Leaving Alaska

We have been dreading this day.  Since we entered Alaska three months ago, we have absolutely fallen head over heels in love with the state.  Heather said last night that she was concerned before our visit that we had built it up in our minds so much that we might be disappointed with the reality, but the opposite is true!  Alaska has exceeded our expectations in every way imaginable!  There are amazing places to visit all over the state, and even in places where we weren’t expecting much more than a quick overnight stop to get chores done, we have found fun things to do and spectacular sights to see.   Maybe at some point in the future we will do a post about some of our favorite places, but right now we wouldn’t even know how to begin to choose favorites.  We have loved every minute!

That said, fall is quickly approaching and we need to get south before the snow flies.  Also, many campgrounds and services start shutting down soon, so we don’t want to get into a situation where we can’t find a place to stay or a way to perform the necessities of living in a camper.  It is time to go, so let’s talk about our adventure getting out of the state!

For weeks we have been considering our options for routes out of Alaska.  Should we head back out on the Alaska Highway or take our chances on Top of the World Highway?  We know what the Alaska Highway is like (really bad in some sections, great in others, a gorgeous drive no matter what) and we had heard mixed reviews on Top of the World Highway.  We really wanted to see the different sights that taking a different route would allow, but we wanted to be safe about it, too.  What most everyone we talked to about Top of the World said was don’t do it if it is wet.  Top of the World is mostly gravel and/or dirt with very soft shoulders and steep drop offs, so being wet would make it even more dangerous than it already is.  We also had concerns about getting super muddy.  The truck and camper have been far from clean on our entire journey, but there is a difference between some dirt and thick, sticky mud.  No thanks.  We couldn’t mull it over too long, though, since the Little Gold Creek customs/border station along the route is set to close on September 4.  We watched the weather for a few days, caught a relatively dry window, and decided to go for it!

Mount Fairplay along the Taylor Highway

In order to even get to the Top of the World Highway, you first have to travel the Taylor Highway from Tok, AK to the Jack Wade Junction where TOTW begins.  No one had said anything at all about the Taylor Highway, and we knew it was paved so we figured it wouldn’t be a big deal, but it was EXTREMELY frost heaved.  We took it super slow and made it ok, but we would be lying if we said we didn’t have multiple conversations about turning around.  It definitely rivaled the worst areas of the Alaska Highway, but at least it wasn’t as long!  The views were very pretty, too, and we enjoyed seeing the area as the fall colors were just starting to show themselves!

Along the Taylor Highway lies the remote, off-grid town of Chicken, AK, population 12.  We stopped there for the night and had so much fun wandering around the town taking pictures of all their quirky chicken decorations, enjoying a beer and great conversation in the saloon, and viewing the historic gold dredge they have on site.  The town has taken their name and run with it!  There are chicken decorations everywhere and even the outhouses stick with the theme!  This town is obviously geared toward tourism, but the economy is also fueled by visiting hunters and miners. 

Heather, especially, was surprised to learn that there is still a fair bit of gold mining occurring in the area.  We were able to walk around and view an historic gold dredge they have in Chicken, as well as hike to an overlook of the remains of a dredge outside of town, but that type of mining is no longer allowed in Alaska.  Now, most small operations utilize suction mining, where there is actually a person in a wet suit diving to the bottom of the creek with a suction tube to suck up the dirt, rocks, and (hopefully) gold at the bottom.  We actually talked to two different miners while in the area that were happy to tell us all about what they do and how they do it. One of the best parts of travel is talking to and learning from the locals!

Chicken Post Office

We also walked across the road from the main section of Chicken and saw the cutest, most quaint post office we have ever seen.  It is still a working post office that serves the residents who live there and they receive their mail twice per week by airplane.  The woman who runs the post office came out and talked to us for a while, too.  She is one of the 12 that live here year round!  The roads are unmaintained in the winter in this area, mind you, so they don’t head out of town much once the snow starts for the season.  She said they have gotten really good about stocking up on supplies to get them through the winter and that occasionally the grocery stores will box up some produce and other perishables to send on the mail plane.  Otherwise, they are pretty much on their own.  It is an intriguing way of life, that we have a hard time even imagining!

From Chicken, we headed on up the Taylor Highway, to Walker Fork Campground stopping along the way for photos.  Just past Chicken the road turns to gravel, and it is not good gravel.  It is potholed and washboarded like nobody’s business and it was super slow going.  We only traveled about 16 miles, but it took us a long time, and in those 16 miles we traveled fully into fall.  Up until this point there was a tree here or there that was starting to change colors and the underbrush was about half changed, but once we arrived at the campground, we were in the peak of fall colors.  The trees were a gorgeous shade of yellow and the bushes and ground cover were all shades of red and orange.  The contrast of the ripe blueberries on the red bushes was so beautiful and so inviting.  We ate our fill while out walking around, but since we were crossing the border the next day and didn’t know if they would be allowed, we didn’t pick any extras. 

Finally, today, we made it to the Top of the World Highway, and we totally understand how it got its name!  For many, many miles, you are traveling along mountain ridges with expansive views all around.  It is stunning!  The condition of the first section we drove was more of the same as yesterday with the potholes and washboard, but about 13 miles from the U.S.-Canada border, the road turns to pavement, and we mean GREAT pavement.  Jeff said it was probably the nicest road in Alaska, so we really enjoyed the smooth ride while it lasted.  Then came the sad part; we crossed the border into Canada and said goodbye to Alaska.  Luckily, there were no surprises with the crossing and we sailed right through with only questions about firewood and firearms, of which we had none.  (Guess we should have picked more blueberries!) The Canadian portion of TOTW returned to gravel, but it was actually in pretty good shape and other than having to steer around a rough patch here or there, it was smooth sailing into Dawson City. 

It was quite the adventure getting out of Alaska.  We are glad we had the opportunity to see something new, and also glad we didn’t break anything in the process!  Jeff says he is done with gravel roads for a while, so it looks like we will be sticking to the pavement for the foreseeable future.  Wonder how long that will last?

We plan to explore Dawson City tomorrow, so be looking forward to that in our next post!  And if you thought our adventures in Alaska were completely over because we crossed the border today, stay tuned.  We might have something up our sleeve in the coming days.

Watch our adventures in Chicken and along the Taylor and Top of the World Highways here!

Until next time!

4 thoughts on “Leaving Alaska”

  1. So glad that you were able to go back over a different route! That makes travel so much more interesting.

    Chicken looks like my kind of town. Will there be a video from there?

    Absolutely loved being a small part of your Alaska adventure!

  2. Sad to see you have to leave such an incredible state, and sad to see the foreshadowing of fall here. Fall is a beautiful time of year with great weather, but I hate that winter is close behind.
    The Alaskan mountains everywhere really resonated with me, hopefully the Highlands of Scotland will compare. We leave for British Isles on the 7th. We will try to give yall a small look at that area to repay you for the incredible look you gave us of Alaska.
    Have you settled on a route home?

    1. I (Heather) never knew you felt that way about fall. It is how I feel about it as well. It is always a bit of a sad time for me. I guess we get it honest since I’m pretty sure Mamaw felt the same.

      We can’t wait to see your photos of the British Isles! It will be such an adventure for you!

      We aren’t even sure what route we will take to get out of Canada, much less home! We have gotten really good at not making plans! LOL!

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