Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fairbanks to Dawson City

Riverboat Discovery
August 10   Day # 32    @5,850 Miles

Stopped here in Skagway, AK last night - oh my, what a spectacular drive!  But we'll save that for later and try to catch you up on our adventures from the past several days. We're not sure if anyone is still reading this, but I need to keep doing it as my journal so I can organize pictures when we get back home!

On Saturday morning we left Fairbanks (49°!) for the 275 mile drive to Chicken, AK, another mining town.  As we left, the skies were clear and we saw Mt McKinley again!  It was so beautiful we stopped at several viewing areas and took lots of pictures.  After 50 miles or so, we realized it wasn't McKinley, but Mount Haines!  Oops - well, that young German couple will go home thinking they finally got to the "the Mountain", but that's ok, isn't it? 
Futher along the route we stopped to see and learn more about the Alaska Pipeline. It is really an amazing feat of engineering and pipefitting work!

  • The Trans Alaska Pipeline System was designed and constructed to move oil from the North Slope of Alaska to the northern most ice-free port in Valdez, Alaska.
  • Length: 800 miles.
  • Diameter: 48 inches.
  • Crosses three mountain ranges and more than 30 major rivers and streams.
  • Cost to build: $8 billion in 1977, largest privately funded construction project at that time.
  • Construction began March 27, 1975 and was completed May 31, 1977.
  • First oil moved through the pipeline on June 20, 1977.
  • More than 16 billion barrels have moved through TAPS.
  • First tanker to carry crude oil from Valdez: ARCO Juneau, August 1, 1977.
  • Tankers loaded at Valdez: 19,625 through April 30, 2008.
  • The mission of Alyeska’s Ship Escort Response Vessel System is to safely escort tankers through Prince William Sound. 

Next stop,  Delta Junction for lunch, a quilt shop and gold pans at the local sporting goods store!
On to Tok, for a heart-to-heart conversation at the Visitors Center about the Top of the World Highway.  This is where we have to make a decision about which way we'll drive next - back the way we came into Alaska, or north to Dawson City.  We keep hearing about the drive from Chicken to Dawson City - terrible road, very slippery, no guardrails, narrow lanes, etc.  The nice ladies at Tok said "Go for it!!  It's a beautiful drive, it's been dry so shouldn't be slippery and if you go on Sunday, you shouldn't see many big trucks. Just take your time, be aware, drive slowly and enjoy the scenery!" Decision made - on to Chicken!
The town of Chicken was, of course, an old mining town.  The prospectors wanted to name it after the state bird, the ptarmigan, but couldn't spell it, so they went with Chicken, the slang name for ptarmigan! The town currently consists of a post office, 2 RV camps, a strip of buildings called "downtown" and lots of old rusty mining equipment! At the Chicken Gold Camp you could dig in their pile of gravel and pan in their sluice for $15 for 4 hours or for the same price they would take you up to their claim and you could pan for the day.  Both interesting options, but we decided to get the drive to Dawson City out of the way on Sunday and try our hand at panning in that area.  
The Taylor Highway turns into the Top of the World Highway.  The Taylor was interesting as 1.3 million acres burned in 2004. As the highway climbs, the views are absolutely amazing!!!  We didn't meet much traffic and it was a smooth drive.  It was 51 miles from Chicken to the Canadian border - the drive took 2 1/2 hours with just a 10 minute stop in the "town" of Boundary, AK. Another abandoned mining area with lots of old rusty equipment to look at! From the border to Dawson City was another 64 miles, but the road was actually blacktopped, and there might even have been a centerline painted on part of it!  So it only took 2 hours and 15 minutes to make that drive!  
So, when you get to Dawson, you have to cross the Yukon River...on a ferry.  There is no schedule for the ferry, it operates 24 hours a day when the river isn't frozen (if it's frozen you just drive across!).  We got in line at 3:21 PM (PDT) and got across at 6:39 PDT.  The ferry can haul 2 camper/RV rigs and 3 or 4 cars. It only takes about 5 or 6 minutes to cross, but semi's get to go on pretty much when they get there, and some locals apparently buy a pass so they can get on right way too.  Anyway, it was a bit of a wait, but a beautiful river to watch and of course some interesting folks to chat with while we were there!
Sourdough Joe's was our choice for dinner in DC, after getting the camper settled.  DC is a great little historic town, it was of course pretty quiet while we were there since it was Sunday evening.  Lots of old buildings and history about the Gold Rush in 1900.  On Monday morning we headed up Bonanza Creek for a little "free" panning.  We spent about 5 hours panning and found just a bit, Bob did the best. Then we did a tour at Dredge #4, the biggest wooden hulled dredge in North America.  The dredge had a big arm with buckets that would work their way slowly down a creek or valley, sort the gold through a big sieve and return the gravel to the side of the river bed.  The process resulted in large piles called worms. Those piles are what folks are digging in today to find small flakes and gold dust.  And I know why it's called "dust"!  Dang that stuff is tiny!! We missed a few things in town, but we'll need to see them another time I guess!
So, Tuesday it was the 444 mile drive from Dawson City to Skagway - 10 hours, but the drive between Whitehorse & Skagway was just plain awesome!! We haven't downloaded pictures from yesterday, so you'll need to see them in the next post.  Dinner, a long walk to the docks to watch 3 HUGE cruise ships leave and then crashed for the night.  Today we'll explore the town a bit.  We do have pretty decent WiFi here, so we might get another post up before we leave town. 

Just a side note for any one planning to travel to Alaska, the Milepost Magazine has been invaluable! It gives us information about what to see, what to look for and all these interesting tidbits like how Chicken got it's name!


Janet said...

Don't stop blogging!! I'm still reading.


cL said...

Yes, I still read as well!!!!!!