Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chicken, Alaska (Barb's Gold Rush Dream) and the Top of the World Highway

     After leaving Fairbanks we stopped in Tok to pick up another mail forwarding (can't forget those pesky property taxes) and then we set sail for Chicken, Alaska.  This tiny hamlet is located about 65 miles northeast of Tok on the Taylor Highway.  It became Barb's destination obsession about a year ago when she saw it on the Travel Channel.  Small?  This place has somewhere around 2 dozen residents on any single day.  The 80 mile drive from Tok to Chicken takes about 2 1/2 hours.  It is part highway, part highway with gravel patches and road construction, and part just plain gravel.  It is through some very scenic hills where you can see the Wrangell Mountains in your rear view mirror.  We were lucky here to average 10 mpg.

     Chicken was settled by gold miners in the late 1800s and in 1902 the local post office was established requiring a community name. Due to the prevalence of ptarmigan in the area that name was suggested as the official name for the new community. However, the spelling could not be agreed on and Chicken was used to avoid embarrassment.  The community itself is spread out, but downtown is centrally located in a single building and parking lot.  They even have a single gas pump; diesel $4.99.  Not a bad price considering where we are.  In fact the entire community is powered off several large diesel generators.

      Chicken is also the home to the region's premier music festival, aptly named Chickenstock.
This two day event hosts about a dozen talents in a very relaxed informal atmosphere.  Unfortunately for us, we missed the event by about 5 weeks.  Maybe next time. 
     To make this adventure as simple as possible we camped at the Chicken Gold Camp. They have camping spots (only 4 30 amp pull through, the rest are 20 amp back ins), WiFi (not much bandwidth), a dump station and potable water hose, and offer instruction/advice on gold panning, even renting equipment should you need it.  Not us....Barb came prepared (you gotta love Cabelas).  They even have access to several claims in the area and will transport you there if you desire.  You can almost smell the $$$ fees here.  I was perfectly happy to stay in camp, read, and babysit the critters, but much like General George Armstrong Custer, Barb insisted on her own biographer. 

     Barb didn't take as comfortably to gold panning as sapphire panning and it took her awhile to get the rhythm down.  Like most folks, she was always afraid she would dump the gold back out.  Takes everyone a bit to realize that gold is the heaviest thing in the pan and unless you get VIGOROUS it ain't leaving.  She kept at it for a day and a half, in the end coming up with far less than an ounce, but had a sense of satisfaction nonetheless. 
     I have to say that the WiFi service at Chicken Gold Camp is really, really, really marginal at best.  It seems to work in waves, but is never 100%.  I found it best to work in short shifts and have everything ready to compose.  There is NO CAPABILITY to upload or download pics or large files.  

     Departing Chicken we headed NE towards the border on the Taylor Highway.  It is 40 miles from Chicken to the Yukon border.  This is perhaps the worst road of the trip.  It is fairly narrow and winding.  Slow down considerably to let others pass.  The last 10 miles prior to the border are paved.  It is here where we sadly departed Alaska.  After crossing the border easily we had only 75 miles to go.  The road is narrow and winding, but easily navigable with an RV that takes it's time.  It is, however, a gravel road. We averaged less than 8 mpg here. 

     Rainy days keep the dust down, but make for an incredibly dirty truck/RV.  It poured on our day; in fact it was the worst possible conditions.  The level parts were slow, sloppy, and full of potholes, I needed 4WD on several uphill sections to maintain traction, and went very slow down hills to avoid 'trailer rampage'.  Again, it was a rainy day and I was in no hurry.  In fact, I was passed on this road twice.  This section of the road, however, is pretty wide and easy for both directions of traffic to navigate. 

     Due to the rain and low clouds we had few opportunities to view the countryside.  The final part of your journey is the George Black ferry crossing just west of town.  Surprisingly this is a free ride across the Yukon River. 

     It was NOT an incredibly fun day, taking about 6 hours in all.  I can now say I visited Chicken, Alaska and  survived the Top of the World Highway, but I would NOT do it again.  Hello, Dawson City!  This was posted via the FREE WiFi in Dawson City (once I figured out free translates to a single hour free or $5 CDN per day in Canada. 

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