about the Anahim Lake and Nimpo Lake region of the West Chilcotin,
this summer Wilderness Adventures will include the Alaska Journel
for 2006 since that's where I'll be!.
Wilderness Adventures - July, Week 3/2006
You can search this site for a subject of interest to you
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of the Day.
Top Of The World
Top of the World Highway from Chicken, Alaska to Dawson
City is both daunting and beautiful. The highway
is not for the faint of heart. The pavement ends
just before you enter 'Chicken' and stays that way until
you enter Canada. From there you are on sealcoat, gravel,
broken sealcoat, and so forth. In some places the sealcoat
(also known as chipcoat pavement) is broken up to the
extent that it becomes very difficult to navigate between
the pot holes. The gravelled sections are actually better
simply because holes can be graded out but a lot of the
road is narrow and high without guard rails.
The highway probably follows the original Klondike Trail
where sourdoughs made their way over the mountains above
tree line for the most part by following the highest ridges
or the tops of the hills. The breathtaking result is that
you can see the world from both sides of
the road. Quite a unique experience to say the least.
It's also similiar to Saskatchewan in that you can
see your dog running away for a week! You can
see the road forward winding over the tops of hills for
miles and miles.
With any imagination you also realize that a lot
of those same sourdoughs would have died if caught in
a storm without protection from the elements.
Here the Forty Mile Caribou Herd used to be over
500,000 strong in the 1920's but were nearly wiped
out to an all time low of 6,500 animals in the 50's and
60's. With protection the herd has recovered to about
5% of its original size and numbers about 23,000 animals
right now. I wondered why we hadn't seen any because the
high alpine country seemed perfect for caribou. Although
we did manage to make it back into Canada without seeing
a single bear in Alaska that wasn't either stuffed or
behind a fence. Pretty sad when you consider the
country we covered. I'm not sure what's up with that but
it sure as heck isn't because we don't know how to look
It took us nearly six hours to make 109 miles from Chicken
to Dawson City although we were held up at the border
for a couple of minutes and stopped at a pullout for a
couple more to let the dogs run and so Andy could look
at the brakes on the trailer since they no longer seemed
to be working. Not a cool prospect when you've just spent
several hours climbing, and now you know
you have to go down sometime, that's just
the law of the universe.
We finally reached the Yukon River where you have to cross
on a ferry to reach Dawson City on the other side. I noted
that no one told me that until we couldn't turn back.
I swear, I've been on more water and boats on this
trip than I have in a whole lifetime. My friends
and family are never going to believe it.
The trip across the Yukon was quick and pleasant and the
driver of that ferry not only knew what he was doing,
he was an artist!
We walked the dogs on a nice, hidden trail along the river
to where suddenly we saw clear green water mixing with
the muddy brown of the Yukon. It looked like someone was
trying to mix green oil with water. Weirdest thing
I've ever seen. We finally realized that it was
the clear, cold Klondike River joining with the Yukon
and it held its own against the silt for some distance.
Dawson City looked like it will be awesome to investigate
just from our short drive around and I look forward to
doing that tomorrow.
Goin' To Chicken
made it to Chicken Alaska! After leaving Valdez on a gloomy
grey day, we climbed back over Thompson's Pass and headed
to Delta Junction. Since we had already been over that
road once we enjoyed the scenery once again but didn't
stop. We did take a little side trip to Chitina
because I really wanted to see the Copper River Valley.
That too was quite a beautiful drive, especially around
the Kenny Lake area. It's farming country that overlooks
both mountains and the Tonsina River. Farther down the
highway toward Chitina you start seeing signs of the huge
braided Copper River.
One thing of significance when I mention farming country
is that the Mat-Su Valley is probably the only place
where you have true farming country. Elsewhere
it's rare and when you do see fields they're generally
small and limited in number. Most of Alaska just does
not lend itself to farm development because much of the
state is low lying bog or high alpine.
We got into a great little State camp ground just across
the road from the Delta River with lots of sand and rock
to investigate and a great place for the dogs to explore.
Going north from Delta Junction to Tok put us on a new
highway following the Tanana River Valley and into some
new scenery. Unfortunately, the trees on either side of
the highway allows you to see very little and there aren't
a lot of places where you can see mountains there. Delta
Junction and area is supposed to be farming country but
we didn't see a lot of evidence of that because of the
trees. It was very nice country though and a super drive
on pretty decent highway.
After leaving Tok we took the junction to Chicken, Alaska
with the intention of going over the gravel road and 'Top
of the World' Highway to Dawson City. It must be
the name, because other than having the odd handle of
'Chicken', there isn't really a whole lot there,
however, it seems the people that go to a place like that
are different from the usual 'tourist' in that they are
a lot more likely to get out of their motorhomes and are
fun to meet and talk with.
The border into Canada closes at 8 p.m. and we weren't
sure what the road would be like between Chicken and Boundary
so it seemed prudent to plan on overnighting in Chicken.
We met a family in their SUV that had been unaware that
the border wasn't open all night until told by one of
the locals and so the four of them ended up crowding into
their vehicle to sleep later that night.
The RV Park where we stayed was right on Chicken Creek,
a very rich gold producing creek in times past
and there was still an area where you could gold pan.
There was also an extremely challenging and laughable
three hole golf course and if you completed the
entire round you automatically became an honorary member
of the exclusive Chicken Creek Country Club. Like I said,
it must be the name because everyone there has one heck
of a sense of humour!
Supposedly Chicken was named by a bunch of miners who
really wanted to name their gold camp 'Ptarmigan' but
since no one really knew how to spell that word,
they had to settle for the Northern nickname for ptarmigan,
which is chicken.
There was a huge gold dredge right on the rise above the
creek that worked Chicken Creek for eight years and worked
Pedro Creek near Fairbanks for years prior to that. There
were also obvious signs that the area was still being
worked by gold miners today and apparently they
trade gold for goods at the Chicken Mercantile and saloon.
Chicken only has a population of 21 so there isn't a whole
lot there besides three original old false fronted businesses
attached to each other. One is called a mecantile emporium
but is now just a gift shop. That opens onto a liquor
store which opens onto a saloon on the other side consisting
of five bar stools and a pool table in a dark, dingy room
completely decorated in caps and hats and furs several
feet deep on the ceiling and walls. Next to the
nefarious saloon that obviously sees heavy use from the
locals was the cafe and it's fairly famous for
its homecooked food. Besides the 'town' of Chicken there
are two large RV Parks with gift shops and all the businesses
look like they run on generators.
We had purchased some fireworks in Houston near Wasilla
a long time before and hadn't found any place we could
set them off and since we couldn't take them across the
border the next day, this was our last opportunity to
use them. Andy asked the proprietor of our Park for permission
to set them off and he was more than pleased because he
felt it would be good competition for the cannon that
the Chicken locals periodically set off after getting
a snootful up at the saloon.
Andy went around to all of the people in the Park and
asked them if it was okay to light off some fireworks
and most were pretty pleased about seeing an impromptu
display and went gold panning or played 'golf' until it
was dark enough. Unfortunately, it never gets dark that
far north this time of year so at nearly 11:00 in the
interests of not keeping anyone awake any longer, Andy
touched the fireworks off. They were fun and the kids
across the way enjoyed the sparklers that had been included
with the fireworks. Since I was one of the few in the
park with firewood, a number of people stopped by to share
the fire for awhile. As I mentioned, it must take
a different breed to follow that highway because
we quite enjoyed the company of all we met. After seeing
the road we would follow the next day to Dawson City,
I could certainly see why!
went on our long boat cruise into Prince William Sound
yesterday. I'm sorry I didn't write last night but we
didn't get back until nearly seven, the dogs still needed
walking and we both went to bed early.
The trip around the Sound turned out to be tremendous.
We woke up to a glorious, sunny and calm day much
to my relief since I wasn't looking forward riding high
swells on the sea. We put the dogs in the trailer
which I'm sure pleased them to no end what with the luxury
of laying on carpet all day. We got to the dock pretty
early and had to wait a while to board but it also meant
we could choose our seats and that turned out to be really
fortunate. We went up on the upper deck and although I
wasn't certain that would be the best place to be, it
turned out to be great because there was far less wave
disturbance and engine sound and since we were seated
directly behind the Captain, we could hear his commentary
The Captain did an excellent job of explaining things
as we left Valdez behind us and headed for the Columbia
Glacier. In the harbour itself we saw several Sea
Otters lounging around and once we were past the
narrows protecting Valdez, we saw a Humpbacked Whale.
The Captain (John) stopped the boat and we moved in circles
until the whale was spotted again and John could estimate
what direction he was moving in under water. Since we
spent ten minutes between each blow three times waiting
for the whale to come up again I gathered that seeing
these whales is not all that common and would have liked
a much better picture of the animal than I was able to
get on my little digital. I think Andy did much better
with the big telephoto lens on the 35mm but it will be
a while before we know.
Shortly after seeing the whale we started seeing
ice floes of all size drifting on the ocean waters.
They really showed up against the darker waters of the
Sound that was further from shore but it's important to
note that anywhere the ocean is glacier fed, the water
is a pretty pale blue/green for some distance out from
shore. The glacial silt is what lends the Valdez harbour
water such a pretty color and you should see the
color of the water in front of the Columbia Glacier!
It's fantastic! So are the ice bergs! Actually, they aren't
called bergs until they're over 15 feet in length above
water, (all ice floes are nine times bigger under water
than what is exposed on the surface) and depending on
smaller sizes, names vary including the term 'bergy bits'.
The Columbia Glacier is the fastest retreating glacier
in the world and loses 80 to 150 of ice from its
face every day. We went to a museum that showed pictures
of the glacier in 1928, 1978 and 2000 and the difference
in height was even more amazing. The glacier stood
several hundred feet above a large ship completely dwarfing
it in 1928 whereas the two most recent pictures
show it as having a much lower face. We couldn't get that
close to the face because of the solid ice jam between
us and the actuall glacier about six to eight miles away
but the front of it didn't look all that tall compared
to us. The fast retreat of this glacier is considered
'history in the making' and is heavily studied
The boat slowly plowed through the ice floes on the outer
edge of the ice jam and one of the crewmen pulled a piece
of glacier ice out of the water so that everyone on board
could see what it looks like. The whole thing was really
interesting and I learned a lot of neat stuff that I didn't
We then turned farther out into the Sound and part way
around Glacier Island past an area called Point Bull Head.
Here the rocks protected by cliffs overhead were
covered in large Steller Sea Lions, probably a
common sight to someone that lives along the Pacific Coast
in the States or British Columbia for that matter, but
certainly not to me. Apparently this 'haul out' is where
most of the juveniles go after being kicked out of the
herd as do adult males unsuccessful with mating. That
way the males at least feel better about not getting
a girlfriend because they can spend all of their time
being miserable and bossing the juvies around.
A little further along the Captain pulled the boat up
very near to a green buoy bobbing around in the water
with sea lions draped all over it. Past tours have counted
up to nine on it at one time and I don't know how that
would be possible unless they all lay on top of each other.
It looked like a pretty good life to me though, with a
whole lot of snoring and sunbathing going on.
Beyond that and headed back in the direction of Valdez
the crewmembers spotted a small number of Dall's Porpose
in the water ahead of us. Although they stopped the boat
because these animals will often swim right up to and
under the boat in a playful manner, they weren't interested
in that while we were there. Like the whale, they
were intent on feeding and so all I saw was their
backs as they arched up through the water and back down
again. There's no question that they're fast though, you
could see that as they peeled through the water and the
handout says they are the fastest of the cetaceans, swimming
up to 35 mph.
Along the way we tried taking pictures of Horned and Tufted
Puffins that we saw but they sit so low in the water I
doubt if you can tell what they are in the picture. To
me they look like stuffed toys they're so odd looking.
Because it was the King Salmon and Coho run coming in
from ocean to rivers to streams while we were in Valdez,
we got to see how the fishing boats pulled the
fish in with 'purse' nets. They worked as quickly
as they could because the fishing was open only from 8:00
in the morning to 8:00 at night and only for a few days.
It was certainly interesting to see them operate because
I've always wondered at the equipment you see on the fishing
boats in the Bella Coola harbour and wondered how it worked.
Our Captain gave us some good background on the local
geology explaining the occurrences during the earthquake
of 1964 that so devastated Valdez and the surrounding
countryside and both Andy and I enjoyed all the info we
absorbed on our boat trip. It's one of those things that
I highly recommend and frankly, I think the trip
is well worth the money. In our case it was cheaper
yet because we had a Tour Saver coupon that let one of
us ride for free so $90 was our total cost for a nearly
seven hour boat tour. That included a lunch on board that
was superb. A bagel and cream cheese, along with the best
clam chowder I've ever had in my life and I make
a mean chowder!
Just a note in case I haven't mentioned it before. We
were advised to pick up a Tour Saver booklet
when we arrived in Alaska because it's a coupon book that
halves the cost of many activities and tours throughout
Alaska. It's to the advantage of tour operators because
many people might be more inclined to take tours because
of the savings. We certainly did, more because the booklet
called our attention to the various flightseeing, boat
and museum tours but the savings was definitely an added
attraction. The booklet also offers numerous savings on
accommodations ranging from resort cabins and b&b's
to hotel and motels for anyone not travelling with a tent
Today we woke up to low clouds and a little rain that
sure changed the look of Valdez. Boy, was I glad we'd
been blessed with such nice weather that last few days
and especially for the boat ride yesterday. We did some
chores, Andy fxed a pipe that had developed a leak and
we toured a couple of museums that really killed most
of the day. One museum was mostly about Old Valdez
and the earthquake of '64 and had a really interesting
miniature and detailed model of the old town. The other
museum was also quite interesting with a lot of different
goodies to see and stuff to read.
Tomorrow we head north for Delta Junction, then Tok, then.....breathless
drum roll.....Chicken, Alaska! We have to see
any place that has a name like Chicken.
We're hoping to stay in State parks for the next few days
so I don't expect to be anywhere near an Internet hookup
except possibly in Tok. The next articles may not be posted
for days or up to a week.
Because I wanted to load up lots of pictures of our cruise,
I'm switching over to a new week one day early so if you
didn't get a chance to read the last articles, you'll
find them at July
Week Two . See you in a few days!
The purpose of this web site is to draw attention to a
remote area of west central British Columbia. It is a
beautiful area that relies heavily on tourism. The search
engines don't know much about the West Chilcotin, Anahim
Lake, Nimpo Lake or any of the other small communities
in the region and I hope to change that! Even as large
as this site will eventually be, there just isn't enough
room or time in the day to fully describe this incredible
country but I am going to try scraping away at the tip
of the iceberg, so join me!
the links, and see what the West Chilcotin is really like!