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Forest Fires, Smoke and Fog--Driving the Dalton

Probably everything you have read about the Dalton Highway is true. About the only things that surprised us were the long stretches of pavement in the oddest of places, the surprising absence of truck traffic (we expected much more--but this is the summer season--quiet time for the oil fields) and the absence of wildlife. Ground squirrels, an occasional grouse, and a Peregrine falcon were all that we saw. Knowing that we would be driving the Dalton and possibly the Dempster (which we did), I purchased five new oversize, heavy-duty, all-terrain truck tires before leaving home for our Alaska expedition. As additional protection, I installed a front grill/radiator protector and clear headlight protectors--both of which proved of great worth with sharp stones flying in our directions from on-coming trucks. And the warnings about replacing the windshield proved true. Several sharp stones hit with enough force to crack the glass. But the new tires held true--no flats. We passed by several forest fires raging to the west, with one coming up to the Dalton. The smoke they created obscured all of the views we hoped to see south of the Brooks Range. At times visibility became seriously impaired, causing us to slow down. Seeing many fire crews along the way, we expected the road to be closed, but it remained open. We pulled out several times each day to test the fishing at several streams, but with little success. The fish are there, but not much interested in feeding at this time of year. We stopped at the Yukon River to top off our gas tank, and then again at Coldfoot to fill up. We made it to Deadhorse with less than a gallon of gas in the tank and the low fuel warning light blinking the last 16 or so miles. (As a precaution, we carried an extra five gallons of gasoline--something I would recommend to everyone. Not only providing peace of mind, the extra fuel offers more flexibility to explore one or two of the few side roads along the way.) We chose to camp in isolated turnoffs, rather than the developed, yet primitive campgrounds. As usual mosquitoes were horrendous, forcing us to retreat inside, rather than enjoying the landscape. The final night on the northbound Dalton before Deadhorse, we camped at the BLM Galbraith Lake campground just before a large, persistent thunderstorm hit the area. Griffith Lake campground is largely undeveloped with a few tables and a pit toilet with widely spaced campsites. If you don't expect much, you won't be disappointed. And, it's true--no Wifi or cell phone service between Fairbanks to Deadhorse.