Monday, May 25, 2009

Coming To Chicken

If I had forgotten how wonderful it is coming to Chicken, it would now be fresh in my mind. I said "If." But I hadn't forgotten at all and driving the last bit of the Taylor Highway made us all giddy again at the prospects of pulling into the little village. The expansive rolling terrain that rivals the Top of the World Highway scenery in some regards is quite striking. Snow capped mountains on the horizon, large forests of spruce accentuated by birch stands and young willows...and the much more contrasting stretches of burned out forest left by the Taylor Complex Fires that burned 1.3 million acres back in 2004 and threatened the village's very existence. In that same year a total of about 6 million acres burned in Alaska. That's a lot of timber land, but only a tiny portion of the vast Alaska wilderness. What is so striking about the burn area is how slowly the vegetation returns. This is not the tropics! Much of the surrounding area sits permanently atop frozen ground and what can grow at all must do so in the short window afforded by the warm summer sun and rain. Vegetation tends to stay small and compact here, which is interesting in its own right. Nature has a funny way of dealing with what we tend to think of as tragedy; it uses these times to refresh itself and to work new miracles with the land. Any morel mushroom fans out there? They often grow best after a fire and this has been no exception. Sun dried mushrooms from Chicken, Alaska. I hope to find a few soon as this is coming upon their time to grow.

There's still a touch of snow along the highway which is largely paved, but has stretches of "broken" highway and loose gravel patches. Taken slowly it's not a big deal. A few frost heaves are thrown in just to keep you alert. The Milepost advises watching out for "sluffing" at places along the Taylor. Personally, I always thought sluffing was what you did in your bathrobe and slippers on a Sunday morning before that first cup of coffee- but guess not! Up here it refers to "poorly organized and non cohesive avalanches." See I had that non cohesive thing wrong too- thought that was what you got when you tried to understand someone that had way too much to drink. Anyway, it was a good thing to warn about (depending upon when you drive the Taylor) as there really were some snow "slides" measuring something between three and four feet thick that were pushed right up against the road in places "where the sun don't shine" if you get my "drift." There are also some paved but deeply rutted parts of the road that pop up unexpectedly from time to time and they can "sluff" you around if your wheels get caught in those grooves. Once again, the slow and steady win the race.

Then we pulled into Chicken Gold Camp around noon time. The camp was already bustling with the activity of preparations for the season and the first few campers and prospectors were arriving. Mike and Lou wasted no time throwing the first party of the year which included the "help" and the neighbors. It's a family suitable camp, a professional (in the recreational sense) miner suitable camp, a novice panner suitable camp, a just plain tourist suitable camp, even an "I'll just stop in for lunch" camp. For sure it's a see the real Alaska suitable camp. It's a family feeling camp to all though, and that's what has made it so special and endearing to us.

So the rest of day one was used to convert the coach to a home for the next three or more months. It takes a while to get everything set up after such a long haul in which everything has been carefully packed and transported. Feels good to set down a few roots for a period of time. I had plenty to report at the end of day one, but the wifi dish was getting a makeover, Alaskan style, and Mike was up on the roof with a welding unit to take down the old dish and put up the new Hugh's Net dish. A day of fine tuning and as you can plainly see we are back up and running.

Abby decided quarter of 7 in the AM on day 2 was a good time to head out for a look see on the new day and the new digs. The sun was already well up. The air was crisp but the sun made it feel pleasant. Shirt sleeve weather. There was a young bull moose right in front of the coach in the still quiet campground munching on the willows on the hillside. Rabbits, still with white winter feet, were bouncing around the camp sites and the morning birds were just starting to chat each other up. Take a deep breath. Reach for the camera. Not this time - but maybe tomorrow, same place same time.

Gave my first half dozen panning lessons later in the day. Some folks from the US and a group of visitors from Slovenia. The lessons went very well and the pay dirt pile the panners worked off of produced at least a couple flakes of gold in every single pan and even a couple small pickers. My extremely limited Russian language skills turned out to be a fun ice breaker- it's not their first language but they can understand it pretty well and it made for a couple good laughs around the old water trough! Tomorrow's another day

...the very final stretch to Chicken through what will surely be a less than clear windshield by the time you arrive....


David said...

Great source of info. Our daughter is working in Chicken. Not sure which gift shop she's workin, typical young person we don't get too much info. We have sent her "care" packages. We will read your blogs to get a better feel. Say HI to JILLIAN RAMOS, she is a good girl and has parents who love her dearly as she makes her way through her youn life.

Greg said...

Hi David,
We'll look up Jillian first chance we get! Nice to have you with us." We should be able to find her- it's not that big a place!

Cindy said...

Greg: Nice to hear you arrived safe and sound. I'm headed out tomorrow from the Sacramento area. Visited Yosemite and now it's time to get serious. Thanks again for all you posts...I will refer to them as I head North.


Greg said...

Safe travels, Cindy. Keep in touch as you can. See you in Chicken,maybe????

Glen & Barb said...

How is the road from White Horse to Chicken? Like your blog. May see you in Chicken. We are on our way leaving Hinton in the morning. Glen

Greg said...

Hi Glen- Whitehorse to Haines and on into Destruction Bay bad not so bad as it used to be, still requires caution. Take your time. Burwash Landing to the border- not so hot! Border to Tok had some ruts even where paved. Tok to Chicken- watch for unmarked frost heaves and grooves in the road with some broken highway and loose gravel. Unless we get some rain, expect dusty conditions. Safe trip!