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Travel Attractions: North Slope, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Arctic Ocean, Dalton Highway services.
Getting There: Scheduled air service from Fairbanks and Anchorage; vehicle access via Dalton Highway (Haul Road).
Information: Consult local businesses, tour companies, outfitters, park rangers, or refuge managers.
The newer oil-extraction facilities of Prudhoe Bay are among the most technologically advanced in the world. To reduce destruction of the fragile tundra, the gravel pads needed for construction over permafrost are kept to a minimum size. Drill holes skew off at various angles and to various depths from the pads, allowing oil from a wide area to be funneled to a compact extraction point. Arco and British Petroleumthe field operatorsare under a legal obligation to remove all traces of their presence when the oil is finally out. Their extraction techniques make the daunting task somewhat easier.
Still, you have only to look around to see how extensive the operation is and how many square miles of tundra and coastline are, for the present at least, given over to industrial sprawl. Ive tried to find a strange beauty in the long pipes, tank farms, pumphouses, and processing plants, but I cant. The area is as ugly as they come. Take a look, then take a planepuzzling over the irony that all that ugliness is required to fuel your escape.
Until the opening of the Dalton Highway in 1995, the town of Deadhorse existed solely to meet the various needs of the oil business. Truck repair shops, equipment rental yards, and industrial contractors are scattered along the haphazard roads. A general store and post office serves the workers. A "hotel" built of Atco units commonly hosts consultants, contractors, and short-term employeesthough it has a cooperative venture with Princess Cruise Lines, serving the few who opt for a North Slope bus tour. There are no bars or other civic entertainments. Prepared food can be purchased in the hotel, but there is no menuonly the chefs daily special (which can be delicious).
The store and hotel of Deadhorse are located near the moderately busy airport. Beyond Deadhorse, the road is still closed, so you cant actually drive to the Arctic Ocean. Stop at the Prudhoe Bay hotel to book a $25 van tour if you want to stick your toes in the water, though dont bother if youre heading to Kaktovik, Barrow, or another coastal village.
Where to Stay and Eat in Deadhorse
Prudhoe Bay Hotel, Prudhoe Bay, 659-2449. $110 single, $180 double (private bath); $75 single, $130 double (shared bath). Basic rooms, price includes three meals; meals available to non-guests (call for times).