Sunday, August 1, 2010

Leaving Alaska - Kenai to Dawson City

We left Kenai on Friday, July 30th and drove about 340 miles to Glennallen. The weather was good and the road itself is in decent shape and so this was a pleasant and uneventful drive.

Along the way, we stopped to take photos of the Matanuska Glacier.

Some time later, as we were nearing Glennallen, the Wrangell-St Elias mountain range came into view and it was gorgeous!

We spent the night at the Dry Creek State Recreation Area, a no frills campground that was nearly empty. Aside from one couple who were tent-camping a few sites over, and piles of moose scat everywhere, the campground was deserted. But it suited our needs just fine and we got a good night's sleep.

We set off towards Tok the next morning... our plan was to drive in the direction of Kluane National Park and stop when we got tired.

A couple hours from Tok, around the Tanana State Forest area, we spotted a Moose cow and her calf at the side of the highway. Lynda managed to get this photo of mama, but the calf ran in the opposite direction.We were so excited to see these animals - we had been looking for moose for weeks but only had one other good sighting: the one at the cemetery in Kenai.

It was only around 1 PM when we got to Tok, and we started talking about going to Chicken and then over to Dawson City, if the Taylor Highway was open. We had both been so disappointed when the caravan group had to skip this a couple weeks earlier because the road was washed out.  Anyway, we stopped for gas and I asked the gas station clerk about the road and he said, "Yes, it's open. It's kinda bad in a few places but you should be fine."  Famous last words... now I know that when an Alaskan says a road is "bad in places" that means "go another way"!

Anyhow, we took a left off Highway 2 onto the Taylor Highway and off we went to Dawson City by way of Chicken.

The 70 miles of road from Highway 2 to Chicken was not bad at all. The Taylor Highway is paved along this section - although it is narrow and has soft shoulders, the road was an easy drive. Ah-ha, thinks I, this is a piece of cake.

We rolled into Chicken a little after 3 PM and were disappointed to have missed the tour of Tisha's Cabin - they only conduct two tours a day. There did not seem to be much else to do in Chicken but that was OK 'cause we were heading to Dawson City, which we love, and we figured we'd get there in a couple hours or so. After all, it's only 105 miles from Chicken, right?

The reality is that we finally arrived at the Dawson City ferry area five hours later! 

The entire Taylor Highway between Chicken and the Canadian Border was unpaved gravel surface with crumbling shoulders and very bad wash-boarding. Because the Trek does not have air ride suspension, we could only go 5-10 MPH most of the time, and even then we felt like we were shaking apart.

So why did we keep going?  Because there was nowhere to turn around!  And I kept thinking it would get better; surely it would get better.

Anyway, it took us about 4 hours to cover around 40 miles. We really started to get worried that we would not make it to the border crossing by 8 PM, which is when the border agents close up.

Meanwhile, the Trek had filled with fine, almost oily, glacial talc from the road. We could see it hanging in the air and settling on surfaces and furniture. And clothing. And dishes. And the dogs. And us. Eeeehhhhhh!  I now call this Chicken Dust, which could also be referred to as Chicken S--t.  You get the idea, I'm sure.

Just when I thought I could not take it anymore, we saw the Canadian border. This was the holy grail because we heard the road was paved on the Canadian side. Hallelujah!

Once past that border crossing, we shot along the Top of the World Highway and quickly covered the next 65 miles... it felt like we were in a jet! We opened the windows so some of the dust would be sucked out.  Although I doubt this really got rid of much dust, the fresh air was wonderful.

As we drove along towards Dawson City, we could hardly wait to get settled in with a cold beverage at the Yukon River Government Campground, which is close to the ferry landing. This thought, along with the fresh air and breath-taking views, soon cheered us up and we began laughing about that darn Taylor Highway! 

Once we got to the campground, I aked Lynda take the dogs and leave me for an hour. I cleaned as best I could, wiping surfaces and vacuuming up the Chicken Dust. But I knew it would take much more effort than that to get the Trek properly cleaned up. 

Was that awful drive worth it, and would I do it again?  Well, it was an adventure for sure and the countryside is amazing, but I would not do it again in the Trek. However, I would make that trip again in a car or truck for sure! Next time, however, I will time my trip so I can take the morning tour of Tisha's Cabin and arrive in Dawson City in time for an early dinner.

Click here to see some photos of our journey from Kenai to Dawson City, and stay tuned for more about Leaving Alaska!

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