Day 17 – Top of the World Highway
This morning marks the halfway point of our trip and today we could reach the most northerly point of our travels.
After the midnight northern lights show and the clear night I was not surprised to see a blanket of frost on our vehicles. Minus 2 C (28 f) with low cloud/fog. We prepared to depart Gold Rush RV park for The Top of the World Highway and Alaska.
This day’s destination is Chicken, Alaska, for a two-night stay. As we prepared our rigs for the days drive given the low cloud and frost I couldn’t help but think about the chances of running into snow on the Top of the World Highway, that would not be fun! I kept my thoughts to myself no sense upsetting the old folks.
Refueling at the best price is challenge in the north. While wondering through Dawson, Ralph and I checked out the only gas station in town, $1.39, expensive. We needed to check for a cheaper price. The most expensive diesel previous to Dawson, was $1.12 per liter, most other fuel stops were around $1 per liter, $1.39 would cost us about $30 more to refill our tanks.
The morning before we left Dawson, I checked with the RV park office to see if there may be a cheaper place to refuel. I was fortunate to talk to the owner of the park who told me of the public card lock south of town with a price of $1.14 per liter, 25 cents cheaper than the in town price. The savings amounted to around $25 for our 100 plus liter tanks. In layman’s terms, that’s 1/2 a box of wine.
A side note, while talking with the owner of the RV park he mentioned him and his wife owned the park for 15 years and were preparing to close up for the season and head home to southern BC. I asked him if this was a common practice with many of the other businesses in the area. His comment, “what do you think, who in their right mind would tolerate 7 or 8 months of winter?” Good point , I thought to myself while walking back to camp.
After dumping holding tanks, refilling our fresh water and refueling, we headed for the George Black ferry on the edge of town and the twenty-minute ride across the Yukon River. Once across the river, a long climb to the Top of the World highway, another highlight of our trip, we hoped.
The group was apprehensive about this road we’d heard conflicting reports, some said it was very rough and poorly maintained and could cause tire problems or worse. Other reports said it is in good repair with only minor rough areas. It was also rumored the drive to the Alaska border could take a full day to complete.
The Top of the World Highway from Dawson City to the Alaska border covers about 100 kms, 60 miles. According to the map, the Yukon portion of the road is mostly gravel with short sections of pavement and completely paved after the Alaska border.
From my experience, a gravel road can be very driveable or terrible depending on the amount of rainfall and the length of time since the last grading.
Given the amount of rain we’ve endured so far this trip I’m thinking the road will be worse than terrible, but I’m not saying anything to the group, they are already apprehensive, no sense stirring the pot.
As we waited for the small ferry to return to the Dawson side of the river the opposite shore was obscured by the heavy mist that lay over the river. Henry commented, maybe we should have waited for the mist to clear before attempting the Top of the World Highway it may block the scenery? He may have a point I thought at the time.
We watched and waited as the ferry docked and lowered the loading ramp. I thought it strange to see a gravel approach ramp, usually they’re paved. My guess is a permanent paved ramp would be damaged from winter ice flow and gravel is probably easier to maintain.
Watching vehicles unload I noticed the transition from the ferry to the ground was not exactly smooth. One truck and camper, in particular, came off the ferry too fast causing it to violently jolt and sway. I thought for a second the truck would loose its camper. I suspect the least he will see when he opens his camper door is an assortment of dishes and utensils on the floor. Note to self, take it slow.
Obviously, Ralph, who lead the group to the ferry also saw the truck and camper episode, he was taking his time negotiating the ferry ramp.
The George Black Ferry probably holds ten small cars, our three rigs and one other vehicle pretty much filled the ferry.
The Yukon river has a strong current, to counteract the force the ferry navigated across the river at a 45-degree angle, seemed strange at the time.
I was hoping the ferry ride would provide a good photo op, a different angle of Dawson City, but the ferry attendant had other ideas, as I opened my door he quickly stepped over wagging his finger nothing doing. Impolite sign language seemed to be his forte.
Rude was my impression. The power hungry SOB, nazi of the smallest ferry in the world. No chip on this shoulder. I was wondering if he could swim, as he motioned me to drive forward. Enough about the nazi.
The ferry arrive at the opposite shore and pushed against the river shore as we slowly drove off the ramp. A small line up of cars waited their turn to board.
The mist seemed heavier on the other side of the river. The climb from the river on pavement was moderate, ten kms brought the end of the pavement and small breaks in the mist. Soon blue sky and brilliant sunshine appeared overhead, the likes we haven’t seen in quite awhile.
The road climbed for another ten kms to the top of the world. Surprisingly the gravel surface was excellent, Ralph was leading at a fast pace 80 kph and faster. I wasn’t sure what his motivation was but at this pace it shouldn’t take us all day to arrive at Chicken, Alaska today’s destination.
The scenery was nothing less than striking, rugged mountains and mist filled valleys stretching from both sides of the road as far as you can see. The bright morning sun made for an unforgettable experience. We stopped several times to enjoy the spectacular scenery and take pictures of course.
The road meandered along the mountain crest climbing high above the tree line, exposing tundra-like landscape with fall colored moss covering the hilltops.
The road is well-maintained gravel to the Alaska border, from here we enjoyed new pavement for about 20 kms, then the road deteriorates quickly to narrow, winding and rough. Some sections hardly wide enough for two vehicles to pass. Travel was slow but not difficult. The morning drive continued rough and slow until our descent into Chicken, Alaska.
Chicken is similar to most northern wayside stops, gas pumps, an RV park, and maybe a store/gift shop or cafe. A bit of a disappointment, the hype is misleading.
We stopped to refuel and lunch. After lunch a discussion developed on whether to continue. or stay in Chicken as planned.
Chicken is a very small seasonal village with little to see and do. A quick vote and the group decided to continue.
During refueling I commented to the gas jockey about the lack of pesky insects, he figured an early frost had put an end to the summer scourge.
After refueling and lunch we continued with Ralph leading. Less than one kilometer down the road Ralph turned at a sigh pointing to the town center, surprise. Maybe there is more to this village than we thought. We followed Ralph, on the right a ways off the road was a run down saloon, an interesting looking building attached to several other dilapidated structures.
We took a left into a empty lot bordering an RV park with an old mining dredge next too the river behind a large chicken. The Dredge was similar to dredge #4 we toured in Dawson.
A brief stop for pictures and back on the road.
Unfortunately there wasn’t time to check out the old saloon, the write-up states the saloon and attached shops are manned by the same woman. Apparently, she’s her only employee and hustles between buildings attending to customers. Sounds like an opportunity for a grab and run sale……….not me, that would be stealing!
The only significance of Chicken, Alaska to our group it’s our furthest northern point of the trip.
We continued toward Tetlin Junction over decent sections of gravel and occasional rough pavement. The road climbed again above the tree line to the barren tundra hills. An interesting landscape, something like the moon except for the fall browns and brilliant reds.
A pleasant afternoon drive to Tetlin Junction under high cloud and filtered sunshine. As we drove through fall colors it was obvious hunting season had started. Every turnout or vacant accessible wayside was crowded with every type of hunting rig imaginable, even the creeks and river pullouts hosted a boat trailer. It seemed there were more hunters than game in this desolate mountain area. Caribou or moose was the likely target.
At one rest stop with room enough for us, we pulled in for a toilet break. Another RV from BC was already there, a conversation started with the occupants. They were touring the same route as us except in the opposite direction. The group quizzed us as to the condition of the top of the world highway.
During the conversation, I realized RVers have no problem approaching other RVers to strike up a conversation. I’m not sure if it’s because most of us are old farts and no longer shy or our need to know overshadows any inhibitions we may have.