Dalton Highway, Alaska – Arminius in the end of the world

James Dalton Highway is not everywhere built on a thick layer of gravel like e.g. Dempster Hwy. The secret is an insulating Styrofoam layer that separates road from permafrost.

Alaska’s tundra appears less lovely, but rougher and jaggier. It’s just beginning of August, but colours are changing fall-like. Birches are getting yellow leaves, and bushes are becoming brown. White clouds are glued to a white sky like cotton buds on a piece of paper. The road starts climbing gradually from Coldfoot on, then steeper and steeper into Brooks Range. We are leaving the last trees behind us. We will not see any ones more north. We are crossing 1448 m high Atigun Pass, highest elevation of the entire route. Only some lichen, weeds, and moss grow here, or else it’s naked. Only the tour through these mountains is worth to make this trip. Grandeur and beauty of this landscape are mind-blowing. First only the valleys between the stone giants are grown with grass. Glaciers rest in shady depressions. On descending grey colossus become smoother green mountains and hills then, until land flattens to just one green plain that slowly slopes down to the sea. It is called North Slope. Blue brooks and ponds cling to it. A lonely caribou skips away during ground squirrels try to shout cars off the road.

It has still 27°C, but it’s not hot anymore, because there is wind, wind, and wind. It is coming from south; I don’t want to know how it is when blowing from north. Snow has to be expected any month of the year, and there is still snow from last winter, like a white ribbon on the foot of a brim. Something dark brown, wavy is galloping on skinny stilts through the tundra: a musk-ox with short bended horns, flatly grown together on the forehead. Its bragging long hair is fluttering in the wind like the flag on our truck roof. The hair of a musk-ox is said to be eight times warmer than sheep fur. Right after we are discovering a whole herd of wild musk-ox of nearly 20 animals. Around 1800 they were nearly rooted out. Their population recovered, but is still endangered. It is not allowed to hunt musk-ox, but there is meat from raised animals available.

I imagine the north to be like this: Stormy wind with 65 km/h on the endless flat plain. We arrived in the end of the world, at least in the northern end of the American continent that is passable by car. We are in Deadhorse at Prudhoe Bay. After the gold rush that seized Alaska as well, the US state gained importance one more time when oil was discovered. Today there is an ugly container village on piles that contains of fleets of vehicles, workers’ accommodations, and simple hotels. At Caribou Inn Hotel we are booking a tour to the oil fields and the Arctic Ocean. The whole facility may only be entered with a security guide. Deadhorse, five miles in front of Beaufort Sea, is the end for private vehicles.

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