Roads to the End of the Earth - 1
Roads to the End of the Earth
Even in the day of GPS, there are still lost roads. These are the most extreme and isolated passes o
Distinction: Northernmost road in North America, open only during the heart of winter.In the summer, the only way to get to Tuktoyaktuk, a town of fewer than 1000 people at the top of Canadas Northwest Territory, is by plane. All electricity in town is from a diesel generator. And residents shop for food and provisions only twice a year: in the heart of summer, when the Beaufort Sea area of the Artic Ocean is open and ships can come in, and in the dead of winter, when trucks can drive across the Mackenzie River, which has frozen and turned into an ice road.Inuvik, a town about 80 miles south of Tuktoyaktuk, is the end of the line for the gravel Dempster Highway, which meanders the tundra from Whitehorse, Yukon, over the rolling moonscape north of the Arctic Circle tundra. In the winter, when temperatures regularly drop to minus 40 F and the Mackenzie freezes, a road is plowed north from Inuvit, making Tuktoyaktuk accessible by land. Tuktoyaktuk, which means looks like a caribou in Inuit, is home to about 40 hotel rooms. Tourists come to the Mackenzie delta where the water features pingos, large frozen ice mountains that are covered with dirt and support plant growth. The tallest is 160 feet, and nearly 1000 feet wide at its base. Down in Inuvit, the most prolific occupation seems to be taxi driverabout half of the total vehicle population are taxicabs, which are left running 24/7 throughout the winter to keep from freezing.We drove this highway one winter and were treated to spectacular views from bluffs of stark, blue hued short trees scattered haphazardly over pristine ice covered ground for hundreds of miles. The only drama of the drive is the occasional cluster of white feathered ptarmigan pigeons, invisible against the white snow covered road surface, until they alight into flight when approached, narrowly missing a windshield.
Distinction: Northernmost road in the U.S.Oil companies searching for oil on the North Slope of Alaska built a private 414 mile haul road in 1974 to move equipment from Fairbanks to the company founded towns of Prudhoe Bay and Deadhorse on the Arctic Ocean, and to provide access to the 800 mile pipeline that moves oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, where it is loaded onto tankers.The road, named after oilman James Dalton, was opened in 1995 to the public, though its mostly filled with semis bringing supplies up to the oilfields. The trucks normally drive in the center of the two lane gravel highway, and in the summer bounce rocks into car windshields and headlights. There is a town called Coldfoot about halfway to Prudhoe Bay, with one of only two fuel stops on the entire route. There are a few places to camp, and a hotel at Coldfoot, but bears inhabit the tundra and local residents tell us that they are the biggest danger, especially when a truck carrying food slides off the slippery road.Moose appear in the wooded areas of the route, and beyond that there are more caribou, bears, wolves,?",2.jpg,Roads to the End of the Earth 4116,TRANS LABRADOR HIGHWAY ROUTE 500,Distinction: Closest you can drive to Greenland, but watch out for the spring snowmeltThe Canadian town of Goose Bay, Labrador, is closer to Ireland than it is to Colorado, and there is just one road connecting the rest of North America to the small town of 800 people: Route 500, the Trans Labrador Highway. A civilian airport and a Canadian Air Forces Command were built out here just after World War II, and laid the foundation for the construction of the highway. Route 500 starts at Newfoundland and Labradors provincial border with Quebec, winds through the small town of Labrador City. The road spans 315 miles from Labrador City to Goose Bay and is all gravel. The wide, smooth gravel splits rolling hills covered with tall pines. And despite the large trucks that bring supplies and equipment for the hydroelectric industry, the road surface remains smooth and well maintained. In the spring, however, massive snowmelt runoff washes the highway away in many places, making the trip to Goose Bay treacherous. Traveling east toward Goose Bay one spring, the runoff washed the road out behind us. About five miles later, the road was washed out ahead of us. Only a quick fording of the washout behind us to our west prevented us from being stranded 150 miles from either Goose Bay to the east and Churchill Falls to the west. We stopped a sheriff in Labrador City to ask road conditions on our trip east to Goose Bay, and he said he wouldnt recommend the trip, but that we were free to try the drive at our own peril. Since then, the Canadian government began a program of loaning satellite phones to motorists making the tripthere are no cellphone towers along Route 500.
Distinction: Northernmost road in EuropeThe ancient island called Mageroya, 1300 miles north of Oslo, Norway, was an isolated habitat for more than 10,000 years. Then one day the Norwegian government recognized the value of tourism in its Arctic Ocean frontier, and in 1976 built a paved road and tunnel under the sea allowing cars to reach the island.The road is called E69, it winds up to Nordkapp, a 1000 foot tall cliff on Mageroya overlooking the Arctic Ocean. Folks weve spoken to who have driven highway E69 to Nordkapp describe it as a fast, modern two lane highway that promotes fast drivinguntil theres a patch of black ice or compressed snow on the tarmac. Then its easy to slide into a ditch, reports one traveler we spoke with who had rolled a Saab sedan after sliding off the snow covered road on the way back south from Nordkapp. Nordkapp is at the very top of Europe, well beyond the Arctic Circle, yet it is relatively mild because of the Gulf Stream and gets only a few feet of snow during the five winter months.
Distinction: The only way from La Paz to the Amazonand the closest road to the hereafter.Bolivias Road of Death has a higher death rate on its 60 miles than any road on the planet. It runs from Bolivias capital of La Paz down into the northern jungle town of Coroico, where the Bolivian yungas (jungle) begins in the Andes. From Coroico, the road continues northwest toward neighboring Brazils jungle. Hundreds of people die in accidents on this road each year, yet the speed is only slightly faster than a walking pace.Part of the road has been paved, from the approximately 10,000 foot high La Paz up to Unduavi, but there are no guardrails. The elevation rises to 14,000 feet above sea level for over 16 miles, and the cliffs on the sides of the road can rise more than half a mile above the bottom. At this altitude, truck drivers chew coca leaves to prevent altitude sickness. From there, the route to Coroico then drops 10,000 feet in just 40 miles. After the paved road ends, the route narrows into one lane, with places every mile or two that are wide enough for two trucks to almost pass without scraping each other. Hundreds of hairpin turns make looking ahead for oncoming traffic impossible, so often its easier to drive the road at night, when headlights are visible around corners. The road is so treacherous because it was built by prisoners, during a 1932 war with Paraguay, and hand chiseled into the sides of sheer canyon walls. The most amazing thing about the accidents on this road is that people have actually survived the fall. In a good year only 100 people will die; a bad year costs 300 lives.The total time to cover the 90 miles from La Paz to Coroico is 4 hours on a good day with little rain or rock slides and erosion from waterfalls. But with these pitfalls combined with heavy traffic the trip is more like 6 hours.
Distinction: Southernmost road in the Western HemisphereThe Northern Hemispheres end of the Earth roads terminate in barren landscapes in places that arent for the faint of heart. But the final destination of Highway 3 in Argentina, which runs all the way south to the island of Tierra del Fuego, is Ushuaia, a modern city of 50,000 that packs tourists into five star hotels and restaurants on their ways to skiing, fishing, sailing, and mountain biking in the surrounding glaciers, mountains, and forests. Tourists also gather here for cruises to Antarctica, and theres even an End of the World museum in Ushuaia.The town in located on the Beagle Channel, named for the ship that brought Charles Darwin here in 1823. Tierra del Feugo (land of fire) drew its name from the Yamana tribe of peoples, who, it is said, used to build fires in front of their huts. Descendants of the Yamana still live in the region, which has been populated for 12,000 years. Most tourists arrive here by plane or cruise ship, but the main highway is well maintained for those who undertake the long journey by land. A short detour through Chile is necessary to get from mainland Argentina, and the journey includes a ferry trip across the Strait of Magellan, which leads to Punta Arenas, Chile.

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