Dalton Highway, AK

Wild Roads

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IN ALASKAN VERNACULAR, the Dalton Highway, a 414-mile stretch of hard-packed gravel paralleling the Trans-Alaska Pipeline north of Fairbanks all the way to the Arctic Ocean, is known as the Haul Road. It’s tempting to imagine that name as shorthand for the Hauling-Ass Road—the occasional sign posting a 50-mph speed limit gets as much respect as a no guns sign in Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush—but it’s really a Hauling-Equipment Road, for supplies on their way to Prudhoe Bay’s oil fields. For intrepid motorists, the Dalton offers a route into the wildest, most beautiful landscape you’ll ever see from behind a wheel. The road is notoriously tough on cars, so rent an SUV or light pickup in Fairbanks (make sure the rental contract covers you on the Dalton; most don’t). Day one takes you across the vast Yukon River and then through endless sub-Arctic straightaways, where one glimpse of the unpeopled expanse equals a thousand weekends away anywhere else. Prep for day two by filling the tank at Coldfoot Camp, the self-proclaimed northernmost truck stop in the world (you won’t hit another station for 244 miles). From there it’s up and over the Brooks Range via a stunning, serpentine pass, and then down into rolling arctic tundra. Here the only pedestrians are musk ox, grizzlies, and caribou. Don’t wait a lifetime to make the drive; if the oil fields of the Alaskan Arctic peter out (when this will happen is anyone’s guess), the road might be destroyed.

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