Day 24: July 9, 2016
Top of the World and More

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After re-driving about a dozen miles of the Alaska Highway eastbound, I turn north on AK-5 or the Taylor Highway. This is the start of what the Milepost calls the Klondike Loop. It's comprised of the Taylor Highway, Top of the World Highway, and North Klondike Highway.

The first sixty or so miles of the Taylor Highway are more or less paved. There are "BREAK IN ROAD" signs and sections of "LOOSE GRAVEL" but it is mostly asphalt -- until it isn't. Perhaps surprisingly, this is, I believe, the first "PAVEMENT ENDS" sign I have seen on this trip. It means that Chicken is just around a few more curves.

The first aspect of Chicken encountered from the west is the post office. It sits on a hill north of the road along with a display of old mining equipment and a partially open building that just might be the community center. The post office is open five days a week (I was there on one of the other two.) with two "mail days".

I don't recall ever seeing a mention of Chicken, Alaska, without at least a reference to the origin of its name. I suspect that to do so involves great risk and I'm not about to be the first to try it. Ptarmigan, which eventually became Alaska's state bird, were plentiful around here when the area was a mining hot spot. That seemed like a good name for the town when it was incorporated in 1902. With no dictionary and no internet, agreeing on the correct spelling was impossible. The miners may not have known how to spell it but they knew what it tasted like and someone finally suggested they call the town Chicken and so it is. The town may or may not now contain a dictionary and one or two residents seem to have some sort of satellite internet connection but there is absolutely no cell phone service.

There are at least three "business districts" in Chicken but this one seems to have the highest profile. I somehow missed getting a picture of Susan, the owner, but I did get a picture of some of the pie with crust that she makes from scratch and I got a close-up of one particular piece of blueberry. That pie was washed down with a beverage from the saloon where Michael let me see the "panty cannon" which is used to prepare feminine undergarments for display above the bar.

There are other things to see in Chicken, too.

The road remained dirt and interesting on the other side of Chicken. That "PAVEMENT ENDS" sign applies to the entire remainder of the Taylor Highway which really means the entire remainder of the United States. Claims that there are no guardrails on the Taylor Highway are just not true and I mean just barely not true.

This road demands a driver's attention so that slowing to a crawl or completely stopping for a bit is required to appreciate the beauty stretching off into the distance. Sometimes the beauty is very close.

When I first noticed the Top of the World Highway on a map, I thought its name might come from its far north location. Its position at the top of the map. But the name really comes from the fact that it largely runs along the tops of ridges that provide a view down at the rest of the world. In fact, as the sign explains, it was originally called Ridge Road but there are other Ridge Roads and this is no ordinary ridge.

The Top of the World Highway ends at the Yukon River where a free ferry makes th connection to Dawson City. It's not a large ferry and waits can be quite long. Not so today. I only had to wait through one cycle and was across in a matter of minutes although we did deviate from the path Garmin had in mind.

Finding the Eldorado Hotel was easy and my room was quite satisfactory. The whole hotel was quite satisfactory and included a bar and restaurant.

During a brief walk through town I happened upon the visitors center where I learned, among other things, that moose locking horns isn't as rare as I would have guessed. I also learned that a walking tour would be starting out in a few minutes and I signed on.

My opinion of the tour is mixed and I think that at least partly accounts for my mixed opinion of Dawson City. On one hand, the tour included entry to buildings I would not have seen the inside of otherwise. On the other, it included very little hard history. Ode, our guide, told various stories in dramatic fashion and often got tour members to play roles in the stories. The role playing didn't add much to the telling but it did get people involved which I assume was its purpose. It apparently worked as just about everyone seemed to really enjoy the tour while I would have liked a few more facts.

Dawson City was at the center of the 1896-1899 Klondike Gold Rush when twenty-nine million dollars worth of gold was found nearby. For a while, it was even referred to as the "Paris of the North" but the gold is mostly gone and Dawson City seems to rely a lot on tourism these days. The post office and bank were very important establishment back in the day and so were the many taverns. No, that chicken wire wasn't there to protect all that gold dust. It was added to keep tourists from messing with the artifacts. That space was open when this was an active bank. With just one way in and out of town, bank robberies weren't a big concern. As Ode told her stories of the gold rush winners and loser crowding in to celebrate or drown their sorrows, the significance of what I was looking at suddenly dawned on me. Right there in front of me was one of the world's earliest Klondike bars.

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