There is pretty much nothing that is not warned about on the Dalton Highway: rock falls, potholes, deer crossing, sudden winds, ice, dangerous animals, and more. What so confidently calls itself a highway is in fact an unpaved road in large parts, away from all human habitation and almost only travelled by daring truckers: The Dalton Highway in northern Alaska is one of the most dangerous roads in the world – and thus already a legend.
The highway was built in the 1970s as a maintenance road for the massive Trans-Alaska Pipeline and was named after an engineer. Three quarters of its 666 kilometres lie beyond the Arctic Circle, and there are only two towns along the way: Coldfoot and Wiseman, which are inhabited by 10 and 14 people respectively. After that, there is nothing for almost 400 kilometres until Deadhorse on the Arctic Ocean.
Those who have made it to Deadhorse have already achieved something. For most of the road, while proudly calling itself a highway, is neither asphalted nor paved in any other way. The northern part is often covered in ice, the southern part with mud. Dirt, boulders, and gravel splash away from under the tyres. No wonder the road featured in a reality TV series "America's Toughest Jobs", and has been – for four times – in the "Ice Road Truckers" series, which is also very popular in the USA.
"The road is so dangerous because it is only made for professional drivers who drive on it all the time," says Kamau Leigh. He is a state police officer of Alaska and responsible for the highways. "Tourists who come to us are used to roads made of asphalt, but on the Dalton there is hardly any, only clay – and pretty much all the other elements of nature. Driving here is an adventure, one that may go wrong." Those who want to drive on the road could do so, he said, "But be prepared. And that includes several spare wheels."
Dustin Reyna has been one of the Dalton knights for a long time and he describes it as "pretty dangerous". "You see car wrecks all the time. The south is more dangerous than the north. The north is comparatively flat, while the south is steep and winding. When there's rain or ice, it's hell." Why does he brave the Dalton Highway, then? "It's simple: good money and a lot of fun."
Reyna's cement truck is an "18-wheeler" in the drivers' jargon. At a speed of almost 70 miles per hour, it dashes along the sandy road that has no crash barrier and no hard shoulder. The drivers get good money for this nerve-racking, dangerous job.
But why do tourists keep venturing up the Dalton, for example by motorbike? "Because it's there," says Tom Snyder. He has just covered the 414 miles on his BMW with "Chief", his dog, in the sidecar. "It's a fascinating route. The nature is breathtakingly beautiful. The road is challenging, of course. Well, it's a terrible road where there's snow even in June," he says. "But it is fascinating anyway."