Saturday, May 29, 2010

May 29, 2010

Fire and North Pole



We slept late this morning and didn’t get started ‘till 10 am.  Very late.  Guess the trip yesterday was more tiring than we thought.

About eight miles west of Tok we came to a traffic stop.  Had to wait for a pilot car to guide us through the smoke. 


The drive was sort of eerie.  Miles and miles of burned trees, some still smoking. 


Fire trucks down many side roads doing mop up. 

Several spots where the trees and road were red with fire retardant. 


After about fifteen miles we were free to go at regular speeds. 

The smoke did spoil our views of the Alaska Range though. 

20100529-24Alaska Range


Here is one view after we left the smoke.





There are many more fires burning in the state.  Hope we do not have too much problem with smoke.

It has been in the 80’s for a week but some river beds don’t know that.

20100529-30 Robertson River, f rom Robertson Glacier iin the Alaska Range


About 12:30 we reached Delta Junction, the official end of the Alaska Highway.  We took some pictures and moved on.  Not much to see or do in Delta Junction, for tourists anyway.




Hard to read.  Depicts coldest winter days in Delta area.







Many of you know geocaching.  This is a a real cache.  Sort of a northern food locker and freezer.  Food was kept here away from cabin which would be kept warm.  Outside temps are below freezing seven or eight months of the year so no problem with spoilage. Stilts kept food above snow and away from animals.



Alaska state bird







About ten miles further we stopped at Rika’s Roadhouse. 


This is a historic site that preserves one of the better examples of the roadhouses that were along all the major trails and then roads throughout Alaska and the Yukon.  This one was much larger than most and had a number of other buildings associated with it. (barn, blacksmith, workers quarters, even telegraph buildings from time when telephone and telegraph communication was getting started)

We got our first view of the Alaska Pipeline just past the roadhouse.  Or a branch of it anyhow.  Will see it close up in a few days.

20100529-93 Pipelline over river near Rika

We are now at North Pole, AK.  This is where Santa hangs out in the off season.  :)   We are in Santa Land RV park which is totally Santa themed and is located next door to Santa Claus House.


Think of every Christmas store you have ever seen.  Double the size of the largest. How add a gift shop the same size filled with Alaska themed and made items.  Put it all under one roof and throw in a full time Santa to do his thing. 

20100529-117 20100529-118

Actually we had a nice talk with Santa.  He spent quite a while telling us all the things we should try to see on our journey around Alaska.  He had to stop because because a little girl was waiting to talk with him.  Turned out she was from Bali.  Yes, the island in the South Pacific.  Guess all roads lead to (the) North Pole.

May 28, 2010

Top of the World, Chicken, Tok



Up early and off to gas up at the cheap station the locals use.  Then through Dawson City to the ferry.  We shared the ferry with another large RV also pulling a car. 

28-1 on the ferry 732am

Less than ten minutes to cross the Yukon River and then we were off on the days adventure.  The Top of the World Highway starts at the west bank of the Yukon River and goes up.  And up.  And up.  Eleven straight miles of up, much of it pretty steep, with no downs or even level spots.  Starts out paved and then alternates with stretches of packed gravel.  Gravel is actually nicer to drive.  It is graded smooth.  Pavement is full of frost heaves and potholes, only some of which are patched. 

28-69 Paved Road


Eventually the road is all gravel.  After the eleven mile climb the road truly is on top of the world.  It follows a series of mountain ridges for 60 miles with deep valleys on first one side and then the other. 

DSC0392328-30 road ahead

   28-46 Valley  28-87 Valley






The view is forever with mountain ridge after ridge after ridge on the horizon. 

28-88 mtns

Sue got a better view than I as I had to concentrate on the road most of the time.  We did stop several places to take in the views.




This was once a road stop and supply post in the days when the road was mostly a trail.





After two hours of driving we came to the US/Canadian border.  Two buildings and a customs gate in the middle of nowhere. 


There are four border agents.  Two Canadian, two American. 

28-102 Border


Here is the American agents housing.  Double click to read the sign. (If you can’t read it, it says POKER CREEK ALASKA  Pop. 2)



We showed our passports, answered a few questions, and that was it.  We were in Alaska.  But still in the middle of nowhere. 

28-126 Road

28-120 Boundary

This is the original trading post in a “town” called Boundary.  The “town” still functions.  There are a couple buildings to the left. Has a gas pump and even a small  airstrip that services a small mining operation nearby.  Also for emergencies I imagine.


Immediately the road changed for the worse.  Narrower and a lot less grading.  And what goes up (the road) has to come down sometime.  Long downhill stretches with some tight turns.  Still quite manageable but required full attention.  Drove through a lot of old mining sites, some still operating on a very small scale. 

28-130 Busses


This is a pilot car for what you see in the distance on the right.  One of two HUGE tourist busses.  That is another story.  Glad we met them here and not further on. See below.


28-148 view from goat hwy

This is the view from a section of road the locals call “Goat Highway”.  Two lane (almost) dirt road that clings to the side of the mountain with a near vertical drop of over a thousand feet one side, straight up the other.


Another 35 miles and we were in Chicken, AK.  Google it to learn the origin of the name.  Everything you read paints this place as some sort of Mecca for Alaska travel.  The buildings were quaint I guess but what we impression was that of some old buildings in poor repair filled with over priced souvenirs and food being sold by very unfriendly people.  We didn’t stay long and would not recommend the place with any enthusiasm.

28-171 Chicken

28-180 Chicken PO


This is the Chicken Post Office.  It was worth the trip.  Operating in same building for over 100 years.  AND, the postmistress was very nice. 







Seventy more miles, most of it paved, and we were back to the Alaska Highway.  Twelve miles west and we are in Tok. (rhymes with Coke) It is a junction of two major roads but that is about it.  Three RV parks and some gas stations and a visitor center.  We may be here a day or so though.  There is a fire up the road a few miles.

We are done with dirt and gravel roads for a while (planned ones anyway) so we washed both vehicles.  They look much happier.

May 27, 2010

Dawson City – Day 2

Off to a tour of another historical site.  This time Dredge #4.  Now I know where huge tailings piles come from.  From huge machines like this of which this is the largest.  This is a one stop placer gold mining machine.  Gold laden gravel is scooped in the front, processed in a sluice, and deposited out the back, hopefully minus the gold.  Simple concept carried out by an amazingly huge and complex machine.


Great tour explaining the process and how all the parts of the dredge operated.  We have lots of pictures of the inner workings which we may album later.

The dredge was basically land locked.  It floated in a pool/pond of water and worked the gravel in front of it depositing tailings behind.  It then moved forward a few feet and repeated the process, basically taking its pond along with it.  Dredges could cover amazing distances using this process.


The road in the center going up to the left is following Bonanza Creek.  Just beyond the green ridge on the valley floor is the Klondike River.  Dredge #4 was built at the junction of the creek and the river.  It is now located several miles beyond the green notch in the center of the picture.  About 10 miles upcreek and several hundred feet higher in elevation.  It got there by scooping and moving forward a few feet at a time. 

From the dredge we drove to the top of Midnight Dome, a high hill overlooking Dawson city and the river valleys.  On the way we spooked a black bear sitting in the middle of the road.  Came on him so quickly we couldn’t get a picture.




Dawson City, junction of Klondike and Yukon Rivers, and view upriver of Yukon River.




Back to town for a few more pictures.



This is what happens if a building is placed directly on permafrost.






Dawson City’s bordello (historic – not operating    now ;)  ) and red light district (small houses behind main building)



We decided we’d take the car across the river on the ferry and check out the other side.  Once across we drove up the road about a mile and down the road to the golf course.  Yes, there is a golf course.  We were after a view spot.




Dawson City.

Midnight Dome back left.





Confluence of Klondike (top, center, clear) and Yukon (right, bottom, muddy) Rivers





Here is the whole thing.

20100527-94 Panorama Dawson City, Klondike River entering Yukon River

May 26, 2010

Dawson City



Left our quiet, tree filled campground at 8 am.  Easy drive of less than two hours, with several stops for viewing, to Dawson City.  Driving in to town felt much like driving Highway 50 east of Sacramento.  The landscape, not the population.  Several miles of gravel tailings.  Nothing but rock hills along the road.  Roadside businesses are built on tailings, including the RV park we are in.  Half of the park is filled with an Alaska RV tour.  First we have seen.  Remember coming across this particular outfit a number of times in my research for our trip.  Much of their published itinerary is included in what I have put together for us.  The park owner says they will not be leaving ‘till Saturday.  Hope that is right.  We are leaving Friday.  The road we will be on is not one you want to share with 15 other RV’s at the same time.  Starts with a ferry ride across the Yukon River.  It could take over three hours to get all of them across the river.  The rest of the road is over 100 miles of gravel.  Would rather do that with no traffic.

Dawson City is interesting.  Hard to describe.  A gold rush town in arrested decay, restored decay, historic decay and restoration, and just plain decay.  All can be found on the same block. (The town is more than one block  :)  ) One paved street.  Haven’t seen a traffic light since Whitehorse, 300 miles away.  Lots of historic sites and buildings.  Canada’s national park system, Parks Canada, has taken over many of them and restored many of those.  We saw two of Parks Canada’s programs today.  The first was an hour long presentation on Robert Service done at the cabin he occupied for nine years and where he produced many of his most famous works. 


Robert Service was known as the Bard of the Yukon.  He wrote many poems and novels about the Canadian North.  I did not know of Robert Service but I have heard several of his poems before.  One that others may have heard is “The Cremation of Sam McGee”.  Robert Service was not the only writer to get inspiration from Dawson City and surroundings.  Jack London also spent time here.  His cabin is two blocks from the Robert Service cabin.  Or half of it anyway.  The other half is in Oakland.  Share the fame I guess. 

20100527-108 jack London's Cabin

The second Parks program was a walking tour of Dawson City led by a guide dressed in period attire.  She was very good.  Lots of history of the town, the gold rush, life in the far north (she has lived full time in Dawson City for 19 years.  Why I do not know.), and many other things.  Nonstop for over an hour and a half.  Neat thing about the tour is that we got to go inside several of the buildings that are normally closed to the public.  These buildings have been totally restored  outside AND inside.  We saw the bank, a saloon (there were many in the towns heyday), and the first post office.  Each looked like it could do business tomorrow. 














Interesting information about building in Dawson City.  The entire town is built on permafrost.  That is ground that is frozen year round.  The top inch or two may thaw but for the most part it is frozen solid.  If a building is placed in a conventional manner, on a foundation placed on/in the ground, the warmth from the building will melt the permafrost.  Now you have mush.  Like a building sitting on oatmeal.  Houses tilt or even fall over.  Every building that wants to stay a useful building is built off the ground.  The raised portion is covered by a fascia but that doesn’t retain the heat.  I imagine the floors are super insulated.

Later we went to the ferry, walked on, and took a ride across the river and back.  Probably five minutes each way.


In the evening we went to Diamond Tooth Gerties, a 1890’s style saloon and gambling hall, to take in some ambiance and watch a show.  Admission was cheap ($6) and we had a two for one pass so it was even cheaper.  Admission is good for two nights and there are three shows each night, each getting progressively more risqué. There were a number of table games.  No roulette or craps, and in a concession to more modern gambling, there were slots.  The show was singing and cancan style dancing.  For the price, it was almost ok.  Sue commented that now we know why we paid $24 (x2) to watch the Follies in Whitehorse.  Sue got $2.00 worth of tokens (2) and played 10 cent slots.  She left with $3.00 so we came away winners and almost paid for the ‘entertainment’.


Back to our covered window home for the night.  Sunset is now around 11:00 pm and it is light all night.

May 25, 2010

Oil change, Braeburn Lodge, Drive toward Dawson City



So far we have driven over 3000 miles on this adventure.  Whitehorse was the last city of any size we would see for four of five hundred miles,  much of which will be nasty road.  After topping of the gas tank we headed to the equivalent of Jiffy-Lube.  Including wait time for vehicle in front of us it took about thirty minutes.  While waiting our turn, there was another couple also waiting.  They took one look at Sue and said “You’re the lady from Auburn, California” (see yesterday’s blog).  They had been at the show last night.

55 miles up the Klondike Loop we came to our first have to stop of the day.  Actually our only have to stop of the day.  Braeburn Lodge is similar to most of the roadside lodges along the highways of the north.   This one is nicer than most  The grounds are neat, the buildings are in good repair and pleasant to look at.  Like most it has a restaurant,  several cabins, and a gas pump.  This one also has a small landing strip across the road.   The restaurant is a decent size.  Could probably seat over 50 people.  Good basic meals.  Nothing fancy.  The thing about Braeburn Lodge is the quantity of that good basic food.  While we were there a woman came in and ordered ham and eggs.  The slice of ham was about 5 inches across and at least 3/8” thick.  Two very large eggs.  Looked like tater tots on the side and a separate plate with two pieces of 1 1/2'” thick toast.  All breads, pastries, etc, are baked there.  Another customer told us about the time she ordered a bowl of soup.  The ‘bowl’ was the size of a tureen.  Hard to get a doggy bag for the leftovers on that.  One item that is literally world renown is their cinnamon bun.  It is tasty and HUGE.  Close to nine inches in diameter.  We got one to snack on for the next two or three days.

04 cinnnamon Bun


Another couple were just finishing half of their hamburger.  The whole burger is over seven inches in diameter.  The patty goes all the way to the edge of the bun (homemade) and is covered by lettuce, tomato, onion, sautéed mushrooms, bacon, cheese, and maybe a couple of other items.  We got one of those too.  Meals for a day and a half.

05 7 inch Hamburger=Lunch and Dinner for two

I asked how many cinnamon buns they make a day.  She said that with the season now getting going they will make over 200 a day, seven days a week.  With the buns and all the other pastries they bake nonstop 18 hours a day.

Side light:  When we walked in the Breaburn Lodge restaurant, two separate couples said, “You’re the lady from Auburn, California”.  :)

The distance between Whitehorse and Dawson City is over 300 miles.  We did see one large black bear on the way.  Nothing else. Because of our later start we stopped about 2/3 of the way at a very nice provincial campground.  Over 40 sites and only one other site has occupants.