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Wilderness Adventures - July, Week 3/2006

Normally 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!.
You can search this site for a subject of interest to you at the bottom of this page. Check out the Picture of the Day.

7/17/2006 10:54 PM

Top Of The World

The 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 for them.
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.

7/16/2006 12:46 PM

Goin' To Chicken

We 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!

7/14/2006 7:32 PM

The Cruise

We 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 quite well.
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 by scientists.
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 know before.
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 or RV.
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!

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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!


Follow the links, and see what the West Chilcotin is really like!
Layers of hills.
 
Sea Lions.
 
Island.
 
Net full of fish.
 
Ice Berg jam.
 
Small ice bergs.
 
Blue ice berg.
 
Several sea otters.
 
Night shot of ships at dock.
 
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