The 400-mile Haul Road was built in the 1970s to support construction of the large Trans-Alaska pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks and then south. Once it was completed in the 1970s, there was discussion of whether it should be restricted to industrial use or used by the public in general.
The North Slope Borough, which includes the northern part of the pipeline and road, covers 88,000 square miles, and the eight communities are mostly Inupiat Eskimos, and the Nunavut people of Anaktuvuk Pass.
There were concerns on the impact of opening the road. I worked for the Borough a number of years for the planning department, at the request of Eben Hopson, the first mayor of the Borough. We worked with the planning commission, assembly and other groups.
Actually, the industry was not the first to see the use of Atigun Pass through the Brooks Range. Elders testified that it was used way back for trade and hunting and good observation points.
We took elders from Anaktuvuk Pass around Atigun Pass and to the north. A number described landforms and memories of upcoming areas. And when we drove up that way, we’d see what they had remembered from quite a distance.
In the end, the road was opened to the public. There is only one full truck stop at Coldfoot, and motorists are urged to be well supplied and follow all regulations. There are some pump stations for the oil, but they are there to move oil, not take in motorists with vehicle problems.
Before we moved south to Medford, Wis., in 2008, my wife, Chris, and I managed to take a trip on the Dalton Highway down from Prudhoe Bay to Coldfoot. I had been interviewing some staff at Coldfoot while doing the morning shift on KBRW. We could give warnings and weather, etc.
But it was nice to have this last time on the road, before we came to the “Lower 48” and its freeways. Even at age 75, I’d love to get up on the road one more time. And stop at Coldfoot for one of those super-sized eggs, bacon, pancakes and more.