Hurricane Turn Train, Alaska

Day 710

     The Hurricane Turn Train provides service to wild Alaska and is used by the locals, which stops with the wave of a flag. It is the last flagstop train in America. The train goes from Talkeetna to Hurricane Gulch. Including the start and end stops, the hurricane train has 8 scheduled stops, but you can flag the train down anywhere to get on or off. We made about ten of these flag stops to let off or take on hikers, rafters, and locals getting around. If you want to get on, you signal the engineer from the side of the track. He notifies the conductor and the train stops at the baggage car were the conductor is located, who puts out a step to load the passengers and their gear. Now, that is neat.

     It was a beautiful raining day the day we rode to Hurricane Gulch and back.

     We rode in the third car back, which was an elevated viewing car.

     It gave us a good view, despite the rain.

     Ryan Rodriguez was our the conductor on the train, a very personable guy.

     These people just flagged the train down.  They are returning from rafting on the river.

     The train follows the Susitna River, which is a 313 mile Long river going from Susitna Glacier to Cook Inlet. 

     We had to back up onto a side track to let this oncoming train go buy. Since we are a flag train we have no set schedule, whereas the oncoming train does.  Neat concept.

     Believe it or not (and why wouldn’t you), this is one of our scheduled stops. That’s it, the whole town.

     I don’t know. It doesn’t look like we are going to fit!

     At some of the stops, the train rested for 10 or so minutes, and we could get off to walk around.

     There are many people living out here in the wilderness. This house belongs to a well known women who writes children’s books. Barbara went in to talk to her.

     This is Hurricane Gulch. I thought it was very impressive.

     We stopped in Hurricane for 15 minutes, as it is the end of the line.

     It was actually a railroad camp used during construction. Now it is a maintenance area. No town, no houses, no nothing. Boy, that was a disappointment. Barbara wanted to do some shopping.

Talkeetna, Alaska

Day 709

     Talkeetna, Alaska was established in 1916 when the Alaska Railroad chose the area to be a district headquarters. We will be taking one of their trains, the Hurricane Turn Train, tomorrow. The name comes from the Indian word meaning “Place where food is stored near the river”. 

     It has chosen to keep the town as close to what it was in 1916. Only Main Street is paved. 

     All the remaining dirt roads have pot holes and standing water from the recent rain.

     Most of the buildings, which now have tourist shops, are the original log cabins. 








Technical Stuff:

Denali, Alaska to Talkeetna, Alaska: 154.1 miles

3 hours 12 minutes

9.4 MPG

Diesel: $3.45

Denali, Alaska

Day 706

     Traveling through Denali National Park to see, what else, Denali Mountain, the highest mountain in North America. Although, is it higher than Mt. McKinley?

     We saw lots of wildlife, including caribou




     The road we traveled was unbelievable narrow with no guard rails and a steep drop-off. It is hard to tell from this photo how steep it is, but you can see the road winds to the left, and you can see the drop.

     The run off from the glacier melt carries lots of silt. The silt is deposited at the base of the mountains, but as the water travels further, it joins and becomes rivers.       And of course, the Mountain

Technical Stuff:

North Pole, Alaska to Denali, Alaska: 121.1 miles

2 hours 47 minutes

8.8 MPG

Diesel: $3.45

Fly with the Bush Pilot in remote Alaska

Day 705

     There are no roads to get you to remote, bush Alaska, up by the Arctic Circle. We were sitting around yesterday looking for something different to do, and we saw a notice about bush pilots flying mail to remote Indian Villages. The indication was that if there was room, they would take passengers on their daily mail runs. No frills, you sit with the mail for a ride-along. We called and there was availability for today.

     This is the way to see remote Alaska. These are the White Mountains of Alaska which were named by prospectors for its composition of white limestone.

     We flew over the Fort Knox Gold Mine. The land that the Fort Knox Gold mine sits on was originally staked in 1913 with no mining taking place. There was no activity in the area until the area was restaked in 1980 by two prospectors, and leased to various mining companies. Construction didn’t begin until 1995 with the first gold pour at the end of 1996. Open pit mining is different from extractive methods that require tunneling into the earth. Open-pit mines are used when deposits of commercially useful ore or rocks are found near the surface.

     We flew over the Alaska Pipeline.

     And the Dalton Highway.

     The runway is just a dirt strip

     The postmaster meets the plane to pick up the mail

      Most of the mail on this trip is from Amazon

     In this village, the women here is not only the postmaster, but the Chief of the Indian village.

     Now, that was a trip.

Fairbanks, Alaska

Day 704

     Elbridge Truman Barnette was born in Akron, Ohio in 1886. He was a Yukon riverboat captain, banker, merchant, and swindler. In 1886, he was sentenced to four years in prison in Oregon state for stealing from a partner in a horse-trading venture in Canada. Political connections of the Barnette family saw the sentence commuted after one year, on the condition that Barnette never return to Oregon. 

     After several failed business ventures, he decided to set up a trading post on the Tanana River, in the Alaska interior. His boat was loaded with 20 tons of supplies, when the steamboat floundered on the Chena River because of the weight. Barnette, his party, and supplies, were evicted off the boat.  The sight of smoke from the steamer’s engines caught the attention of gold prospectors working in the hills to the north, most notably an Italian immigrant named Felix Pedro. Pedro bought some of the supplies and convinced Barnette to set up shop were he landed. A year later, Pedro struck gold that began a stampede to the area, making Barnette a rich man. 

     In trying to establish the settlement where Barnette set up his trading post, he got concessions from a Federal Judge who, in return, wanted the area named after Charles W. Fairbanks, a Republican senator from Indiana and later the twenty-sixth Vice President of the United States.

     We walked and drove around, but today, Fairbanks is just another big city. In this part of the Country, all diesel cars have plugs.

Chena River Boat Tour, Alaska

Day 703

     The Chena River is a 100-mile tributary of the Tanana River in the Interior region of Alaska, a mostly wilderness part of the country (actually, it seems, except for Fairbanks and Anchorage, all of Alaska is wilderness).  The river flows west from the White Mountains to the Tanana River near the city of Fairbanks, which is built on both sides of the river.

     We took a Sternwheeler down the river (or was it up). It was definitely a touristy thing, but fun. Sternwheelers were the main transportation for the Interior of Alaska in the early 1900’s. The difficult terrain and lack of roads made the rivers a useful and efficient means of travel.

     Charlie Binkley has provided boat services on the interior Alaskan Rivers since 1903. The Discovery Sternwheeler (I, II and now III) has been run by his decedents giving tours on the Chena River since 1950.

     We saw a bush pilot land next to our boat.

      We visit the sled dog training facility of famous Iditarod dog musher, Susan Butcher, now run by her daughter Tekla. We watch as they train puppies to be sled dogs.

      And exercise the grown dogs

     We saw caribou. At this time of year, they are shedding their coats.

     A presentation was made of drying salmon for winter eating.

     Walking through a Chena (Indian) village Barbara visited original log cabins from 1903, still in use.

     Some families have been living in this isolated part of Alaska for over 100 years.

     The temperature in this part of Interior Alaska gets to be minus 40 degrees in the winter time (yes, 40 degrees below zero). You can experience that in a specially designed freezer. Would we do that? You know we will.

Arctic Circle, Alaska

Day 702

     Imagine I transport you from where you are to the Arctic Circle, in Alaska. Open you eyes and describe what you expect to see.

     Bucket list of things to do in Alaska: Travel the Alcan from beginning to end, visit Santa at the North Pole, and go to the Arctic Circle. Today, we accomplish the last of those 3 things.

     The only way to get to the Arctic Circle by road is the Dalton Highway. Only half of Alaska’s 19 highways are paved. This is not one of them.

     I told you about the Alaska Pipeline yesterday. Before the 800-mile pipeline could be built over three mountain ranges and 30-some rivers and streams, a road had to be built to maintain the pipeline plus get workers, heavy equipment and supplies to the North Slope oil fields. They couldn’t be boated in, and it was too dangerous and expensive to fly. They had to be trucked in. The Dalton Highway, named for James W. Dalton, an expert in Arctic engineering who served as a consultant in early oil exploration in northern Alaska, was constructed for that purpose. 

     Traveling that road gave us excellent view of the pipeline.

     Prior to the Dalton highway, there were no roads in this part of Alaska. The highway, which directly parallels the pipeline, is one of the most isolated roads in the United States.

      We drove over the only bridge in the United States that spans the Yukon River. The Yukon River is the third largest river on the continent but one that most Americans never see. I find it hard to believe that no one who lives on the thousands of miles that border the river want to get to the other side.

      I walked down its bank and found the water cloudy and cold to the touch.

     The Yukon River Bridge, officially known as the E. L. Patton Bridge, was named for the President of the Alyeska Pipeline Company, Edward L. Patton. He is the man largely responsible for the building of the Pipeline and Dalton Road. The bridge surface is made of timber, which expands and contracts, without buckling or breaking, as the harsh weather changes. 

     We had excellent views of the pipeline from the bridge

     as well as from the road

     So, what exactly is the Arctic Circle? The Arctic Circle is the most northerly of the five major circles of latitude in which on the summer solstice (June 21) the sun remains above the horizon for 24 hours and during the winter solstice, (December 21) the sun never rises above the horizon. 

     Well, what do you expect it to look like here at the Arctic Circle? How about this:




     What? No snow, ice, or glaciers? No, the temperature today is 56 degrees. Most of Alaska this time of year is green. 

     We pulled up to the official marker for the Arctic Circle, the point at 66.33 degrees latitude. Our bus driver produced a red carpet bisected by a white dotted line to show our ceremonial crossing,

     Coming home, we saw the moose going in the opposite direction (I think they are having a meeting later today).         Now, you don’t see that in Maryland.

Fox, Alaska

Day 701

     Established as a mining camp in the early 1900s, Fox, Alaska, functions as a bedroom community today and most residents work in nearby Fairbanks or at Fort Knox Gold Mine to the northeast.

     The first thing we did today was stop at a pull-out on the road to view up close the Alaska Pipeline. In 1968, oil was discovered at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. A consortium of oil companies determined that a pipeline offered the best means to transport the crude oil to a navigable port where it then could be shipped by tankers to the continental United States. Alyeska Pipeline Service Company was established in 1970 to design, construct, operate and maintain the pipeline. It began moving oil in 1977. The 800-mile-long Trans Alaska Pipeline System starts in Prudhoe Bay and terminates in Valdez, Alaska, the northernmost ice-free port in North America.

     We then went to Pioneer Village to board a train to take us to an old gold dredge site (dredging is no longer allowed in Alaska).

      When we got to the train, the conductor was fiddling around.

     Before commercial dredging, we learned how early pioneers removed gold from the river. Here they had a live re-enactment of gold panning using a “shaking machine”.

     A dredge is a self-contained floating gold recovery system that creates its own pond as it works.

     The dredge combines three basic principles of mining: digging, separation of gold from gravel, and disposal of tailings. An endless chain of steel dredge buckets digs the gravel and delivers it to machinery inside the dredge that separates the gold. 

         We then learned how to pan for gold. We were given a poke, a pan, and water.

     Look, we struck it rich

     Barbara jumped my claim, stole all my gold, and put it into a necklace.

     The necklace contains $34.00 of gold (I panned $15.00 and Barbara $19.00), about 11 grains of gold.

     We then went to a salmon bake. The entry to the all-you-can-eat bake was through a mine shaft.

     I had a good time.

     Finally, we went to the Palace Theater for an old time show. (This is our group of RV’ers. The leader ((Wagonmaster)) is the guy in the hat. The assistant ((Senior Scout)) is sitting next to Barbara):

     Old time saloon dancer

North Pole, Alaska

Day 700

     We have now been traveling in the Sphinx for 700 days. Today we are at the North Pole to visit with my friend, Santa Claus. 

     When we first arrived he wasn’t here. He told me that he was a little under the weather, as he has trouble adjusting to 24 hours of daylight. He is use to the 23 hours of darkness in the winter time, and, of course, on Christmas Eve, when he makes his deliveries around the world, it is always at night. But he did tell me I could sit in his chair until he arrived,

and Barbara could sit in Mrs. Claus’s chair.

     So, when you write those letters to Santa, where do they go? Why to the North Pole Post Office, of course. 

     Although, you would think the zip code would be 00000.

     Tidbit of Information: We are now at that time of year called the midnight sun. That is, the sun does not set until after midnight. Tonight it sets at 12:13 A.M. and will rise again in a couple of hours. Because of the short time between setting and rising, it is never really dark. In fact is seems like it is daylight 24 hours. Some in our group don’t like it, I think it is neat, although you don’t see the stars or moon. 

Technical Stuff:

Tok, Alaska to North Pole, Alaska: 199.2 Miles

4 hours 10 minutes

10.6 MPG

Diesel: $3.45

Tok, Alaska

Day 699

     Tok is the first major community you arrive as you cross from Canada to Alaska. The area was originally settled by Athabascan Indians who named the area Tok, meaning water.

     Not far from Tok is Delta Junction. This is where the Alcan ends. The road now continues, and is called Richardson Highway.

      Across the road from the marker was the Sullivan Roadhouse. John E. Sullivan was born in March, 1866 in Wisconsin. He worked as a merchant until June, 1895, when he headed north to Alaska to join the first stampeders to the Klondike to mine for gold. However, he found it was more profitable to operate a roadhouse. Roadhouses were springing up along the new roads being built to accommodate the prospectors looking for gold. He built this house himself. 

     Complete with kitchen 

     Living area

     They had a gentleman there, who might have been one of the original pioneers. He was able to answer all of our questions. For example, Klondike is a region and not a place. It lies around the Klondike River, a small river that enters the Yukon River from the east at Dawson City. The name “Klondike” evolved from the Athabascan word Tr’ondëk, which means “hammerstone water”. Early gold seekers found it difficult to pronounce the word, so “Klondike” was the result of this poor pronunciation.

     Of course, they had a gift shop there.

     And an ice-cream stand

     “Can I have the spool, when you finish?”

Technical Stuff:

Kluane Lake, Yukon Territory to Tok, Alaska: 242.8 miles

5 hours 40 minutes

10.0 MPG

Diesel: $1.32 Canadian/liter

Kluane Lake, Yukon Territory

Day 697

     Kluane Lake is located in the southwest area of the Yukon. It is the largest lake contained entirely within The Yukon Territory.

     Across from our campsite was a grissily bear and her two cubs.

     Finally, the bear said “no more photos”.

     We also saw mountain sheep high on the mountain ridge

Technical Stuff:

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory to Kluane Lake, Yukon Territory: 150.6 miles

3 hours 33 minutes

10.2 MPG

Diesel: $1.32 Canadian / liter

White Pass and Yukon Railroad

Day 696

Milepost 6611

     We took a bus ride from Whitehorse, Yukon to Fraiser, Yukon to catch the White Pass and Yukon Railroad, which will take us to Skagway, Alaska.

     Along the way we stopped at Emerald Lake.1

     The beautiful blue-green color of the lake is created by sunlight reflecting off a white layer of “marl” on the lake bed. Marl is a white calcium carbonate clay that forms in the water and settles unevenly on the lake bottom. 

    We also stopped at the Carcross Desert.2

     Of course, it is not a real desert, but it is called that to attract tourists. And here we are. It is really an ancient lake bed, now dried up as part of the glacial process. The Carcross Dunes are a rare habitat and one of only a few dune systems in northwestern North America. 3

     The town of Carcross (originally known as Caribou Crossing) was a railroad town for those building the White Pass Railroad. After the completion of the railroad, the town remained as a popular stopping place for prospectors going to and from the gold field.

     James “Skookum” Mason was an Alaskan native who found a gold nugget in Rabbit Creek in August of 1896 that began the Klondike Gold Rush. 

     The train line was born of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897. Construction started on May 27, 1898 and was completed July 29, 1900. It is a 110 mile narrow gauge railroad. It had to be narrow gauge to get through the thin mountain passes.4

     After the gold rush subsided, the line changed hands numerous times, finally, the White Pass Route was reopened between Skagway and Fraser in 1989, purely for tourist passenger traffic.6

     The narrow gauge railroad only has one track through the mountains. At each end, the engine goes from one end of the train to the other for the return trip. 5

     There were lots of water falls. 

      In taking these pictures, I had to make sure I did not stick my head out too far, or risk loosing my nose.7

     While Skagway use to be a quaint little town, giving the feeling of the goldrush era, today it is just a tourist trap. Nevertheless, the scenery on the bus ride back was magnificent.13

     We even saw our train returning taking the next group to Skagway. 14

Wildlife on the Alcan, Yukon Territory

Day 694

     WARNING: Some scenes in this post might be too graphic for young viewers. Parental discretion is advised.

     There is much wildlife to be seen in the Yukon Territory. Don’t be concerned for my safety, I used a telephoto lens.


Ground Squirrels

Thinhorn SheepMuskoxMountain GoatsArctic FoxCaribouWe were fortune to see a Caribou give birth

     We waited for an hour to see the young calf stand up, but it got too late.That afterbirth sure tastes good

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada

Day 693

Milepost 91

     Whitehorse is the capital and only city of The Yukon Territory. The city was named after the Rapids for their frothy resemblance to the mane of a white horse. The rapids no longer exist as the Whitehorse dam, constructed in 1957, submerged the rapids beneath the newly created Schwatka Lake.

     The city of Whitehorse developed as the transportation hub of the Klondike Gold Fields. For being the only city, and Capital, of the Yukon Territory, Whitehorse was not very impressive. We did see some interesting things, though:

     We went to a demonstration on how the gold miners panned for gold. 

    If you remember Day 120, we saw the tallest weathervane. Here is the world’s largest weather vane:

     It is a DC 3 built in 1942. After a distinguished career in the War and then in transport services, it was retired and is now on permanent display at the Whitehorse Airport. Pivoting on its mount, the aircraft always points into the wind. Wind speeds of as little as 5 mph will turn it. 

     The world’s largest wooden mounty sits in front of the Coast High Country Inn in Whitehorse. Technical Stuff:

Telsin, Yukon Territory to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory: 104.9 miles

2 hours 34 minutes

10.4 MPG

Diesel: $1.32 Canadian/liter

Teslin, Yukon Territory

Day 692

Milpost 804

     The Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading post at Teslin, Yukon Territory, in 1903, named for the river of the same name. The name Teslin came from a Tlingit word “Teslintoo,” meaning “long narrow waters”, referring to Teslin Lake, which is 78 miles long. The population of this town is less than 500 people, and outside of the primitive campground we are staying, a general store, and gas station, there is nothing here. We are spending one night here and going on to Whitehorse tomorrow. 

     The Tlingit are the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America, originally coming down from Alaska. They still live in this area as a result of a treaty. 

     We are camping on the shore of the Nisutlin Bay off the Teslin River.

     To arrive here we crossed the Nisutlin Bay Bridge.    

       The Nisutlin Bay Bridge crosses Teslin Lake, Yukon Territory. The current Nisutlin Bay Bridge, built in 1956, is the third bridge to span the bay since the original construction of the Alaska Highway. It is two lanes wide and consists of seven metal through truss spans set on concrete piers. The roadway is composed of large opening, metal grating. Because of this, it was a little slippery to cross.

     On our way here we went over 3 miles of unpaved road (under construction), it turned my truck brown. 

Technical Stuff:

Watson Lake, Yukon to Teslin, Yukon Territory: 161.2 miles

3 hours 35 minutes

10.0 MPG

Diesel: $1.32 Canadian/liter

Traveling the Alaska Highway, Yukon Territory

Day 691

     The Alaska Highway is endless miles with no civilization. Since this road was originally a military road, no communities sprang up, as there was no industry to support them. Once the war ended, the road continued to be improved as the only overland way to Alaska from the United States. Even tourism is not enough to support many communities on this road, as more and more people are flying to Alaska.

     However, there is plenty of wildlife, like this bear climbing the wall to cross the highway:

     There were plenty of Bison and their young,

     And these two guys duking it out: 

     We find fuel at truck stops, and that is where most of the RV parks are on the highway.

     Nevertheless, there are some fantastic views. And the countryside is breathtaking.

     Since wildlife have the right of way, we do have to stop when we get to an intersection:

     This bear just watched us. Probably no vehicles had come by for hours:

     Another cool thing is that the sun rises at 4:30 in the morning and doesn’t set until 11:12 at night. And, can you believe, the Yukon Territory has daylight savings time?

     As you can see from my “technical stuff” on the various posts, we are traveling up to 7 hours a day to reach our next destination. Generally, there are no campgrounds between stops.

     The pods generally stop every couple of hours for nature’s necessities, ice cream. 

     Hey, mama, wait for me!

Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, Canada

Day 690

Milepost 635

     Watson Lake is a town in The Yukon Territory, Canada, located at milepost 635 on the Alaska Highway, close to the British Columbia border. The town is named for Frank Watson, an American-born trapper and prospector, who settled in the area in the late 1800’s.

     The Yukon Territory is the smallest and westernmost of Canada’s three federal territories (the other two are the Northwest Territories and Nunavut). Whitehorse is the territorial capital and Yukon’s only city. European incursions into the area began early in the 1800’s with the fur trade, followed by missionaries. By the 1870s and 1880s gold miners began to arrive.  The increased population coming with the gold rush in 1887 led to the separation of the Yukon district from the Northwest Territories and the formation of the separate Yukon Territory in 1898.

     Tidbit of Information: The major difference between a Canadian province and a territory is that provinces receive their power and authority from the British North America Act of 1867, whereas territorial governments have powers delegated to them by the Parliament of Canada.

     The name Yukon comes from the Gwich’in word Yu-kun-ah meaning “great river”.

     In February 1943, a sign post pointing out the distances to various points along the Pioneer Road being built (The Alaska Highway) was damaged by a bulldozer. Private Carl K. Lindley, serving with the 341st Engineers, was ordered to repair the sign. When he finished that assigned job, he decided to paint the name of his hometown on a board and nail it to the same post. The sign read “Danville, Illinois, 2835 miles.” Other soldiers followed, and the tradition has continued for 75 years.

     There are now 85,813 signs in the “Sign Post Forrest”. 

     Actually, as of today there are 85,814, as we added our sign.

     Careful with our sign:

     All of us together:

Technical Stuff:

Liard Hot Springs, BC to Watson Lake, Yukon Territory: 128.8 miles

2 hours 44 minutes

9.2 MPG

Diesel: $1.95 Canadian/liter

Liard Hot Springs, British Columbia, Canada

Day 689

Milpost 475      

     The Liard River Hot Springs is located on the Liard River in British Columbia and is the largest natural hot springs in Canada.

     Water temperatures ranges from 108 to 126 °F.

     It’s name is derived from the French word for “Eastern Cottonwood” (a kind of poplar) which grow in abundance along sections of the river.

     We stayed at a campground directly across from the springs. There is no cell phone or internet coverage in the area, nor electricity. Power to the campground were these generators. 

     They were insufficient to supply electricity to the 19 Rv’s, and power kept shutting down.

     We are definitely in a remote area of the Country. With no power or cell phone coverage there is no way to call for help if you are in trouble. You are on your own, just like the mountain men of a 100 years ago. 

Technical Stuff:

Fort Nelson to Liard River Hot Springs: 188.5 miles

4 hours 36 minutes

9.4 MPG

Diesel: $1.47 Canadian per liter