Top o’ the world to you

By the time we got to Fairbanks this whole camper was ready for a break.  We had a truly wonderful visit with some dear friends who showed us around town, let me do laundry, and treated us to the feeling of home again. I can’t express how wonderful it is to be able to see people again after living in totally different places.

The kids played. We hiked. We got caught in a torrential downpour and then saw a mama and baby moose. We toured Fairbanks and saw their very cool Poineer town. But, best of all, we caught up and chatted and spent time together.

That refresh pushed us into the next leg of our trip – the lots-o-driving leg. Out of Fairbanks we retraced our route south a couple hours to Tok and then turned north to begin the trek over the Top of the World highway.  Now, this isn’t insanely fair north – it’s not even past the arctic circle – but it is a very remote part of Alaskan and Canadian Yukon, and the road sits high up on some very massive landscape.  From Tok to Chicken was pretty enough. Chicken is less a town but a collection of three gold panning sites/rest stop/ shop combos.  We got up close with our first giant dredge in Chicken… apparently named because no one could spell Ptarmigan.

The road turned to hardpack dirt on Chicken and never looked back.  Seems it was under construction as lots of trucks were barreling around non-guardrailed curves for a while, but I saw no progress. For the longest time the road curved and edged up giving views of forested hills as far as we could see. Eventually it lowered into a pretty river valley and our mosquito infested stop for the night: Walker Fork campground.  It was quite nice, really, and the super friendly camp host from Florida reminded me of my Dad. He and the wife have come up here a few summers now to pan for gold and chop the wood that’s free for campers.  We got our allotment and started a fire right away as it keeps the skeeters off. The kids had fun watched me cook bacon for dinner over the fire; I was feeling very prospector-like and bacon was a staple for them. Of course that was followed with marshmallows. Heart healthy dinner.

Zoe minded the fire for the evening while Avi and I went for a walkabout to the top of a small cliff just behind our site.  The whole area was squishy big land and full of unique mosses and shrubby plants masking the moist ground.

It was a pleasant place, but the sun was still so bright we again went to be late and got up early. Our first task for the morning was trying our hand at gold panning in the public panning section of the adjacent river.  The camp host even loans out gold pans.

We found a few flecks!  I think.

The drive from there simply became phenomenal. The road hugged the top of these massive rolling hills above the tree line. It was so panoramic, so huge, with no other life to be seen; even on this clearest of days. The very occasional passing truck gave me comfort knowing someone would be past if we needed it. We stopped at a snow chunk and the kids slid down. We stopped a lot for pictures. We went through the most remote border crossing I’ve ever seen and enjoyed the breif bit of pavement.

Eventually, after longer than I thought, the road abruptly decends to a the wind Yukon river and stops at the edge.  There we waited while a little ferry boat came over to give us and 3 other vehicles safe passage across to the town of Dawson.  Yes.  The Dawson. As we’ve been slowly making our way north from Alaska we have periodically followed in the footsteps of those brave and crazy gold prospectors from their initial hike out of Skagway.  This was, finally, the destination. Mostly they arrived on boat – early folks on small boats they built back in Bennet.  But, budding entrepreneurs quickly saw the benefit of a paddle wheel to haul the gear and yearly supplies necessary for a small community. It was neat to think we also made that journey in our own roundabout way.

Dawson has a dusty charm that’s a bit lost with all the RVs rolling around (I know! Me included!). The whole town, like Skagway, is a historic site which has many labeled buildings and the highlight: a paddle wheeler to walk around it. The kids loved this ands the chance to stretch some legs.

South from Dawson we stopped for a look at the old slag pits – man those dredges really destroy a place. Then we drove for a long long long monotonous time to Whitehorse. I was going to stop earlier, but it was so dull we couldn’t decide on a nice overnight spot. Again, Percy Jackson kept us moving with his Greek Heroes book.  It’s like he is now our friend along for the trip.

The Whitehorse Walmart is basically an RV park, and we joined in the fray. It’s. Good stop for supplies, gas, a free dump and water, you name it.

The next day we made our way toward the mountains and a new journey.  A pit stop at Rancheria Falls was a pretty jaunt to a little waterfall, and our final stop in the Yukon was the signpost forest in Watson Lake. This fascinating collection is added to every year by fellow travelers along the AlCan (Alaska Canada) highway. We were surprised at the number of European signs, just as I’ve been surprised to see so many RVs with German plates!

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