The People of the Northwest Territories

The people of the Northwest Territories are some of the friendliest people we have ever met. It was a regular occurrence as I finished filling up the RV that Peg would go in to pay and not return for 30-45 minutes because she had to share her and hear their life story. Same as I checked into campgrounds. This gentleman helped us fill out fresh water tank at the Community Center because the campground waterlines were still frozen.

NWT 1

We like the Southern Tier of New York. We know other people who like the areas in which they live. The people of the Northwest Territories go beyond like; they have a passion for the Territories. I have never before met people who have this type of relationship with the land and are passionate about sharing it with strangers.

They have frigid winters and limited navigation due to seasonal roads. They have mosquitos the size of jet fighters during the summer. They have swarms of No-See-Ums and numerous other pesky insects. In other words, they have plenty of reasons to hate the Territories, but they don’t. All of the adverse conditions are worth it to them.

I live in a tourist destination and hate when the tourist descend upon the community. These people live in what should be a destination and love when anyone comes to share the land that they love. They should either be a lesson to us all, or we should all move to the Territories.

Day 20: South to Anchorage

June 6: Riverside Camper Park, Houston, AK

There are some stunning views along the Parks Highway from Denali National Park to Anchorage. The Denali State Park is south of the National Park and offers some great views from its North and South Viewpoints.

1 - Parks Highway

2 - Parks Highway

3 - Parks Highway

4 - Parks Highway

6 - Parks Highway

7 - Parks Highway

8 - Parks Highway

The rarity of seeing Mt. Denali was not proven out by either of our trips to Alaska. I think I have a similar picture in my archives.

Mount Denali

Mount Denali

Having visited the headquarters of the Yukon Quest, It only seems fair that we visit the headquarters of the better know Iditarod in Wasilla.

9 - Iditarod Headquarters

From here it is home. Tomorrow, we drop off the now well-used RV at Great Alaskan Holidays, catch their free shuttle to the airport and hop on a long series of flight across the country, and, eventually, to home.

This was a priceless vacation with memories to last a lifetime.

Is this the end of the blog? Of course not. There are a few appendices to post. Keep watching.

Day 18-19: Denali National Park

June 5: Denali National Park, AK

We arrived at Denali National Park early enough to do some exploring on day 18 and then hiking on day 19. It was still early in the season and the park was not opening down to Wonder Lake until the weekend. While it was open down to the Eielson Visitor Center, we only went as far a Savage River. Going to Eielson would have consumed a whole day and we had already had excellent views of Mt. Denali. Savage River is where you go for wildlife. Here we spotted a lone grizzly bear, a grizzly sow and her cub, and several caribou.

1 -  Grizzly

2 -  Grizzly

4 - Caribou

5 - Caribou

And then we saw a bear rarely seen in the wild: the elusive Gift Shop Bear. They are often sited in captivity, but rarely in their natural environment.

3 - Bear rarely seen in the wild 2

On our trip back to the campground on day two we saw pair of moose twins. Sorry about the composition and focus, we were on a shuttle bus when we spotted them.

6 - Moose Twins

On day two at Denali, we hiked the Savage Alpine Trail. This is one of Denali’s newest trails. The views were stunning; even though, the initial climb fairly strenuous.

7 -  Savage Alpine Trail

8 - Savage Alpine Trail

9 - Savage Alpine Trail

We happened upon a couple of Artic Ground Squirrels on our hike and they were rather sassy. We stopped to talk to one squirrel and, after a few seconds, he came out of his rock covering and started to yell at us. This guy just came up to the trail to take a look and chitter away at us.

10 - Artic Ground Squirrels

Next on our itinerary is Fairbanks and home.

Days 17-18: Richardson and Denali Highways

June 4: Denali National Park, AK

Leaving the Fairbanks area, we retraced our route on the Richardson Highway to Delta Junction and then continued on the Richardson to the Denali Highway. We had originally planned to take the Parks Highway south to Denali National Park, but decided to take the longer route since the weather was improving and our previous trip revealed the Denali and Richardson Highways to be absolutely gorgeous.

The Richardson Highway runs from Valdez in the South to Fairbanks in the North. On a previous trip to Alaska, we traveled the Richardson from the Denali Highway South to Valdez. This time we traveled the road from Fairbanks to the Denali Highway. There is stunning scenery along the whole highway.

2 - Richardson Highway

3 - Richardson Highway

4 - Richardson Highway

5 - Richardson Highway

6 - Richardson Highway

Like it or not, you really can’t go to Alaska and ignore the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (a.k.a. Alaskan Pipeline). The pipeline, completed in 1977, is an engineering marvel built to withstand frigid, hostile weather conditions, permafrost and earthquakes.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline

Trans-Alaska Pipeline

The Denali Highway is a seasonal road. There is no maintenance from September 15 through May 15. The first 17 miles of the eastern end are paved and from there it is gravel. After the Liard route and the Top of the World Highway, the Denali Highway was a pleasure. The slower speeds and rough ride are easily overshadowed by the magnificent views of the Alaskan Range.

7 - Denali Highway

8 - Denali Highway

9 - Denali Highway

10 - Denali Highway

11 - Denali Highway

12 - Denali Highway

13 - Denali Highway

14 - Denali Highway

15 - Denali Highway

16 - Denali Highway

Camp on night 17 was a quiet pull-off along the Denali Highway with the mountains as a backdrop and the sounds of nature all around . . . and it was totally free including the firewood we were able to easily collect.

17 - Denali Highway Campsite

Our travels would not have been complete without wildlife. These days, like all others, had plenty. We came upon an artic ground squirrel playing peek-a-boo with us from the brush, a family of marmots that had setup home on the edge of the road, a pair of bald eagles sitting in a short tree right next to the road (the other one flew away when we came around the corner) and more moose. This gal was in the tundra maybe 200 yards away and wandered over to take a look at us as we watched her.

Artic Ground Squirrel

Artic Ground Squirrel

Hoary Marmot

Hoary Marmot

Hoary Marmot

Hoary Marmot

Hoary Marmots

Hoary Marmots

22 - Eagle

Moose

Moose

Due to weather patterns and a micro-climate on Mt. Denali (a.k.a. Mt. McKinley), only 15% of visitors to the area ever get to actually see the mountain. This is our second visit and we are two-for-two. Coming down the Denali Highway toward the Parks Highway, we came around a curve and there she was in all her glory, miles away.

And now for a history/politics lesson: The native Athabasca’s and the Alaska Board of Geographic Names refer to the mountain as “Denali,” the great one. A gold prospector named the mountain Mount McKinley because McKinley was a strong proponent of the gold standard. This name was accepted by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. Attempts by the State of Alaska to have the name officially changed to Denali by the US government have continually been foiled by the congressional delegation from Ohio, the home state of mountain’s namesake William McKinley. They maintain a standing resolution in congress to preserve the current name. Federal maps refer to Mount McKinley in Denali National Park. Alaskan maps refer to Mount Denali in Denali National Park.

Mount DENALI

Mount DENALI

Next on our itinerary is Denali National Park, home of Mount DENALI. I guess the side of the dispute on which we come down is evident.

Days 15-17: Tok to Fairbanks, Alaska

June 2: Chena Hot Springs Resort, AK

Back on to the Alaska Highway, we were presented with views of the Alaska Range of mountains to the Northwest.

1 - Alaskan Highway 1

2- Alaskan Highway 2

3 - Alaskan Highway 3

4 - Alaskan Highway 4

5 - Alaskan Highway 5

We had not seen many moose along our travels so far. This was about to change dramatically.

6 - Moose along the Highway

The plan for our first full day in Alaska was to head north toward Fairbanks; however, 25-35 MPH sustained wind speeds and gusts up to 50 MPH quickly took their toll on driving a land-yacht. We made it as far as Delta Junction before hunkering down and waiting for more favorable conditions.

Delta Junction is the northern terminus of the Alaskan Highway. Here they have a tribute to the Alaskan State bird and a monument at the end of the Highway.

Alaskan State Bird

Alaskan State Bird

End of the Alaskan Highway

End of the Alaskan Highway

After a quick stop at the IGA for a few needed supplies, we headed to the Quartz Lake State Recreation Area and setup camp. Being only mid-day, we availed ourselves of some of the hiking trails and visited the Glatfelder Cabin, Lost Lake and Moose Pond.

Quartz Lake

Quartz Lake

Glatfelder Cabin at Quartz Lake

Glatfelder Cabin at Quartz Lake

Double Beaver Lodge on Moose Pond

Double Beaver Lodge on Moose Pond

Forest Fire from Bluff Point with the Alaskan Range in the background

Forest Fire from Bluff Point with the Alaskan Range in the background

The next morning with the winds diminished, we headed north on the Richardson Highway. As alluded to earlier, in Alaska we started to see many, many moose. After awhile, we started skipping the pictures.

13 - Moose

On our way north, we stopped at the Knotty Shop which is owned and operated by 6th generation Alaskans whose great-great-great grandparents were early-day Yukon and Alaska pioneers and is known for its burl gifts. Here we found more mosquito art.

A Burl Mosquito

A Burl Mosquito

Shortly thereafter, we reached Fairbanks. We visited Fairbanks on this Alaskan visit because we did not on the previous one. Our first stop was the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Here we were able to see Blue Babe, the mummified remains of an Ice Age Alaskan steppe bison discovered by gold miners in 1979 near Fairbanks. Just a few days earlier, we had seen a video which discussed the significance of Blue Babe at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre in Whitehorse, YT.

Blue Babe at the Museum of the North

Blue Babe at the Museum of the North

Later in the day, we visited the headquarters of the Yukon Quest, the 1,000 mile International Sled Dog race between Whitehorse, Yukon and Fairbanks, and saw the “The First Unknown Family” monument in Golden Heart Park along the banks of the Chena River.

xxx

The First Unknown Family

xxx

The First Unknown Family

Monday was forecast to be cold and rainy all day. This was really the first rainy weather we had encountered on the trip. Where better to spend a cold, rainy day than in hot springs? First thing Monday, we headed out to Chena Hot Springs, set up camp and headed to the springs. The hot springs warmed us up and the rain cooled us off a little.

We have been tracking some of the unexpected things along the road. We captured these two shots in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks.

18 - Husband Waiting Area

19 - Dog on Table

You know you are in the wilderness when people need to be told not the shoot things in a rest stop . . . and, of course, any sign telling people not to shoot will be an instant target.

20 - No Shooting

And, finally, you probably will not see a sign like this in your neck of the woods.

21 - Dog Sled Crossing

Next on our itinerary is the Richardson and Denali Highways.

Day 14: Top of the World Highway

May 30: Tundra Lodge and RV Park, Tok, AK

Attempting this route was determinate by the weather. The ice break-up on the Yukon River was the key. The only link from Dawson City to the Top of the World Highway is the George Black Ferry and, if the ferry can’t run, the Top of the World is closed. We watched the weather closely in May and the ice broke on the Yukon early this year ensuring that the road would be open when we arrived.

The George Black ferry is a free service and runs on demand. You ride the Yukon in the order you arrive. The following link is a video of our crossing: The George Black Ferry across the Yukon.

Just the other side of the Yukon crossing is the Dawson City Thank You sign.

2 - Thanks Dawson City

It’s hard to describe the Top of the World Highway views. They are simply awesome. We will let the pictures speak for themselves.

3 - Top of the World Highway

4 - Top of the World 1

5- Top of the World 2

6 - Top of the World 3

7 - Top of the World 4

8 - Top of the World 5

9 - Top of the World 6

10 - Top of the World 7

11 - Top of the World 8

12 - Top of the World Roadside

From a distance, the tundra landscape looks barren, but, in fact, it is alive with wildflowers.

13 - Tundra Flowers 1

14 - Tundra Flowers 2

15 - Tundra Flowers 3

16 - Tundra Flowers 4

17 - Tundra Flowers 5

There is a teeny-tiny border check-point along the Top of the World Highway that is also the Northern most border point in the US. This crossing is at Poker Creek, AK with a total population of 3. This crossing is only open while the Top of the World Highway is active.

Here we had to forfeit the free fire wood that we collected in the Yukon so that the US Border Patrol could maintain their nightly campfires in the guise of invasive pest control.

18 - US - Canadian Border

19 - US - Canadian Border 2

20 - US - Canadian Border 3<

21 - Welcome to Alaska

And, of course, there were views on the US side of the highway, as well.

22 - US Top of the World

23 - US Top of the World 2

24 - US Top of the World 3

Finally, we arrived at Chicken, Alaska. Chicken is one of the few surviving gold rush towns in Alaska. There is a year-round population of 7 which swells to around 20 in the summer. The original settlers wanted to name the community after the Ptarmigan which were plentiful in the area, but could not agree on the spelling. They eventually agreed on “Chicken.”

25 - Beautiful Downtown Chicken Alaska

Even though traveling in gold rush country, this was the first mining dredge upon which we crosses. There are dredges outside of Dawson City, but we chose not to visit them. Here is the dredge at Chicken.

26 - Mining Dredge, Chicken, Alaska

Each day we seemed to come upon the unexpected. This day was no exception. We pulled onto a roadside cutoff to find a helicopter and pilot taking an obliviously needed rest. There are not many flat areas in this region. This was probably one of the few options for a break.

27 - Chopper Rest Stop

Next on our itinerary is the Richardson Highway to Fairbanks, Alaska.

Days 13: Dawson City, Yukon

May 29: Goldrush Campground & RV Park, YT

2- Welcome to Dawson City

The first order of the day was to hike some of the trails at the Klondike River Campground. It was here that we came upon yet another beaver pond.

Beaver Pond at Klondike River Campground

Beaver Pond at Klondike River Campground

Dawson City is where the Klondike and Yukon Rivers come together and continue to flow north and west as the Yukon. Crossing through Alaska, the Yukon River empties into the Bering Sea.

Confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers

Confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers

One of the most prominent feature of Dawson City other than the Yukon River is the landslide just north of town.

Dawson City landslide

Dawson City landslide

Thanks to Parcs Canada, Dawson City is a well preserved Gold Rush town. Many of the buildings have been restored and some have been rebuilt.

Dawson City General Store

Dawson City General Store

Historic Cabin along Front Street

Historic Cabin along Front Street

The Sternwheelers started their journeys up the Yukon in Whitehorse. For most, their destination was Dawson City. The SS Keno is preserved on the banks of the Yukon. A Parcs Canada guide explained the operation of the Keno in much more detail than was provided in Whitehorse.

Parc Canada Guide on SS Keno

Parc Canada Guide on SS Keno

We also toured the Palace Grand Theatre. Originally built in 1899 by American showman Arizona Charlie Meadows and restored by Parcs Canada in 1962. With its bar, shows, dancing and percentage girls, they collected the gold from the pockets of the miners that collected it from the ground.

Palace Grand Theatre

Palace Grand Theatre

Palace Grand Theatre Seating

Palace Grand Theatre Seating

Palace Grand Theatre Stage

Palace Grand Theatre Stage

A sharp eye will reveal that our guide for the SS Keno was the same gentlemen as at the Place Grand. Luckily for us, it was an exclusive tour on both occasions.

Kathleen Rockwell, (a.k.a. Klondike Kate) gained her fame as a dancer and vaudeville star during the Gold Rush. She gained reputation for being flirtatious and her ability to keep hard-working miners happy, if not inebriated, and spending that hard earned gold. We lunched at a restaurant named after her.

Klondike Kate's Restaraunt

Klondike Kate’s Restaraunt

Gertie Lovejoy (a.k.a. Diamond Tooth Gertie was another Yukon dance-hall queen, named for the sparkling diamond she wedged between her two front teeth. Gertie made a fortune relieving miners of their gold nuggets. She once commented, “The poor ginks have just gotta spend it, they’re that scared they’ll die before they have it all out of the ground.” Today, Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Casino Hall entertains visitors to Dawson City.

Diamond Tooth Gertie's

Diamond Tooth Gertie’s

Frost Heave is a major issue in the north from roads to construction. When building were built on the permafrost, they heated the ground and caused the frost to melt. Frost Heave was the result.

Result of Frost Heave

Result of Frost Heave

It took awhile to realize that they needed to build their buildings with open space between the floor and the ground and their roads raised up on mounds of stone; even though, that is not a perfect solution as evidenced by the roads.

Below are a couple of pictures to show the local flavor is Dawson City today.

Livin' on the Yukon

Livin’ on the Yukon

Enjoying Life along the Yukon

Enjoying Life along the Yukon

A closing thought in the words of Robert W. Service, British-Canadian poet:

The Spell of the Yukon

The Spell of the Yukon

Next on our itinerary is the Top of the World Highway into Alaska.