Following the Alaskan Pipeline: Deadhorse to Valdez, Alaska

Prudhoe Bay

Prudhoe Bay

We say we are “different from the other children,” are “easily amused,” or “are the people for whom they build alligator farms.” But others share our love of travel and the off-beat, and it is you for whom I write.

It was typical that we visited the Prudhoe Bay oilfields on the Arctic

Muskox on the North Slope

Ocean and rode south down the long treacherous gravel “haul road.” Subsequently featured on the History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers, the Dalton Highway is known as the haul road because oil companies use it to haul their supplies. It runs 414 miles from Deahhorse to Fox, 44 miles north of Fairbanks.  Having seen one end of the Alaskan Pipeline, we then rented a car and went to see the other end.

But first, we took a typical cruise from Vancouver to Whittier.  Only thirty-five of the 2600 passengers on the ship, however, took Alaska Air to Deadhorse, the 100_4052unincorporated community that serves Prudhoe Bay, 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  We were put up in the relatively primitive Arctic Caribou Inn which usually serves oil workers.  Then we boarded a secure company bus to see the pipelines, oil fields, workers quarters, and equipment.  It is company town with very strict rules: no alcohol or drugs; no unauthorized visitors (except an occasional polar bear); and no second chances.  Even in August, the temperature stayed below forty degrees Fahrenheit.  A 2008 dinner buffet at the hotel was $20 and breakfast was $15.  There was no other dining choice, but the food was plentiful and good.  They even had fresh pineapple and blueberries.

100_4078

A 26-wheeler

Deadhorse had cell phone service, but otherwise there was almost none for about 450 miles to the south.  Indeed, as one enters the Dalton Highway, there is a sign “Next Services 240 Miles.”  They meant it: there were no restaurants, no gas stations and no food for 240 miles.  The first stop was Coldfoot.  The next 174 miles had six more stops but few people: Gobblers Knob; Finger Rock; the Arctic Circle; Hot Spot (a seasonal restaurant); crossing the Yukon River; and Wildwood (a general store).

DSCF0413The road also was used to build and maintain the 48 inch-wide Trans-Alaska Pipeline.  On the North Slope, the tundra north of the mountains to the Arctic Ocean, it is usually elevated to keep the warm pipe from melting the permafrost.  Further south where the permafrost is not as deep, the pipeline is often buried.  They built arches periodically to permit migrating caribou to pass beneath, but the caribou don’t need them; they know how to duck.  In addition to caribou, we saw a fox hunting in the oil fields, swans swimming, grizzly bears munching  berries under the pipeline, and musk ox on the tundra.

The "Haul Road," a dangerous highway.

The “Haul Road,” a dangerous highway.

Although it was still August, we were treated to “fall colors” on the tundra.  After we crossed the Brooks Range, we began to see trees.  There was daylight in Coldfoot until 3 a.m., and it was a balmy 60 degrees.

The haul road is dangerous even in summer.  As we passed a overturned truck, our guide quoted “many adventures begin with an act of poor judgment.”  They like those lines in Alaska.  Among our favorites was a sign in Wildwood: “There is not a single mosquito in Alaska; They’re all married and have large families.”  One woman told us “the odds are good of finding a man in Alaska, but the goods are odd.”

South end of Alaska PipelineOur cruise-sponsored tour took us on to Fairbanks and Denali and back to Anchorage where we rented a car.  We wanted to see the other end of the pipeline, but it is mostly buried.  We did see the terminal where the oil is loaded on to ships.  And we reached the end of the road.

 

 

 

 

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About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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One Response to Following the Alaskan Pipeline: Deadhorse to Valdez, Alaska

  1. Keith and Loraine says:

    That was interesting as I had heard about such places when Keith was in Alaska and some of his videos. That was before we were married. We did take a cruise to Alaska but that is altogether different I realize. Thanks for the wonderful history lesson.

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