July 8, 2015
I can now cross off “#14 Drive the Alaskan Haul Road” on my bucket list. If you have ever seen Ice Road Truckers or have read about the Alaskan pipeline you have probably seen pictures of the Alaskan North Slope Haul Road a.k.a. the Dalton Highway a.k.a. Alaskan Highway 11. It begins at the Elliott Highway, 70 miles northwest of Fairbanks, and ends 414 miles later at Deadhorse near the Arctic Ocean and the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. My friend Ed Allen and I just drove halfway up that road to the Arctic Circle. Why? Maybe just to say we’ve done it, or to say “I’ve been there” and of course to have our picture taken by the Arctic Circle sign.
The Haul Road is a mostly gravel supply road to the Alaskan oil fields and generally hauls 160 trucks daily during the summer and 250 trucks daily during the winter.
When we left the paved Elliot Highway we started driving north on the Dalton Hwy.
This picture was taken at Mile Marker 13 and shows just what this road looks like.
Part of the pipeline is buried and as you can see part of it is above ground. In the next pictures you can see the pipeline and the road. The haze is smoke from forest fires.
Permafrost forced the engineers to build the pipeline on stilts. Building on permafrost causes a lot of problems in Alaska and Northern Canada with roads and placing foundations for buildings.
On the “Warning” sign below notice that the pipeline was built by the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. When I first came to Alaska a year ago I noticed that a lot of companies used the name Alyeska. Alyeska is an archaic spelling of the Aleut word Alaska meaning “mainland”, “great country”, or “great land”.
This is Pumping Station number 7. The Trans Alaska Pipeline System was originally designed with 12 pump stations, though it was decided that only 11 were needed and a 12th was never built. Oil was first discovered in Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope in 1968.
Building a bridge across the Yukon River was a major engineering feat in itself.
The pipeline and this highway bridge cross together, but notice that the surface of the bridge is made of wooden planks. I believe this has something to do with its design to withstand temperatures from a -55 F to 95 F and the destructive power of ice and debris.
The color on the hill is caused by fireweed, found everywhere in Alaska. Even the sides of the road can be quite beautiful.
I told my friend Ed that this picture was proof that we crossed the Arctic Circle. He reminded me that a graphic artist could even place us in pictures standing on the moon.
On the way home we saw about a dozen forest fires probably caused by lightning. The news reported that there were 300 forest fires all burning at one time covering over a million square acres. You will notice that in some of my pictures the sky is blue, but in other the smoke from the fires make it look quite smoggy.