Dawson City is "way out there" even by Alaskan standards. It is well off the beaten path, although accessible by plane, boat and road. My access to this very historic town was by means of the "Top of the World Highway." That, in turn, is reached by means of the Taylor Highway, which intersects the Alcan Highway twelve miles east of Tok. Tok is approximately 155 road miles NE of Copper Center, or 328 road miles from Anchorage.
In the late seventies I was operating a coin-operated music, pool, video game route in the southcentral area, including some of the villages around Tok, such as Northway, Tanacross and Tetlin, along with a few choice highway roadhouse locations. One of these was Chicken Creek Saloon, which was 66 miles up the Taylor Highway. That is a long drive because the Taylor in those days was a gravel road with heavy grades and many rough segments. It was also either dusty or muddy, depending on whether or not it had recently rained.
Somehow I was talked into going into Dawson City by the owner of Chicken Creek Saloon to see the owner of one of the hotels who wanted to purchase some video games. When I finally did go, it turned into the beginning of many years of a very rich experience because that area is so steeped in history, it is impossible to ignore. And above all else, I appreciate historic structures, be they old western buildings, minesites or remnants of old railroads. I was not a railroad fan, but I appreciated the history of what they represented even back then.
The Klondike area: Click for larger version
There is something about that trip. Chicken Creek Saloon itself sits amidst an old gold mining camp complete with an abandoned dredge. There were still individual miners in the area working right along the road on claims that stretched from Chicken to Boundary, about forty miles up the road.
One of the old camps along the way is obviously the remants of a small town known as Jack Wade Camp. It has its own dredge abandoned along the road. One follows a series of creeks that all have been historic mining areas for the entire distance to the border. The hills are rolling with black spruce and the creeks are dark and mysterious looking with the sense of old spirits everywhere.
The "Top of the World" is almost exactly that. It is a road that is allowed to close in the winter because it is nearly impossible to keep open due to heavy snow drifting. The road literally runs along the tops of those old rounded hills, in some cases well above the tree-line. In the winter the snow drifts up, not down, filling in that road and soon encrusting it in a heavy snow-ice meld that requires heavy machinery to remove in the late spring when it is finally opened. That is an event that many eagerly anticipate because driving to Dawson is like entering the past.
At Boundary was the Boundary Roadhouse. In those days an old codger known as "Action Jackson" ran the place. He himself had operated several mining claims down in the creek beds hundreds of feet below Boundary, which is well up in the hills just west of the Canadian boundary. He had one of those old style glass bulb gas pumps in front of a very old log cabin that served as the cafe. Another building held the small bar and then there were a series of small log cabins that were for overnight visitors. They were very primitive but somehow quite comfortable.
All of this simply added to the allure of the entire trip. Jackson was quite the character, literally a creature from an era that was rapidly disappearing. His Boundary Lodge stop was a must for anyone traveling this lonely route because Boundary represented the Alaska of the gold rush frontier days.
Then there was Dawson itself. One first sees it from a high hill overlooking the city and then the massive Yukon River. The moment one sees it, what is obvious is that this is a very special place.