With my last few days off dwindling down before I return to work, I knew I had one more trip left to take. I hadn’t explored the Top of the World Highway at all.
There are a few reasons why. Well first, there is a river in the way. And second, the highway leads to the international border crossing to Alaska, and it is closed.
The river is an easy thing to tackle, since the summer ferry is in and shuttling vehicles back and forth across the river. So I packed up and hoped I could drive to the border and take a photo of the closed gates in the middle of the open tundra for you, and maybe even see a few caribou.
I packed my camera, binoculars, our inReach emergency communication device, some drinks, a handy snack grab from the Bonanza Market with pieces of pepperoni stick, cubes of cheese, and thin wheat crackers. And first I stopped at Cheechako’s Bakery for a fresh pecan sticky bun for my emergency rations (… and ate it on the journey over the river).
There was no wait for the ferry. I drove on behind a dusty truck, put the emergency brake on, and shut off the truck. We waited maybe 5 minutes and no one else joined us.
The journey across the swift flowing Yukon River only takes a minute or two. The captain launches the boat out into the current and then drifts it across the current and then accelerates it into the landing so we could drive off.
I really expected no one would be on the Top of the World. I assumed it would be like the Dempster in April. After all, after you leave West Dawson, there are a few placer gold miners off the road, but with the international border closed because of covid, the road should be a dead end.
Here’s a map if you aren’t familiar with the road. It’s mostly gravel, leaving the west side of the Yukon River in Dawson City, and heads to Alaska (the vertical line is the international border). Unlike the Dempster that weaves its way along the rivers and between the mountains, the Top of the World Highway is high, and snakes along the high elevation. The border is just over 100 kilometres from Dawson City.
You can see mountain ranges all around you, especially to the north in the first section of the road.
Some areas are open tundra, some a mix. By the time you get to the border, you are in open tundra and can sometimes see caribou.
While I expected to see no one, that isn’t what happened. A long stretch of the road is under construction. I suppose it is a great time for it, with no summer tourists heading back and forth to Alaska. Fresh, coarse gravel has been spread for many miles, and up to a foot thick in places. There are graders and rollers and trucks and they were spreading dry calcium powder on the road for dust control.
There were also other trucks (miners maybe?) and even a truck with a camper mounted in its box touring around.
All that activity really put a damper on my wildlife watching. I pulled off here and there and got my long lens to photograph the song birds, but none cooperated and posed for me. I scanned the slopes with my binoculars, but nothing.
So I listened to my podcasts (no radio stations in this vast sparse land) and puttered along.
And then this.
The Top of the World Highway is closed at the Sixty Mile river road cut off.
I sat there in my truck, idling, perplexed as to why the road was closed over 20 km from the border?? I’m going to go around….
Can I go around? Yeah, I can fit. Or can I? Do I have to move the barricade? Is this closed because they want no one near the International border? Is it for construction? There are no tire tracks going around the barricades. AHH Damnit, I’ll turn around.
What a disappointment. The next stretch is really the best part of the entire road. If I had heard the road was closed, I wouldn’t have even went.
So I stopped and stared into the ruins of a cabin for awhile.
I went down the Sixty Mile road for a ways and poked around too.
Then I came back up to the Top of the World Highway and decided to head back home, stopping at one of the snow banks.
Because I don’t think it would be right to not stand in snow in July if such an opportunity should present itself.
Then I did something pretty crazy.
My truck is supposed to be equipped with the “off road” package. You know, skid plates, clearance, good tires.
So I turned down a little path to see where it went. Totally spontaneously.
It was skinny and the scrub brush was scraping the truck. And I thought about turning around. And then it got too narrow to turn around.
So I kept going and it was muddy in places and was going up and down and around.
But after just a few minutes, it came out on the Clinton Creek road. Well. Not easily. I looked at how I was going to get from this narrow forgotten path through a watery ditch, around a hole, over a rock, and back onto the road. I played it out in my head. Switched to 4 wheel drive. Put it gear. Popped the clutch. And gave ‘er.
I had the hugest permanent grin on my face that I just couldn’t wipe off for probably 10 minutes. What the heck did I just do? Why? Who cares, it was so much fun!!
Before I came back to town, I went to the look off to sit for awhile, watching Dawson City.
I just love it up here. You can hear things in town, and watch vehicles driving around. Two boats were loudly heading up river below me. The current is so fast, you need a powerful engine to fight against it.
I just love to sit and watch the world some times. This is a perfect spot. I can see it from our living room actually.
I noticed a building moving. Knowing that one of our friends was part of the crew moving it to a new lot, I decided to roll back into town to watch the fun (that adventure had a short ending when the main beam under the building snapped and it could no longer slide as the dozer pulled so the project was abandoned for another day).
Here I am back in the line for the ferry crossing. There were a few of us waiting while ferry was refueled and serviced on the other side.
My entire trip was 4.5 hours. I was disappointed I didn’t make it to the border, but overall it was a good day. I love that I do these trips. So many people let their fear get in the way and don’t travel by themselves. Instead, I think about what are the worst things that could happen, prepare for them, and then I think about all the best things that could happen, and chase those.