~Tuesday, July 5, 2022~
Day 751 (Travel Day)
Day 15 of Alaska Trip
Well, our neighbors have redeemed themselves. Putting our awkward first meeting behind us, they politely asked where our next stop was and what our future route looked like. They were quite impressed with our itinerary and the length of time we could devote to the trip. And we returned the gesture, asking where they were headed for the day and how long they were staying. It sounds like gold panning for them is on the itinerary until their departure on Thursday. They also didn’t mind dishing out some advice, which was mainly to slow down and enjoy. That is the plan from here on out. Chicken should be the last place we stay for a shortened period where everything else in Alaska will be 4 to 5 day stays. It really is amazing how much territory we’ve covered in 2 weeks versus the smaller amount we have coming up in the next 2 months. Wow!!
With our first real boondocking experience in Alaska, we wanted to make sure our gray and black tanks were as empty as possible to get us by until Saturday. We were actually shocked that any campground in Chicken would have a dump station since they’re limited on everything else. Once again, we ran into Wayne and Katie. Gosh, we seem to meet the nicest people at dump stations. They too had plans to stop in Tok for groceries, water and gas before heading in different directions….they, Fairbanks, us, Chitina. We don’t know where our paths will cross again in Alaska. All we know is they will in just a few short weeks.
As soon as we drove out of Chicken, the Top of the World Highway would be yesterday’s road. Next would be the toughest road yet….the Taylor Highway which started out as asphalt, turning quickly to gravel. There were A LOT of frost heaves with intermittent gravel sections between the pavement. These hurdles stressed me out where I must have said, “here comes one” and “oh my goodness” at least a hundred times. And poor Jeff trying to stay alert at all times. Not only was it a long drive, it was one of the most grueling because of the road conditions. Oh, and then there were the 4 or 5 inch cracks in the asphalt, on either side of us, some as long as 10 feet.
Every once in a while, we would see signs that read, “Entering Federal Subsistence Hunting Area” where the Native American community is allowed special privileges to hunt year-round. Makes sense. We also noticed the air quality worsening the further south we went. The Taylor Highway, which is part of the Klondike Loop, is famous for its beauty. So it pained us that we weren’t able to see many of those grand mountain peaks, at least for today. And it’s pretty evident how long, cold and dark the winters are up here, just by looking at the size of the trees….skinny and stubby. Not only do the trees have to endure the cold. The people do too. Though some exit to warmer climates, the ones that stay have to be one hearty, rough and tough bunch. And talk about modes of transportation. It’s not unusual to see 1 or 2 ATV’s and snowmobiles per family and maybe even a plane. This region is certainly not for the faint of heart.
About 90 minutes into the drive, we exited the Taylor Highway and reconnected with the Alaska Highway to Tok. We found the ideal place to park the rig for a good 45 minutes while I shopped for groceries. Jeff stayed behind dialing in our water and gas station options. Tok’s grocery store is actually very nice and well-stocked. But I nearly fainted when I saw avocados at $6 a piece. Sorry honey, no guacamole THIS week. I almost made a dash for the door but thought I’d give it another chance, as if I had so many other options. In the end, I had nearly a full grocery cart for about the same price as what I’d spend in the lower 48. It’s all about shopping smart.
Jeff and I would each have success in our jobs; we’re stocked up on groceries for another week, the city water station is next door to the grocery, and the gas is the next block over. While we pulled up to the water station, there was a large utility truck in front of us with a 12-year old boy and his 7-year old brother standing in the bed of the truck. They were getting things organized while waiting for their dad, so offered us to get water first. Very well spoken, the older boy told us about growing up in Alaska and helping his dad, a geologist. Evidently, his dad is hired by mining companies to scout out sites for mining gold. The goal is to extract 5 ounces of gold per ton. That’s considered good dirt. And this young man even has his own claims. Impressive! The younger boy….not a peep. The older brother also told us about the tough winter he and his family spent above Chicken. Remember, Chicken is known to have steady below zero temperatures and no sunlight for months. But they did it. A family of 4 in a small cabin loaded up with all their provisions to last 6 or 7 months. It seems crazy. The only question we didn’t ask was why they did it in the first place? We’re just so fascinated by the people and the stories they share. I guess you could say that it was meant for us to be at that water station, at that particular moment.
Just outside of Tok, the mountain scenery would continue to be blocked by smoke along the Tok Cutoff Highway (A1). When we finally made it onto the Edgerton Highway, about in our 6th hour of driving, the smoke lessened. We could have easily stayed overnight in a smoke-laden town being that we nearly “called it a day” a few hours prior. Our lungs are thanking us for pushing our driving limits today.
Before today, our plan was to spend 4 or 5 days in Glenallen. But after hearing how amazing the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is, we decided to stay there instead. To put us in a good position for the insane drive through the national park tomorrow, we wanted to stay somewhere near Chitina for the night. To get there, we had to get through a narrow, rock cut section of highway (originally for the railroad). Think thin everybody! We were well aware that arriving at a campground at 7:00 p.m. is never ideal, but we tried the first-come, first serve campground just outside of town, anyway. We thought we had scored a site until I noticed our rig was not going to make the clearance to get into it. Backing in, our trailer steps were touching the ground and so was the bike rack. So out we went, back the other direction we came about 5 or 6 miles to where Jeff had earlier seen a few pull-thru type spots. His excitement would soon be deflated when just around the corner we noticed both spots were taken. I think I heard a few expletives on that one. Mind you, Jeff was completely wiped out at this point. Just about another mile, we spotted another large pull-out and knew immediately it was for us. Yes, it’s right next to the highway, but minimally traveled. So the road noise wouldn’t be an issue.
What we COULD hear was the rush of the nearby Liberty Creek. Love those sounds of nature! With not much to set up, Jeff took Sadie over to the creek (yes, carrying bear spray), and sort of stumbled on the Liberty Falls State Recreation Area and its
gorgeous waterfall. Surrounding the waterfall are 10 very shaded sites of varying sizes. 2 of them would have fit our rig. Though tempting as it was, we thought our “free” price tag was better than their $25/night fee.
It was a quick dinner of hamburgers before hitting the hay. It’s so nice to put those 6 to 7 hour driving days and short stays behind us, at least until September when we’ll be making our way back to the lower 48.