Days 43-46 (Monday-Thursday Aug 10-13) were devoted to transiting from Valdez up to Dawson City back in the Yukon Territory in Canadia and our first full day there.
After the 24 hours of rain on Sunday we were hoping that Monday would be better but it was not to be…woke up to a steady drizzle and cold, damp weather. Nonetheless…we had coffee and breakfast then Neil did his outside stuff and Connie the inside stuff per usual. She had to take a time out to call the hospital in Richmond…she’s trying to arrange a 6 month follow up test (nothing serious) while we’re in Richmond and has to coordinate between her Ob/Gyn in Florida and the hospital in Richmond to get paperwork submitted and appointment scheduled. Toss in the fact that today in Tok is probably the last cell signal we’ll have before we cross into Canadia and she needed to make the call this morning early since we’re 4 hours behind them.
Neil gave her a hand with some of the final inside stuff while she did that and we were on the road right after 0800 for the 250 mile transit to Tok AK. The first 100 were a reverse of the trip from Glenallen to Valdez last week then we headed off on the Tok Cutoff Road the last 150 miles…and the road remained at a good sea state 3 all the way there. Bumpy, frost heaves, lots of construction and gravel spots and to top it off it pretty much rained all day. We did have about 20 miles of relatively nice weather with some sun and blue sky even around Glenallen but then it was back into the intermittent drizzle, fog, low flying clouds and not much to see. Well, there was actually plenty of things to see…we just couldn’t see any of them due to the low cloud ceiling.
Connie claims she saw a mythical creature…a moose…but Neil didn’t see it so it doesn’t really count he thinks. He’s hoping to get a picture of one before we get back…his ideal photo would be an adult bull with full antlers standing in water feeding with water draining off the antlers as he picks his head out of the water. The weather was actually pretty decent with some sun when she saw this supposed creature…but there was no place to pull over, very narrow shoulders, and lots of traffic on the Tok Cutoff Road so we didn’t stop.
After arrival we dumped our black and gray tanks…our sensors have been erratic the past week or so and this means that there’s gunk stuck on the insides of the tank. The fix is to put in some white vinegar, Dawn degreasing dish washing liquid, and 25 gallons of water and do a day’s drive with it in there to slosh around. Today was the perfect day for it as the road was (as previously detailed) pretty bad. Sure enough…we got here and got lots of really nasty looking stuff out of both tanks. Dumped, filled and flushed and the sensors appear to be working correctly again.
We had another issue with our door lock last night…luckily we were inside so Neil took the inside piece off and finally figured out (we think) what the problem was and fixed it. We’ve got a new lock that needs some minor surgery to make it fit properly but we’re planning on doing it over the weekend in Dawson City…Neil had no interest in doing it at 2200 last night in the cold and rain.
Our only photo stop of the day was at the confluence where the Gakona River dumps into the Copper River. Both of these are what is known up here as braided rivers with many changing channels. Here’s the Copper looking northeast with the Gakona coming in from the left just above the bend on the far left. The Copper continues upstream to the top of the image.
Here’s a pano of the entire confluence area…again the Gakona coming in from the left and the Copper down from the top, merging with all those channels then flowing to the right and then around the bend to the right as it exits the frame. During the spring floods the entire channel is filled but in lower water conditions you tend to get a narrower main channel with a large gravel bed to the side of it as in the right side of this shot and the braided appearance happens up here a lot. Where we have sandbars in rivers in the lower 48 they have grail bars up here…I’ll get Neil to get a closeup of one of those for ya the next time we see one.
We walked over to a local restaurant with all of our caravan buddies for dinner…Fast Eddie’s restaurant. Choices were ribeye, halibut or ribs. To quote a famous line from one of the greatest songs of all time (30,000 Pounds of Bananas by Harry Chapin)…”The reaction of the band was best summed by my brother John who said “Harry, it ^#&T%^.” We walked out and Neil said…”I’ve had better steaks.” while Bill said “Whatever we paid for that was too much.” The beer wasn’t even very good.
Walked home in…you guessed it…rain as it had started up again. Supposedly it’s going to not rain tomorrow…which would be good since Neil is grillin’ chicken in Chicken.
Day 44 we got up early and were ready to roll right about 0730. We had gotten another easy to get into but hard to get out of camping site so had to spend 20 minutes getting out of the site, backed up into the road between sites and then work our way around the corner before we could hit the road. After a dozen miles going back east on the AlCan Highway we turned off onto Taylor Highway which goes up through Chicken AK and then one to the border with the Yukon. About 20 miles up the Taylor we came around a bend where the Milepost told us there was a large double ended turnout and noticed that Bill and Linda were pulled off. Since they had departed an hour and a bit before we did and Bill doesn’t like to stop much we figured something might be wrong. Bill walked out towards the mostly dirt and gravel highway and flagged us down…as Neil turned into the turnout Connie noticed that they were unhitched, the trailer was up on the jacks and the slides were extended…so we thought this was definitely not good. On stopping it turned out that 2 of their 3 trailer axles had broken off from the attachment bolts…Bill said that he had crawled under and the bolts were sheared off. Luckily our axle attachments are welded as well as bolted. He wasn’t going fast and the road where it happened wasn’t very rough at all…he said that he slowed down to pull for a photo stop and heard the clunk as it fell off.
We talked to them a bit and jointly determined that there wasn’t anything fixable on the roadside…and had no cell signal at all. After giving them as much moral support as we could they headed off back to Tok without the trailer to find cell signal to talk to New Horizons and MORryde to see what needs to be done. Given that the axles bounced off of the road it won’t be clear what the total damage is until they can be removed and examined by a mechanic but it looks like they’ll likely miss at least the next week or so of the caravan. Maybe they’ll be able to get things fixed quickly and meet us in Whitehorse YT in a week but given parts transit time as well as repair and alignment time that might be a bit iffy. In any event…they’re supposed to let us know later on today via phone or email what the prognosis is. Given we’ve only got 18 days left until caravan end at Prince George…a more likely outcome is that they’ll get things fixed up here or patched up enough to get to either the New Horizons factory or the MORryde factory for complete repairs. So…keep Bill and Linda in your prayers as it’s certainly difficult to have RV problems on the road…particularly when you’re in Alaska where most places are the middle of nowhere.
**Added later and I was too lazy to rewrite the whole paragraph. We did get word from Bill that they made it safely back to Tok and are getting fixed well enough to get back on the road heading back down the AlCan and thence over to Elkhart to get things permanently fixed at MORryde the end of the month. They actually got welded together enough to make it back into Tok the same day they broke down…we were pretty surprised about that.
After they headed back south to Tok…we continued our drive up to Chicken AK…only 79 miles total from Tok but we were going 40 max most of the way and frequently slowing to single digits for frost heaves, washed out road, gravel breaks and potholes.
And the good news is that we have another 120 miles or so of lousy road tomorrow.
We got no pictures on the way…it was crummy visibility most of the way or the turnouts were not large RV friendly or they were already full. We did get a few once we arrived here at the Chicken Gold Camp RV Park though. The park is owned and operated by a retired (and then un-retired) gold miner and his family and we did a bit of gold panning and got some more Alaskan gold flakes then went on a tour of the Pedro dredge (named after the creek it was originally built to dredge…Pedro Creek) with Mike the owner. He should really consider becoming a full time tour guide as he was much more interesting and informative than most of the tour guides we’ve had on the trip.
A couple of shots of our site 46…the sites here are actually pretty wide but are otherwise unremarkable. No water or sewer hookups and only 15 amps of power but it was a good 15 amps so we had enough to run our fireplace which we definitely needed as it was in the 60s and damp all day…with overnight lows of 37 so we’ll definitely be kicking off the furnace for a bit in the morning.
The dredge itself…I guess I better give you a few details on how this thing works.
Dredges are custom built for the creek they’re going to mine depending on how deep the gold bearing pay gravel streak is. The dredge is built in a hole at the creek that is then filled with water so the dredge floats and then it moves along and brings it’s pond with it. Here’s how it works.
At the front (left) of the dredge is the bucket line…you can see the derrick that holds it up here but not the bucket line itself. The buckets are in a chain and look like a very large chain saw blade except instead of teeth they’ve got buckets like an excavator has on it. They rotate up and chew into the face of the bank of the pond digging up gravel and it’s gold. The gravel is dumped at the top end of the bucket chain just below the pilothouse which is the tallest piece in the middle of the barge. The entire dredge is built on top of a barge composed of water tight pontoons bolted together. From the hopper the gold is dumped into a trommel which is a 5 foot diameter 50 foot long pipe with holes on the outside ranging from 1/2 to 2 inches in size. The trommel rotates about 8 rpm and is continually flushed with water as the gravel is dumped into the top then rotates around and down to the bottom at the rear. Gold and smaller gravel falls out the holes in the trommel and is fed into a series of sluice boxes which are flushed with more water so that the gold falls into little grooves on the bottom of the sluice boxes while the lighter gravel and sand continues down to the bottom of the sluice box. Every 2 weeks the sluices are cleaned out and the gold/sand run through a refining process with mercury to separate out the gold.
The larger rocks that won’t exit the trommel and the spent gravel from the sluice boxes end up at the rear of the dredge and are called tailings. Tailings are dumped onto the covered conveyer which sticks out the back of the dredge and fill in the rear of the pond.
So…as the dredge does it’s job it chews the pond larger on one end, extracts the gold, and dumps the gravel and rocks behind itself…hence moving the pond along with itself as it goes.
The 15 foot long chicken on the hill here in the campground…along with distances to other chicken or chicken-like named cities around the world.
Connie panning for gold…we’ve not spent probably 2 hours between us panning and have maybe 50 bucks worth of small flakes to show for it.
A chicken decoration near the barge made from old barge pieces.
By the time our tour was done it was raining pretty steadily…so we blew off more gold panning, came home, and warmed up. Dinner was chicken in Chicken…hey, we had to cook our last 3 packages or else the Canadians would take it away from us tomorrow…and we gotta boil our last 8 eggs as well since both come from states that have had avian flu outbreaks and hence aren’t importable into Canadia.
Tomorrow we’ll head off to Dawson City…hopefully we’ll have good weather and dry roads.
Day 45 (Wednesday 12 Aug)…travel to Dawson City YT over the remainder of the Taylor Highway and the Top of the World Highway. With just over 120 miles to go…but with three added levels of difficulty; the rough road which kept speeds down so the drive time was 4-5 hours, Canadian customs which could or could not be hard, and the line to cross the George Black Ferry to get across the Yukon River at Dawson City…we decided to leave Chicken as early as possible. This would limit any delays at customs and also put us near the front of the line when we got to the ferry. Despite our best laid plans…we were the 8th rig to leave Chicken; but luckily we passed 3 rigs when they stopped at a turnout for a bathroom break and another 3 at a second bathroom break/photo turnout…we got our photos quickly and beat the rest of them out of the parking area. With the narrow, rough road and with us pretty much doing the speed limit of 40 for the last 40 miles we were 3rd in line when we got to the ferry. That’s a good thing as we got across in about 45 minutes but after our 4 mile remaining drive to the campground and getting setup rigs were still rolling in 4 hours later…locals (i.e., cars) and commercial trucks have priority so RVs get taken maybe one on every other or every third trip across the river and it’s a 15 minute round trip for the ferry.
We got to the Bonanza Gold RV Park and got setup in site 72b…not a bad site but back in due to our order of arrival and the way we were told to come in was 100% wrong as to how you needed to come in to properly approach the site. They are angled and you want to approach so the back in is less than 90 degrees…the directions we were given at checkin brought us in the wrong way. Not much of an issue…we just went down a dozen sites to a wider area where we could turn around…then we had to back and jack a couple of times to get into the relatively narrow site…but things should really be planned better than that. You share utilities between the a and b sites for each number…but the pedestal is halfway up the a site instead of being in the middle where it’s easy to reach for all…we had to have a second water hose to reach. Again…no real issue and this one wasn’t the tour’s fault but the campground designer’s…but still, ya gotta wonder.
OK, about those roads. We had been told by numerous people (some of whom had actually been to Alaska but most had not) that the roads on this section were “terrible”, “the worst road in Alaska”, and “you’ll completely destroy your RV if you go down that road.” Well, I gotta tell ya…none of that is true. For our money the extremely frost heaved road down to Valdez…it was a good sea state 3 going down there with lots of potholes and bad patching jobs…was far, far worse than the roads today.
After our bad conditions…but hey, it’s a dirt/gravel road…yesterday on the Taylor Highway between Tok and Chicken we were prepared for the first part which was the last 25 miles or so of the Taylor; but it turned out that the road past Chicken was actually better. Fewer potholes…but it had rained overnight so it was a bit muddy and the sides were soft…which combined with the 1,000 foot drops at the edge, no shoulders, and no guardrails made it look more challenging than it really was. Luckily for us…it was very foggy so that hid the steep drop offs from us and we slowed down even more than we needed to based strictly on the road surface. Neil just sat in the middle of the road or left hand lane and only moved over t the edge (and stopped) if/when we met another vehicle. Luckily we got across that part before any traffic that crossed the border when it opened got to us. Absolutely no photo opportunities on the Taylor although we did get a few of the road just to show you how it was.
Once we got to the point where the Taylor headed north toward Eagle and Boundary Road (which strangely enough goes only to the border station) split off it turned out that Boundary Road had been paved last summer and it was perfect. Wide, nice shoulders, easy to maintain the 50 mph speed limit and pretty easy grades although it did go up and down a bit for 14 miles. We were pleasantly surprised by that…then got another surprise with our easiest ever Canadian border crossing…90 seconds tops. Asked us a few questions, checked to make sure we were with the caravan rolling through and we were on our way.
At the border the road changed to the Top of the World Highway which winds for 79 miles between ridges across northwestern Yukon to Dawson City. Turns out that this is actually a pretty good road. Sure, it was mostly gravel and there were a few curves with some steep drop offs but by and large we maintained the speed limit of 70 kph (42 mph) and only had a few steep grades. We did keep BAT geared down most of the time to ease the load on the brakes but all in all it was a pretty easy drive…on an absolutely gorgeous day by that time. Photo opportunities abounded…although with few to no places to pull off it was a matter of just stopping in the middle of the road, grabbing some quick shots and starting back up.
On arrival at the end of the Top of the World…it only goes 2 places, the Canadian border and the Yukon River…the road literally runs into the ferry ramp with no exit or turnoff needed…we got in line 3rd and had some lunch while we waited. Within 45 minutes or so we were loaded onto the ferry…again a lot easier than we thought the loading process would be…and 10 minutes later were driving through downtown Dawson City to the campground.
After setup we got caught up on planning our 3 days here then had leftover chicken for dinner. Got an email from Bill and they’re successfully back into Tok AK with their rig…found a local shop who came out and welded the least broken axle back onto the frame and between their mechanic and Bills’ parts got 2 of the 4 brakes back operational and went back to Tok. Further troubleshooting was to be in progress today but haven’t heard anything on that yet.
After dinner we headed out to Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall to see the can-can dancer show.
Ok, on to the photos. First two are of the Taylor Highway as we headed toward the border…and after we got over the mountains at Chicken and the visibility opened up. Note the really fine quality road.
Once across the border…shots of the Top of the World Highway and the views up there.
This area had some of the smaller drop offs of the trip.
Canadian’s do love their golf.
Waiting on the ferry…this is the trip before ours. When we boarded we were on the starboard (right side) right at the bow.
Dawson City across the river…this really still looks like an 1898 frontier town. I’ll get some more photos on the walking tour tomorrow to show ya.
Approaching the ferry landing…the city is up and to the right. This is literally the end of the road.
Saw this while waiting to get into Diamond Tooth Gertie’s…gotta love what they consider entertainment up here.
Diamond Tooth Gertie herself…she actually was a pretty good singer.
And the dancing girls…who were also pretty good.
Our caravan friend Nick (with the beard) getting ready for his performance. The pictures of him actually dancing were too gruesome to be shown…this is a family blog after all.
And the Grande Finale (or Big Finish as Kornheiser and Wilbon would call it).
Day 46 (Thursday Aug 13) we headed off to the Robert W. Service cabin for a poetry reading. He was a poet who resided here in Dawson City in the early 1900s for a couple of years…he was originally an Irish banker before he found his calling. His two most famous works are “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. The Park Service employee…who was dressed in an early 1900 suit of course…did some readings and I gotta tell ya for poems these are pretty good. He didn’t talk about flowers and pining for a girl but about being a bum, cremation of friends who died, and shoots in the saloon.
Afterwards we went over to the Dawson City Museum where we got a tour of their locomotive barn…these belonged to the Klondike Mining Company Railroad which was a narrow gauge track built to service the mines south of Dawson City. The first picture is one of Connie’s…Neil isn’t quite sure what she did with the camera to get it to come out in this cartoon like rendering…but with the exception of correcting the exposure a bit this is straight out of the camera. We decided it was cool so I’m sharing it with ya. The young lady in the long skirt was our tour guide and she was mighty happy to have that long skirt on today as it was barely 45 degrees.
More conventional shots of the locomotives.
And a steam powered tractor from back in the Gold Rush days.
We bagged the museum early because (a) we were cold and (b) Connie needed to work a bit so we headed off to the library.