Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Reunion Journey, Days 4,5 Dawson City,YT

Located on the Yukon River at the western edge of the Yukon Territory, Dawson was the center of the 1890’s Klondike gold rush. The metal gold continues to support the local economy to some degree, but these days Dawson also mines tourist gold. Catering both to the RV and the Cruise Tour business, the town has numerous dining and entertainment opportunities targeted at the itinerant tourist.

The Yukon River was a primary transportation corridor during the gold rush, and on into the 1950’s. Located on the riverfront behind a low levee, Main Street retains the colorful gold rush appearance, with numerous brightly painted false fronted buildings. Sitting on the Riverbank are a couple of antique riverboats, including the Keno, shown below.

Dawson City YT Main Street

Riverboat Keno

The drama of the gold rush was immortalized by authors such as Jack London and Robert Service. The cabins occupied by these two authors are preserved and are open for display by the government.

Jack London’s Cabin

We camped in Dawson at the Gold Rush RV Park. While there we enjoyed a delicious meal of fish tacos organized and cooked by Norma and Hal, and accompanied by numerous excellent appetizers, salads, and desserts provided by the participants. Four COW’s.

Gold Rush RV Park in Dawson City, YT

A Delightful Evening Meal With Our WIT Friends

The last evening in the campground, the following vehicle pulled in for the night. We had seen this German tour vehicle on the road, and thought it quite interesting. Tour participants sit in the front and tour by day, then sleep in the rear at night. We don’t know how many people it will accommodate, but it’s certainly an interesting way to travel for younger tourists who do not suffer from ABS (Ageing Bladder Syndrome).

An Interesting Tour Vehicle

The same evening this interesting tour bus arrived, a motorhme from Northern California arived with a story about a motorhome off the road near Chicken. Apparantly the coach wandered from the narrow right of way onto the soft shoulder and started to tip. The fellow we spoke with saw the incident happen. It was his opinion that the only thing which prevented the rig from going over was that the tow car stayed on firm ground and held it back. The Top of the World Highway is not outright dangerous, but it does require a heightened alertness to drive it safely.

Our first morning in town we ate breakfast at Klondike Kate’s, a historic restaurant near the campground. The food and service were excellent and the prices reasonable, so we returned with the group for dinner, which was not as good as breakfast.

Klondike Kate’s Restaurant

Our Group Dines at Kate’s

After dining at Kate’s, we moved on to Diamond Tooth Gertie’s, an 1890’s saloon , gambling hall, and stage entertainment venue. Going to Gertie’s is kind of like camping overnight at Wal Mart. It doesn’t cost much to get in, but you somehow wind up spending a lot of money. Cover charge was only $6 each, but Kathy’s martini was $10, and she left $40 at the tables. The show was a mix of show tunes sung by Gertie and her male cohort, punctuated by can-can style dances by four talented young ladies.

Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall

Three Different Shows at 8:30, 10:30, and Midnite

Our last evening in Dawson we drove up Dome Road to the top of the hill behind the town. The view from the top is spectacular. At the bottom of the hill is the town of Dawson, with the Yukon River as backdrop. Keith managed to snap a Mountain Goddess posing in front of the Ogilvie Mountains.

View of Dawson City and the Yukon River From Dome Road

Mountain Goddess Spotted on the Dome

Also visible from the Dome is the extensive damage to the countryside done by the gold mining. Also shown below is a machine which caused some of this damage in the past.

Extensive Evidence of Gold Mining Visible From the Dome

Historic Gold Dredge on Display Near Dawson

Tomorrow morning we depart south for Whitehorse, by way of Carmacks. The old Keith would have driven the 330 mile distance all in one day. Fortunately, the organizer of this Caravan Extension has better sense than Keith, and broke the drive into two days. More to follow.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Reunion Journey, Day 3 - Chicken AK to Dawson Creek YT

It was a dark and stormy night in Chicken, Alaska, at the beginning of the Top-of-the-World Highway. We were to arise and depart early, in an effort to avoid oncoming traffic, which is blocked at the border until the Customs Station opens at 8am.

About midnight it began to rain, and our spirits sank.

Then we arose and drove off, and found that the 6am departure suggested by Bob was an absolutely brilliant strategy. Thank you, Robert, for suggesting this approach! In the course of the two hour, 40 mile drive to the border we met only one westbound vehicle, allowing us to drive most of the way in the middle of the right of way, with 3 or 4 feet of clearance to the edge of the abyss. That was a good thing, because the road was wet and somewhat slippery, and visibility was limited in patches of fog. Fog is more difficult to navigate with no yellow line to follow, so it was doubly beneficial that we did not have to worry about oncoming traffic.
Bob arose early and did an early morning reconaissance in his car. He came back reporting that there was much improvement over his previous trip, with a lot of new gravel, and some widening in the tightest spots. Indeed, he was correct; we found the ride much improved over our 2005 experience. But the biggest difference was the lack of oncoming traffic. Thank you one more time for that, Bob

The photo was taken along a relatively level stretch of the US road. On the more rugged stretches, there was no safe place to pull over, and Keith didn’t feel safe stopping in the middle of the road so Kathy could take a picture. The good news was much fresh gravel, so the road surface was not quite so rough as we remembered it from 2005. But then, this road is always a fresh adventure.

A Wet, Narrow, Slippery Road to the Border

Along this drive we encountered many runny babbits out for an early breakfast, and a couple of herds of caribou near the border. Most unfortunately, we frightened the caribou away from the road, so the coaches following us did not see them. We apologize.

Fresh Caribou Tracks Near the Border

Shy American Caribou Disappear into the Brush at Our Approach

We arrived at the border just at 8am, and were met by the Canadian Customs Agent as he was unlocking the gate. The guard was very pleasant and polite, and our border crossing was expeditious. On crossing the border we lost an hour, crossing from the Alaskan into the Pacific time zone.

A Friendly Canadian Customs Agent

More Caribou, of Canadian Nationality
Blue Sky Added in Photoshop to Enhance Contrast With Animal

Past the border the road widened, and was paved for some stretches. But the rain and mud continued, and the fog was even thicker is some places. The wider right of way was much appreciated, as it was necessary to stay to the right in the fog, when oncoming traffic could not be seen in time to get over.

As We Proceeded On, the Road Got Rougher and the Fog Grew Thicker

About 11am we arrived at the free ferry crossing the Yukon River. The approach to the ferry landing is at the bottom of a 7 mile downgrade which drops 2000 feet from the hills above the river, fortunately on pavement.

The Klondike River Empties into the Yukon at Dawson City

We arrived just as the small ferryboat was unloading, so we drove right on and were in Dawson by 11:30. We were delighted that we did not have to disconnect the car on the ferry.

Dawson City Seen From Ferry Landing Across the Yukon River

Driving on the Ferry Boat

Midstream View of the Yukon

After stopping for gas ($1.64/liter), we registered at the nearby campground, then drove a couple of miles out of town to a car wash. We did not do a thorough job, but did get off most of the caked mud, after a half hour of work, during the course of which we inserted 10 loonies into the coin operated pressure washer.

When we crossed the border, we pulled over for a few minutes to let the rest of the coaches catch up with us. When Keith shut off the engine, the CB quit working. We soon discovered that the entire coach electrical system was dead. We had 12 volt power only when the engine was running. Normally Keith would address such a problem immediately on arrival at the campground, but on this day, his afternoon nap was first priority. After napping, he removed the cover from the coach battery compartment, and immediately discovered a broken battery terminal. After a trip to the local NAPA for a new terminal and a half hour of labor, all was fixed, and we now are firing on all 12 volts, if I may mix my metaphors.

We enjoyed a pleasant dinner at Sourdough Joes. Kathy had a tasty but small and pricy piece of salmon (3 COWS), while Keith ordered a Ruben (2-1/2 COWs). Both were accompanied by somewhat soggy fries, Keith’s at extra cost. We came back to the camper about 7:30, and immediately went to bed. Tomorrow we are going to Diamond Tooth Gerties for the show. Gerties is an old time saloon/gambling hall/girlie show, where Kathy can gamble and Keith can gawk.

Don’t touch that dial!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Reunion Journey, Day 2 – Tok to Chicken

Our route today days took us from Tok AK north to Chicken AK. We had pretty good internet in Tok, so we stayed late in the morning to complete our last two posts from Fairbanks. We departed Tok about 11am, by way of the Post Office and the Three Bears grocery, then drove about 80 miles north on the Taylor Highway to Chicken. We had pretty good weather and took bunches of photos along the way. Included were pictures of extensive fire damage seen along the way.

Rolling North From Tok on the Taylor Highway

Frost Heaves and Roller Coaster Road
Note Fire Damage in Foreground

We Pause to Catch Our Breath Near Chicken

We arrived in Chicken about 1pm and went with the group to lunch at a nearby café. Chicken is growing like a weed. It now has two campgrounds, a filling station, and a café, not all the same business. Kathy had a sort of a Ruben, made with a funky kind of bread. Keith was not feeling well, and confined his intake to hot soup Both were tasty, about 3-1/2 COWS.

Beautiful Downtown Chicken Alaska

Chicken Architecture

Chicken Humor

Abandoned Gold Dredge in Chicken

The rest of the day we rested up for the journey over the Top-of-the-World highway to Dawson City. This is an unpaved road that travels about 100 miles through some rugged terrain, especially the first 40 miles from Chicken to the Canadian border. Keith traveled this piece of road in 2005, and swore “never again!”. Just one of many occasions when Keith has eaten his words. Keith doesn’t have a serious problem with the rough, dirty unpaved road, as much as with the narrow right of way. In many places the road is just not wide enough for two 102 inch vehicles to pass one another, and the shoulder drops off 1000 feet to the river valley. This is especially a problem at sharp bends, where you can’t see the oncoming traffic. There are numerous wide spaces, but they can be a mile or more apart, and we cannot reverse with the car attached. On our previous westbound trip, we met a lot of eastbound traffic, including large RV’s, and a Holland American tour bus. It was at that point that Keith said never again.

Later in the afternoon at Chicken, the tailgunner from our disbanded caravan pulled into the campground. He recommended that we depart at 6am the next morning. He noted that the US Customs station did not open until 8am, so there should be no westbound traffic between 6 and 8.

About midnight it began to rain.

Stay tuned…

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Reunion Journey, Day 1 - Fairbanks to Tok

Keith Plans and Kathy Laughs:

On the road again, but not on the route we had originally planned.

Our formal WIT Caravan disbanded on Saturday, July 26th. Kathy always hates to see caravans end, so we decided to join a group of 5 coaches and travel together for another 2 weeks. We will be traveling through eastern Alaska to the western part of the Yukon Territory. Our fellow travelers are people we traveled with in Newfoundland 2 years ago, and we thoroughly enjoy their company. The itinerary is planned to be slow paced.

The sun was shining as we left Fairbanks and headed for Tok, about 200 miles southeast. The first portion of our journey took us down the Richardson Highway to Delta Junction. We soon ran into rain mixed with the sun, followed by a rainbow as we looked back toward Fairbanks.

End of the Rainbow in Fairbanks, Alaska

Along the way we saw a moose floundering in a roadside pond. I was not able to stop for a photo as motorcycles were following us too closely. We did however stop at a couple of scenic pullouts and photographed spectacular views of the Tanana River Valley. The clouds followed us, but Keith has Photoshop to deal with cloudy skies. The fros theaves also followed us into the Tanana River valley. Keith can enhance the appearance of the frost heaves with Photoshop, but he can not take the bounce out of them.

Cloudy Tanana River Valley
Artifically enhanced to add blue sky in Photoshop

Roadway Enhanced by Frost Heaves
in the Tanana River Valley

About 10 miles northwest of Delta Junction the Tanana River crosses the Richardson Highway. Here there is a wonderful opportunity to view the pipeline up close. Engineers have constructed a suspension bridge that lifts the Alaska pipeline over the river.

River Goddess Found on the Banks of the Tanana River

River Goddess Art on the Tanana Riverbank

As we approached Delta Junction, we were held up for an hour as we viewed the Deltana Days Parade. At least we had a front row seat. Those behind us waited almost as long, but did not have our excellent view of the parade.

Deltana Days Parade in Delta Junction, Alaska

A quick stop at the Visitor Center where we took several photos of the official terminus of the Alaska Highway and then onward toTok.

Official Terminus of the Alaska Highway in Delta Junction

At the end of our day we pulled into Tok RV Village, where we stayed on our way north. After a refreshing nap we enjoyed happy hour with our friends, then to bed. Tomorrow our destination is Chicken, Alaska, western terminus of the Top of the World Highway.

Alaskan Idyll, Days 37-38 Caravan Termination in Fairbanks

Friday morning we were treated to a ride on the Riverboat Discovery, an authentic, modern stern wheeled riverboat. This is probably the most finished and professionally done tour in all of Alaska, with the possible exception of the Skagway Train. The Binkley family, who own and operate the tour, have borrowed heavily from Disney in formatting and showcasing this tour.

The tour begins with a gigantic gift shop (what else – this is pseudo Disney, after all). A new feature since our last visit in 2005 is the “cold room”, a freezer room where the curious tourist may experience 40 degree below temperatures, for a ten dollar fee, of course. We elected not to enter, but probably would have paid the ten dollars to be let out, had we strayed in.

After boarding the boat, our first stop was a pause in midstream to witness the takeoff and landing of a small float plane, typical of those used to tie together the vast Alaskan wilderness. Along the way, we also witnessed a number of magnificent riverfront homes, as seen in the first photograph.
Riverboat Discovery

Shoving off Downstream on the Chena River

Floatplane Demonstration on the Chena River

Our next pause was a demonstration of sled dogs at the home of Susan Butcher, an Iditarod competitor and winner. Unfortunately, Susan died of Leukemia a couple of years ago but her family is carrying on the sledding tradition.

Summer Dog Team Practice at the Susan Butcher Kennels

Along the way we also passed a caribou farm, and saw a traditional native fish weir. At the fish weir, we witnessed a demonstration by an Athabascan of how the Native Americans and the early pioneer mushers prepared and cured salmon to feed the dog teams.

Caribou Farm

Native American Fish Weir

Preparation of Salmon for Curing

Curing Salmon

Downstream of the fish weir the Chena River empties into the Tanana River. The riverboat excursion used to proceed down the Tanana for a couple of miles before turning around, but recent changes in the channel have blocked the entrance. So we turned around at the junction. The following pictures show the motive power for the riverboat, and the large volumes of mud churned up by this paddle at the shallow turnaround.

Paddlewheel in Action

River Bottom Mud Churned up by the Paddlewheel

After turning around, we stopped for about an hour at a reproduction pioneer and native Alaskan village, where we debarked the boat for a tour and demonstrations. Our first demonstration was, of all things, another dog team.

Another Dog Team

Then on to a reproduction pioneer cabin and cache, where a pretty native American girl showed us a number of different pelts, including wolverine, lynx, beaver, ermine, mink, etc. Interestingly, mink was the least highly valued by the native Americans, as it’s insulating qualities are poor compared with the other furs. We also found the sod roof of the cabin to be interesting. It displayed numerous flowers in the sod.

Native American Nursing Student Shows Off a Pelt

Rooftop Flower Garden

Our third stop was a demonstration of native American clothing. While not a slave to fashion, Keith was very impressed by the workmanship, as well as by the pretty native American model. We were shown an elaborately decorated coat which was said to have taken almost 1000 labor hours to complete.

Sunburst Headpiece on Native American Coat

On our way back to the boat, we paused to snap couple of residences which show the pre-European native architecture.

Native Dwellings

Following our return to the campground, we rested through the afternoon, in preparation for our farewell dinner. This dinner included excellent roast beef with salad, mashed potatoes and beans. 3 COWS. During the course of the pre-dinner social hour, under the influence of an Alaskan Amber, Kathy allowed herself to be persuaded to participate in a post caravan journey with a smaller group of friends from this and a prior caravan. We had already paid for a couple of extra days at Rivers Edge, but Keith got on the horn with the campground office, and they readily agreed to refund our money for the extra days. As we said in our last post, this is a very well managed campground, anxious to leave a good impression in the minds of departing campers.

The next morning we went early to the excellent farewell breakfast buffet, so we could have time to prepare for an early departure. In doing this we missed saying good by to a number of folks, who all had better sense than to be going to breakfast at 6am. We apologize for this omission.

Our new itinerary now includes Tok and Chicken Alaska, Dawson City, Whitehorse, and Watson Lake YT, and Stewart, Smithers, and Prince George, BC. We will be driving the Top of the World Highway, which Keith drove in 2005 and swore “never again”. Just another demonstration of the old maxim “man plans and God laughs”. Stay tuned!