Friday, July 25, 2008

Call of the Wild - Lessons of the Dalton Highway

  1. Life beyond the Arctic Circle is tough, therefore there is far less of it there. If you expect Yellowstone-like abundance, you will be disappointed.

  2. Spotting wildlife is not easy. The surest way to discover it is to watch for stopped cars and people with binoculars beside them. Since there is not much wildlife and a few people, this method does not always work. The rest is a combination of time, luck, sharp vision, and superior pattern recognition. Look for foxes late at night right before and after the Atigun Pass, hares during the sunset around the Arctic Circle, musk oxen within the last hundred miles before Deadhorse, and caribou in and around Deadhorse. There is various waterfowl in the lakes in the Sagavanirktok basin.

  3. Tundra looks very inviting and easy to navigate, but hiking on it is extremely difficult because of the ground composition - marshes and springy mounds. If you do decide to hike and can manage better than 1 mph over an extended distance, I will be impressed.

  4. Mosquitoes. There are clouds of them, but they are really stupid, which makes the indoor problem manageable. Outdoors is trickier – do not expect your repellent to work at all. Bring mosquito nets and mittens at the very minimum, or else you will stay in the car throughout much of the trip.

  5. The combination of the above almost guarantees that most of your time will be spent inside your vehicle enjoying the scenery. If you aren’t the type of a person who enjoys scenery, do not go...

  6. Do some of the driving at night. The angle of the polar sun casts at the landscape at night is different, and the wildlife is different as well. If at all possible, try to drive through the same parts of the road during the day when you’re going there, and at night when you’re coming back.

  7. Plan enough time for the trip. If you’re in an RV, your speed will never exceed 50 mph, even on paved surfaces. Most of the time it will be between 35 and 45, but if you don’t want cracks in your windshield, it is prudent to stop when the trucks go by, which will reduce your average speed (when driving) to around 30. It is 1000 miles from Fairbanks to Deadhorse and back, or about 30 hours of driving time. If you drive more than 4 hours on average, you don’t have enough time for side trips, wildlife viewing, and RV maintenance (cooking, cleaning, filling up), and the probability that you will see anything but the scenery goes down significantly.

  8. Stop when big trucks are coming by. A shower of pebbles hitting your windshield at a hundred miles per hour is very destructive. If you stop, the trucks often slow down as well, and the stones travel at thirty miles per hour instead – a huge difference.

  9. There are NO supplies along the highway, not even at Deadhorse. You can get cooked food on the Yukon River (MP 56), Hot Spot Café (MP 60), Coldfoot (MP 175), and in Deadhorse (MP 414). You can get lodging at all these places and additionally in Wiseman, which is a few miles north of Coldfoot, and a few more miles off the highway. But there are NO groceries anywhere – if you plan to cook, you need to take everything with you from Fairbanks.

  10. If you prefer drinking bottled water, you have to buy your supply for the entire trip in Fairbanks. There is none available on the road, or in Deadhorse. There is good artesian water at Five Mile Campsite (MP 60), and Marion Creek Campsite (MP 180), but the water at Deadhorse is pretty bad.

  11. Gas is available in Deadhorse, Coldfoot, Hot Spot Café, Yukon, and 10 miles before Fairbanks. The longest stretches without gas are Coldfoot – Deadhorse (240 miles) and Fairbanks – Yukon (134 miles). Remember that before the Dalton starts, there is a significant stretch of Elliott Highway (60 miles to Fairbanks) where services are also not available.

  12. Gas, water, and restrooms are relatively abundant on Dalton, but RV dumping facilities exist only in the very beginning and the very end. Dumping crap on the side of the road is not very nice. I suppose one can make a deal with one’s consciousness and dump the gray water in the gravel pits which are quite plentiful. But not being able to dump the black water degrades your RV experience quite a bit.

  13. In Deadhorse, the only place a RV can be parked is the Arctic Caribou Inn. Hook-up is electric only, but they will fill you up with water for free, and you can use their laundry and shower facilities. If you do not pay for parking, they may or may not charge you for the water ($1/gallon). There is another (free) water source at the Department of Transportation facility very close to the Inn. RV dumping is available at the Nana facility right next to the Arctic Caribou Inn as well. A tour of Prudhoe Bay can be booked through the Arctic Caribou Inn (they need 24-hour notice to run the background check, so do it before starting on the highway). There is cell phone service and wireless internet access in Deadhorse, at $10/day.

  14. Don’t plan to spend much time at Deadhorse – it’s an industrial zone, there’s nothing to do there. I do recommend the tour that the Arctic Caribou Inn operates, but it lasts for 2 hours. You can spend another 2 hours showering and doing the laundry. Other than that, even if you do find a place to hang out, everyone else around you will be working.

  15. Definitely make a stop at the Visitor’s Center at Coldfoot. Leaf through their collection of Dalton Highway stories, or watch a movie about the pipeline.

  16. There is no hunting (only bow hunting) along the Dalton north of the Yukon within 5 miles of the highway. There is no way to get beyond this corridor on car – only by hiking. The furthest you can go away from the Dalton on car is Galbraith, and this is only a mile and a half. As far as hiking on foot – see (2).

  17. Fishing is best in Jim River. Fishing is really bad in the Arctic plains past the Brooks Range. There are numerous lakes, but their shores are very marshy and unstable and the water is shallow and gains depth slowly. In most cases you need some kind of watercraft to fish.

  18. The Milepost ( and the Dalton Highway ( publication by Bureau of Land Management are extremely useful, and both are a must have if you’re going on the Highway. However, both become outdated the day they are printed – be prepared for the unexpected!

  19. Make sure your tetanus shot is up to date, and maybe carry a supply of antibiotics – if you get hurt anywhere on the highway, there is no medical help between Deadhorse and Fairbanks. Otherwise if you step on a nail, say, in Coldfoot, you either have to abort the trip, or risk dying a few days later from tetanus.

  20. …and do not feed the bears!

1 comment:

Matt said...

Howdy Sergey:

Getting ready to head up the Dalton Highway tomorrow and stumbled across your blog. Thanks for all the info.

Here's ours:

Matt R.
(Dev Manager in Austin, TX as well when I'm not taking a year off!)