“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!
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
“Homer is a small city on Kachemak Bay, on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. A focal point is the Homer Spit, a long strip of land with shops, art galleries, seafood restaurants and beaches (mostly tacky, in my opinion). Fishing boats dock at its harbor. Galleries also cluster on Pioneer Avenue, near the Pratt Museum, which shows local art and artifacts, including a pioneer cabin. The Alaska Islands and Oceans Visitor Center has wildlife exhibits.”
Needing showers, we checked into a B&B, then scoped out campgrounds on the Spit for tomorrow night.
We have been “seafood spoiled” recently. For dinner we ate at Captain Patties Seafood on the spit recommended by a couple local sources as the best seafood in Homer. We had a variety of dishes. Our evaluation- passable, not great.
Great Display! “The Alaska Islands & Ocean Visitor Center takes you on a dramatic journey through the refuge’s past and present . . . surrounds you with the sights, sounds – and even the smells of a seabird colony . . . and invites you to follow biologists as their research ship sails to remote islands each year.”
Halibut Cove And The SaltryRestaurant
”Originally a fishing village, Halibut Cove is now home to several artists and businesses. One of the only floating U.S. post offices is there. A popular tourist destination, the cove offers several lodges and cabins and the only way to get around the cove is by boat.”
”Located on Ismailof Island in Halibut Cove, Alaska, The Saltry Restaurant opened in 1984. On an overcast day in the fall of 1983 the Saltry, jacked up and teetering on three foot wooden stilts, floated slowly down the Halibut Cove channel, flanked by skiffs bearing “no wake” signs. Rising over all was the Saltry’s steeply peaked roof line-attributes that had earlier caused the locals to dub it “The Flying Nun.”When the perfect building to house an island eatery presented itself, Marian and Dave Beck acted instantly to acquire the unique structure that became the Saltry Restaurant. A U-shaped dock was constructed in preparation for the Saltry’s arrival. Moving day was chosen for its twenty-three foot tide, the highest of the season. When the tide was at its highest point, the barge was eased into the U-shaped opening. As the tide dropped, the empty barge eased down and away with the tide. Pilings were erected from the beach at low tide to brace the Saltry from underneath. If you look at the dock around the Saltry now, it’s possible to see how it sits not quite square, how its final settling place is slightly caddywhompus.
The Saltry first opened its doors in April 1984. Eighty people arrived for the celebratory potluck, despite the howling blizzard of rain and snow. At its inception, the Saltry provided simple fare: drinks at the bar, hot chowder, fresh bread and cold appetizers-such as pickled fish- that are still on the menu today. Today, the Saltry serves about 100 people everyday during the summer season, dishing out gourmet food from a kitchen decidedly more sophisticated than in 1984. What hasn’t changed is the incredibly beautiful setting of the Saltry, with its view of the mountains and glaciers from its perch above the water, and the desire to bring the freshest fish, mussels and oysters straight from Kachemak Bay to your table.
Captain Elsa told Sally “Women come to Alaska and become the men they always wanted to marry”. We saw women doing many physical jobs that men often perform. Needs must!
Appetizers included mussels harvested that morning, 300 yards from the restaurant, shrimp poke, and pickled salmon.
Leaving Homer, we camped for the night on the Kenai River
Back to Hope. If asked, we will say we returned to Hope as it was a beautiful, convenient stop on our way to Valdez. In reality, Sally and Ray wanted more pie!
Next Post: the city of McCarthy in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Today: 64 degrees, sunny and Denali is clearly visible. Alaska heaven!
“Denali is six million acres of wild land, bisected by one ribbon of road. Travelers along it see the relatively low-elevation taiga forest give way to high alpine tundra and snowy mountains, culminating in North America’s tallest peak, 20,310′ Denali. Wild animals large and small roam unfenced lands, living as they have for ages. Solitude, tranquility and wilderness await”
Creation of Denali National Park and Preserve
“Charles Sheldon was a hunter and naturalist attracted to Denali specifically by Dall sheep. He had traveled the world hunting sheep and was drawn here by the world’s only wild, white mountain sheep.In the winter of 1907-8, Sheldon observed over 2000 Dall sheep taken from the Denali area by commercial meat hunters who sold the carcasses to Alaska railroad workers and gold miners in Kantishna.
These two occurrences brought the first significant numbers of white men to Interior Alaska. Sheldon was astute enough to realize the hunting of wildlife and the fragile ecosystem would vanish under these kinds of pressures.Sheldon returned to Washington, D. C. and with the help of the Boone and Crockett Club, lobbied Congress to establish Mount McKinley National Park to protect the wildlife within. On February 26, 1917, President Wilson signed into law the bill establishing Mount McKinley National Park as a 2 million acre wildlife preserve.
Considering that at the time most people’s impression of Alaska was “Seward’s Folly, and the fact we did not reach statehood until 1959, it was a courageous act to protect such vast lands in what was then considered by many to be a remote and frozen wasteland.“
We entered Denali National Park after a long, beautiful trek on the unnpaved Denali Highway. Immediately, we saw a mom moose and her two twin calves next to the road.
Grilling our King Salmon steaks from the Haines Canning Company. Best Salmon we have ever had.
Despite my aversion to tourist busses filled with white (or no hair) retirees, we booked a tour, which is the only way to see the inner areas of the park as personal vehicles are prohibited for much of the park road. It turned out well.
We saw 80 or so Dall Sheep , Ptarmigans, snowshoe hares, a coyote, Arctic Ground Squirrels, many caribou, golden eagles, ravens, and black billed magpies, but regrettably for Shirley, no Grizzly Bears 🐻
For dinner, we grilled my Wyoming Elk steaks (New York strip cut). Yummy!
Dogsledding or “Mushing”
In a modern world filled with high tech solutions for everything it can be hard to comprehend why we would still actively choose to use traditional dog team travel rather than any of the modern alternatives. In fact, there are many reasons to choose sled dogs. TraditionDenali has had sled dogs since 1922. Our first Superintendent, Harry Karstens purchased the first seven sled dogs for use patrolling the newly established park boundaries. The park has maintained working dog teams ever since. Their job has evolved over time and they are no longer patrolling for poachers, they are still performing essential and inspiring work in protecting and preserving the unique character of Denali.
Sled dogs have hearts and brains that machines like snowmobiles and airplanes do not. Every kennels ranger has a story of wise lead dogs helping them navigate to a patrol cabin in a white out or to avoid dangerous ice obscured under snow. The dogs know this landscape so well they can provide invaluable wisdom that machines cannot. While a team of sled dogs is obviously far slower than an airplane or a snowmobile, they are arguably more reliable to operate in the extreme conditions of a sub-arctic winter.When it is 40 below zero it can be near impossible to try to start a motor, whereas a dog team simply needs a good breakfast and they are ready and willing to run.
Overflow is a common challenge on rivers and trails in Denali. Snowmobiles can get bogged down and sink in this slushy mess whereas a dog team can run right through it and roll in the snow to dry off on the other side. If a machine breaks down in the middle of remote wilderness like Denali you had better hope you are carrying the right spare parts and tools to fix it. However, if a sled dog gets sick or injured you still have the rest of the team to pull the sled while the injured one can run loose or ride in the sled until they are recovered.
Similar to summer’s back-country rangers, kennels rangers on dogsleds contact winter recreationists and provide information on trail conditions, offer assistance, and monitor use in a low-impact style that preserves the wilderness spirit essential to Denali. The sled-dog trails made during winter field operations are used by winter recreationists who want to explore Denali on skis, snowshoes, or with their own dog team. In winter (November-April) you can use a map to track the travels of the NPS sled dogs and get updates on current conditions throughout the park.
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.