Friday, July 29, 2016

Alaska Adventures Part Eleven - Top of the World!

We did it! We survived the Top of the World Highway. Up through Chicken, Alaska, on the Taylor Highway section, then on to Dawson City, Yukon, on the Top of the World Highway, and then into Takhini Hot Springs just north of Whitehorse, Yukon, on the Klondike Highway. Please note, the word "highway" is used VERY loosely. The Top of the World Highway was mostly dirt and gravel with just a few areas of actual pavement.

Taylor Highway Sign

View Along the Taylor Highway

Another View From the Road

Chicken is not far mileage-wise from Tok, only about 77 miles. However, it took about two hours to get there. The Taylor Highway was paved with various road patches until the last two miles before we reached Chicken. Then it was pot-hole city, hang on to your dentures, hang on Sloopy until we reached Chicken Gold Camp. Again we had gray skies with a little spit on the windshield occasionally. Chicken got its name because ptarmigans were plentiful when early settlers arrived. A ptarmigan is a chicken-like bird. It seems there was a problem spelling ptarmigan so the place became known as Chicken. There isn't much to the town nowadays when gold mining was at its peak. Mining is still very evident in places, but I think it is mainly becoming a tourist stop-over along the highway.

"Downtown" Chicken

Public Restrooms in Chicken

Chicken Gold Camp was a nice place. It had quite a few level back-in campsites with firepits and electrical service, plus a very nice gift shop and cafe. It is the home of Chickenstock, featuring bluegrass music and held the second weekend of June. It also is the new home of the Pedro Dredge and we were able to get a tour of the now-retired gold dredge. The tour was interesting seeing the inner-workings of a gold dredge and learning the history of it. (More on dredging later)

Sculpture @ Chicken Gold Camp

Chickenstock Stage

We left Chicken the next morning under more gloomy and dripping skies. Needless to say, that made the road extremely muddy in several places. Mud that plastered itself to the truck and See-More. The border crossing back into Canada was uneventful. The road was in better shape -- more gravel, less mud, but visibility dropped. We were lucky at times if we could see 100 feet in front of us. Not much of a view when all you can see is fog/cloud cover. It was that way from the border until just before the ferry crossing at Dawson. Yuck.

Active Mining Operation

Coming into Boundary area

Cafe Boundary - Closed

Border Crossing Peeking Out From Under the Clouds

Top of the World Highway Sign

Welcome to Dawson Sign - In the Dense Fog

Free Ferry Across the Yukon River

Tourist Trap - I mean, Paddle Wheeler on the River

A Very Muddy See-More

Dawson City was a neat little town with all of their restored buildings. Unfortunately, I do not have any pics of downtown Dawson because 1) it rained a lot; and 2) I was sick and was not up to much sightseeing. We have all been battling colds and it got me good while in Dawson. One day all I wanted to do was sleep but I did drag myself out of bed long enough to go visit the historic Dredge #4 up Bonanza Creek. I also drove up to the top of the Midnight Dome in between breaks in the rain. This was a great overlook of the surrounding areas.

From the Midnight Dome - Bonanza Creek

Our Campsite Under the Red Arrow

Downtown Dawson City from the Dome

Flowers up on the Dome

We stayed at Bonanza Gold RV park at the base of Bonanza Creek. Although the sites felt close together, we ended up not having neighbors on either side of us for the three nights we were there. Thank goodness the RV park had a vehicle wash! We had about an inch of mud on the truck's running boards not to mention the coating on See-More. It cost one loonie ($1 CDN) for three minutes of pressure washer time. I know we put in at least a dozen loonies trying to wash off as much muck and grime as we could.

A Clean See-More @ Dawson City

It was on Bonanza Creek that gold was found and triggered the Klondike gold rush of 1898. Dredge No. 4, which is the largest wooden-hulled dredge in the world, is in the process of being restored.

Basically, here is how a dredge works:

A large gold dredge uses a mechanical method to excavate material (sand, gravel, dirt, etc.) using steel "buckets" on a circular, continuous "bucket line" at the front end of the dredge. The material is then sorted/sifted using water. On large gold dredges, the buckets dump the material into a steel rotating cylinder (a specific type of trommel called "the screen") that is sloped downward toward a rubber belt (the stacker) that carries away oversize material (rocks) and dumps the rocks behind the dredge. The cylinder has many holes in it to allow undersized material (including gold) to fall into a sluice box. The material that is washed or sorted away is called tailings. The rocks deposited behind the dredge (by the stacker) are called "tailing piles." The holes in the screen were intended to screen out rocks (e.g., 3/4 inch holes in the screen sent anything larger than 3/4 inch to the stacker). [source: Wikipedia]

Gold Dredge Diagram
1. Gold Bearing Gravel
2. Bucket Excavator (Bucket line)
3. Revolving Screen (Trommel)
4. Gold Saving Sluice
5. Tailings Stacker
6. Dredge Pivot Point (Spud)
7. Master Control Room
8. Floating Barge
9. Self-Dug Dredge Pond
10. Tailings

The sluice box areas on the dredges were locked and only authorized people were allowed in to collect the gold flakes and small nuggets that were captured in the coconut matting. The mining season was about eight months long. Dredges are cool pieces of machinery.

Stacker on the Pedro Dredge in Chicken

Front of the Pedro Dredge

Rotating Screen - Pedro Dredge

Sluice Boxes - Pedro Dredge

3 Cubic Feet Buckets - Pedro Dredge

Old Bolts - Pedro Dredge

Control Room - Pedro Dredge

Map of Dredge Areas - Pedro Dredge

Buried in the Gravel and Dug Up - Pedro Dredge

Workbench - Pedro Dredge

Control Room - Dredge No. 4

Bucket Line Area - Dredge No. 4

George in the Control Room - Dredge No. 4

Levers - Dredge No. 4

After leaving Dawson City, we heading down the Klondike Highway to Takhini Hot Springs. Again, I use the term "highway" loosely. Several sections were graveled and full of pot holes from the recent rains. Oh, it rained on us a little again this day. It was slow going in places and See-More picked up a little more mud. RV wash places are in high demand in these parts! But now we have a day of relaxation ahead.

Don't can click on any picture to enlarge them. ;-)

Alaska Adventures Part Ten - Fairbanks

We said our good-byes to Jim and Karen on Sunday morning and then departed for Fairbanks, less than 120 miles away from our spot near Denali National Park. It was a wet drive as we made our way north. In fact, it continued to rain off and on all three days we were in the Fairbanks area.

Our base camp for this part of our journey was Riverbend RV park. It was a neatly-kept park and less than 10 minutes from the downtown core. On Monday, Mom and I drove into Fairbanks with several stops in mind. First, the laundry mat. CK, the bad kitty, wouldn't let Baby Girl into the bathroom to access the litter box and sometimes when you gotta go, you gotta go. So she did. On mom's sleep sack. Again. Aaarrgghhh!! We found a laundry that had a 5-load capacity washing machine so we could do everything at once. Less than an hour and a half later, laundry was done and we were off to our next stop. I needed a new camera battery. My backup battery would not hold a charge and thankfully Fairbanks had a really nice camera store where I was able to purchase a replacement. Genuine Nikon. Woo hoo!

Next on our to-do list was to find the two quilt shops in Fairbanks that were participating in the Row By Row Experience. We found them both easily and added their row patterns to our stash. Then it was time to restock the food supplies at the grocery store before heading back to the 5’er.

For dinner, George took us to the Turtle Club in Fox, north of Fairbanks. We had reservations and it was a good thing. The place was packed! The menu is not very big; mostly prime rib and a few other entrees. Mom and I had prime rib and George had a lobster/prime rib combo. We had enough leftovers to bring home for another meal. It was good eating. RUAT-YBYSAIA.

On the way back to camp after dinner, we stopped at a turnout with access and info on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. We missed the one turnout on our way to Valdez so this gave us another opportunity to see it up close.

Pipeline North of Fairbanks

The following morning, we left Fairbanks and headed back to Tok.

Not far from Fairbanks is the North Pole. Yep, home of Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. Of course we had to stop and say hello. Luckily, Santa was home that day. I also made sure to see his reindeer at the Antler Academy of Flying and Reindeer Games. Rudolph must have been on vacation as he was nowhere to be found. All other eight reindeer were present and accounted for. Cute little buggers. Much smaller than I anticipated.

Santa's Reindeer

I've Been a Good Girl!

At one point along the Alaska Highway is another pipeline access/info site. It crosses the Tanana River on a unique suspension bridge. We were able to stop and learn more about this feature. I have enjoyed the informative signs at these pullouts.

Pipeline Suspension Bridge

In Delta Junction, we braked for yet another quilt shop and asked about places to eat lunch. We opted for the Buffalo Drive-in and had burgers, fries and milk shakes. It was a very popular place for lunch, even with the locals, but the service was fast.

The Alaska Highway in most places between Fairbanks and Tok was not very scenic, especially when the skies were gray and rainy at times. Lots of trees line the roadway with not a lot in between. The few scenic pullouts were not worth the stop unless you wanted to look at clouds covering most of the mountain range. The highway itself was in good shape with a few frost heaves and gravel construction zones. We saw one moose along the way and that was it.

Birch Lake Area

Dot Lake Church

Alaska Highway Heading towards Tok

I am beginning to think that our drives to Tok are jinxed. The last time we arrived in Tok is when we discovered we lost our chairs at some point. This time we nicked our left rear trailer jack somehow. Perhaps it was when we came back up onto the highway when we did a bathroom break. Maybe we bent it turning into the pipeline pullout. We didn’t know. George noticed the bent jack when we stopped to see the pipeline and were walking back to the truck. All we did know is that it required some repairs in Tok that we accomplished with some ingenuity and muscle power (no duct tape required). Poor See-More is taking a beating and we haven't even driven the worst road yet. Will it survive the Top of the World Highway? Time will tell.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Alaska Adventures Part Nine - The Big Mountain

They say timing is everything and ours was about spot on.

Did you know that Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley), all or part of it, is obscured by clouds or fog 80% of the time? Denali is so tall it makes its own weather. We were very lucky to have been able to see what we did.

After glimpsing the mountain at various spots before reaching Trapper Creek the previous day, our good fortune continued as we drove north to Denali Park.

Denali View Along the Parks Highway
View from Veterans Memorial @ Byers Lake
See-More @ Byers Lake with Denali in the Background
Another View Along the Highway
Panorama from Denali View North State Park (Click to enlarge)
It would be a short travel day - only about 130 miles to cover. We stayed about eight miles north of the Denali Park entrance road. Not only were we looking forward to visiting Denali, my sister and brother-in-law were due to arrive in Healy via private plane in the afternoon. Yep, Jim piloted his Cessna plane up from the Seattle area so they could spend time with us at Denali.

Veteran's Memorial @ Byers Lake
Inside the Memorial
Unfinished Igloo City Hotel on the Parks Highway

During check-in at the RV park, we overheard one of the employees tell a caller that tents were not allowed in their park. Uh oh. Jim was planning on sleeping in a small tent with their dog, Daisy, in our campsite. Hmmm...what to do, what to do? See-More has a set of large bunk beds in the back but we removed the lower bunk before leaving home, and the mattress from the upper bunk was pulled, too. The space was being utilized for storage purposes. Out came the bins from the top bunk area and in went Mom's 2" foam mattress topper. This would be Karen's sleeping area. Luckily they had a sleeping bag with them. Mom moved from the convertible dinette bed to the sofa so that Jim would have a place to sleep. Okay, humans are taken care of. Now to deal with the dog situation. Daisy, the golden retriever, and Trip, the German Shepherd, are not the best of buds. Daisy is also known to chase cats on occasion. This could be a problem. Guess what? It wasn't too much of an issue after all. We were able to use Trip's crate for Daisy to sleep in at night. That kept the cats safe. After day one, we didn't bother securing the cats when Daisy was in the trailer. She didn't chase the cats and at least Baby Girl gave her the cold shoulder. However, CK kept his distance and a watchful eye on Miss Daisy. When the dogs were outside, both were on leads at opposite ends of the trailer. No dog fights. We did not let them hang out in the trailer though. Why chance it? We ended up with five adults, two large dogs and two cats in See-More. It all worked out and we had a great time together.

See-More @ Denali Park RV

Denali National Park contains over 6,000,000 acres with a single 92-mile-long access road into the park. Private vehicles are not allowed in Denali National Park past milepost 13. Buses are the primary mode of transportation beyond that point. Our first day in the park, we visited the Wilderness Access Center where shuttle bus tickets were purchased for four of us for the trip the next day out to Eielson Visitor Center at milepost 66 that would take approximately eight hours for the round trip. George would not be going since he has made that trip two times before. He offered to dog sit so the rest of us could ride the bus. Then we went to the Visitor Center and also checked out the Train Depot where the Alaska Railroad trains come in. Outside of the park entrance, Princess of cruising fame, has a huge lodge facility. They also have their own train and cars, as does Holland America and who knows what other cruise line, bringing passengers to Denali. We scoped out the Riley Creek campground before returning to our own campsite. (Next time I want to stay in the park, maybe even out at Teklanika.)

Almost like a mushroom cloud (of the bad kind)
Princess Cruises Train @ Denali NP
Holland America Train

Our shuttle bus reservation was for the 8:30 a.m. trip. We wanted to be there early so we could be first in line. One of the campground hosts told us to sit on the driver's side of the bus and we wanted to make sure we had that option. You have to take your own food and water on the trip out since there are no concessions available out in the wilderness. Bathrooms, yes. Food, no. And you can refill your water bottle at the visitor center. We were prepared for the day including our raincoats since liquid sunshine was in the forecast. We boarded the bus and off we went on our big adventure into the Denali wilderness. A ranger briefly got on our bus at mile 13 and we learned the American Sign Language signs for the five big animals found in the park - the grizzly or brown bear, moose, caribou, Dall sheep and wolf.

Moving on, it wasn't long before we spotted our first wild animal - a caribou, standing in the road. A few miles later we saw our first brown bear. Whoa! This is a cool trip already and we still have many miles to go! What is nice is that the buses stop for wildlife sightings for us silly tourists to take photos. Rules quiet and no hanging out the windows. The animals are acclimated to sound of the vehicles and the park rangers want to keep it that way. If the animals get used to human voices, then it puts both animal and man in danger. So silence!

Caribou in the Road
Our First Grizzly Bear Sighting

We saw several more caribou. Poor things. It was hot (probably around 80 degrees) that day and the 'bou don't care for the heat nor for the mosquitos and flies that are extremely attracted to them. A caribou will seek out the gravel bars in the rivers away from the bushes and bugs, hoping for a breeze and some relief. A caribou can lose up to a half-pint of blood per day to those pesky mosquitos. Note: if someone offers you a new perfume or cologne called Me and My 'Bou, do not, I repeat, DO NOT accept it. Unless you wish to be a daily blood donor yourself. Surprisingly, the moose are not bothered by the mosquitos and flies to the extent the caribou are.

Another Caribou Escaping the Skeeters & Flies

Driving along, a mama bear with two cubs were spotted just off of the road in a drainage area. Not only did the bus driver stop, she shut off the engine, too. We could listen to the sow and her cubs interacting. At one point, the mama bear moved out of sight of her cubs. One cub quickly followed mom while the other was off in la-la land doing something else. Then he (or she) realized the other two bears were gone and he stood up on his hind legs and called for mom. After hearing Mom respond, he scampered off towards her. Oh, so cute to watch and listen!

Grizzly Sow & Her Two Cubs
One of the Bear Cubs

Another view of Mama Bear
The buses do stop for a couple of potty breaks and photo ops before reaching the Eielson Visitor Center. These are shuttle buses and are on a schedule, somewhat. If the driver tells you it is a planned ten-minute stop, then you had better be back on the bus by then if you want to continue riding it. Otherwise, you will be left standing in the dust as it pulls away as a couple of the passengers found out the hard way. We stopped at the Polychrome Overlook for the aforementioned ten-minute stop. The two seats directly across the aisle from us remained empty except for a backpack when the doors closed and the bus departed. Next stop - Toklat. The driver said the missing riders would eventually catch up with us and their stuff. Buses run frequently along the park road. Sure enough, at our next stop eight miles away, the couple re-boarded after catching another bus. Lesson learned. Do not be late unless you do plan on riding another bus. It is a shuttle bus system and you can easily change buses if you want, space permitting.

Teklanika River
Panorama from Polychrome (click to enlarge)

Earlier on our ride out to Eielson, we were able to see the two peaks, the taller South one and the North one, plus the base of the mountain. The middle of the mountain was hidden behind clouds. By the time we reached the visitor center about three hours later, the mountain was completely obscured. Good thing we saw it on previous days.

South & North Peaks of Denali Above the Clouds
Another Peek of the Peaks
The bus had a planned 30-minute stop before returning back to our starting point. We ate lunch on the bus at the request of the driver. It is preferred that you eat on the bus so food is not inadvertently left for bears and other critters to find. You are also asked to pack your own trash out, although there was a large trash bag on the bus available for use. We wanted to be on the same bus in the same seats on the return trip so you can bet your sweet bippee we were on board at the designated departure time.

Panorama from Eielson Visitor Center (click to enlarge)
"Seasons of Denali" - Quilt @ Eielson Visitor Center

We saw Mama Bear and her cubs again quite a distance from the earlier sighting. We were amazed how far they had traveled in a short period of time. Once again the engine was turned off so we could watch and listen. We spotted another caribou running down a gravel bar towards our bus, trying to escape the bugs, no doubt.

Running from the Devil(s)

The rains finally came as we approached Polychrome but did not last long. They did get things wet and muddy enough to mucker up the windows of the bus and reduce our visibility and wildlife spotting abilities. I must say the road near Polychrome is not for the faint hearted. Don't look down if you are afraid of a narrow road along a ledge way up high. For those who are familiar with Dead Horse Point on the road to Hart's Pass near Mazama, Washington, it is very similar, only a longer stretch of road.

Road Near Polychrome Overlook
Do. Not. Look. Down!
We picked up a few hikers along the road on our way back to the Wilderness Access Center where our journey began. We were tired after a long but very rewarding day. Not only did we spot bear and caribou, we also saw Arctic ground squirrels, ptarmigans, and some kind of grouse that I forgot the name. The shuttle buses are a great way to see Denali National Park and I think taking the 13-hour round trip out to Wonder Lake and Kantishna would be a blast. Next time, perhaps.

I have yet to see a male moose or Dall sheep though. I must keep looking and hope the opportunities present themselves in the coming days.

On Saturday after laundry and other minor chores were completed, the ladies went of search of trinkets at the many gift shops outside of Denali National Park. We needed cough syrup, too. George had been battling a cold and now Mom and I were starting to develop symptoms. Mission accomplished with a bottle each of NyQuil and DayQuil in the shopping bag.

Sunday was departure day for all of us. Jim and Karen would be flying to Anchorage for a few additional days of exploring, and we would be heading north to Fairbanks. We said our goodbyes in the morning with thoughts of doing a similar get-together in the future. It was a fun few days. Visiting Denali was a great experience.
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