Inger and Jeff Latreille
Here's to Chicken and New Friends!
Monday, July 4, 2022
Day 14 of Alaska Trip
HAPPY 4TH OF JULY everybody!! 🇺🇸🎆Hope you all had a wonderful, safe one. Here, in this tiny town of Chicken, Alaska, out in the middle of nowhere, things were pretty relaxed. For some, it meant hitting the road in their ATV’s and for others, it was about trying to cash in on a day of panning for gold. For us, it was about finding out what Chicken is all about. One thing’s for sure…..we were completely surprised that it was an area that lured many gold miners, which it still does to this day, locals and tourists alike. The town continues to grow in popularity as the Klondike Loop becomes more and more popular.
We thought we’d start off with our RV park’s Gold Post store to educate ourselves about the town and to see if any tours were being offered for the Pedro Dredge, located on the park’s property. Once again, I was met by the first point of contact we had when we arrived yesterday. In her curt manner, I seemed to be imposing on asking to sign up for the tours. “Well, we’re not offering them today due to the holiday”, she said. Then I asked, “What about tomorrow morning?” She replied,”Well, we need 6 people signed up to conduct the tours.” Even though we’re leaving tomorrow, it didn’t hurt to at least put in our names. Let’s just hope she’s not giving them. The well appointed gift shop had everything from a small cafe to one of a kind items to gold rush relics from the past. The shop was definitely bigger than we expected. They also had photos and a timeline of the dredge from its days of operation to the relocation of it as a history piece. I think the story goes that they had to move it at least a mile to its final resting spot. Then we spent some time touring the grounds checking out the various chicken sculptures.
There was one in particular that we thought was very cleverly done using cut pieces of metal from old high school lockers, a team effort by their local high school students. Its name is Eggee and he is adorable!
Even if we weren’t able to see the Dredge tour, we could at least check out the exterior of it and all the old pieces of equipment used back in the day. It’s a good example of the floating dredges used in Alaska and Yukon to excavate gold from the early 1900’s to the 1950’s. There was even an old abandoned mining cabin that we could at least peek into.
We learned that gold was discovered at Chicken Creek in 1896 and by 1933, over $2 million in gold was mined using hand methods. In 1951, the Taylor Highway was constructed joining Chicken to the Alaska Highway, further developing Chicken Creek and the use of dredging. After the Pedro Dredge’s many years of service, it was disassembled and trucked to Chicken beginning in 1959. The reconstruction soon followed and was completed by September at a cost of $148,095 back in the day. Final cleanup of the dredge occurred in 1967, although several claims remained. After its many years of service, the dredge mined over 55,000 ounces of gold in a little over 8 years.
About a football field’s length from the resort, is the three building town of downtown Chicken itself, consisting of a mercantile shop, saloon, and a cafe. Oh, and there’s one gas pump. If you move in a left to right direction, your first stop would be the mercantile shop, which, as you walked in, had a sign on the door that would answer all of their frequently asked questions. It’s better than having to repeat yourself all the time.
Here are some interesting facts:
Chicken is called Chicken because the original settlers, actually gold miners, were grateful for the plentiful local birds (chickens or Ptarmigans as they were called) that filled many a pot in their camps. They couldn’t spell Ptarmigan, but they could sure spell “Chicken”. So the name stuck. It’s as simple as that.
Winter population is around 15. Summers can be 30 to 50.
No, there aren’t any phones, flush toilets or t.v.’s, though a few residents are known to own satellite phones.
They close in the winter and so does the road with no plows until April. For those that do stick around, it’s been known to be 80-85 degrees below zero FAHRENHEIT!! 🥶
Mail comes by plane every Tuesday and Friday, weather permitting.
They use a medivac to Fairbanks for medical emergencies.
And they have a lot of wild animals in the area, not counting the bar patrons….black bears, grizzlies, caribou, moose, weasels, snowshoe hares, lynx, wolves and a plentiful amount of birds.
A few other highlights that we didn’t get to see were kayaking and gold panning the 40-Mile River, touring the Chicken Graveyard and driving the 3-hour drive along the Top of the World Highway to the town of Eagle (especially on the 4th of July with all their small town events). We were especially bummed about missing Eagle as we learned Chicken is lacking a bit in their 4th of July entertainment, which was different from what we have heard. But, just when we were about to write off Chicken, AK, in terms of the town itself, it now ranks up there as one of our favorite visits, all because of the people we met.
Jeff and I had just walked through the mercantile shop followed by a few photo opportunities while “painting the town”,
when we heard a “Happy 4th of July” pointed in our direction from inside the saloon.
We exchanged the same pleasantries to who we thought at first was a local enjoying her 4th of July beer. Enter Katie and her husband Wayne from Utah, originally from New Jersey. They have 2 sons whom they adore, 1 recently married, and recently sold everything to live their minimalist dream in Utah. We now consider them our friends.
Moseying on up to the bar, we were immediately distracted by the dancing pole (evidently more men than women use it
simply because women are outnumbered in Chicken), and the many ceiling adornments of hats, panties, business cards, and anything else you could imagine that would be on a bar ceiling. A beer did sound refreshing and getting to know Katie and Wayne did sound like a great way to spend a 4th of July afternoon. We found out they had delayed their Alaska journey a few years due to COVID, and had just arrived from the same campground we were staying at in Dawson City. Prior to arriving in Dawson City, they had quite the ordeal of a broken leaf spring where they found out a tow to the nearest town would run them around $1,500. Alternatively, they called a repair shop who had the part and offered to have a driver meet up at their location to help replace it. Wow, what service!! They were sure lucky!! Wayne ended up giving the guy an extra $100 bucks for going the extra mile. Like it was any consolation for their stress dealing with mechanical issues, they were at least privy to seeing the 40-mile Caribou Migration (talk about amazing timing) on their way from Dawson City to Chicken. Every year, the caribou cross the Taylor Highway that intersects with their route to the high tundra area in the summer where they graze. In the Fall, they continue their journey to the Yukon/Alaska border. And we missed it by 1 day. 😩
A few beers later, we knew most everything there was to know about each other, including the bartender. Then the locals and gold panning guys started to show up. With their long beards, dirty faces, and worn hats, they looked everything a miner would. We also enjoyed a brief conversation with a 20-year Marine veteran who not only enjoys his weekend getaways on his “hog” , but rides through Alaska promoting suicide awareness/prevention for veterans, something near and dear to his heart. Thanking him for his service, we were in awe of his mission. What a story!
It didn’t take long for Sadie to be the center of attention once we brought her over to the saloon with us. She enjoyed the cozy disco-lit bar, meeting a few yappers and a pretty old Australian Shepherd Husky mix named Riley (evidently the chef’s dog) from the Chicken Creek Cafe next door. In fact, the chef even came over to chat and offer up a last call for any hungry souls before his 4:00 closing. Yes….I guess we all were a little hungry, so while Katie and I stayed inside the saloon, the guys went next door to inspect the menu. They brought back a highly recommended salmon burger with aioli sauce for Jeff and I to share and a regular hamburger for Katie and Wayne. Originally Jeff was going to get his own burger, but quickly decided it would be a SHARED item once he saw the $25 price tag. What an awesome gathering place for the 4th. Who needs a parade and a barbecue when you have a place like this? But we do miss our family. Happy 4th you guys!! Wish we were with you this year, but hopefully next!!
Continuing our 4th of July fun, Jeff and I invited Katie and Wayne over for a round of Cornhole. They accepted. Before they came over, Jeff had the task of getting out the buried cornhole set out of the truck while I went into the gift shop to pick up a bumper sticker that read “Chicken, Alaska” (another one to add to the Yeti), and a few postcards to mail to the grandkids. On my way out, I met a young woman and her husband pumping gas and asked if I could meet their 2 beautiful German Shepherd mix dogs. Living in Fairbanks and recently engaged after 10 years with no wedding date in sight, they were on a 2-week vacation basically winging their itinerary. They had just come from the town of Eagle, raving about their 4th of July day (it sounds like that was the place to be though we wouldn’t have met these fine people). But man, I so appreciated their wealth of knowledge about Alaska and the validation that OUR itinerary was spot on. He highly recommended rafting, flying tours, all the expensive stuff of course. He certainly had the attitude of, “Hey, you only live once, right?” Funny how our pocketbooks think otherwise, especially lately with the price of fuel and food. But he’s right. This trip is too magnificent to hold back, right? Go BIG or go home. We definitely want to do the things that are unique to Alaska….i.e. float planes, glacier tours, train rides, rafting. We shall see.
I finally made it back to the campsite after my slight detour, with everyone enjoying themselves (thank goodness they weren’t waiting for me). Of course I was excited to share what I had just learned about Alaska which I told them about during our match. It was couples against couples where Jeff and I were ahead for much of the game (thank goodness we kept the ground assist rule in place for my sake). Most of the time, my cornhole bags touch the ground first before landing on the board. But Katie and Wayne were holding their own as the scores got higher, inching ever so closely to beating us. But then Jeff and I scored sinkers and the game was over. Yes!! After the celebratory high fives, we enjoyed more getting to know you time before the 9:00 hour beckoned Katie and Wayne to head back to their Saloon parking spot for the night. At the end of the day, Chicken turned out to be a pretty awesome spot and we met 2 new friends we felt like we’ve known forever. With their remaining month’s journey, our paths WILL cross again in the coming weeks where we can pick up where we left off. Let’s hope things go smoothly for that to happen. We know we have an open invitation to visit them the next time we’re in Utah, hopefully during ski season to ski Powder Mountain! We would certainly extend the same invitation once we have a place to call home.
While I was preparing a dinner of leftover pasta and salad, Jeff took Sadie on a walk where he ran into a very friendly guy from Illinois. Apparently he and his wife were on a waiting list for three years to work with a company that specializes in getting RV’s from one place to another. It’s a win-win for the RV company and for the traveler, offering the use of their vehicles at a discounted rate. Hmm…maybe that’s why the waiting list is so long. It’s really a great concept. Unfortunately, they ran into a bit of a snag with the Alaskan Highway closure in the Yukon. This closure forced them to detour 1,200 miles (yes, twelve hundred miles!!) to get around it. Whew, we’re glad we’re in front of it. Anyway, now they’re working with the RV company who loaned them the Class C to recoup the extra fuel costs they incurred with their unforeseen mishap. We wish them the best of luck on their continued journey and a big reimbursement check!