Photo Credit: TN
One Of America's Most Dangerous, Yet Beautiful, Highways: Seward Highway
One of America’s most dangerous, yet beautiful, highways is the Seward Highway. It stretches between Anchorage and Seward, Alaska and spans over 100 miles. It actually consists of 2 highways; Highway one and Highway nine. The only road to get in and out of Moose Pass, Seward and several other Alaskan villages, the Seward Highway is sometimes closed to any traffic going in or out.
The slowly winding two-lane road has some of the most beautiful sights in the world. Waterfalls pour out right off the side of the road. The road goes through the Chugach Mountains and right through a temperate rainforest. Spruce trees are tall and thick, lining the alluring road. Mystically blue-green lakes peek out behind the trees. Rest stops, camping, photo-ops and even ice cream can be found along the route.
Driving along Seward Highway feels perfectly safe. Without sharp switchbacks or big drop-offs, the road seems innocent enough. There are plenty of turn-outs, many scenic or with a trailhead calling to hikers. The maximum speed limit is 65 miles per hour. A normal highway speed.
The dangerous, yet beautiful Seward Highway starts at Turn Again Arm and winds through the mountains before ending just outside of Seward, just before Lowell Point.
Lowell Point may be a name people recognize. It was recently highlighted on CNN because of a gigantic rockslide that overcame the road. Crews are still clearing the roadway, as of this publication. Rockslides are one of the reasons Seward Highway is so dangerous.
Unable to always tell when a slide is going to happen, debris including trees, roots and mud can slide down the side of the mountains and onto the roads. Avalanches occur in the same way. Instead of dirt and mud being the culprit, snow and ice are at play. The rockslide being corrected in Lowell Point was about 100 feet long and 20 feet high.
The spring offers the highest danger of avalanches. Melting snow and ice become unsteady and cause a snowball effect down the mountain. Some avalanches are so loud that you can feel the ground shake and hear the thunder-like rumble. Just off the Seward highway is Avalanche alley. There are neighborhoods here and the avalanche risk is extremely high. When an avalanche covers the road, crews work double-time to get the road cleared and opened again.
Earthquakes are a common occurrence in Alaska. According to the National Park Service: “With more than 20,000 earthquakes reported annually, Alaska is by far the most seismically active state. Complex, powerful motions of tectonic plates and crustal blocks generate earthquakes throughout Alaska.” Though powerful ones are uncommon, in the 1960’s, Seward did experience an earthquake that registered 9.2 on the Richter scale. Over 100 people were killed and some of the roads were destroyed.
Just after an earthquake, there is a chance of a tsunami. Tsunami evacuation signs are noticeable near the waters on Seward highway. Warning sirens are in place. So, while major earthquakes and tsunamis are extremely rare, the mudflats at the beginning of the Seward highway are a constant threat.
Mudflats are Alaska’s version of quicksand. Completely harmless- looking, this mud is highly dangerous. When the tide goes out, the mud is exposed. Very thick, but not very deep mudflats are a danger because people get stuck in the mud and can’t get pulled out before high tide comes in, drowning them. Warning signs are posted along Turn Again
Arm, but occasionally someone still gets trapped in them.
The most dangerous threat on the Seward Highway are other drivers. With a few, short passing lanes and over two million tourists visiting Alaska each summer, the roads get congested. Drunk driving is also at play, especially in the summer months when the sun doesn’t set. Winter months are known for white-out conditions, icy roads and little sunlight. With less people on the road though, accidents are fewer than in summer months.
This beautiful, scenic and dangerous road is still worth the drive. Take time driving the Seward Highway. Stop along the way. Enjoy the scenery. Or, take the Alaska Railroad. Since they offer a view only seen by rail, riders won’t be disappointed. Both options are stunning. One, may be much less dangerous.