Surprisingly, we all woke up fairly early Thursday after our late night. Of course, that did NOT mean we got on the road early! Seven women, seven bladders and the availability of hot showers are not a good combination for maintaining any strict schedule. (Not a complaint…just an observation. I love the lack of a schedule on a vacation!)
Eventually we did pull out, but just to cross the street to Fred Meyers to pick up a few things. Another stop at an auto parts store to purchase a starter for Winnie and we were finally on the road a little after 1pm. (Predictably there was no way to get Winnie’s starter fixed on a holiday weekend, so we just decided to have the parts on hand and keep our fingers crossed!)
We passed the road to Livengood and the turn-off to Manley Hot Springs and began to feel like we were really on the Dalton Highway by mid afternoon.
Crossing the Yukon River was a treat, the pipeline crossing alongside us just out of sight below the highway. We pulled into the camp on the far side of river to gas up and make sandwiches for dinner. There is a nice overlook and information center that was worth the walk. At 80F the weather was almost miserably hot for driving so we welcomed every stop where we could get out of our rolling tin cans and away from the dust of the road!
Driving into the low angled midnight sun created a real visibility problem with the dust as we pushed on from the Yukon. The billowing dust was like a thick fog, completely obscuring sight of the road…and the oncoming trucks! We crept at a snails pace for many miles before the road turned enough to give us some relief.
One welcome break from the dust was a valley that we descended into that was solid magenta from fireweed. A recent forest fire had blackened the spruce trees that you see poking up like spikes. The fireweed blanketed all the nearby hills, identifying the spread of the fire that had preceded it.
It was close to midnight when we decided to call it quits for the day. We had originally hoped to make it to Coldfoot, but the tense drive through the dust had left us all exhausted so we camped at the Arctic Circle pullout instead. Once the pop-up was set up we pulled out camp chairs and enjoyed a beer in the glow of the midnight sun before going off to our respective beds.
Friday morning was leisurely. The pullout at the Arctic Circle attracted many visitors who shared stories of the road with us including a group of high-spirited young BLM volunteers. We were to see them again several times along the road. A middle aged couple on big touring motorcycles were on their way back from Deadhorse and reported that they had had heavy rain all the way up. A family from Kentucky was woefully underprepared in their little rental sedan, but determined to go on to the end of the road.
We drove on into Coldfoot Camp where we lunched at a local café and toured the beautiful visitor’s center before heading on. The road was well maintained and the views were incredible as we approached Atigun Pass.
Winnie’s climb to the top of that pass was epic. The other two vehicles pulled aside so we could blow past as fast as we dared on the approach…we needed all the momentum we could get! Less than halfway up she began bogging down and she crept up the last mile at 20 mph, but she made it!
The weather continued to be beautiful and hot, so the shade and patches of snow at the top of the pass were a fun snowball fight break for us!
The terrain on the north side of the Brooks Range is completely different from the south side. We weren’t just above treeline in terms of altitude, we were above treeline latitudinally! South of Atigun is thick with brush and the occasional tree. North it’s all tundra. As far as the eye can see and farther.
We counted down the Pump Stations as we approached Deadhorse. At #2 we knew we had less than 100 miles to go and pushed on in spite of the late hour. Winnie’s fuel light came on within sight of the camp, but she made it to the fuel station. (We had five gallons of gas on the luggage rack, but the can was caked with dust and we hoped to not have to unstrap it!)
Because of our concerns over gas, we didn’t stop with the other two vehicles who had spotted a herd of musk oxen far in the distance. We did see a big bull caribou wandering through the camp as we were gassing up though!
Our “RV park” was really the parking lot of the camp’s hotel. The “hotel” was really a converted modular building that had been used as barracks in the early days of the pipeline building project.
Whatever, we didn’t care. We pulled into a slot under the electric lines and plugged in. The camp is strictly dry – as in you face possible prosecution for bringing any alcohol in – so we had to celebrate our achievement very quietly.
Welcome to Deadhorse, Alaska!