Our trip from Glenallen, outside Wrangell-St. Elias, to Chicken, was mostly just driving. We have completed all but one of the Alaska stops on our itinerary! There is one more attraction and that is the Klondike Loop and “Top of the World Highway.” The “Top of the World Highway” crosses into Canada shortly after the town of Chicken, Alaska. The road ceases to be anything close to a “highway” and as it nears Chicken turns into a gravel / dirt road.
Chicken has approximately five businesses in town. Mostly RV camps, saloons and gift shops.
So how did the town get its name? It seems that early miners wanted to call it “Ptarmigan” for a bird common to the area (and now Alaska’s state bird). However, the miners couldn’t figure out how to spell “Ptarmigan.” Ptarmigans were also commonly called chickens, so the town became “Chicken.”
We got an early start from Chicken--so long to Alaska at least for a year or two. We’re sure we will be back as there is still a lot of things we haven’t done and several national parks that will take special efforts to reach.
The road out of Chicken starts an immediate climb and we interrogated our last night’s neighbor (who came the other way on the road, yesterday) on what the road was like. He chuckled “well, it’s not a highway but it is a ‘high’ way and the road is pretty bad. Hope it is isn’t raining when you reach the top and head down to the Yukon River.” Not real encouraging words.
Most of the road goes along rivers, tributaries of the famous Forty Mile River, which was already a mining area before the Klondike strike. We have our trusty “Milepost” book and it informed us that an upcoming section of the road is called “the goat path” by the locals. “Steep drop offs, sharp turns, nasty ruts, pot holes and soft shoulders, etc.” Our book informs us that Dawson City is 75 miles but we should plan on 4.5 hours. We can see why after a few miles. There are actually quite a few travelers and a numbers of active gold mines along the route.
After a couple of hours we suddenly pop out above the tree line and it does truly feel as if you are on the “Top of the World” - spectacular views in every direction, and it felt much higher than 4124’.
Shortly, we reached the border and after an in-depth interrogation by Canadian customs, mostly regarding the possibility that we may have “forgotten” about a firearm we had somewhere and the friendly confiscation of a seemingly innocent item we had purchased in Alaska, we were cleared to enter the Yukon Territory once again.
It was all uphill and downhill, then a long downhill, from here, but the road was awful – bad surface, blind curves, no shoulders and precipitous drop offs. Mary did a great job driving us down the mountains while Jonathan cowered with the seat laid back.
Dave Fochtman – did you really do this road with your motor coach towing the Cherokee? If so, “you de man”!
The final highlight was coming down the hill seeing the legendary Dawson City laid out before our eyes across the river and taking the ferry across the mighty Yukon into the town.
Tomorrow is checking out some of the sights we have been reading about. We bought Pierre Berton’s “Klondike, the Last Great Gold Rush, 1896 – 1899” while in Carcross just above the Chilkoot Trail and White Pass Trail, where most of the Stampeders traversed into the Yukon Territory. Of the 100,000 who started only 30,000 made it to the Klondike. Most of them turned around as soon as they got there since all the area had already been “staked.” Some simply consumed their 1 ton of goods (which were required in order to enter Canada) and then left. Some 6,000 actually found gold and most of those blew it right in the gambling halls, saloons and fleshpots of Dawson City. A few invested their earnings but most of those lost everything at some point or another. Berton, who is recognized as the authority on the Klondike Gold Rush figures that less than 10 people actually made wealth from their mining fortunes that could be passed to their heirs.
For dinner we had some of the rockfish we caught in Seward. We were pretty disappointed that we didn’t catch the silver salmon we were hoping for. But the rockfish have been a very pleasant surprise. We were told by the fishing guides that rockfish taste like halibut but we thought that was their cover for not getting us into the salmon. We grilled the fish over a charcoal fire in a mesh basket after brushing with olive oil and garlic salt. Every bit as good as halibut! We are thinking up new ways to enjoy our pelagic rockfish and wish we had more (although we did both catch our limit).