Sunday, August 30, 2009

Chicken and beyond

August 10, 2009

There is a road that runs from Alaska into Dawson City in the Yukon Territory where the famous Klondike gold strike territory lies. It is called The Top Of The World road. The name and location, give you some idea of the topography. Reports from various travelers say it takes 7 hours to travel the 47 unpaved miles between the town of Chicken in Alaska, to Dawson City in Yukon, and these travelers claim they would never drive it again. So, despite warnings of hairpin turns, sheer drop offs with no guardrails, and narrow stretches that were only wide enough for one car, we thought it would be worth it to venture into this famous Klondike gold rush area.

We arrived in Chicken about 4:00 on a beautiful sunny afternoon. Yes, that is the town’s name. The story most repeated is that the prospectors who settled there wanted to call it Ptarmigan, but could not spell that so they settled for calling it Chicken. Sounds reasonable to me. In addition to its name, it is quite a unique village, containing about 5 or 6 businesses, two RV parks, 8 year round residents, and several hundred caribou hunters on this opening day of hunting season. Two of the shops had authentic Alaska gifts made in China and the third had authentic Alaska gifts actually made by Alaskan artists.

We decided to spend the night here and leave early in the morning for our adventure over the mountain. That was our downfall. All night it rained hard and in the morning fog reduced visibility to about 10 feet. Since the dirt road had been transformed into a slick mud hole, we lost our courage and decided we were not as adventurous as we though we were yesterday. Although we had to backtrack down to Tok, it was worth the trip up here to experience this eclectic berg. We will save the Dawson visit for our next trip to Alaska

Chicken Post Office. Don't these rural Alaskan Post Offices have much more curb appeal than the official new ones they are building these days? I remember when Dixmont's mail came from a similar style building, but without the picturesque flower pots.

Town Welcome Sign

A gold dredge. This house size piece of machinery sat in the middle of a stream, scooped up gravel, sluiced it for gold and spit the rocks out the opposite end, back into the stream.

The chain of shovels that gathered up the stream bed and fed it into the dredge.

A few interesting sights along the road

This hillside was a flaming field of fireweed that has sprouted since last years forrest fire.

This character just sat at the side of the road and let us take lots of pictures. We guessed that he had just had a big meal and could not lift himself off the ground. He did eventually fly away.

The route from Tok to Haines Junction took us back through the Wrangell St Elias National Forrest and Kluane Lake in the Yukon Territory. This is the same road we traveled on our way north and it was well worth repeating. We also got to stop again at the Cottonwood RV Park for a couple of sun filled days. This is a beautiful relaxing spot that we would like to come back to anytime. We got to visit with the owners a bit while here, caught up on the blog, and sat around oohing and aahing over the view. We were experiencing some separation anxiety since leaving Alaska, but leaving here felt like the last step out the door.

Our campsite at Cottonwood RV Park

Add Image Checking email at the Internet station.

This relaxing flower filled deck is for the park guests to use, and we did.

A fun stop further down the Alaska Highway was Watson Lake, YT. The town is famous for its "Forrest of Signs", which currently numbers around 65,000 unique place name signs. The tradition began when the crew building the Alaska highway in 1942, erected a signpost listing mileage to distant cities. One of the crew, feeling homesick, added a sign bearing the name of his hometown. Somehow visitors began adding their own town logos and over the years it has become a tradition for anyone passing through to do the same. We did not carry a Dixmont sign with us, but we did find a Maine plate.

The town also has a museum highlighting the construction of the Alaska Highway, which was built by the U.S. government to improve access to Alaska in order to defend it from Japanese attack after Pearl Harbor. The road begins and runs through Yukon, before entering Alaska. Although Canada had been considering building this road for many years, the U.S. signed legislation to begin construction two weeks before Canada agreed to the U.S. proposal.

A replica of the first sign put up by the road crew on the Alaska Highway project in 1942

Before we left Watson Lake we stopped to watch the local parade kicking off their annual summer fair. It wasn't a very big parade, but the town's people came out to support those who made floats or marched. It was led by two Royal Canadian Mounties who looked sharp in their bright red coats.

How would you like to get to the hospital via this kind of transport?

More roadside sights

This buffalo looked a bit different than the American Bison seen in the States. I read later that it is called a Wood Buffalo, and there are only about 200 wild ones remaining in Canada.


Winding down the miles of the Alaska Highway, we stopped at mile 26 and took a short side road to the Kiskatinaw Bridge. The highway today bypasses this bridge, which was built in 1942 on the original route. The bridge, a three-span timber truss construction, with a unique 9-degree curve, sits 100 feet above the river. It is a beauty. Nice someone thought of moving the road instead of destroying the bridge.

In Dawson Creek, we stayed at “Mile 0” R.V. Park. Dawson Creek is the town where the Alaska Highway officially begins. You can tell our journey is winding down when we did not even snap a picture of the Mile 0 marker!


When we visited Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada a few years ago, it felt like we had traveled far into the north. This trip, when we reached Jasper, it felt like we had moved quite a distance south. We spent the day in the city, touring some spots we had missed last time.
Pyramid Lake, with its charming island, and history as a lovers meeting place, was a great spot for lunch, especially since there were very few visitors that day. That afternoon we stopped at a local museum, then, moved on to the ice field just south of Jasper.

The walking bridge to Pyramid Island

The picnic shelter built by Canada's version of the CCC in the 1930's

Pyramid Mountain. Quartz and Pyrite, (also known as fools gold), give this rock peak its beautiful colors.

The drive through the Ice Fields takes your breath away. I love how the snow looks like frosting at the top edge of these cliffs

Glaciers everywhere, pouring down from the ice fields that cover the peaks

More frosting

A view of the road below that eventually took us away from the ice fields

After awhile we made ourselves stop taking pictures. Everywhere we looked were magnificent views of mountains, glaciers and ice fields. Besides, without the context, they all look similar, plus, we had already taken all these shots last time we were here. Jasper, the Ice Fields, and Banff should be on everyone’s list to visit, at least once in their life to fully experience the majesty here.

Crossing the border from Canada into Montana was uneventful, except that now we could use our cell phones again. Marlin had a message from his cousin Carol, who was in Great Falls, Montana, which was only 80 miles from where we crossed the border. When you have driven as far as we have, 80 miles feels like around the corner, so we dropped down and visited for a couple of days.
Since we were in Great Falls, visited the Lewis and Clark Interpretative center again. This facility does the best job of documenting the 1804-5 journey. Weaving through the exhibits, that follow the time line of the epic trip, you can appreciate the magnitude of this venture and the bravery of the men who undertook the task. It was every bit as inspiring this second time through. In fact, it is a place you could visit many times and see something new every time you entered this museum.
That evening at the outdoor pavilion, the museum hosted concert given by two bluegrass performers. A perfect evening, overlooking the Missouri river, a warm breeze blowing, the sun setting off to our left, with the camera back in our truck! I think we are traveled out.

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