The Ultimate
Road Trip
A solitary journey on Alaska’s most challenging byway.

By Celeste Calvitto

It’s a 400-plus-mile, mostly washboard-and-gravel road through some of the most remote – and stunning – territory in North America.

The Dalton Highway, also known as the Haul Road, hugs the Alaska pipeline, snaking through peaceful valleys, a steep mountain pass and endless tundra.

It’s the only road that links the North Slope oil fields with the rest of the state, and is traveled mostly by truckers destined for the Prudhoe Bay oil operations.

Truckers (as in "Ice Road Truckers" on The History Channel) drive the Haul Road to make a living. Intrepid roadtrippers like me do it for the adventure. (But I drove it in the summer.)

This is not an excursion for the anxiety-ridden. If you travel alone

(as I did), you have to like it that way; solitude is the operative word. You may go for hours without seeing another vehicle; a CB radio is your only link to the outside world. You’ll need to stow a couple of full-size spare tires – few drive the Dalton without at least one flat. (I somehow avoided that misfortune.) If there’s a breakdown, you might wait for days before help arrives. (“Next services, 240 miles,” a sign warns.)

At your destination – Deadhorse on Prudhoe Bay, the northernmost populated place in Alaska accessible by road – the weather will likely be dismal. The Land of Midnight Sun was obscured by a 24-hour, heavily overcast sky and freezing drizzle when I was there in July 2008. If you stay the night, there’s a spartan (and expensive) place to sleep in a pre-fab building – if arrangements are made in advance. Once there, the only thing for a traveler to do – after a security clearance – is glimpse the turbulent, gunmetal-gray Arctic Ocean.

But the trip is worth every minute of the roughly 14 hours it takes to complete (one way, and if nothing goes wrong). The wildlife sightings and the extremes of climate and terrain – ranging from

foreboding snow-capped mountains to sunny vistas of hot-pink flowers – are astonishing. The desolation and vastness are both overwhelming and thrilling.

Driving the Dalton gives new meaning to adage, “Getting there is half the fun.”

I’d do it again. In a heartbeat.

Grizzlies & Glaciers
Up-close-and-personal encounters
with bears and ancient masses of ice
in Alaska’s southernmost settlement
accessible by road.

Hidden in the southern tip of Alaska’s panhandle on the border with British Columbia, the tiny community of Hyder is so far removed from the rest of the state that its few residents sometimes forget they’re not Canadian.

But visitors to Hyder – known as “Alaska’s Friendliest Ghost Town” - will always remember sightings of grizzlies and black bears as they search for salmon in a crystal-clear creek downstream from North America’s fifth largest glacier.

The only way to get to Hyder by car is through British Columbia and the Canadian town of Stewart. The approach to Hyder, population about 100, brings to mind a scene from “Northern Exposure.” A dirt road lined with ramshackle buildings and a few enterprising merchants leads to Fish Creek, where the bears emerge from the

brush. The Forest Service maintains a deck on the creek embankment, where people from all over the world wait patiently to shoot the critters – with cameras, of course.

Up a steep, narrow dirt road about 25 miles from the creek is Salmon Glacier. This is one of the few places in North America where you can get close to a glacier from the road. (There's also the Glacier Highway, one of the access routes through British Columbia to neighboring Stewart.)

Hyder and Stewart are fairly isolated. There is a small RV park and a couple of mom-and-pop motels and other lodging.