The End of the Alaska Highway: Delta Junction

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Anyone who enjoys taking a road trip has, no doubt, thought about the ultimate drive… the drive to Alaska.  The Alaska Highway makes it possible, but it’s a lengthy trip.  The Alaska Highway itself is nearly 1,400 miles, and that’s starting in the middle of British Columbia.  Just getting to the start will add hundreds of miles from anywhere.  Wouldn’t it be easier to just skip to the end?

That’s what I did, although unintentionally.  I simply needed to get from Fairbanks to Anchorage, and with two days to do it, I decided to drive the slightly longer way, down the Richardson Highway.  Once you’ve left Fairbanks and North Pole in the rear-view, there’s only one sizable town for at least a couple hundred miles: Delta Junction.  And that just happens to be located at the end of the Alaska Highway.

Location

Delta Junction is located on Alaska Highway 2, the Richardson Highway, about 95 miles south of Fairbanks.  The visitor center and official end to the Alaska Highway is at the “Y” in the road.  Alaska 2 turns and follows the Alaska Highway to the Canadian border, while the Richardson Highway turns into Alaska 4, and continues due south.

My Visit

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If you happened to read just about any Alaska guide book, you’ve probably seen a picture of this landmark.  It’s the end-of-the-road marker for the Alaska Highway.  This tall triangular structure proclaims an end to the Alaska Highway, at mile 1422.  That might have been an accurate measurement when the road was completed in 1942, or when it opened to the public in 1948, but since then it’s been improved, straightened, and shortened.  As of 2012, the road was 1,387 miles long.

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On all three sides of the triangle, you get a geography lesson.  It’s 342 miles to Anchorage, 599 to Prudhoe Bay at the Arctic Ocean…

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… and a mere 4,695 miles to Miami, Florida.  As a resident of Tampa, Florida, it’s comforting to know that i’m slightly closer to it than that.

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Visitors who stop here to admire the mile marker and shop in the gift shop will also get a brief lesson on the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline, or TAPS.  This cut-away display shows a 3-inch oil pipeline, used in the 1940’s, an 8-inch version used up until the 70’s, and the massive, 48-inch pipeline that went into service in 1977.  That big pipe is what carries oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez (running alongside the Richardson Highway for much of the way).

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You can also see a “pig” — a device that’s pushed through the TAPS system to clean the inside of the pipeline.  This is an older version; the newer versions (like one on display near Fairbanks) are much lighter.

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Step away from the visitor center for a moment, and over to the final few hundred feet of the Alaska Highway, in order to get a picture of an Alaska Route 2 sign…

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… and another old sign, that marks the end of the Alaska Highway…

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… headed in both directions.

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Back at the gift shop, be sure to notice the historical thermometer sign, that records some of Delta Junction’s chilliest temperatures.  If you’re thinking about moving up here, take a moment to stare at that minus-72-degree temperature reading, back in 1975.  It might change your mind.

Then, after you’ve examined all the interesting displays on the outside, step inside and buy a t-shirt or a magnet or something.  You’ve made it to the end of the Alaska Highway, even if you didn’t actually drive those 1,422 miles to get here.

You can read more about my entire drive down the Richardson Highway, here.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the drive from North Pole to Delta Junction…

… and from Delta Junction to Paxson…

… and from Paxson to Gakona:

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