Chapter 6.  Eastern Alaska & The Yukon

Bert & Shari Frenz, 1998 All rights reserved.

Day 80 - July 30, 1998 - Milepost 6999 (232 today) - Tok, AK

(Shari) I am sure Bert told all our readers how much he likes this place called Blueberry Lake State Park. Well I do not share his enthusiasm. It is situated above tree line and so therefore no trees grace the land, just lots of Sitka Alder bushes, much like mulberries. The park has only 10 campsites and not even those sites are full tonight. (Goes to show you how many other people like this place and who is in the majority). I am glad we are leaving. The day is pretty for our drive to Tok but the route is tedious to travel. Frost heaves mar the first section to Glennallen and from there on construction and gravel slow our progress. Most of the countryside is uninhabited spruce forest. We take a vote on the CB whether tonight’s camp will be a state park out of Tok without electricity for $10 or RV Village in Tok for $16.20 with electricity. You guessed it, we women want electricity and the men wisely keep their thoughts to themselves. Jean and I decide to check out the town. We want to visit the T-shirt outlet and the grocery store. The T-shirt outlet is a flop and so is the grocery store. Because of the astronomical prices of the provisions, I decide to make do with what we have until Whitehorse. I am not going to pay $3.99 for a gallon of milk and $2.99 for a can of frozen orange juice. Off brand potato chips are $3.99 and I pass on them also. Hindsight tells me I should have shopped in Valdez. The temperature is warm and we sit at the picnic table with drinks and homemade pickled herring for Happy Hour. For those interested, the herring tastes delicious, just like the kind you buy in the store. I am impressed with it, if I say so myself. Dinner is fried razor clams from the freezer: also very tasty. It is early to bed tonight and early to rise in the morning. We intend to take the Top of the World Highway to Chicken tomorrow, a rough road from all reports.

(Bert) Leaving Blueberry Lake, we climb through Thompson Pass (elevation 2771 ft) which has the distinction of holding the record for the heaviest snowfall in Alaska: more than 81 ft in winter 1952-53 and enough to bury me from toe to nose one day in December 1955. The terrain we pass through is much like Love Pass or one of the other Rocky Mountain passes outside Denver, although in Alaska we reach alpine at a half-mile above sea level instead of the two miles it takes at Lower 48 latitudes. We retrace our path to Glennallen and then fork northeast toward Tok. We’ve been warned about the upcoming road construction and, right on cue, a sign at Gakona announces 55 miles of construction. This section of highway is habitually plagued with frost heaves. Now, big blocks of highway are scraped off to bare gravel to prepare for future resurfacing. I travel at 15 to 25 m.p.h. on the gravel, speed to 45 on the pavement, only to slow again a half-mile further when I hit more gravel. On some sections we encounter construction equipment, so we follow a pilot car through the maze. Signs post "Bump" or "Rough Road," but they bear no relation to actual road conditions. The highway department might as well just label the entire 127-mile stretch as rough road. Our surroundings are forested with diminutive spruce and, rarely, a cabin or lodge. Fifty miles from Tok, the mountains grow formidably and the spruce are taller in proportion. Then at 10 miles out, the land flattens and we coast into Tok, refuel for tomorrow and camp at Tok RV Village. We’ve traveled 232 miles in eight hours, averaging 29 m.p.h. During a late afternoon walk, I have the distinct feeling this is the last day of summer. The warm air is summering, but the breeze rustles birch leaves with fall freshness. Orange Timberberries and miniature red Bunchberries carpet the forest where flowers bloomed earlier in the season. Rose hips replace flowers. Fox sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos are fledged and fattening for their long pilgrimage south. Fireweed blossoms have climbed to the top of their stalks, signaling an end to their season. The temperature approaches 70, but it’s probably the last time we will feel the heat this season.

 

Day 81 - July 31, 1998 - Milepost 7077 (78 today) - Chicken, AK

(Shari) Bert almost misses our turnoff to Chicken and luckily I am in the secondary driver’s seat and enough awake to mention it to him despite the early hour. Oh well, I guess that is why we have brakes. I attempt to enjoy the awesome scenery but find it difficult to see the trees through the forest as it whizzes by at Daytona RV Racetrack speed. At one of the summits of Fairplay Mountain we realize waves of mountains totally surround us, awash in shades of blue. The road in our immediate future is like a ribbon lying on a field of green, wiggling and turning toward the horizon 20 miles ahead. Fireweed blankets the roadside in a riot of fushia blooms. We encounter steep inclines and descents that are not worse than what we have encountered before, but more frequent. Every turn has a caution sign 5%, 7% or even a 9% grade. Luckily the hills are all short and RTENT does not have much time to gather speed before she has to climb again. By 9:30 we are already in downtown Chicken: population 25 nice people and one grouch. We park RTENT in the lot and walk to The Gold Panner. The proprietor tells us this is her last year, as the new owners will not renew her lease. The creek where we panned for gold in 1996 is being mined commercially now. Gee, how did we miss those nuggets? We walk to the strip mall in new Chicken: one building with false fronts for emporium, liquor store, bar, cafe and salmon bake. It looks even worse than it did two years ago, if that is possible. I doubt that any of the stores have seen a dust rag or mop since. Dust, cigarette butts, bottle caps and just plain dirt litter the floor. Merchandise is haphazardly put out on display. What a misnomer to call this a downtown! At 2 p.m. we meet Ingrid on the porch of The Gold Panner for our tour of Old Chicken. She and Susie from downtown Chicken seem to have a feud going. In previous years Susie sold tickets charging $5 a piece for the tour of old Chicken, despite not owning the land. Now that Ingrid has purchased the land, Susie tells everyone to ignore the NO TRESPASSING signs because of Title 2677. After squabbling with the Lieutenant Governor of the state, they settled the issue less than three weeks ago. Ingrid owns the land. Ingrid can keep people off it. Preserving the town as she found it is Ingrid’s goal, and she is attempting to have it designated as a national historical site. Unlocking original buildings from 1896 mining days, Ingrid gives us a glimpse of life at the time. Some buildings had not been opened since the mining operation shut down. Tools, papers and even flour in the mess hall remain yet where they were left 36 years ago.

(Bert) Chicken, Alaska, has more stories than people. Let me tell you one about gold mining. Our narrator is Ingrid, the present owner of the Chicken Creek mining operation. Just this past year, she and her husband bought the land and mineral rights from F. E. Gold, and that company bought it from the original miners. So our story really starts in Franklin in 1883 and moves quickly 11 miles downstream to Chicken Creek in 1886 when gold was discovered there too, by the miners who came to the Klondike and fanned out to all the Forty Mile River tributaries (she calls them "pups") searching for fortune. Some say as many as 200 people descended on the greater Chicken area, but Ingrid believes the actual number in Chicken itself was probably less than 50. Still, that’s twice the number that live here now. We meet Ingrid sitting on the porch of The Gold Panner, a souvenir shop plunked down in the middle of a gravel parking lot where we are camping free tonight. She graciously gives us a tour of Old Chicken, the original mining town. Secluded in an alder woods, the first log cabin she shows us was built around the turn of the century by a gold miner. She lets us step inside the sparsely furnished one-room home, now slanting downhill from the shifting permafrost. The massive logs and the large wood burning stove make it easy to imagine that this small building was warm even on the coldest winter nights. After the initial easy pickings played out by the 1930s, the mining claims were bought up by F. E. Gold, a large gold mining operation from Fairbanks. But they were slow to collect on their investment because roads did not reach Chicken. They were further interrupted when Franklin Roosevelt requested that mining operations cease, so that the heavy earth moving equipment could be used for building the Alaska Highway. After the war, construction started near Tok on the Taylor Highway and in 1953 it reached Chicken. That’s the road we took today. It was still a strenuous road when we took it in 1996, but today it was 24 miles of newly paved highway followed by 44 miles of wide, well-graded gravel which we cleared in 2.5 hours. Along the way we were treated to far horizons, a sea of tossing waves of Sitka Spruce stretching endlessly from the mountain top highway. But in the entire 68-mile stretch we saw only one cabin until we reached Chicken. With the completion of the Taylor Highway, F. E. Gold moved in the men and machinery to tackle the mining operations. Ingrid shows us the original mining buildings and roadhouses that F. E. Gold transformed to working sheds, dining rooms and offices. Nestled among them is the original building where Ann Purdy taught school and later wrote the popular book "Tisha" based on her experiences as a backwoods’ teacher in the early part of this century. We saw Ingrid’s husband mining Jack Wade, a site down the road, when we passed through here two years ago. When Jack Wade played out, they bought - but not without a little local controversy - the Chicken Creek mining area which had closed in 1967. The "No Trespassing" signs that sprang up this spring did not sit well with the lady who owned Beautiful Downtown Chicken. Allow me to digress: "Beautiful Downtown Chicken" is next to the single gas pump ($1.799/gal) and incorporates the Chicken Mercantile Emporium, Chicken Liquor Store, Chicken Creek Saloon, Chicken Creek Cafe and the Chicken Salmon Bake and Barbeque. The comeuppance is that these are all one long building with multiple store fronts, but a back door that allows the proprietor to switch hats and service customers at all fronts. Besides her competition, The Gold Panner, she’s the only game in town. Anyway, she didn’t like the "No Trespassing" signs and started telling customers to ignore them because a state ordinance allowed public access to the RS2417 Trail that passed through the property to the Ann Purdy schoolhouse. Ingrid didn’t like the trespassers, so she offered free tours instead and two weeks ago she got law enforcement departments to recognize that RS2417 followed the creek and was not the path crossing her property. Ingrid sounds like a real go getter. While her husband mines a hundred feet from where we are parked, she intends to take over The Gold Panner store, is trying to get the lieutenant governor to recognize the mining operation as a state historical site, and wants the governor to finish the Taylor Highway to Canada. We face the unfinished section of road when we leave here, so I’m sure I’ll have more to say about that later, but I can already guess I’m siding with Ingrid on this issue.

 

Day 82 - August 1, 1998 - Milepost 7077 - Eagle, AK

(Bert) I like exploring a world remote from civilization, one cut from the mold of its creator and not tarnished by human endeavors: no houses, no electrical wires, no telephone poles, no man made noises. And skies blue, white and maybe moisture-laden black, but without unnatural pollutants. I like night skies free of city lights and rivers clear and pure, sparkling with fresh rain or last winter’s snow. I want to see what the world was like before man intervened. I’d like to imagine what John James Audubon and Jim Bridger and Meriweather Lewis saw when they explored a virgin America. I haven’t found many places matching my parameters, but today’s trip to Eagle, Alaska, fills the bill. The four of us pile into the Pathfinder at 7 a.m. and almost immediately are rewarded for our early start by two moose standing in our pathway. We leisurely travel until noon on 100 miles of the Taylor Highway, alternating between riding a mountain ridge and scuttling a little creek at its base. The well-graded gravel makes easy travel by auto, but the steep climbs, sharp curves, narrow paths and precipitous shoulders would make it a motorhome challenge I wouldn’t advise. The pristine landscape gives me the feeling of an early explorer discovering the American West for the first time. In the 1950s before modern interstate highways made it easy, my grandparents visited the 48 states and viewed the national parks. It was a time when the U.S. still held its youthfulness, if not its virginity. Visiting prestatehood Alaska at that time was a greater automotive challenge than they had the resources to tackle. But today, the trip is simple for my generation and it’s our chance to see American wilderness. I wonder what will be left for my granddaughter to visit 40 or 50 years from now that will still impart the awesome wonder of God’s original creation.

(Shari) Ten hours on the road and we go nowhere today. Don, Jean, Bert and I take a day trip to Eagle, Alaska in our car, abandoning RTENT at The Gold Panner’s parking lot. I have learned to call these small Alaskan towns rustic and quaint instead of old and dumpy. Unpaved streets pass abandoned houses long since sunk into the permafrost. A few well-kept buildings remain, remnants of the 1889 Fort Egbert. It takes us four and one half hours to journey the 100 miles to Eagle. The road is part of the excursion. The first 30 miles of the road are the worst we have traveled so far on this trip. The road is strewed with potholes, washboard and rocks the size of tennis balls protruding from the worn out bed. It noticeably improves after we turn at Jack Wade Junction. Although it remains gravel, the Alaskan Department of Transportation is doing some maintenance and it is driveable without losing teeth in the process. The scenery is breathtaking as we meander up and around mountains. At one time Jean counts 13 layers of ridges in 13 shades of blue, each layer a little lighter in color than the previous one. The last layer appears almost translucent as it meets the sky miles away. Patches of pink fireweed break the greens and blues. Words cannot paint the beauty of this corner of God’s creation and a camera cannot translate its immensity. Eagle itself is frozen in time and remains virtually untouched since the early 1900s. Over half the town’s 146 people still obtain water from the well, dug by hand in 1903. I observe a constant procession of pickup trucks stopping at the corner and filling all manner of containers with the precious water. We observe locals practicing the traditional subsistence activities of net fishing, gathering berries, home gardening and handcrafting articles of clothing to be used or sold at a stand to the bus tour passengers that frequent the town. Relinquishing our picnic lunch, we eat ‘50s style hamburgers and fries at the local cafe overlooking the Yukon River toward Canada. Delicious homemade blueberry pie ala mode tops off the meal. Making the rounds of the gift shops does not take long (there is only one and that one does not part my wallet from its money). The return trip becomes tedious until a flat tire adds excitement. I keep telling myself things could be worse as I position coolers and water jugs along the road to act as warning beacons to oncoming traffic. I station myself in the middle of the road to alert any oncoming traffic (only three cars) of the men changing the tire. It could be worse, I remind myself again. We could be in the middle of nowhere in Alaska. (Oh, I guess we are). Well we could be on an incline. (We are, but it is not so very steep). The spare could be flat. (It is only a little low). It could be raining. (One out of four, ain’t bad! The sun is shining brightly). It could be worse. When returning to Chicken, I try to buy a tire. Now, do not laugh. They actually have one tire for sale. But alas, it is not our size. Looks like we will limp to Dawson tomorrow on our miniature spare. It could be worse. We rest from our long day in front of a campfire using all our remaining bug-infested Kenai firewood before we enter Canada. We drink Margaritas and grill hotdogs. It could be worse.

 

Day 83 - August 2, 1998 (predawn) - Milepost 7077 - Chicken, AK

(Bert) In between a dream and awareness I wonder how dark is the evening sky. I crawl out of bed and sleepily look at the living room clock: the little hand is on the 2 and the big hand is on the 3. I recall Shari saying we should be able to see the Aurora Borealis from Chicken in August. I look through the window toward the north and see a strange sky. I pull on jeans, wrap myself in my new Polar Fleece jacket, stick my bare feet in hiking shoes and lumber outside. The horizon is thinly edged in the white light of a sun either not completely set or just starting to rise or, perhaps, both. But right of this, surrounding a bright twinkling star - perhaps the North Star - a ladder of silver rungs climbs up the darker sky from horizon to nearly Gemini above my head. Cracks interweave like frozen lightning. Nothing hints of clouds. The pattern does not move or shift, but it sometimes fades. The quicksilver etched sky does not spread into a spectrum of colors that I remember from photos of Aurora Borealis. Nor do they move like the videos I’ve watched. (Or were those time lapse photos?) Whatever it is, it draws a stranger sky than I’ve ever witnessed. I retrieve my camera from RTENT and my tripod from the Pathfinder and take an 8-sec. exposure. That seems like a long time, so I try again at two seconds. The shutter click is accompanied by the hooting of a Great Horned Owl. I return the camera equipment and get my binoculars and flashlight. The hooting has stopped, but an eerie high-pitched screech comes from the direction of the gold mine. I hike across the gravel parking lot, my shoes sounding loud in the nocturnal silence. When I reach the edge of a muddy field, hardened by the chilly night, a dark shadow silently glides across my path and rests, ghostlike, on the left post of a sign. In the light of the evening sky I can see the ghost is the same height as the letter "F" in the sign "Free Overnight RV Parking." My flashlight is unnecessary for path finding, but now I aim it at the ghost and illuminate a Great Horned Owl. With binoculars in one hand and flashlight in the other, I stare eyeball to eyeball at the owner of the night. Just then the screeching resumes, not from the bird 25 ft. in front of me, but from the woods beyond the muddy field. I point my feet in the direction my ears command. Forty paces further the sound is high above me and I look up at a shadow, then two shadows, moving at the peak of the crane on whatever-you-call-a-steam-shovel-now-that-it-is-powered-by-diesel. My flashlight finds a newly fledged owl and its mother: the juvenile screeching for food, the mother ignoring her yelping child. After a couple of minutes, the two fly a dozen yards to the crane of another shovel displaying a sign identifying, "Albet Mining Co. Chicken AK." On the hillside I pause to absorb all of the night sounds. Only the occasional owl call and the rush of water on Mosquito Fork, over a mile away, reach my eardrums. Not a single manmade sound can be heard. I shift my hearing senses up and down the scale. Not even insects can be heard. The silence is precious, a treasure not often enjoyed. Backing out of the field I disturb several sparrows roosting in a low alder bush. I can’t find them with my flashlight, but the chirp sounds like Savannah’s. I take the gravel road back and then, at the pond, the rabbit silhouette of a Snowshoe hops nearby. I see more silhouettes and walk closer. Panning my light through the marsh edges, my heart skips a beat as raucous calls follow the zigzag flight of three snipe erupting from the shadows. Back on the gravel road I watch the pond from a different perspective. Two teal tranquilly float like black opals on a silvered mirror. The gravel road climbs. In the grassy field to the south another shadow trots, wolflike, but my light transforms the canine into a husky on the prowl. Now on my right in the dark aspen woods another shadow rustles branches; he stops to watch me and contemplates how to get past me to join his companion. The chill down my spine matches the chill of the night and I realize the temperature is colder than my hastily thrown on clothes prepared me. As I hike back, I notice the night sky show has melted into the background. Venus still beams brightly, diamondlike, but the rest of the jewels are hidden. Back in RTENT, the clock has moved to 3:15 and the outside thermometer registers 45 degrees, much colder than I thought. I guess the excitement of the Alaskan night took my mind off its chill. As I climb into bed, Shari asks, "Did you see it?" I answer, "Yes," as I fall back to sleep.

 

Day 83 - August 2, 1998 - Milepost 7188 (111 today) - Dawson City, YT

(Bert) I painfully remember July 1, 1996. On the road between Chicken and Boundary, a marital argument with the intensity of threatened divorce ended in fighting words when Shari declared, "I’m never coming to Alaska again." No speed, however slow, seemed slow enough to save our marriage. In my 1996 journal I wrote about "miles of pan rattling, shelf shifting, coffee jiggling, temper-trying washboard even when we creep cautiously at 10 to 15 m.p.h." A year later while traveling a rough road in Wyoming we learned that our motorhome fared better when not towing our car. When attached, RTENT and the toad fight about who owns the hitch, intensifying the vibrations tenfold as we bounce over washboard gravel. So this morning we wisely create our own caravan as we pull out of Chicken: Shari in the lead with the Pathfinder, then me in RTENT, then Jean, followed by Don in d’Bus. To the Eagle cutoff, the road is the same I drove yesterday in the Pathfinder. Although rough, the passage was painless. But I gain new perspective while driving RTENT. Today I experience a narrower road, with sharper curves, higher mountains, steeper drop offs and bumpier surfaces. Nevertheless, unhitched and without a copilot administering advice, my travel becomes an adventure rather than a trial. Travel with me mile by mile on the road to Dawson:

7076 - start at 6:30 a.m.
7077 - narrow, ungraded, steep
7078 - steep, many curves
7079 - gravel scrapped away, raw stone exposed
7084 - high drop offs appear even higher from RTENT
7085 - sign posting "End Winding Road" translates as "Let the potholes begin"
7086 - follows South Fork of river
7087 - curves, steep, rocks, narrow
7088 - steep drop off on left down to river 1,500 ft. below
7090 - surface of tightly imbedded boulders, raw and sharp
7091 - cross Walker Fork, travel at river level
7092 - a whole lot of shakin’ n’ rattlin’ goin’ on
7093 - washboard gets worse, painful at 10 m.p.h.
7094 - washboard okay at 25 m.p.h.
7095 - back down to 10 m.p.h. to stop vibrations
7096 - pass spot where we had flat tire yesterday, very bad at 10 m.p.h.
7097 - graded smooth past Jack Wade claim
7100 - potholes
7101 - graded, climbing
7102 - climbing in first and second gear
7104 - still climbing
7105 - encountered first oncoming traffic, 7:54 a.m.
7106 - Taylor Highway exits left to Eagle, we continue straight ahead
7107 - gentle curves, still climbing slowly
7109 - smooth sailing at 25 to 35 m.p.h.
7113 - swallow roller coaster, bumpy at 30 m.p.h.
7115 - Boundary, Alaska, stop to rest at 8:15 a.m.

We traveled 38 miles in 105 minutes, averaging 22 m.p.h. The next four miles to the Canada border are fine if driven at 30 m.p.h. From the border to Dawson, YT, the Top of the World Highway is paved, widened, flattened and maintained: a true pleasure to drive. The irony of the Taylor Highway is that great sums of money have been spent improving the road from Tetlin Junction (near Tok) to Chicken, but no future money has been allocated to finish the job to the border. Yet the U.S. government paid the Canadians to improve the Top of the World Highway. Sometime after the turn of the century the governor may put money back into Taylor Highway. In the meantime, drive carefully and put spouses in separate vehicles.

(Shari) The alarm punctuates the darkened room, as I grope for the off button. We want an early start today to traverse the terrible road to the Canadian border. Two years ago, this section of road was Divorce Making 101 material. This time around we decide to drive separate vehicles for the first 40 miles. I lead (so Bert can’t drive too fast). Bert follows, with Jean, then Don in his motorhome, bringing up the rear. Road signs along the way caution bumps, hairpin curves, curvy roads ahead, 10 m.p.h., steep descents. No lie! Two hours later, after shaking and swerving and climbing and descending countless times, we stop at Boundary, Alaska. Jean buys a cup of coffee to calm her nerves from the harrowing trip. After a brief chat with Canadian customs (the officer must not know that we are the notorious couple from last May that entered Canada without any visible proof of financial support), we immediately encounter a paved road. How sweet it is and I ask myself why the Canadian side can be paved and the US side is a disgrace to be called a primary gravel road. The next 50 miles are a piece of cake. Unsurpassed beauty abounds as the road smoothly meanders on the crests of mountains, giving it its name, Top of the World Highway. We unhook again nine miles from Dawson City in preparation for the long descent to the Yukon River Ferry. The ferry takes us the short distance across the river where we wait for Don and d’Bus He was unable to load the same ferry as the rest of us. We inspect the Gold Pan RV Park downtown and find it offers a convenient parking lot but has no vacancies. Guggieville RV Park, a more scenic location has room, but is booked tomorrow night. Not since May, at the north rim of the Grand Canyon, have we run into a full house. We stay close to RTENT this afternoon, taking care of housekeeping chores. Layers of road dust blanket the inside with grit and vacuuming is critical. Our evening’s activity includes the show Gaslight Follies at the Palace theater. Three young men and women tell of the gold rush era in comedy, song and dance. After the show we visit the Sourdough Saloon. This is famous worldwide for its sour toe cocktail. For $5 plus the purchase of a drink of your choice, a real - underlined real - human, pickled toe is placed in a glass. The participant must consume his drink having the toe touch his lips at the beginning and end of the beverage, without swallowing the toe. Don really wanted to participate in this raucous activity but Jean said she would never kiss him again if he did. Jean’s kiss was more important than the toe, thank goodness.

 

Day 84 - August 3, 1998 - Milepost 7188 - Dawson City, YT

(Shari) The second biggest city in the Yukon, Dawson City attempts to regain its gold rush stature of 100 years ago. Previous annuals describe this city as the "Queen of the North" as it was the largest city west of Winnipeg and north of Seattle in 1898. Sadly it has lost its luster. The gold wore out and so did the luster. Some mining continues and mining in all its forms remains the #1 industry in the Yukon Territory. Like huge rock worm tailings, the telltale dredge tailings of the goldfields mar the landscape. Permafrost prevents the streets of Dawson from being paved. Frost heaves would continually force rocks to the surface during warm weather and the repair costs would be prohibitive to a town of this size. Unpaved streets and parking lots and driveways and RV Parks make for messy, bumpy, unattractive landscape, no matter how historical it is. During the summer months a constant procession of tour buses abounds. RV’s punctuate Dawson’s streets. Business booms and the RV parks are full. There is room for competition among the RV parks, as all four of them are part of the aesthetically worst we have visited. Tonight because of no vacancy at Guggieville, we are forced to move to Bonanza RV Park next door. It has just opened for business in May and the owners have big plans for the operation, complete with 30-amp power and modem hookups at some sites. However, the sites are closely spaced with views of hills of gravel. Even driving in the lot is a bumpy experience, since the gravel consists of stones and rocks the size of golf and tennis balls imbedded in smaller refined pieces. Potholes abound. Man has certainly managed to mar the land in this area. The vistas of the river and surrounding hills should be spectacular. However, I cannot raise my eyes past the gravel. One high spot of the day is Black Bird’s Bistro, a truly fine Mexican restaurant within walking distance of RTENT. I order a layered enchilada dish that is covered with a spicy red sauce and served with blue corn chips and marinated vegetable salad for $6.30. A gooey chocolate mousse cake completes the dinner.

(Bert) Dawson City is a rugged frontier town of the Far North. Partly by design, partly by necessity, the town retains a turn-of-the-century flavor with wooden store fronts, plank sidewalks and muddy streets. Only Front Street, which parallels the Yukon River and connects the ferry to the Klondike Highway, is paved. The goldfields are still mined, albeit with modern equipment, just a few miles down Bonanza Road where we are camping. The residents too carry a bit of the untamed wilderness in themselves. When I try to buy a tire to replace our blowout, I encounter Joe, a burly rotund man with a thick German accent. Sixteen years ago, Joe came to Dawson City. Shaved head, thick neck, massive chest, wrists as wide as fists, he’s the type of man who would put the fear of God in any suitor of his daughter. From a greasy shed beside the Esso station, Joe tells me he has a Kelly tire: one, used. I ask him if I can get credit for my blown-out Kelly since it still has tread. He answers succinctly, "No guarantee." I ask him if he can mount the replacement tire and balance it. "No balance," he retorts. I decide to try the only other tire supplier in town. In the Callison Industrial section I find Van Every, wade through the mud to the steps and enter the store. A pretty, young lady is helping a customer while a bearded, roughly-dressed man slouches in a chair behind the counter. He offers no help, so I wait for the lady. When my turn comes, I explain my needs, but she only offers a Firestone tire for $269. My comment on the high price prompts the previously silent man to announce, "Welcome to Dawson." I ask about a guarantee; she says "None." He adds, "Manufacturers don’t give guarantees for Dawson’s rocky roads." I head back to see Joe again. "How much do want for the used tire?", I ask. In his strictly business tone and his guttural German accent, Joe replies, "You a goin’ to haf’ to give me no less than 50 or 60 dolla’." I ask to see the tire. He leads me to the overgrown lot behind the shed, a graveyard for used tires. Rummaging through a stack, he pulls out the Kelly. Like he told me, the tire is almost brand new and an exact replacement of the one I’ve lost. I ask him if the $50 includes mounting. He corrects me, "60 dolla’, includes mounting." I accept the offer, hardly believing my good fortune ($60 Canadian converts to $39 US). While he mounts the tire on my rim, he tells me to back my car into the shed, "But don’t back into the pit." I have to get out of the Pathfinder several times to check the rear as I try to back into the shed without falling into the 5-ft. hole in the concrete. From my Lower 48 experience of being prohibited from even setting foot in a service department work area, I find this Dawson affair indicative of the greater risks taken for granted in the wilderness. Replacement tire mounted, I return to the campground we’ve moved to for tonight. The Bonanza Gold RV Park just opened in May and is built on the partially leveled gravel of gold mine tailings. When I retrieve e-mail in the temporary office, the owner is anxious to show me her blueprints for the unfinished RV park. She is especially proud to point out the line of 10 campsites that will include telephone jacks for modem connections and to the two work areas set aside in the future building just for e-mail usage. Retrieving e-mail while traveling is getting easier all the time.

 

Day 85 - August 4, 1998 - Milepost 7524 (336 today) - Whitehorse, YT

(Bert) Those who have not traveled to Alaska or examined a road map may be unaware that southeastern Alaska cannot be reached by road from Anchorage without leaving the U.S. Most of the population lives in Anchorage, central Alaska and the south central coastal areas. To reach southeast Alaska we exit central Alaska near Tok and then return east through Beaver Creek - the way we came in June - or we travel northeast through Dawson City. Of the various paths through the Yukon, almost all of them eventually intersect Whitehorse, our destination for today. From there we will head south to the southeastern coastal town of Skagway, Alaska. We leave Dawson City at 8:30 a.m. under heavily overcast skies. Just outside the city limits, I spot a Red Fox in an unlikely habitat. He’s climbing one of the many gravel piles left from mine tailings and his sleek red fur contrasts sharply against the washed white stone. Later the sky clears and we drive through forested valleys, often along rivers and lakes, on a beautiful, warm (75 degrees) fall day. Some aspen leaves have turned yellow; roadside grasses are often brown: signals of the changing season. Near Pelly River we drive along a forest burned in 1995: charred black poles standing in a carpet of bright violet fireweed, death and life juxtaposed. Later, near Fox Lake, we encounter a more recent fire: blackened trees stuck in a sea of glossy mud. Patches of short grass appear like golf greens in a black fairway. In the distance the mountains are hazy and in a couple spots curls of smoke ascend. We camp tonight at High Country RV Park, the best we’ve found on our five visits to Whitehorse.

(Shari) I have little to write in this journal today. After a $3.85 breakfast at the Black Bird Bistro we step into RTENT for our move to Whitehorse. Smooth pavement and smokey skies accompany us. A forest fire nearby must be the cause of the haze and the smell in the air. It goes on for miles. Cold weather is also near. Fireweed is blooming toward the top of the flower head. The green forest is punctuated with yellow as the aspens prepare for Fall. The road gets boring and we listen to Michener’s Alaska on tape, made more relevant since this trip. We have been to four different campgrounds in Whitehorse and have not really liked any of them. Arriving at 3 p.m. this afternoon we try number five, Hi-Country RV. It is by far the best one here and ranks high on my list for the whole trip. I originally scheduled this one for our way up, but for some reason we chose another. The grounds are landscaped and flower pots adorn the office entry. The office has an attractive gift shop and small grocery store. The best part is the comfortable lobby complete with modem hookups for use at any hour. I read a book on the outside patio enjoying the sunshine as I wait for the wash and dry cycles to complete. We drive to town, stocking up on our depleted supplies. Catching up with e-mail at 10:30, the night sounds travel through the open windows. The temperature is a balmy 75 degrees.

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