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The next morning we packed up and were at the Yukon river just outside of Dawson City by 7:20 a.m., waiting for a ferry. There was a really long line of RV’s, and this ferry only holds about six cars at a time, so we thought we were in for a really long wait. We got out and were about to walk around when an older gentleman informed us that there was a special line for passenger vehicles. We thanked him and pulled all the way up to the front – there were no cars in our line! The RV line was so long that we hadn’t been able to see the signs for the passenger vehicle line.
Once across the river, we were on the “Top of the World Highway.” It was way up high, but there were just grassy hills so it wasn’t as impressive as I was expecting. I like more rugged mountains. The road was mostly paved, with gravel sections every so often. Canadian gravel roads are so smooth you can drive 60 mph no problem.
We began to see semi trucks with super heavy duty grills on the front – presumably to keep moose and other large animals from ruining their radiators.
After about an hour, we reached Poker Creek, AK, the “most northerly land border port in the USA.” We pulled up to the window, just like you do at all border crossings. The border guy came out and acted like we were retarded. He said, “What do you think, this is McDonalds?” Apparently you’re supposed to stop out in the middle of the road and he comes out to do the inspection. We had no other problems and were soon in Alaska.
The road became noticeably rougher after the border crossing, and we had to go a bit slower. The road was dirt / gravel, with potholes.
We arrived in Chicken, AK about 11:30 and went to the cafe to try the famous pancakes we had heard about the day before. Chicken is a very small town, with no electricity other than self generated. No phones, no flush toilets, mail comes by airplane twice a week, etc.
We entered the cafe and Matt and I ordered tall stacks of pancakes (4 each). The guy was very surprised and commented to the chef….”these guys are ordering TWO tall stacks.” They then told us that we wouldn’t be able to eat that much. So we changed our orders and all three of us ordered short stacks (2 pancakes each). While we waited, I used the complimentary internet to chat with Suzanne back home and check e-mail.
The pancakes were served in gold pans, and were about ¾” thick and the size of a plate! Matt and I barely finished all of ours, but Ben couldn’t make it. They were very good, and well worth the $4.50 (or was it $3.50?)
After we ate, we took a tour of a local dredge. Ben can tell you more about that…
We headed on our way, towards Tok, and then on to Fairbanks. We began to see more mountains and got our first glimpse of the Alaska Pipeline.
We arrived in Fairbanks around 7 p.m. and found the fire station where Matt used to work. This would be our camp for the next few days. It was very nice with all the comforts of home. We unloaded, fixed dinner, made plans for the next day, and were in bed by around midnight.
Matt wanted to spend the day with his firemen buddies, so Ben and I decided to go sightseeing and fishing. Our first priority after breakfast was to mail postcards from nearby North Pole, AK.
Ben had packed clothes for cold weather, and it was about 80 degrees outside, so we headed for a second hand store next. After that we searched for a place to buy fishing licenses. We finally got out of town about 12:30 p.m.
We headed up the Chatanika River. The area around Fairbanks is rolling tundra-like hills, not like I had pictured Alaska. Ben and I weren’t really impressed with the scenery. After 15 miles or so, we found a dirt road over to the river and tried our luck. Nothing. No bites, no fish jumping…we didn’t even see any fish.
We drove on, and tried going up a creek away from the river, but no luck there either. We came to a dead end, but found out later you have to drive up the creek for a ways to keep going on the road. We also decided these small creeks must freeze solid in winter, so there must not be fish in them.
Back on the highway, we stopped at a pay-to-pan-gold type place and talked to the old guy there. He told us there were fish in the creeks – somehow they survive through the winter. He told us where some beaver ponds were, and we were off again. He said they used to be able to drive to the beaver ponds, but we’d have to see how muddy the dirt road was.
We found the dirt road to be very muddy and left the Jeep parked and began hiking. The mosquitoes were terrible. Matt had enough bug dope for us all, but he wasn’t here! I had my head net but short sleeves, and Ben had long sleeves but no head net. We were getting eaten alive so we made good time. I even pulled my arms inside by t-shirt to try and get away from the nasty blood suckers. It was still super hot out, so we were very uncomfortable. The marshy roadway and landscape was apparently a mosquito heaven.
After about 30 minutes we arrived at the beaver ponds. The beaver was there and was very curious of us. He came very close and we got some good close-up pictures and video. Finally I raised my arm and scared him, getting his tail slap on video.
The beaver ponds looked like perfect fish habitat, but we could not get any bites at all. We couldn’t see any fish either. Man, I thought fishing was supposed to be good in Alaska! After a while we started heading back, this time walking down the river to avoid the marshy areas and worse mosquitoes on the bank.
Back at the car we high-tailed it back to the fire station. Ben called around and found that Matt had gone over to the chief’s house for dinner and was ready to be picked up. We drove over there and had a nice visit with the fire chief before heading back, eating dinner, and crashing about midnight again.
The next day we decided to do a hike up to Angel Rocks off of Chena Hot Springs Rd. The front page article of the newspaper that morning was about the number of grizzlies shot in the Fairbanks area in defense of life and property. The article stated that several grizzlies had been sighted near Chena Hot Springs Road in the past month. Just the news we were looking for.
Matt had his rifle, Ben carried a handgun borrowed from another fireman, and I had my trusty camera. We were ready to take on the grizzlies, though we hoped we wouldn’t encounter any.
Angel Rocks are a series of granite domes sticking up out of the hills. The trail starts out pretty flat along the river, and then begins gaining elevation rapidly. We climbed up on one of the biggest domes and took a break to look around. The weather was perfect, but we could see a thunderstorm in the distance.
We climbed back down and continued up the trail to the highest point in the area. There were lots of cool wildflowers around. We had a 360 degree view, but again, it was mostly just rolling hills.
We made quick time on the way down, but stopped and climbed another one of the domes just for fun. We could hear the thunder in the distance, but it never did rain on us. Back down near the river, we saw a fish. So there are fish in Alaska after all!
Back at the car, we headed for town. We stopped at a tourist area to get a good close-up look at the pipeline. Did you realize that the pipeline is 800 miles long, crosses three mountain ranges, and over 800 rivers and streams? It cost $8 billion to build back in 1977. It was built to transport oil from Prudhoe Bay, on the Arctic Ocean, to Valdez, the most northerly, ice-free port. It is built in special ways to keep it from breaking when earthquakes crack and expand the earth, etc. It is a pretty amazing pipeline.
It was June 21st, summer solstice, so we headed for town to go to the summer solstice festival. There were tons of people, and different booths selling different things. Matt was looking for smoked salmon, but we didn’t find any good deals. Ben did find some things for gifts for his family back home.
After wandering around for a while, we went back to the fire station where we ate dinner and began preparing our stuff for the next portion of our trip. This would be our last night here and the remainder of the trip would be the real roughing it part – camping and backpacking for the most part.
To be continued…
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