Our Alaska RV Tour – The Top of the World Highway

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Top of the World Highway, Yukon

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.

 

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George Black ferry, Yukon river, Dawson City, Yukon
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.

 

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View from The Top of the World Highway, Yukon
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.

 

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Top of the World Highway, Yukon
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.

 

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View from The Top of the World Highway, Yukon
The road meandered along the mountain crest climbing high above the tree line, exposing tundra-like landscape with fall colored moss covering the hilltops.

 

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Yukon/Alaska border in the middle of nowhere.
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.

 

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Top of the World Highway, Yukon
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.

 

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Guess where, Chicken, Alaska Lynda & I, Henry & Allyson
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.

 

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Chickens in Chicken, alaska
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.

 

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The high tundra, Top of the World Highway, Yukon
During the conversation our new friends mentioned they had just come from the north, from Fairbanks and Anchorage. We inquired as to the condition of the road north. The comments were not favorable so even though our group was not definite on taking the drive farther north this report finalized the decision, north was a no go.
At Tetlin Junction, another proverbial hole in the wall, we made the turn south onto the Alaska highway . I think the group was somewhat relieved to head south.
Encountering bad weather had been a concern from the outset of our trip, especially snow. I’m sure, the thought in the back of our minds was, the longer and the farther north our trip takes us the more chance of snow. One often hears of an early winter storm closing the highway bringing travel to a halt.
Our stay in Alaska was short lived, we crossed back into Yukon later that afternoon. Crossing the border was an unusual experience, the female Canadian border guard made a point of asking each of us if we preferred to converse in Canada’s second official language, French.
It seemed odd because there are few French-speaking Canadians in the west.  Maybe another Canadian Border Agency ploy to put us off guard, who knows.
Ralph had fun with the female guard agreeing to converse in French while the guard pointed out that he probably would not understand. I’m not sure if she thought Ralph didn’t know French or she couldn’t speak it?
Shortly after the border, it was time for a break, fortunately, a rest stop appeared. We step out of our trucks for the much-needed break. Allyson announced she was disgruntled (this is BS was her actual comment) with the long travel day. I think she voiced what everyone was feeling, a stop for the night couldn’t come soon enough.
Traveling through the north is very different to traveling in the south RV parks a scares. Good planning is essential to avoid length travel days.
During our stop in Chicken, I pointed out our new destination for the day, a red tent on the Yukon map indicating a government campsite near Beaver Creek border crossing, the crossing we just passed through. At the time no one realized how far the campground was  or that this day’s drive would become the longest of the trip.
After the rest area, it was time for  a quick fuel stop at Beaver Creek, so we thought. Unfortunately, the attendant’s  English language skills were, lets say limited, nor did he have a good grasp of the fuel pump operating system.
He proceeded to mix up our fuel purchases charging each of us something different than the pump register. He couldn’t understand his mistake, or how to bring up the appropriate pump total. If we weren’t so tired it probably would have been funny. 
The Snag Junction government campsite was another hour down the road. Not sure why it was called Snag Junction, there didn’t appear to be any cross roads in fact it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.
By the time we arrived the truck clock flashed 5:30, happy hour was wasting away, definitely not cool. We pulled into the almost deserted campground next to a pristine lake. The only people camped were an older couple, older than our group, huddled around a freshly lit campfire. It looked like their sleeping quarters would be under the canopy in the back of their pickup truck. Strange, I thought, rare to see people of their advance years sleeping in the back of a pickup. Reliving their youth, was my conclusion, maybe even doing the nasty, good for them, no screaming  I hope. I need a good nights sleep.
We made a pass through the heavily treed camp as is usually our procedure before picking spots. It was just an overnight stop so we weren’t concerned with having a perfect spot with a view of the lake.
Once  settled it was time to register and pay. The guys and I wandered up to the registration station with our first of the day (beer) only to find no registration envelopes. We decided to skip paying, if the manager couldn’t supply envelopes he would be obliged to come to our camp site to collect. As it happened we ended with a free night, saving $12 or  a 1/4 box of wine.
The campground is in the Yukon so again we are blessed with free firewood, translating to a big fire.There will be plenty more camping on this trip and many more campfires. Fortunately, this night it wasn’t necessary  to dip into our private stock in my trailer and this batch of Yukon firewood didn’t appear to be tagged with identification.
An eventful happy hour, a black cloud drifted over hurling torrents of rain and hail. We huddled under Ralph and Lois’s awning with our glasses and our favorite cardboardney. The poor conditions were short lived, happy hour was salvaged with pleasant warm from the campfire, thank goodness for the warmth or the damp and 3 C (38f) would have chased us into our small quarters.
Dinner was another communal affair of burgers and fries, Lynda made her famous oven fries, my favorite. This stop was  our first encounter with mosquitoes, huge suckers, large enough to have co-pilots, as my dear old dad would say. Fortunately these larger beasts didn’t care for the fire smoke and made only the occasional foray.
By the time happy hour and dinner were done daylight was quickly fading and bedtime was near enough. It had been a long driving day probably the longest drive of the trip so far and probably my longest article, LOL
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Check back for my next article back to Whitehorse.

Thanks for stopping by.

Gord B.