A Fowl Adventure

My kids and I have been planning on attending Chickenstock for a year now.  It is a small music festival held in Chicken, Alaska, a quirky drinking town with a mining problem.  Since I was planning on going that far, 7 hours from us, we also were invited to stay the night at my friends’ house in Eagle, 3 hours further up the road and Yukon River.  I handled for Wayne and Scarlett Hall for 2 Yukon Quests and was excited to go up and visit them.  They operate Bush Alaska Expeditions.

Chicken

Population: 21 in summer, 6 in winter
Chicken is located at Milepost 66 on the Taylor Highway, 80 miles from Tok, 94 miles from Eagle and 108 miles from Dawson City, YT.

Chicken was supposedly named by early miners who wanted to name their camp ptarmigan, but were unable to spell it and settled instead for chicken, the common name in the North for ptarmigan. Mining began in the area in 1886, with the discovery of gold on Franklin Gulch. An estimated 700 miners worked the area until 1898, when many left for the Klondike Gold Rush. The post office was established in 1903.

Chicken is perhaps best known as the home of the late Ann Purdy, whose book Tisha was based on her experiences as a young schoolteacher in the Bush. Tisha’s schoolhouse and the former F.E. Company gold camp comprise Old Town, or historical, Chicken.

Attractions:
The Historic Chicken tour includes the only remaining roadhouse (built in 1899) on the Eagle Trail, Tisha’s schoolhouse, and other structures dating back to the early 1900s. Inquire at the Chicken Center/The Goldpanner or visit http://www.townofchicken.com.
Look for gold. Both Town of Chicken/The Goldpanner and Chicken Gold Camp & Outpost offer gold panning. Chicken Gold Camp also offers recreational mining on a claim.
Pedro Dredge No. 4, located at Chicken Gold Camp and Outpost, operated on Chicken Creek between 1959 and 1967, after mining Pedro Creek outside Fairbanks from 1938 until 1959. On the National Register of Historic Places. For information, visit http://www.chickengold.com.
Excerpt from The Milepost

Eagle

Population: 129
Eagle is located at the end of the Taylor Highway on the south bank of the Yukon River, 171 miles from Tok, 94 miles from Chicken and 143 miles from Dawson City, YT.
Visitor information:
Eagle Historical Society & Museums, P.O. Box 23, Eagle, AK 99738; phone (907) 547-2325; http://www.eagleak.org.

The trading post was established here in 1880 to serve miners working the upper Yukon and its tributaries. Fort Egbert was established in 1899, and it became a key communications center when the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS) was completed in 1903. Judge James Wickersham established the first federal court in the Interior of Alaska at Eagle in 1900. But by 1910, gold strikes in Fairbanks and Nome had lured away many of Eagle’s residents, and with the conversion to wireless communications, most of the U.S. Army left Fort Egbert in 1911. Today Eagle is a popular jumping-off point for Yukon River travelers.

Visitor services in Eagle include accommodations at the Falcon Inn Bed and Breakfast (http://falconinn.mystarband.net), gas stations, a grocery store (with ATM), laundromat and mechanic shop with tire repair. Camping at Eagle BLM campground. Eagle has a library and post office.

Excerpt from The Milepost.


The drive was beautiful but we had intermittent rain.

We stopped in Tok to have our lunch of chicken, boiled eggs, and grapes, and give Wayne and Scarlett a call so they would know when to meet us in Eagle.  If you are coming through here, the Chevron across the street from the visitor’s center has a stand of free books for tourists.  In the back of that book is two coupons for .10 off per gallon of gas.  I used one and passed on the other one to the guy standing behind me.

The Taylor Highway begins at Tetlin Junction on the Alaska Highway, 12 miles southeast of Tok, and ends at historic Eagle on the Yukon River. This is a beautiful “top of the world” drive.

The first 64 miles of the Taylor Highway are paved, with some sections damaged by mild to severe frost heaving. Road surface ranges from good to poor on the gravel portion, depending on maintenance. Rough spots are not always flagged. Shoulders are generally narrow and may be soft and unstable.

The Taylor Highway forks at Jack Wade Junction, Milepost TJ 95.7: the Boundary Spur Road goes east to the Top of the World Highway to Dawson City, YT; the Taylor Highway continues north to Eagle. Between Chicken and Eagle, the Taylor Highway is narrow, winding, gravel road with many steep hills and some hairpin curves.

Excerpt from The Milepost.

The Chicken Community sign was plastered with stickers from all over the world.

Total drive from Fairbanks to Eagle was 10 hours.  The last 94 miles, from Chicken to Eagle, took me 3 hours.  Winding, narrow mountain roads with no gaurdrails, soft and sometime disintegrating shoulders made for an interesting drive.  The only time it was actually scary was meeting head on traffic unexpectedly going around a corner.  The one tour bus we met coming from Dawson, had a pilot car so I found a wide spot in the road and pulled over to wait for it to pass.  Good thing too, the wide spots in the road, not that wide…

Most of the drive was muddy but we did hit a few sweet dry spots.

We were to meet Wayne and Scarlett in Eagle between 5:30 and 6:00 pm.  She said she would be either at the store or at the boat landing.  We got to the store at 5:16 and it was already closed so we headed on to the edge of town to the boat landing.  We met them coming out between the two spots.  Perfect timing!  So we parked the car, grabbed our backpacks and rain gear, the watermelon, bag of oranges and bottle of wine I had brought for them and hopped in the boat.  Luckily we were there in between rain showers!  Olivia was pretty scared getting on the boat and I must admit, being on the Yukon River IS intimidating.  I had crossed the river before going up the Dalton.  I believe that is the only bridge in the state that crosses the river.  But being so high above it in no way lets you feel the enormity of its power like being on it in a small, insignificant feeling boat.

I have a plumber in the making!  It was a bit cold.  I felt bad that I didn’t make Olivia bring a heavier jacket.

7 miles up the river and we come to their vehicles for the last mile, up a trail they just had to cut last year.  The ice flood Eagle suffered winter before last took out their last trail.

Eagle was dramatically altered during breakup in May of 2009, when ice jams on the Yukon River pushed ice up and over the retaining wall and into buildings along Front Street.  Homes, trucks, boats, so many things were destroyed.  Check here for pictures of the devastation caused by the truck sized pieces of ice.

The river runs right out of the left side border of this picture.  You can see where the trees were sheared off by the ice.

After we got settled down at Wayne and Scarlett’s, Scarlett took us on a walk to “the back cabin”.  Of course, you don’t take walks out here without being prepared for bear.

She also let a few sled dogs loose to work guard duty.  I felt much better with them running loose and sniffing all over.  The had a bear sniffing around the house a few days before, but some handy hunters who were staying with them took care of it.

This cabin was made by hand by their son.  I think he is all of 17 or 18.  Pretty darn impressive huh?

The spectacular view from their front yard.  I could sit here and drink coffee forever but only had a bit of time to do so that next morning before needing to get back on the river/road.  It was wonderful. 

After a dinner of mooseburgers and some YUMMY bear, potato salad, and watermelon we all went to bed.  Well, we did have to try some of the wine.  We were pretty tired from the drive but I was proud of the way the kids behaved for as tired as they were.  When we were kids we always slept whenever on a trip.  Not these guys.  They are afraid they will miss something.  I am glad they have an appreciation of scenery at such a young age.

Back through Eagle we took a few pictures since once again, it wasn’t raining.

The Library.

Lots of burned areas, whole mountainside.

I am really just seriously in love with this area.  I have visions of my own little cabin sometime in the future after the children have gone on to their own lives.

Finally we get back to Chicken and once again my Alaska Kharma looks after us and we have a break in the rain while we set up camp.

S’mores, mmmm.

Utilikilts, mmmmm.

Appalachia meets the arctic.

My friend Bonnie and her husband Jim.

Yea, they got yelled at by a “mean lady” for going up there.  Because “what if they slide down and mess up the rocks?!”  Perhaps she doesn’t realize that they would certainly and most carefully replace any rocks they happened to mess up.  Of course, said lady didn’t say anything about the dog that DID turn over a rock…whatever.  They were bored, I thought it was a good thing for them to do, there in plain sight.

The stage, the pink truck said Katchemak Mining Co.

Carsten Thies, photographer extraordinaire.

The camper on the right of us was a woman and daughter.  It was nice for the kids to have another kid to play with.  Then the second day, Laurie, above, came and camped on the left of us.  The three of us women and the kids all pooled our resources under my canopy and cooked and fed kids, and visited as well as had a few beers together.  This is Laurie’s handy, dandy cookstove and tea kettle.   My breakfast for dinner, bacon, eggs with yellow squash, asparagus, red peppers, onions, and cheese.

Oh yea, on the first morning I woke up to a flat tire.  Luckily Tish on the right of us had a little air compressor.  I was able to keep it up but had to air it up twice a day.  I made it home but felt better knowing Laurie was behind me as we caravaned back home to Fairbanks.

My friend and fellow doula Kate.  Her and her husband own Grassroots Guitar here in Fairbanks.  It was fun to see him onstage.

Here is a story about assholes at Chickenstock.  Camped across from us in and near the green bus were a bunch of kids.  Yes, kids drinking and having a good old time like is meant to be.  But as I lay in my tent asleep in between my kids I am awakened by a loud male scream of “I’ll fucking KILL YOU!”  Then we get to hear about how apparently mad boy found his girlfriend teepee creeping and in another guys tent.  Loud fight ensues.  I am glad my kids slept through it or they would have been really frightened.  Ok ok I get it.  Drinking, girlfriend fucking around on you, you’re mad.  But then he took off in his truck and damn near plowed into my tent, not to mention my car nor the guy next to us who had gotten in late that night and so was just sleeping in his sleeping bag wrapped up in a tarp on the ground by his truck.  Here you can see where he had to slam on his brakes so hard it dug deep into the gravel only inches from us.  Dude, if you are out there, you and your girlfriend owe me an apology.   Where were security you might ask?  Why they were drunk and running around in their little power ranger seeing how fast it would go.  Yea, I was unimpressed.

American Summit

Elevation 3,652 ft (1,113.1 m)
Traversed by Taylor Highway,
Valdez-Eagle Trail (defunct)

Range Mertie Mountains

American Summit or (occasionally) American Pass is a 3,420 feet (1,042 m)-high mountain pass through the high ground of the Fortymile River district of east-central Alaska.[1] Today, American Summit is traversed by the Taylor Highway, which connects the town of Eagle, Alaska to the Alaska Highway and the Top of the World Highway.[2] Before the construction of the Taylor Highway in 1953,[3] the Valdez-Eagle Trail passed over American Summit, providing the first overland route between the Gulf of Alaska and the gold fields of central Alaska.[4]

American Summit has been used for thousands of years by Athabascan natives, who saw its utility as the lowest point in the White Mountains, which lie between the coast of Alaska and the Yukon River. In 1886 and again in 1896, gold was discovered in central Alaska, sparking a series of gold rushes that attracted thousands of miners to the Yukon River area of Alaska.[4] In 1897, to protect the growing population of the region, the U.S. Army began to establish a series of forts along the Yukon River in order to help maintain order. One of these was Fort Egbert, built in the town of Eagle. Because of its isolated location, supplies for the fort and town had to either travel along the width of Alaska via the Yukon River or through previously established transportation routes in Canada. Seeking a quick all-American route, the U.S. government ordered the construction of a road from Valdez on the Gulf of Alaska to Fort Egbert.[4]

American Summit, as the lowest point in the mountains separating the two locations, was a natural site for the road, which was completed by 1901.[4] To supply even faster communications, the U.S. military began the construction of Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System, of which Eagle would be the northernmost point. Telegraph lines were strung over American Summit in 1902, and an undersea cable connected Valdez to Seattle in 1904.[4] After 1909, when a radio link was established, the telegraph line was abandoned. The road remained and was improved so that by the 1920s, the first automobiles climbed American Summit.[4] In World War II, construction of the Alaska Highway also spurred work on that highway’s side roads, and a project to improve the trail was begun in 1945. By 1953, the result was the Taylor Highway, a seasonal route that still connects Eagle to the outside world over American Summit.[4]

During the 2004 Alaska fire season, the worst in recorded history, American Summit was the site of a 10,000-acre (40 km2) wildfire,[5] one of several hundred that ultimately consumed 6,600,000 acres (26,700 km2) in Alaska that year.

Today, Eagle is an alcohol-free town, and American Summit is notable as the location of the liquor store nearest to Eagle. The store has been called one of the most remote liquor stores in the world.[3] The Yukon Quest 1,000-mile (1,600 km) sled dog race crosses Eagle Summit every February on its route between Fairbanks, Alaska, and Whitehorse, Yukon.[1]

Good bye Chicken.  Had a good time but mostly I am glad that Fairbanks has some really good local music.

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17 thoughts on “A Fowl Adventure

  1. salmon says:

    I could not resist commenting. Very well written!

    Like

  2. […] that is all for now.  We have a busy month planned for June.  If you remember my post last year “A Fowl Adventure” you can look forward to more of the same, only better.  Camping, Chickenstock, a visit to my […]

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  3. mary kline says:

    You make me so jealous !! I have wanted to live in Alaska for so long—It is something i will experience soon. I can’t wait to meet you. It is nice to know there is more of us adventurous women out there. Not all women are raised to live in town-HAHAHAHA

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  4. […] A Fowl Adventure June 2010 6 comments 3 […]

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  5. […] my friends that I went to visit this summer out of Eagle.  You can read about that trip here:  A Fowl Adventure.  I never wrote the full trip report as I normally like to do when returning from an adventure […]

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  6. Caz says:

    OMG does this totally make me MISS Alaska! I only lived there for 3 years in Anchorage… but that place really gets in your blood! Beautiful photos, thanks for sharing them! (wandering in from your MDC post!)

    Like

  7. sharon eddy says:

    thanks so much for sharing this information.

    Like

  8. Yvonne says:

    Love to hear of your adventures. Sure is beautiful.

    Like

  9. lara says:

    Take me with you next time!
    Thanks for sharing your adventure, looks like so much fun!

    Like

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