Sunday, 27 August 2006, Dawson City, YT
There seems to be conflicting ideas about which part of the road from Tetlin Junction to Dawson City should be named the 'Top of the World' Highway, so we will include it all together in this entry. It is also part of the Klondike Loop, which runs from the Alaska Highway at Tetlin Junction to the Alaska Highway just north of Whitehorse, and we are planning to drive all of it. Tetlin Junction is 12 miles south of Tok on the Alaska Highway. We turned onto the Taylor Highway, as this section is called officially, and started to climb up out of the Tanana valley. (The Taylor Highway actually covers 160 miles and terminates at Eagle - but we weren't planning to follow it to its end. I talked to some people after we arrived in Dawson City who did and they said it was an amazing journey on a narrow road which dropped away on both sides in lots of places.)
Only 3 or 4 miles along this paved section of road the aftermath of a fire becomes obvious. The Taylor Complex Fires burned out 1.3 million acres in summer 2004, and the damage is still clearly seen for most of the way to Chicken. It is amazing that in some isolated spots there are small areas of forest which appear untouched while all around as far as the eye can see are completely burned out areas. The first plant to return after a fire is a plant known as fireweed. It is a beautiful pink colour and there were sometimes large areas covered in it. It looks such a hopeful sign amidst the blackened devastation left by the wild fire. There are also areas along this part of the highway that appear to be above the tree line, even though its highest point is only about 1500 m.
We were on the lookout for wildlife. It is possible to see moose and caribou in this area, but we were told that you really have to keep your eyes open. Juergen noticed a porcupine on the side of the road and I got a good view of it out of the side window as it headed down the embankment. I had expected it to look more 'prickly'! The porcupines here have quills which are only about 10 cm long and are covered with much longer hair, so they actually have the appearance of being quite 'fluffy'. I am told though that their quills are barbed and once they stick into an animal that tries to attack, they stay in and work their way out somewhere else. Not terribly comfortable and probably very discouraging to potential predators!
The highlight of this part of the trip was my sharp-eyed spotting of a moose and her calf. They were about 100 m from the road, down an embankment beside a pond. By the time we had the truck stopped it was a bit of a walk back to where I thought I'd seen them, and they were still there. They were a bit far away for getting good photos, but the binoculars afforded a great view of them. The mother certainly knew we were there because she watched us carefully the whole time.
We arrived in Chicken at about 8.30, which was unfortunately too late to eat at the café, so we had a beer in the saloon - an interesting experience that is often to be had in isolated places such as this. It is a small place with a few local characters and walls and ceiling full of memorabilia from the many tourists who have passed through. This one was collecting baseball caps and torn knickers! Chicken is a strange little place with a population of about 20! Its name, so the story goes, resulted from the early miners wanting to name it Ptarmigan after a very common local bird (the Yukon state bird). But they couldn't spell it and since chicken was the common name of the bird, they called it that instead. Chicken is in the Fortymile Mining District, which is the second oldest mining district in Alaska. Gold was first mined there in 1886 and all areas in this district are still claimed - so no stopping by the nearest creek to get out your pan, unless you want trouble...
We stayed at Chicken Center on the highway, where one can camp without any utilities in return for filling up the gas tank. There is another RV park which has a mining dredge - Pedro Dredge No. 4 - as an added attraction, but we contented ourselves with some photos of the outside of it. There had been a lot of rain in previous days and the ground was very wet, but we woke Thursday morning to relatively clear skies which followed us to Dawson City. It was certainly perfect weather to drive across the 'Top of the World'.
Continuation on > Page 2 > !