Deadhorse / Prudhoe Bay, Alaska
All About: Deadhorse is also known as Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. This is the beginning of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
Location / Coordinates: Deadhorse / Prudhoe Bay, Alaska is literally at the end of the Dalton Highway between the coast of the Beaufort Sea and the North Slope of the Brooks Range Mountains. Deadhorse / Prudhoe bay lies 1200 miles south of the North Pole and 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
Coordinates: Latitude N70.28 & Longitude W148.37
Population / Elevation: Deadhorse / Prudhoe Bay, Alaska has 25 “full-time” residents and up to 5,000 “Slopers” or part-time employees, depending on oil production at the time. At sea level, Deadhorse / Prudhoe Bay stretches along the shores of the Sagavanirktok River, Lake Colleen, and the Beaufort Sea. The oil fields themselves are clustered around this area.
Description: Deadhorse / Prudhoe Bay, Alaska is very much a company town. It really isn’t set up to accommodate tourists, however, there are a couple of places to stay if you do visit.
Deadhorse / Prudhoe Bay, Alaska is home to the largest oil field in North America. Because of the harsh Arctic conditions, drilling up here is a little different than down south. The drill rigs are self-contained. They are enclosed for protection from the elements and many of them can be transported from one drill site to another without having to be dismantled. Many of the rigs have an attached housing unit for the workers.
This area is environmentally sensitive, as the tundra during the summer season thaws a bit. To reduce damage to the environment, ice roads are built during the winter season for access to remote drilling sites. In order to build these temporary roads, the conditions need to be at least 20 degrees below zero.
The beginning of the 800-mile-long Trans-Alaska Pipeline System begins in Deadhorse / Prudhoe Bay Alaska and ends in Valdez, the northernmost ice-free port in North America. Since its beginning in June 1977, the pipeline has pumped over 15 billion barrels of oil through a pipe 48 inches in diameter. The pipeline crosses three mountain ranges and the Continental Divide (the Brooks Range, the Alaska Range and the Chugach Range) and over 800 rivers and streams. It cost over $8 billion dollars to build the pipeline and it took just a little over two years and two months to complete it. Today it provides roughly 20 percent of U.S. oil production annually.
What to do there: According to the sign posted, “Arctic Ocean Access Restrictions. Private vehicles are prohibited on the Prudhoe Bay oil field, which is the only access to the oil field and the Arctic Ocean is available only through commercial tours…”
Day trips by van or air from Fairbanks to Deadhorse / Prudhoe Bay are available. You can drive yourself, but access to the Prudhoe Bay oilfields complex is available only through commercial tour operators.
Most rental car companies prohibit driving on gravel roads like the Dalton Highway—check before you decide to drive yourself to Deadhorse / Prudhoe Bay.
History: Deadhorse / Prudhoe Bay, Alaska was developed to house personnel, provide support for drilling operations, and to transport oil to the pipeline. Prior to 1977, oil seeps on the Arctic Coastal Plain had caught the attention of the U.S. petroleum interests. The U.S. Navy drilled for oil between 1944 and 1953 with little success. In 1967 after several attempts at drilling for oil, oil company mergers, and competitive bidding for state lease sales, the Prudhoe Bay oil field was discovered. The pipeline was built, and oil flowed south.
How to get there: From Fairbanks, drive north to Fox and the Elliott Highway. The Elliott Highway meets up with the Dalton Highway. Once your are on the Dalton Highway, drive north until you reach Deadhorse / Prudhow Bay, Alaska.
Facilities: Deadhorse / Prudhoe Bay does have a couple of hotels. Make reservations ahead of time as sometimes their rooms are booked for “Slopers” working their shift. There is a general store, gas, and an ATM machine.
RV info: There is RV parking—no services– in Deadhorse / Prudhoe Bay, Alaska just north of the Tesoro Station and at the Arctic Caribou Inn.