“Chicken is a community founded on gold mining and is one of the few surviving gold rush towns in Alaska. The population was 7 at the time of the 2010 Census, down from 17 in 2000. However, usually year round, there are 17 inhabitants. Due to mining, Chicken’s population peaks during the summer. It has frequently been noted on lists of unusual place names.
Chicken was settled by gold miners in the late 19th-century 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. “
“Between Chicken and Eagle, the Taylor Highway is narrow, winding, gravel road with many steep hills and some hairpin curves. The road from Jack Wade Junction to Eagle is not recommended for RVers. “
We reached Chicken via the Taylor Highway, shortly thereafter, turned onto the Top Of The World Highway, then turned north to check out Eagle,
“From Chicken, it’s just another 90 miles of driving to one of Alaska’s oldest towns, Eagle; but the drive usually takes at least three hours, thanks to the rough road”. (It took us 3.75 hours).
“Eagle is a city on the south bank of the Yukon River near the Canada–US border in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area, Alaska, United States. It includes the Eagle Historic District, a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The population was 86 at the 2010 census. Every February, Eagle hosts a checkpoint for the long-distance Yukon Quest sled dog race.”
“The first permanent American-built structure in present-day Eagle was a log trading post called “Belle Isle”, built around 1874. In the late 1800s, Eagle became a supply and trading center for miners working the upper Yukon River and its tributaries. By 1898, its population had exceeded 1,700, as people were coming into the area because of the Klondike Gold Rush.
In 1901 Eagle became the first incorporated city in the Alaska Interior. It was named for the many eagles that nested on nearby Eagle Bluff. A United States Army camp, Fort Egbert, was built at Eagle in 1900. A telegraph line between Eagle and Valdez was completed in 1903. In 1905, Roald Amundsen arrived in Eagle and telegraphed the news of the Northwest Passage to the rest of the world. The gold rushes in Nome and Fairbanks lured people away from Eagle.“
Before exploring Eagle, we found campsites in a BLM campground. Immediately after opening the car door, the mosquitoes descended upon us. Only a couple other places in Alaska were as mosquito infested as Eagle.
After 90 miles back down the rough and windy road, we rejoined the Top of the World Highway for Dawson City, Yukon, Canada
Almost no internet or phone service since my last post, and what there was has been very poor!
Leaving Valdez in the rain, we stopped at the Valdez Earthquake Museum and the Valdez Salmon hatchery. Both very interesting. Then we drove to Glennellen and took the Tok Cutoff Road to the entrance to the Nabesna Road. We had one of our few rainy days. A couple of miles of construction on the Muddy highway during a downpour proved interesting, but we reached our campsite on Rufus Creek at 6pm.
In the morning I caught a nice Dolly Varden trout from the creek. She will be pan fried for dinner.
We also stopped at the Nabesna Ranger Station per Ranger Mike’s suggestion (see Alaska Ferry post) to meet Ranger Thelma, his erstwhile boss, a lovely 36 year veteran of the National Parks Service (who knows everything about the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park). She was thrilled to be a celebrity!
“The Nabesna Road is a minor highway in the U.S. state of Alaska that extends 42 miles (68 km) from the Slana River to Nabesna, providing access to interior components of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The entire length of the road is gravel and has few services. Flat tires and washouts are fairly common along the entire length of the road.”
Arriving at our campsite at Kendesnii campground , I immediately went to the lake to fish. Skunked! Skunked again before dinner when the skies opened and it began to pour. Fishing again in the morning proved fruitless as well. Will the wily Arctic Grayling continue to elude my grasp?
Now, time to retrace the 42 miles back to the highway.
The really big draw in Seward are the glaciers and marine life in Prince William sound as well as the raw physical beauty of the surrounding mountains.
There appear to be few restaurants with “better-than-mediocre” food, and few museums of interest to us. There is the history of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, but that is only of minor interest, other than the improvements made after the spill to prevent a future occurrence.
We booked an all-day boat tour with Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife tours to the Columbia Glacier and found the trip marvelous. The weather cooperated with a sunny high of 73 degrees, though when we got close, winds off the glacier were substantially colder.
“Any cruise on Prince William sound is guaranteed to be beautiful, especially if you set out from Valdez. For whatever reason, even despite the oil spill a few decades ago, there tends to be more wildlife on this side of the sound’s protected waters. Maybe animals come here, just like the people, because there tends to be less traffic. You can count on seeing lots of sea otters and harbor seals, but humpback whale sightings are common too. There are a few pods of resident orcas, and starting in June you might also get to see puffins.“
Our tally of marine life for the day included: Doll Porpoises, Steller Sea Lions, Puffins, Sea Otters, Harbor Seals and Humpback Whales.
“Incredible. You must see Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve to believe it. Number and scale loom large here, magnified by splendid isolation. The largest U.S. national park, it equals six Yellowstones, with peaks upon peaks and glaciers after glaciers. Follow any braided river or stream to its source and you will find either a receding, advancing, or tidewater glacier. The park lets you sample representative Alaska wildlife as well as historic mining sites.
The peaks’ sheer numbers quickly quell your urge to learn their names. That roads are few means many travelers will not enter the park itself, but major peaks –Blackburn, Sanford, Drum, and Wrangell –are seen from nearby highways.
Four major mountain ranges meet in the park, which include nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States. The Wrangells huddle in the northern interior. The Chugach guard the southern coast. The Saint Elias Mountains rise abruptly from the Gulf of Alaska to thrust northward past the Chugach on toward the Wrangells. The eastern end of the Alaska Range-mapped as the Nutzotin and Mentasta mountains-forms part of the preserve’s northern boundary.The Wrangells are volcanic in origin, but only Mount Wrangell remains active (last report erupting in 1900) with vents of steam near its summit.
With adjoining Kluane National Park in Canada, all these ranges form North America ’s premier mountain wilderness. Covered year-round with snow, the high-country stands cloaked with icefields and glaciers. Near the coast, North America ’s largest subpolar icefield, Bagley Icefield, spawns giant glaciers, the Tana, Miles, Hubbard,and Guyot.The Malaspina Glacier flows out of the St. Elias Range between Icy and Yakutat bays in a mass larger than the state of Rhode Island. So much glacial silt rides it that plants and trees take hold on the glacier’s extremities and grow to maturity only to topple over the edge when it melts.
Flowing from glaciers are multitudes of meandering rivers and braided streams. Largest is the Copper River, forming the park’s western boundary. The Copper rises in the Wrangells and empties into the Gulf of Alaska in the Chugach National Forest. In the early 1900s the Kennecott Mining Co. transported copper from its mines near McCarthy by railroad along the Chitina and Copper rivers to ships at Cordova. Ore was extracted from these productive mines between 1911 and 1938 and lured many people to the area. Gold was extracted from the Nabesna area, then too. Mining still takes place on private lands in the park, and evidence of earlier mining includes ruins of the Kennecott mines, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In mining’s heyday the Indian villages expanded and several new towns sprang up. Copper Center, Chitina, Gulkana, and Chistochina are among the old Athabascan settlements. The town of Yakutat is a traditional Tlingit fishing village.
While vegetation may appear sparse, especially in the interior, the park is home to a variety of plants and wildlife. Mountain slopes have a diversity of plants, dwarf shrubs, and grasses where dall sheep and mountain goats patrol the craggy peaks. Interior and coastal spruce forests are home to shrubs, such as blueberry and prickly rose. Caribou feed on lichens and sedges on the slopes of the Wrangells. Moose browse in the sloughs and bogs of the forested lowlands, while bears roam throughout the park. Many rivers, streams, and lakes provide spawning grounds for salmon and other fish. The Copper River drainage marks major flyways for migratory birds and provides nesting sites for trumpeter swans. Coastal areas are habitat for marine mammals, including sea lions and harbor seal”
The McCarthy Road
“The 60- mile McCarthy Road winds deep into the heart of Wrangell- St. Elias National Park & Preserve. Once the gateway to tremendous fortunes, it is now your gateway to spectacular scenery and vast wilderness. For those willing to leave the pavement behind and brave the ruts and dust, this road provides access to the many natural and historic wonders of our largest National Park.Today’s McCarthy Road originated in 1909 as a railway constructed to support the Kennecott Copper Mines. Over 200 million dollars worth of ore was hauled from the Kennecott mill 196 miles to the port of Cordova. The railway operated successfully until abandoned in 1938 when large scale mining ended. Most of the rails were salvaged for scrap iron, and no longer maintained, the Copper River Bridge was soon destroyed by flooding.”
McCarthy and Kennecott
Partly because alcoholic beverages and prostitution were forbidden in Kennecott, McCarthy grew as an area to provide illicit services not available in the company town. It grew quickly into a major town with a gymnasium, a hospital, a school, a bar and a brothel. The Copper River and Northwestern Railway reached McCarthy in 1911.
In 1938, the copper deposits were mostly gone and the town was mostly abandoned. The railroad discontinued service that year. Over its 30-year operation, U.S. $200 million in ore was extracted from the mine, making it the richest concentration of copper ore in the world.
The old mine buildings, artifacts, and colorful history attract visitors during the summer months. The Kennecott and McCarthy area ranks as one of the United States’ most endangered landmarks by the National Trust for Historic Places. Emergency stabilization of the old buildings has been done and more will be required.
Photos from the drive to Valdez – absolutely breathtaking!
“Seward is a port city in southern Alaska, set on an inlet on the Kenai Peninsula. It’s a gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, where glaciers flow from the Harding Icefield into coastal fjords. Surrounded by peaks, the fjords are a whale and porpoise habitat. The city’s Alaska SeaLife Center has seals and puffins, and fishing boats fill Seward Harbor.”
“Founded in 1903 as the ocean terminus of what is now the Alaska Railroad, Seward prides itself, not only on its natural beauty, but as Alaska’s only deep-water, ice-free port with rail, highway and air transportation to Alaska’s interior and major urban population centers. This strategically positions Seward for Pacific Rim maritime commerce. The town offers day cruises, kayaking, fishing, abundant marine activities and wildlife, unparalleled recreation and is the terminus for the Alaska Railroad.”
“Seward Waterfront Park extends from the small boat harbor to the SeaLife Center and contains paid tent and RV camping, playgrounds, a skate park, picnicing areas, beach access, and a trail lined with historical landmarks. The trail starts out of town at Mile 5 and continues through the small boat harbor, along the shoreline near all the RV and tent campgrounds, and ends at the SeaLife Center.”
We found campsites on the water, and within an hour we had spotted sea otters, humpback whales, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, a bald eagle and continued to spot more all during our stay.
After a number attempts at ordering halibut in restaurants, (none satisfactory) and after seeking a number of local recommendations, we ate at “The Cookery” in Seward. The food and service were both excellent.
Kenai FjordsNational Park
“At the edge of the Kenai Peninsula lies a land where the ice age lingers. Nearly 40 glaciers flow from the Harding Icefield, Kenai Fjords’ crowning feature. Wildlife thrives in icy waters and lush forests around this vast expanse of ice. Sugpiaq people relied on these resources to nurture a life entwined with the sea. Today, shrinking glaciers bear witness to the effects of our changing climate.”
Climate Change in Kenai Fjords National
“Kenai Fjords National Park lies along the Kenai Peninsula coast in southcentral Alaska, just southwest of Prince William Sound. The park landscape is a dramatic juxtaposition of land and water, shaped by the advance and retreat of glaciers. The park is capped by the largest icefield entirely contained within the United States, Harding Icefield, a 300 square mile expanse covering a mountain range under ice several thousand feet thick.Exit Glacier is one of 38 glaciers that flow out from the Harding Icefield.
During the early nineteenth century, the glacier almost reached the Resurrection River, approximately 1.25 miles (2 km) below its present location. In the last 200 years, the glacier retreated exposing the valley below. The exposed valley is a natural laboratory where we can see the processes of life reclaiming a barren landscape: moss, lichen and fireweed colonize the bare rock; followed by grasses, shrubs, alders, and cottonwood; and finally, a spruce-hemlock forest grows where 200 years ago only ice and rock existed. Exit Glacier is accessible by road and thousands of park visitors have an opportunity to experience the glacier firsthand.”
Leaving Denali National Park, we headed south toward Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula with beautiful views on both sides of the highway.
The Sled Dog Relay That Inspired the Iditarod (From The History Channel Site)
“The children of Nome were dying in January 1925. Infected with diphtheria, they wheezed and gasped for air, and every day brought a new case of the lethal respiratory disease. Nome’s lone physician, Dr. Curtis Welch, feared an epidemic that could put the entire village of 1,400 at risk. He ordered a quarantine but knew that only an antitoxin serum could ward off the fast-spreading disease. The nearest batch ofthe life-saving medicine, however, rested more than 1,000 miles away in Anchorage. Nome’s ice-choked harbor made sea transport impossible, and open-cockpit airplanes could not fly in Alaska’s subzero temperatures. With the nearest train station nearly 700 miles away in Nenana, canine power offered Nome its best hope for a speedy delivery.
Sled dogs regularly beat Alaska’s snowy trails to deliver mail, and the territory’s governor, Scott C. Bone, recruited the best drivers and dog teams to stage a round-the-clock relay to transport the serum from Nenana to Nome. On the night of January 27, 1925, a train whistle pierced Nenana’s stillness as it arrived with the precious cargo—a 20-pound package of serum wrapped in protective fur.
Musher “Wild Bill” Shannon tied the parcel to his sled. As he gave the signal, the paws of Shannon’s nine malamutes pounded the snow-packed trail on the first steps of a 674-mile “Great Race of Mercy” through rugged wilderness, across frozen waterways and over treeless tundra. Even by Alaskan standards, this winter night packed extra bite, with temperatures plummeting to 60 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Although every second was precious as the number of confirmed cases in Nome mounted, Shannon knew he needed to control his speed. If his dogs ran too fast and breathed too deeply in such frigid conditions, they could frost their lungs and die of exposure. Although Shannon ran next to the sled to raise his own body temperature, he still developed hypothermia and frostbite on the 52-mile leg to Tolovana before handing off the serum to the second dog team.
With moonlight and even the northern lights illuminating the dark Alaskan winter days, the relay raced at an average speed of six miles per hour.
While each leg averaged 30 miles, the country’s most famous musher, Norwegian-born Leonhard Seppala, departed Shaktoolik on January 31 on an epic 91-mile leg. Having already rushed 170 miles from Nome to intercept the relay, Seppala decided on a risky shortcut over the frozen Norton Sound in the teeth of a gale that dropped wind chills to 85 degrees below zero. Seppala’s lead dog, 12-year-old Siberian Husky Togo, had logged tens of thousands of miles, but none as important as these. Togo and his 19 fellow dogs struggled for traction on Norton Sound’s glassy skin, and the fierce winds threatened to break apart the ice and send the team adrift to sea. The team made it safely to the coastline only hours before the ice cracked.
Gusts continued to batter the team as it hugged the coastline before meeting the next musher, Charlie Olson, who after 25 miles handed off the serum to Gunnar Kaasen for the scheduled second-to-last leg of the relay. As Kaasen set off into a blizzard, the pelting snow grew so fierce that his squinting eyes could not see any of his team, let alone his trusted lead dog, Balto. On loan from Seppala’s kennel, Balto relied on scent, rather than sight, to lead the 13-dog team over the beaten trail as ice began to crust the long hairs of his brown coat. Suddenly, a massive gust upwards of 80 miles per hour flipped the sled and launched the antidote into a snow bank. Panic coursed through Kaasen’s frostbitten body as he tore off his mitts and rummaged through the snow with his numb hands before locating the serum.
Kaasen arrived in Port Safety in the early morning hours of February 2, but when the next team was not ready to leave, the driver decided to forge on to Nome himself. After covering 53 miles, Balto was the first sign of Nome’s salvation as the sled dogs yipped and yapped down Front Street at 5:30 A.M. to deliver the valuable package to Dr. Welch.
The relay had taken five-and-a-half days, cutting the previous speed record nearly in half. Four dogs died from exposure, giving their lives so that others could live. Three weeks after injecting the residents of Nome, Dr. Crosby lifted the quarantine.
The Iditarod Museum, Wasilla
At the museum, we viewed a very interesting video re: the Iditarod race, Alaskan Huskies and related topics. We also took a short ride on a training sled, played with puppies, met the son of the race creator, and learned about working sled dogs diet requirements (quite interesting actually).
Drawn by tales of the town’s gold mining history, restored buildings and natural beauty we made a short detour to Hope.
Oh and It didn’t hurt that we had gotten inside information that the best pie in Alaska could be discovered in Hope.
After some detective work, we found the pie baker’s delicious products were to be found at the Dirty Skillet Café, not far from our campsite.
We met the owners Jeannine and Derrick Janaay, enthusiastic, hard working owners of the Cafe and adjoining Bear Creek Lodge.
The “pie lady” turned out to be named Marie, was from Italy, married a Japanese man and settled in Hope to make some of the most delicious pie we have ever had. A bit pricey, but the delectable crust, tasty fillings and generous size slices made Marie’s pies a big hit.
After perusing the dinner menu, we decided to go back To the Dirty Skillet for dinner as well. Good beer, tasty food and FOUR MORE SLICES OF PIE!
No internet or phone service since Haines. Generally great weather. Occasionally it rained. Generally warmer (in the 60’s) than home in Colorado.
“The highway is now little used and poorly maintained, and closed to all traffic from October to mid-May each year. Only the easternmost 21.3 miles and westernmost 2.6 miles are paved; whether the remainder should be paved as well is a continual source of debate. Washboarding and extreme dust are common, the recommended speed limit is 30 mph
Winter travel on the Denali Highway is exclusively by snowmobile and dogsled. Automobile travelers are severely discouraged from attempting to traverse the road in winter; as recently as 1996 three persons died from exposure when snows blocked their progress. The road is cleared by DOT late in April and generally is passable by non-4WD from then until the first snows close it, usually late September on the eastern, tundra end and late October-early November on the lower, boreal forest western end.”
The description on the internet of the Denali Highway is scary, but the roads were actually better than the county roads to our cabin in Colorado!
Breakfast and Pie at the Alpine Lodge:
“We are a wilderness lodge in remote Alaska. We are open year round, every day. Alpine Creek Lodge is on the Denali Highway, so travelers can get there in the summer via a gravel road. 68 miles West of Paxson Alaska, and 67 miles East of Cantwell, Alaska. In the summer, we offer hiking tours, photography tours, wildlife viewing tours, gold panning tours, fishing tours and much more! Fully guided, or you can do it yourself! In the winter, the road is not plowed from October 15th to May 15th. During this period, snow machine, dog mushing, skiing, etc are the only way to get to us. Drop off and pick up are available in Cantwell, Alaska via snow machine or tracked vehicle. We are on the South side of the Alaska Range, in the Clearwater Mountains, and this is where you will find real Alaska!”
While we visited the Alpine Lodge, we spoke with the owner and hunters staying there who were harvesting excess grizzly bear (supervised by Alaska game and fish). Grizzlies had almost eliminated the moose population and cameras mounted on grizzlies had evidenced killing sprees of moose calves, fox, Trumpeter Swans, Ptarmigan, beavers and other game animals. The grizzlies killed without eating, then moved on to the next opportunity.
In the winter, the Alpine Lodge gets fresh food and supplies every couple weeks from Cantwell (67 miles to the west). They have a Jeep fitted with tracks (a $10,000 accessory) allowing then to travel the Denali Highway over the snow where otherwise only dog sled mushers or snow machines can go.