Need To Tune Out the News From DC? There’s a Road For That.
For those who believe in the road trip as existential therapy, an old-fashioned American way of tuning out the non-stop news from a certain presidential crises (the breaking alerts and boorish tweets, the escalating investigations and resolute denials), then it is long past time to hit the road. And not just any byway, but the one that offers the largest dose of disconnect: the Dalton Highway.
Stretching 414 miles north from Livengood, Alaska (population 13) to the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay, just shy of the Arctic Ocean, the Dalton Highway is one of the northernmost roads in America—and the most remote: there’s no radio, no internet, no cell service. And for a 240-mile stretch, as it rolls over the Brooks Range and onto the Arctic tundra, there are no facilities whatsoever—no hotels, no gas stations, no nothing. But what it lacks in services it makes up for in scenery: the treeless mountains of the Gates of the Arctic National Park stretching to the west, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the east.
Built by the Alyeska Pipeline Company in 1974 as the haul road for the Alaskan pipeline, which runs alongside it, the Dalton is mostly gravel, and not for the faint of heart. Basketball-sized potholes litter the road, and giant supply trucks kick up great clouds of dust and rock as they barrel between Fairbanks and the oil fields on the North Slope. The road ends there, at an ugly and unceremonious intersection in the oil worker camp of Deadhorse. Though there is no public road access through Prudhoe Bay to the Arctic Ocean just to the north, it is possible to take a private shuttle those final three miles, and then dip your toes in the icy black water.
Fleeing the North Slope and returning south, it’s hard to take your eyes off the Arctic landscape and its empty lure. What is that something in the nothingness? The lack of political reach, sure—it’s about as far as one can get, physically and spiritually, from Washington, DC and still be in the U.S. But it's the lack of humankind as well, a place of ice and tundra and teeth, where if you’re lucky, you can be the only person for thousands of square miles. This landscape may be as aesthetically pure as any on the North American continent, and a single road runs through it.