The Dalton Highway is one of the most unique highways in the world.
- 414 miles through Alaskan wilderness
- Crosses numerous broad valleys, mountain passes, and the Arctic Circle
- Few amenities and no cell phone service
- Narrow dirt road, truck traffic: broken windshields and flat tires expected
So why is it there? The Dalton Highway, known also as “the Haul Road,” was built during the construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline in the 1970s. It primarily provides access to the pipeline and oil developments on the North Slope and it is frequented by large trucks hauling associated supplies and equipment. The highway opened to the public in 1994 and is now an attraction for American and international tourists, albeit adventurous ones.
Aside from the breathtaking views of Alaskan wilderness, one of the most striking things on the Dalton Highway is the culture and design that have appeared in this remote place. I have been lucky enough to travel the Dalton Highway twice, most recently last summer (the source of a number of these pictures). Forget about the winter for a moment and travel north with me to Alaska in the late summer.
Design on the Dalton Highway is 100 percent utilitarian and the culture is tight-knit. The wildness of central and northern Alaska cuts needs to the necessities. Many of the people are friendly and helpful because they are few and far between. And, road issues? They’ve all been there. The architecture itself is limited by the availability of materials and focuses on the most important needs. Primarily: warmth. (This is Alaska, after all.) It is also entirely 1970s, down to the light fixtures. The rule “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” applies doubly when you’re this far out in the middle of nowhere.
The Dalton Highway has a series of camps that serve the truck traffic, tourists, and anyone else who has business in central and north Alaska (Yukon River Camp, Coldfoot Camp, and Deadhorse Camp, to name a few). The camps have dorm-style housing and common eating areas. Corrugated metal is common and many of the buildings seem to be trailers ingeniously combined to form halls and rooms.
The most unique and clever reuse architecture I found? A freezer used in reverse: some staff members at Deadhorse camp have doors that look like walk-in freezer doors. But here, in far north Alaska, these doors are not to keep the cold in. They’re to keep the cold out.
What do you think, would you make the trip?
Sources and further reading:
Check out the BLM website on the Dalton Highway.
The New York Times has a piece on the Dalton Highway with some beautiful photography (my summer photos are tame–see what it looks like it tougher conditions!).
National Geographic has a brief piece on the Dalton Highway here.
Really thinking about a trip, or just curious? The BLM has compiled frequently asked questions about the Dalton Highway here.