One of the reasons we thought to leave Dawson today was to avoid the 20 rig caravan scheduled to cross the Yukon on the ferry tomorrow morning. It is a good idea to check with the Information Center about possible caravans leaving on the ferry so you can adjust accordingly. I couldn’t quite imagine driving this wild place in a line of RV’s. At noon, when we drove down to the ferry, there was already a large line of cars, RV’s, and folks on foot crossing the river. The only way west from Dawson is to cross the Yukon River on the last existing ferry along this route, both the Perry Ferry and the Stewart Ferry are now replaced by bridges. The ferry is free, part of the Yukon highway system. Sometimes you are lucky and there is no wait, sometimes you are a second kind of lucky and there is. Our second kind of lucky turned out to be just an hour and a half of time to watch the ferry fight the incredibly strong current of the river loaded up with big Holland America busses and to visit with local folks here for the festival.
We initially planned to cross with the Tracker hooked up, but after seeing the big rigs and busses bumping on the exit across the river, we thought better of that plan and unhooked. Mo had to then get the Tracker back to the end of the line of passenger cars and we hoped we would still cross at the same time, but it didn’t look good. I actually enjoyed the wait, watching and visiting, eating another piece of the giant cinnamon bun from Beaumont Lodge, and just enjoying the gorgeous sunlight and the view.
When I finally loaded, first rig on the ferry, I was amazed to see Mo get waved on as the last rig because she was short enough to fill in the space. Perfect. The river was especially high and muddy, with a powerful current now and then laced with huge logs and debris. Must be a talented person who runs that boat! In no time, we were off the ferry and hooked up with the Protect-A-Tow in place ready to tackle the gravel road to Tok and the Alaska Highway.
I had read about this road, seen photos from other blogs, heard varying reviews from writers that didn’t give me a clue of what was actually in store for us. This, finally, was the wild north that I had come to see. This road, rough as it is, was magnificent, utterly breathtaking, awe-inspiring magic. I began to feel the magic within the first few miles, as we climbed the long grade to the ridgetop run that most of the road follows along the spine of the mountains.
The wild Yukon spread out before me to the east and north, and the deep valleys of the Yukon River and its tributaries to the south.
I wouldn’t have missed this part of our trip for anything. Every single penny of the trip is worth the wild and beautiful landscape we traveled today, on a road built only a few decades ago. Long ago, in Idaho, I worked in a wild area of the St Joe National Forest, and traveled a ridge run similar to this one for many miles into the back country. I loved that road, the 201, more than any other in my lifetime. This was the 201 on steroids, winding along the ridges, across open grassy slopes above timberline, with views into hundreds of miles of roadless wilderness only known to First Nations and old trappers. Hundreds of miles without a telephone pole, or a power transmission line, or a cell tower anywhere, or road the only ribbon of civilization crawling through to the distance. Not a clear cut in sight. Nothing but the wild Yukon into the wild Alaska.
I suppose the only mild disappointment was that we still saw no animals at all on the route. Oops, we did see one more squirrel run across the road, but that was it. Not a sheep or a bear or a caribou. So many warnings, both on signs and in the Milepost, indicated that at least here, we would see animals. Again, it was not to be.
After two very short hours, we crossed into Alaska. This northernmost border crossing was simple and quiet, with no one in front of us, even though we had seen a few rigs along the route. We were asked no questions except how long we had been out of the United States and how many pets we had. After the officer checked our passports and pet papers we were on our way. The rain that we watched building in the west finally overtook us at the border of Alaska and we drove on a bit, searching for a wide place along the road. As promised, the road turned to wet, rough dirty gravel, and Mo was glad to find a nice long turnout where we parked for the night.
Since the border behind us closed at 8, there was only a bit of traffic coming along behind us before everything was silent for the rest of the night. I say “night” very loosely. We gained an hour, so were worn out, fed and in bed by something silly like 6:30 with our books. At midnight, when I woke, it was a bright twilight evening, with the almost full moon rising over the ridge behind us. There is a small stream of water running down the mountain behind the rig, and I had hoped it might bring in some critters. It’s now 3:30 am and I have been writing for some time and have yet to see any critters in the morning light. It never got dark at all.
I turned the generator on to run a bit of heat in the 40*F outside temperatures and to keep the inverter on so I could charge up the computer. I feel like a newborn with my days and nights mixed up, just wondering if in this bright morning light I should now try to get some sleep. Mo keeps wanting to drive since she hates navigating, so at least she is back there snoozing away while I type and manage photos. Today we continue toward Chicken and Tok and once again will be on the Alaska Highway.
The Klondike/Top of the World loop certainly has it great moments and its downside. Still, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Here is a slide show of the journey.
Miles traveled today: about 125 between site15 at Dawson and 16 at our boondock site
Road condition: hard surface fine gravel with rough spots, steep grades up and down to the Alaska border. From the border to our boondock site, gravel that seems more like dirt, rutted and rough, but so far we haven’t had any mishaps inside or outside the MoHo and Tracker. Kayaks still on tight and all windows still intact.
If you want to see the rest of the photos, they are linked here