Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Chicken, Alaska

I was beginning to think we were never going to get here.  Bet you were thinking the same thing.

As planned, we left Dawson City Monday morning.  We had gotten some rain overnight, but the forecast called for only scattered traces of rain for the day.  We made our preparations to leave.

Getting out of Dawson was not as straight forward as leaving other places.  The road comes to an end at the Yukon River and there’s no bridge.  The free ferry runs pretty much nonstop, but this is the high season for Alaska travelers and there can be a considerable wait.

When we pulled up to the back of the line there were 8 or 10 RVs in front of us and just a few cars.  We only waited an hour for our turn.  Not bad.  The ride across the river took only a few minutes.

We pulled off of the ferry onto Top of the World Highway.  The Milepost says the road gets its name for the seemingly “top of the world” views from the road.  The road for the most part follows the ridge above tree line so we got those broad, sweeping views out over the valleys and ridges of the surrounding mountains.

Our destination was Chicken, Alaska, only 108 miles away.  Don’t let that short distance deceive you.  It took every bit of all day to get there.

This was another gravel road, but in our opinion it was worse than the Dempster.  The 70 miles in Canada were once paved, but the pavement has broken down and it is now mostly gravel.  The 35 miles in Alaska were dirt, or, more accurately, mud since the scattered traces of rain in the forecast turned into what seemed like 95% rain all day.  We even had a wintery mix at one point.

The border crossing went smoothly even though the guard seemed a little put out that he had to come out in the rain to check us through.  I was surprised when he asked about fresh fruit and confiscated my wedge of lime.  I’m glad he wasn’t so interested in the vodka to go with the lime.

We gained an hour crossing the border and are now on Alaska time.  We arrived in Chicken about 3:30.

Chicken got its start as a mining community.  The story goes that the first residents wanted to name their new home ptarmigan, the bird that has since become the state bird, but didn’t know how to spell it, so they settled on Chicken.

There are still a few souls that call Chicken home; about 50 during the summer and about 10 of those are brave enough to remain for the winter season.

We made our way to downtown Chicken and Chicken Creek Cafe and Saloon.  We’d heard it was “the” place in town for free overnight parking and a great burger.

The “free camping” lot was not without its challenges.  The rain had left its mark in the form of huge mud puddles and soft dirt.  We pulled in and promptly ran aground.  Luckily, we were able to get the car disconnected and then back out of our predicament.  The tow bar, which was buried in the mud about 2 inches, only tore a couple small holes in the protect-a-tow mesh.

Settled in for the night, we wandered over to the saloon for a refreshing beverage.  As an indication of the popularity of Chicken, there were not one, but two, tour buses parked out front.

We were not the only ones parked in the free lot that night.  A nice couple from California were our neighbors and we enjoyed getting to know them as we chatted over burgers from Chicken Creek Cafe.

Critter Count:  One red fox and a moose.  The fox we had seen the previous day running through the campground, but on this morning one of the campground dogs was in hot pursuit.  The fox was way to fast for my camera finger.

That’s it for our first day in Alaska.  Thanks for tagging along.

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