The winter, with several inches of ice and snow covering the Arctic tundra, is when most of the exploration and drilling takes places since workers can drive anywhere on ice roads.
A quick walk around town (it’s so small there’s no such thing as a long walk) shows little more than support facilities for the oil fields. Indeed, the general store consists of one whole floor of hardware, with the upstairs cranny dedicated to a few snacks, toiletries, and tourist items.
According to Chris Williams, a tour bus driver for Taquaani Tours, Prudhoe Bay, an enormous area forty miles long and fifty miles wide, is home to the largest oil reserve in America. At any given time, one can find over 6000 workers in the fields drilling oil or exploring for additional reserves. Currently one million barrels of oil are shipped out on a daily basis.
At its peak, two million barrels flowed through the pipeline to Valdez every day. Oil exploration began in the Prudhoe Bay area in 1920, but it wasn’t until 1968 that commercial quantities of oil were discovered.
Construction began shortly thereafter on a pipeline to transport the oil to Valdez, the nearest port which is navigable year-round. In the early 70’s the Haul Road (now referred to as the Dalton Highway) was constructed to link the oil fields to Fairbanks.
On June 20, 1977, oil flowed through the 800-mile-long pipeline for the first time. The Dalton Highway, one of the most remote roads in the United States, is open to the public all the way to Deadhorse.
The final eight miles to the Arctic Ocean, however, belong to the oil companies and are closed. The only way to travel those final eight miles is on a tour arranged by the Arctic Caribou Inn. One of the perks of the tour is the ability to join the Polar Bear Club – by taking a dip in the frigid waters of the Arctic Ocean.
A group joining the Polar Bear Club
Even though there isn’t much to see in Prudhoe Bay, there’s something special about being at the northernmost terminus of the Pan-American Highway – an oddly exciting proposition. It’s one of those romantic locations (like Timbuktu) that, even though there’s not much there, is special simply to say you’ve been.
Read more of Nancy’s journey, here at Donne Travels at
Read all about Nancy’s Journey at:
On the road again – Part 1
On the road again – Part 2
On the road again – Part 3
On the road again – Part 4
On the road again - Finding Santa Claus
The following video was created by the Vogel family on their journey from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks, Alaska.