I finally went through all the photos I took on our drive up the Haul Road (seen on the History Channel’s “Ice Road Truckers” show). Thanks for bearing with me as I worked on them. I hope you enjoyed the Denali photos in my last entry. I still have other photos to share from various events and excursions around town. In time…
This was my and Steve’s second trip up the Haul Road. We drove it all the way to Prudhoe Bay in June, 2009. If you’d like to read that account, you can find it here. Deena and Lea had never been on the Dalton.
Friday, June 15th
We packed the truck up the night before, so all we had to do was throw our personal effects in the truck, load the dog, and hit the road.
We met my friends Deena and Lea at Hilltop Truck Stop on the Elliott Hwy just north of Fox, as they were following us to Prudhoe. If you’re local and haven’t dined at Hilltop, you’re missing out. Not only are they quite generous with their portions, but they’ve got plenty of ’stick to your ribs’ food to choose from. We love their breakfasts, with home fries, reindeer sausage and eggs anyway you want them. And their pie is so good that some people go to Hilltop just for dessert.
On the way, we made a stop at the Fox Spring to fill our 6-gallon water container. The Fox Spring is on the Elliott Hwy just north of the intersection of the Elliott and the Steese. The water is free; just bring your containers. For many folks who live in homes with no running water, this is the stop of choice for drinking water.
We got to Hilltop around 9:15am and Deena and Lea (and Deena’s pups Rogan and Uno) were already there. We had a very filling breakfast, Steve topped off the gas tank, and off we went. We had a later start than planned, but with no darkness, it really didn’t matter what time we got on the road.
All ready to hit the road! Steve, Raven, Me, Deena, and Lea:
We had CBs to communicate with each other, but that didn’t turn out as expected when Steve blew the fuse on ours, which left us without any form of communication except for sticking our arm out the window and waving.
We stopped at the Arctic Circle sign to take photos standing in front of it. There’s a campground there, but we didn’t get a chance to check it out. The mosquitoes were a nuisance so we didn’t stay long.
We made frequent stops to take photos, and then stopped in Coldfoot for dinner. The dinner was a buffet which was overpriced (19.99/pp), considering they had run out of almost everything. Because I’m such a picky eater, I declined the buffet and planned to eat a sandwich when we got set up at Marion Creek Campground four miles up the road. I’m glad I did, because the others weren’t very happy about the offerings. They even ran out of salad dressing! It’s definitely a situation of first come, first served. We arrived an hour after the buffet opened, and since most of the patrons are truckers, you can believe the food was practically gone by the time we got there.
Steve topped off the gas tank (more than $5/gallon) before driving to the campground. Coldfoot is the last place to buy gas before you get to Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay. We had 25 gallons in gas cans that we planned to use to get us from Prudhoe back to Coldfoot.
We were all very thankful for the screen house that I packed. The mosquitoes were annoying and being able to get inside with a racquet zapper in hand made life much more pleasant. We picked up a couple at our local Walmart. These things are GREAT! Steve takes great pleasure in zapping them from the air.
Deena and Lea had reservations to take the tour to the Arctic Ocean where they could put their feet in the water, so the next day they had to be at the hotel in Deadhorse at 2:45pm. The drive from Coldfoot to Prudhoe can take up to 10 hours depending on road construction and road conditions. We all went to bed before 11pm. Steve and I were not taking the Arctic Ocean tour, as we did it on our last trip, so we planned to sleep a little later and meet them in Deadhorse in time for dinner.
Photos from our drive from Fairbanks to Marion Creek Campground:
Saturday, June 16th
Steve and I heard Lea and Deena moving around in their tent before 4am, but we didn’t have any problem falling back to sleep for a few hours. We decided we would leave our tents and screen house set up at Marion Creek, as we were going to truck camp in the Atigun Pass area after our visit to Prudhoe. Then we’d make our way back to Marion Creek and spend the night before heading home to Fairbanks. Since the campground fee was only $8, it was easier to just pay for that night, and leave our stuff set up, even though we wouldn’t be sleeping there.
Steve and I had a wonderful drive up to Deadhorse. We wondered how Deena and Lea were faring, as they were several hours ahead of us. We hit a few areas of construction where we had to wait for and follow a pilot car, but other than that, it wasn’t too bad. We made really good time and got up to Deadhorse a little before 4pm.
We knew that their tour was at 3pm and from what we understood, it was only an hour long. Steve drove to the NAPA auto store (yes, they actually have one there!), to see if they had any replacement fuses for the CB. No luck there. (We later found out that the cigarette lighter fuse ALSO blew)
We drove back to where Deena’s truck was parked and were extremely surprised to see Lea sit up in the passenger seat. It was then that we found out that Lea wasn’t able to go on the tour, due to some foul up with the young girl handling the reservations.
A few days earlier, Deena paid for the trip and gave them her license number so they could do a background check (required). When Lea called to do the same, the girl who handled the reservation told her she didn’t need to pay in advance; that she just had to show up with her license and credit card. However, just showing up didn’t give them enough time to do the background check, so she wasn’t permitted to go. She was livid - and rightfully so! This trip to Prudhoe was 1000 miles roundtrip. The highlight was supposed to be seeing the Arctic Ocean and putting her feet in the water. Instead, she spent several hours napping in Deena’s trucks with her dogs.
Lea wasn’t the only one denied. Four German tourists were also given the same incorrect information and weren’t allowed to go either. And those tourists paid several hundred dollars to ride with a tour company all the way to Prudhoe - all for nothing! In my opinion, the people running the Arctic Ocean tour, should have to pay airfare to fly those people (and Lea) back up to do the tour, since it was their employee who made the error.
The tour ended up being more than 2 hours, so Deena didn’t get back until after 5pm. They began serving dinner at one of the hotels (buffet-$19.99/pp) a little while later, and the spread was amazing! We ate until we were bursting, and Deena and Lea even took some extra pie to eat later.
Since the two of them had to race to Deadhorse to make the tour, they didn’t get a chance to really enjoy the drive from Coldfoot north. After deciding where we were going to meet up and truck camp (somewhere around MP260), Steve and I began the drive south. We knew that they were going to take their time to appreciate the scenery and stop for photos and figured they’d make it to camp a couple hours after us.
The drive back was stunning as expected. Huge storms were off in the distance, and we watched the bottom fall out of huge dark clouds, dumping sheets of water on the hillsides and tundra. The wind picked up and the temperature dropped, as the rain came closer, but we only drove through raindrops for a short time. I took many photos of the amazing cloud formations, and the colorful rays of light that illuminated the tundra like spotlights at a concert.
When we reached the pull-out, Steve and I worked quickly to prepare the bed of the truck for sleeping (he has a cap on his truck), worried that the rain might find us. When our work was done, we sat and relaxed with a glass of wine, while taking in our surroundings. Next to the gravel parking area, a river flowed over big and small rocks, and the sound of the gurgling water was so peaceful. We knew we were going to sleep well.
We watched the sun move down behind the mountains, but even when it dipped out of sight, the sky was still lit. I love this time of year and all the light we have. I watched the clouds turn orange and yellow as the sun moved behind the mountains, hanging close to the horizon but not entirely disappearing. About an hour later, the sun began its ascent, and became visible when it reached an opening between two mountains. I put my camera on my tripod and took several long exposure photographs, knowing that I would capture the sun rays that way. It was stunning!
At 2:30am, Deena and Lea still hadn’t arrived. We were a bit worried, but after seeing the gorgeous sunset and sunrise, I figured they were having a wonderful time taking photos. Since there’s only one road, we knew they didn’t drive past us. At 3am, Steve and I climbed into the truck with Raven and prepared for bed. Only 10 minutes later they showed up. They had gotten a flat!
Fortunately, they were able to hobble to an area where there was a road construction crew, as it was a slow leak due to a sharp rock embedded in the tire. Deena used her CB to ask for help, and one of the road crew guys radioed the truckers to see if anyone had an air pump and repair kit. Two drivers for Carlile company (the company that is featured on Ice Road Truckers) stopped to aid the damsels in distress. Not only did they have an air pump, but they were able to plug her tire and make it good as new too. Angels to the rescue!
By the time Deena and Lea got to our camping area, they had been up nearly 24 hours. I don’t think it took longer than five minutes for them to fall asleep once they climbed into the back of their truck and closed their eyes.
Here are photos taken between Marion Creek Campground and Prudhoe, and also on the drive back to our riverside campsite:
Sunday, June 17th
At about 7am, a couple in a pickup truck with two noisy dogs, showed up and let their dogs out to run wild. Their barking woke us all up, after less than 4 hours of sleep. When they saw that they woke us (Deena stepped out of her truck and shot daggers from her eyes!), they left. I think we were able to sleep another hour before getting up for the day.
We had a leisurely morning, and after having our coffee, we three gals took a walk around the area with our cameras. Steve stayed in the back of the truck with Raven, dozing off and on. When it looked like rain was coming, we packed up the trucks and headed for Marion Creek Campground. We didn’t have far to go (about 100 miles). The rain never came. In fact, it turned out to be really warm, and we saw highs in the 80s at times.
We diverted into Wiseman to have a look around. While there, we met George Lounsbury, who has a very cool collection of artifacts, ledgers, photographs and other memorabilia in a cabin on his property. He regaled us with stories about Wiseman and mining, and then he and Steve conversed about the military and other topics, while the gals and I walked around the town taking photos. You can hear some audio tapes of Mr. Lounsbury talking about Wiseman and mining, that were recorded back in 1992 at this website.
When we got back to camp, we cut up some cheese and pepperoni, boiled some water for soup and other camp food, and opened a bottle of wine. It didn’t take long for all of us to start yawning. I’m sure it’s because we didn’t get much sleep the night before.
Monday, June 18th
At 7am, Deena shook our tent to wake us up (we could have slept several more hours!), and we broke camp and loaded up the trucks. We grabbed a filling breakfast in Coldfoot after topping off the gas tanks.
We only stopped a few times between Coldfoot and Fairbanks. One stop was at the Hot Spot Cafe at MP61. Steve and I stopped here last time we drove the Haul Rd, to get some ice cream. We did the same this time, although her prices sure went through the roof. I guess when there’s no other option, you can charge what you want. It was nice to stretch our legs and check out the stuff she’s got in her gift shop.
We planned to meet up at the end of the highway, where the Dalton Hwy sign is, so that we could get a photo of our vehicles (and us) at the end of the drive. Once we took the photos, we said our goodbyes, as we didn’t have any plans of stopping until we were home.
All in all, we couldn’t have had a better weekend, weather wise. It would have been better if Deena wouldn’t have gotten a flat. Or if Lea had been able to go on the tour. And I would have liked to have seen the musk ox next to the road (like Deena did!). They saw bears too; we didn’t. But the landscape was amazing! The mountains, the tundra, the lakes, the sunset colors, and the storm clouds - they were all so gorgeous. It’s such a spectacular drive!
Here are the rest of the photos from our trip. These were taken between our riverside campsite and home.
We made it!
Until next time…