed below the
new roadbed.  It is to try and keep the permafrost below the road from melting.
When it does melt - it causes the road to sag and buckle...  then heave when it refreezes in winter.

Foam Stockpiles for Road Repairs on the Haul Road.

Foam board is laid on top of the subgrade, then covered with more gravel.
In places the road was built up 20' or more above the tundra.

Road repairs with foam board on Dalton Highway.
On of my goals on this trip was hoping to see Muskox grazing on the Tundra.
About 50 miles south of Deadhorse we hit the jackpot.

Muskox  - Dalton Highway Alaska

Muskox  - Dalton Highway Alaska

Muskox  - Dalton Highway Alaska
You cannot take a private vehicle into the oilfields.
When you get to Deadhorse - the only way to get to the Arctic Ocean is to take a
private tour.   You must provide ID 24hrs prior to your tour to allow for a security check.

Our tour was scheduled for 3:15pm and we arrived at 1:30 so we had some time to
tour the public areas of Deadhorse.

Arriving in Deadhorse - Prudhoe Bay Alaska
The companies here read like a whos who in the Drilling Business.
Halliburton, Schlumberger, Noble, Parker,  plus the big Oil Companies. 

A joke in the treeless North Slope - Below is the Prudhoe Bay National Forest.

When an oil well is drilled - the oil is under great pressure and will flow to the surface
on its own.  It comes up at an average temperature of about 140°

When the driller is done - they put a "cap" on the well.
A large valve called a "Christmas Tree"
The Oil Companies will then come and attach their piping to the christmas tree, and open the valve
to allow the oil to flow into the piping system.

Prudhoe Bay Christmas Tree
When the oil comes to the surface it is a mixture of Crude Oil, Water, and Natural Gas. 
All three are piped to a "separation facility" where the Crude Oil is separated
from the water and gas.  

The latter two are returned to the ground while the purified
crude oil is then pumped from the separation facility to pump station 1 where it will
enter the Trans Alaska Pipeline System  (TAPS)

Below are the pipelines coming from one oil field to the separation facility.
Some of the pipes are the mixture coming in from the field, and some are the
water and natural gas going back to the field.

Below are a row of well heads.  (Christmas Trees)
The Christmas Trees are contained in small buildings.
You can see the piping coming from the well heads.

Below is the Oil Separation Facility.
From here the Crude Oil will be pumped to Pump Station One.

Prudhoe Bay Oil Separation Facility

Below is an aerial view of Pump Station One
Here the Crude Oil will begin its 800+ mile journey down the pipeline to Valdez
where it will be loaded on Tankers to be shipped to refineries.

You can see the pipeline emerge from the ground and head south in the center of the photo.

Pump Station One TAPS
After traversing some of the oil processing areas, we finally made it the final 8 miles
to the Arctic Ocean where Kate & I took this photo on the beach.

Standing here on the shore at 70° North Latitude...
we were now 500 miles closer to the North Pole than we were to Seattle, Washington!

While the beaches in the lower 48 might have some seaweed on the shore....
Here there was peat moss.

Peat moss comes from the Tundra so its natural to be here - it was just
surprising at first to see it.

Heading back to Deadhorse from the Ocean,  this Caribou Buck stuck a perfect pose.

Back in Deadhorse we stopped at the Aurora Hotel.
The newest hotel in Deadhorse they have a great dinner buffet.

Of course all the accommodations are basic...  clean but spartan - as they are
set up as a work camp - not a tourist destination.

The meals are served Cafeteria Style.
You take a tray, serve yourself, and then deposit your trays and silverware
at a designated station.

A desert bar had a large selection of home made cakes, pies, and pastries.

It was Chinese Food night.
The food was excellent and just what we needed to power us up
for our 5hr return trip to Coldfoot

 Many of the workers receive food and lodging as part of the job.
They are flown up from Anchorage on a company 737 that is shared by the
companies and most of the vehicles in town are company owned...
except for us.

Before we headed south, we fed the dogs on the back of the pickup.
Lucy wanted hers on the ground.
Gracie did not care.

All the workers wanted to come and pet the dogs.
They said that they had not seen a dog in weeks or months since the workers here
would not have any pets.

Our trip back south was magical.
The road was empty and the sun - being lower in the sky - enhanced the colors on the drive back.

The fireweed painted the Tundra

We drove for over 3 hours and did not see another vehicle.
It was wild... desolate... and just wonderful!

It was a beautiful night.
The photo below was taken about 1030pm at we approached the Brooks Range.
This far north - the sun did not set at all. 

Back over Antigun Pass we are back in the forest.
The sun casts an orange glow as we travel south.

We arrived back at Marion Creek around midnight.
It was still light out...  we have not seen a dark sky since May.
We jumped into our tent and soon were sleeping like logs.

On Sunday Morning we took a leisurely departure, packed up the tent and
hit the road about 9am.

By 3pm we were back in Fairbanks and our trip up the
Dalton Highway was in the logbook.

Monday afternoon I took the truck to the car wash...
$45 worth of quarters later I had it semi presentable.  Still plenty of
mud caked on the bottom I am sure and will probably be dripping mud for
months to come.   I shall leave some in Rons driveway over Christmas!

I'm preparing a drivelapse video of the trip and some other videos
as well.   They will be in a future post.

We are here in Fairbanks for one more day and then we plan to head back south
to Seward on the Kenai.   Our plan is to stay put there for a few weeks as
long as the weather does not drive us out.

After that - its off to the Yukon to start the search for the fall colors on
the tundra.

Also - the days will be getting shorter so soon we should start seeing night skies again and
perhaps the Northern lights when late August rolls around.

Thanks for riding along!


  1. Fantastic trip,envy you guys. Beautiful pictures and info.

    1. Thanks Jack. Glad you are enjoying the ride. We sure are!

  2. Awesome. I luv it. So cool seeing the pics... take care and be safe.. see u soon.

    1. Yep... the scenery is a tad different than the Beauzone for sure.

  3. Awesome. I luv it. So cool seeing the pics... take care and be safe.. see u soon.

  4. Excellent trip report. You guys rock!

  5. What a fantastic trip. I think this is the first time I've seen you in long pants. Thanks for sharing.

    1. That's funny Jim! I guess I do try to keep myself in "Jeans Optional" climates. Even if it was hot however - the North Slope needs jeans simply for "Mosquito Control". I think I only got one bite. Kate is another story however. She is the magnet.

  6. A-Mazing!! You look great Greg. I don't know if I could sleep with it being light out. I guess it would be an adjustment! Now I want to go to Alaska! Have fun & safe travels. As always, I'm looking forward to the next blog! I'll have to send you some of Kember's time lapsed videos, they're of her'll get a kick out of it!

    1. Come on up girl! The water is fine! Tell Kember to put the videos on youtube. Maybe they'll go viral. LOL

  7. Were y'all concerned at all about bears or any other animals while camping in the tent? This seems like a good wa to see the north slope, as long as its safe.

    1. No - no concerns about critters. We've been tent camping all our lives and in some remote country. We've even run into bears several times on the trail before. We keep a clean camp and stay 'bear aware" plus we always have bear spray. I'm more worried about lightening than bears as more people die from lightening each year. Lots of Alaskans tent camp all over the state without problems. Just dont bring food into your tent. Learn the rules of living in Bear Country and you'll be fine.

  8. Wow...cross that off the bucket list! Very cool trip. Have fun on your next leg!

    1. The problem about crossing it off the list.... Now I want to go back and spend more time! There is someting about being in real remote country that we both seem to like. Do we want to live there? No. But it sure is nice to visit and spend some time. Its kind of like being in the middle of the ocean but without having to stand watches.

  9. Your pictures and narrative make the trip very interesting. Not sure about the bugs and bears being a fun part though. Thank you,

  10. Hi -- I'm heading up to the Brooks Range in June and I've been worried sick about the mosquito issue. How bad are the mosquitoes really? Is there a significant difference between the mosquitoes on the South slope vs the North slope of the Brooks Range? Will I get sucked dry as soon as I exit the vehicle? Plan is to camp for 6 days backcountry. How bad is it??

    1. In Alaska it really depends on the terrain. If its marshy there will be a ton of them. If its higher and dryer then they are no worse than anywhere. North of the Brooks Range you get onto the tundra and it's hellish. South of the Brooks range its all about where you are. Generally we find it to be just fine and no problems.

      Where they are a problem we've found using Thermacell products to be extremely effective. They have a small butane powered heater that heat a pad that released an extract of the Chrysanthemum plant and creates a bug free zone. We also had repell sticks that you would burn. Placed them upwind and voila.. no bugs. Bring a mosquito net for your head just in case.


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