So starting in Fairbanks and the Dalton Highway -- the only way to travel north to south -- and bumping along to its conclusion leads you to Deadhorse, Alaska.
Legends abound about how the oil field hamlet got its name. (A horse died there when it could find nothing to eat. A patriarch bankrolled a son's dead horse of a business there. Something to do with the cold.) The truth looks to be lost to time. Yet the name fits. It's a place fit for neither man nor beast of burden. Imagine the rustiest, flatest most industrial part of the most industrial outpost you've ever seen. Something almost apocalyptic.
Befitting the hard work of oil folk, the town is lacking in all things aesthetic. It's the last frontier without the charm.
It's also created a modern legend: Folks drive up the highway from the Midwest thinking they can take their Airstreams to the Arctic Ocean (why us hicks always get blamed for cluelessnes is beyond me). The truth is, however, that the haul road stops a few miles short of the ocean at the foot of oil company operations.
Want to dip a toe in the Arctic? Pluck down $38, sit through a video of petro-propaganda, pile into a van, listen to a cursory description of Deadhorse ("to the right you see the tire repair shop" "to the left is where they make the drilling mud" -- no kidding) and walk a quarter mile out on a rock beach. Great stuff. That's where tourists either dip toes (for the weak of heart) or splash full body into the Arctic Ocean. It's cold, but not as cold as you'd expect, and muddy.
Back into Deadhorse and a meal (not included in tour price) and a stop at the General Store for souvenirs.
For the tough folk that populate the outpost, living there mostly means coming in for a few weeks of 12 hours on, 12 hours off working the oil fields and the sundry operations that support drilling. In the winter, the sun disappears entirely for 54 days (!redruM !redruM! redruM). All of which prompted a colleague to suggest a T-shirt. "Deadhorse: It sucks even more in winter."