You Can’t Beat a Deadhorse

Winter Aerial of Prudhoe Bay, Also Known as Deadhorse, on the North Coast of Alaska, Beaufort Sea. ©Patrick J. Endres

It’s not exactly the northernmost point in the United States: That honor belongs to Barrow (aka Utqiagvik), which is probably a more interesting town because of its links to Iñupiat culture. Deadhorse, Alaska, is probably better known as Prudhoe Bay, the starting point of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which sends crude oil flowing 800 miles to Valdez, Alaska, from where it is transshipped via tanker to refineries around the world.

To me, the interesting thing about Deadhorse is not that it’s a company town (owned by Alyeska Pipeline Service Company), but that there is daily bus from Fairbanks to Deadhorse via the Dalton Highway, which was formerly called the North Slope Haul Road. Once one leaves the “suburbs” of Fairbanks, there are only three populated areas along the route:

  • Coldfoot at Mile 175 (Population: 34)
  • Wiseman at Mile 188 (Population: 12)
  • Deadhorse at Mile 414 (Population: 25 Permanent and 3,500-5,000 Seasonal)

There are a number of sights along the way. Below, for example, is Oh Shit Corner at Mile 126:

More seriously, the highway passes by the Gates of the Arctic National Park and the Brooks Range, with occasional polar bear sightings as one approaches the end of the road.

If you are interested in seeing this wild part of the country, you can take the Dalton Highway Express to Deadhorse. It’s an all-day trip, though you won’t lack for company, Upwards of 150-250 trucks per day take the same road. Food and accommodations are available in Coldfoot, Wiseman, and Deadhorse. It’s more scruffy than luxurious, and you will be mostly in the company of Alyeska pipeline workers. Oh, and you’ll see a lot of the pipeline, because it pretty much follows the highway for its entire length.