Monday, June 27, 2011

Beaver Creek

The next leg of our journey brings us into Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory, Canada.  Beaver Creek is the western most settlement in Canada and is home of the Rendezvous.  When we pull into Beaver Creek, if there are two full coaches paralleling each other, we effectively double the population of the community for the night.  There are currently about 80 people that live in Beaver Creek, most of whom are seasonal workers.  During the winter months I believe the population drops to about six or so.

When there are so few people living in an area, you can probably guess that they are a little starved for entertainment.  As part of our tour we announce to the guests that the supply truck into Beaver Creek was experiencing difficulties and as a result there is a very limited supply of toilet paper.  The tour director will ration out the single roll of TP we have, asking the guests to please take only what they need and being considerate of all involved.  99.9% of the guests take the news well and we are all usually sharing TP related jokes and laughing our way into Beaver Creek.  No need to mention the other 0.1%.  To help the guests get their minds off the TP, or lack thereof, we have them compose a song that they will be performing during the evening’s festivities.  This becomes a bit of a competition among all the drivers and tour directors to see which coach comes up with the most fun and original song.  I am proud to announce that my guests always receive top billing!

When we arrive at the lodge we are greeted by one of two characters that perform in the nightly Rendezvous show; Gussy L'Amoure, the winsome beauty of the dance hall or Sergeant Loyal of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a.k.a. Officer Friendly.  These two greet our guests in with true Beaver Creek hospitality and continue the TP fun.

You can imagine the relief (no pun intended) as the guests realize that there is indeed a substantial amount of TP to be had.  Oft times when we arrive at dinner the drivers, tour directors and even some of the guests will arrive wearing some of the latest TP fashions.  Dinner is served “family” style with up to eight people per table.  We pass around the honey-glazed chicken, hearty beaver stew, and the miner’s bread and we finish it off with a healthy serving of Baked Alaskan.  Dinner is preceded by an open fire and s’mores for any and all that are interested.  The s’mores are available for consumption up until the fire is extinguished, signaling the start of the Rendezvous.

The Rendezvous is a show that is performed by two main characters, Gussy and Sergeant Loyal’s kin, Yukon Dave with the accompaniment of Will on the piano and a chorus of waiters as backup singers.  Sergeant Loyal wanted to stay for the festivities but Duty called.  Duty is Sergeant Loyal’s wife and when Duty calls, Mounties comes a running!  It is a fun show, much beloved by all.  The show is performed almost every single night during the season.  Last year they performed 70 nights in a row without a break.  Perhaps I can video it some time to share. 

The next morning as we prepare to leave we will often find our coaches decorated with toilet paper as the guests try to get back at us for the fun from the night before.  You know you’ve got a good group when your seat is completely wrapped in white and there are streamers running up and down the coach.  There is always a fun time to be had by all!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Onward, Ho!!

The question of the year, and on everyone’s mind is… Where did Tok (pronounced toke) get its name?  I have a special prize that I will send to anyone that can give me a definitive answer…

After about an hour stay in Tok we hit the highway again on our way to the Alaska / Yukon border.  It is about a 2 hour drive through some beautiful country with ample opportunity to see some wildlife.  So far on my journeys I have come across Bears, Beavers, Eagles, Porcupines, Moose, Trumpeter Swans, and a myriad of other critters.  Pictures to follow…  Just before reaching the border we pass through the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge described beautifully below, thanks to

Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge is a dynamic landscape made up of forests, wetlands, tundra, lakes, mountains and glacial rivers bounded by the snowy peaks of the Alaska Range. This upper Tanana River valley has been called the "Tetlin Passage," because it serves as a major migratory route for birds traveling to and from Canada, the lower 48 and both Central and South America. Many of these birds breed and nest on the refuge. Others pass through on their way to breeding and nesting grounds elsewhere in the state. Migrants, including ducks, geese, swans, cranes, raptors and songbirds, begin arriving in the valley in April, and continue into early June. An estimated 116 species breed on Tetlin during the short summer, when long days and warm temperatures accelerate the growth of plants, insects and other invertebrates, providing a ready source of rich foods for nesting birds.

Tetlin Refuge also supports a variety of large mammals. Dall sheep dot the higher slopes while moose feed upon the tender new growth that springs up in the wake of frequent lightning caused fires. Wolves, grizzly and black bears and members of three different caribou herds range over the refuge.

Two of the six known humpback whitefish spawning areas in the Yukon River drainage are located within the refuge. Along with caribou and moose, these fish are important subsistence resources for area residents. Arctic grayling, northern pike and burbot are also found in the refuge's many streams and lakes.

The refuge has a surface area of 700,058.54 acres, and is one of the larger (currently #18) National Wildlife Refuges in the United States, although, perhaps surprisingly, also the second-smallest of the sixteen in Alaska.

This brings us to the border crossing… At the Alaska / Yukon border there is a 20 foot wide swath of land that is cleared in a straight line that disappears into the horizon.  This is maintained by either the Canadian or the U.S. government.  My understanding is that responsibility changes every 8 years between the countries, but I will have to double check that info the next time I run through.

Clearing customs is usually a simple straight-forward affair that involves me running inside the customs office with my manifest and any non-U.S./Canadian passports.  On rare occasion customs will ask the foreign guests to enter the building for processing, but most times they just let us pass through or maybe a quick walk-through on the coach.  I have not had any major issues yet getting into Canada.  Coming the opposite way, however, is a little more of a hassle.  We are first subjected to a Radiation scan as I drive the coach through columns that subject us to who knows what fun invasion of self.  I once had a person on the coach that made mention that the scanners were so sensitive that they would pick up eminations from someone that had just gone through a medical procedure involving the dye and x-ray thingies.  I am glad I am done with kids… but what about cancer?  Of course the government says that they are perfectly safe… oh yeah!  That makes me feel MUCH better.  After a little more harassment, we are usually let through with only a couple random probes.

Don’t get me wrong… I am very grateful for those that are willing to spend their lives protecting our borders.  They actually live year round in a small community there at the border with their families, or alone if single.  The nearest other communities are two hours away in Tok, AK or about 45 minutes across the border at Beaver Creek, YT.

Ah yes… Beaver Creek… tune in next time for the fun!  I have to be up in about six hours to start a 16 hour day so I am going to call it a night.

Love Y’all!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Happy Father's Day to All!

Yeah, day late, ah well.  Hope it was a happy one for all of you.  Now back to my narrative...

... 1400.  We stop in Tok for an Alaskan Sampler that consists of battered Alaska Red Snapper swimming in a sea of melted butter, a small sampling of a traditional Chicken Stew, a delicious Buttermilk Biscuit with a honey-butter glaze, a few slices of Reindeer Sausage that is made right there in Tok, Sweet Potatoe Fries that come from Idaho and have absolutely nothing to do with Alaska, and an Apple Cobbler for dessert.  We start our meal with a delicious Fireweed Salad and wash it all down with ice cold water.  Very yummy.

Dang!  I cannot believe this... I am falling asleep trying to get this post out.  I will try again tomorrow...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Still Catching Up...

In regards to the visit we made to Fort Yukon, visiting the community really made me grateful for what I have.  Too often I take for granted the blessings that are mine.

On the flight back from Fort Yukon, the pilot took us over Fort Knox, AK.  Fort Knox is an open pit gold mine that looks much like the Kennicot copper mine in Utah.  They are currently averaging about 60 lbs. of gold each day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, which in today’s market is about $1.4 million a day.  It is quite the impressive operation.  We finally got back to Fairbanks at about 11:30 P.M. where I was able to get a beautiful picture of the sunset…

On May 29th I left on my first solo tour with revenue guests.  What a great adventure!  Just to give you an idea of what a tour consists of,

On our first day of the tour we depart Fairbanks at about 8:30 A.M. and make our way to North Pole, AK, just 30 minutes SE of Fairbanks.  Here the guests can visit with reindeer, read letters to Santa and if they are lucky, see the big man himself as he works on his Naughty/Nice list.  Interesting note about North Pole, AK…  Every letter that is addressed to Santa at the North Pole is delivered here.  All of the 100s of thousands of letters are read, and those that are answerable (i.e. have a name and return address) are answered by either Santa, or one of his many helpers.  The high school students and the military personnel and their families are busy year long answering these letters.  It is also worth mentioning that the post office will even accept and deliver envelopes with hand drawn stamps…

After about 30 minutes at North Pole we head on down the Richardson Highway toward the historic Rika’s Roadhouse.  Sites seen along the way are Eilson Air Force Base, The Knotty Store, The Alaskan Pipeline and myriad views of the Tanana River and the Alaska Range.  

Rika's Roadhouse at Big Delta State Historical Park, has been a gathering place for Alaskan travelers since 1904. The Valdez-to-Fairbanks trail brought travelers to the banks of the Tanana River, where they crossed by ferry. John Hajdukovich, Yugoslavian entrepreneur, envisioned a business opportunity here, and bought the land along with a fur trading post in 1909. The two-story roadhouse, built of logs that were floated down river, became a year-round oasis for hunters, trappers, prospectors and travelers as well as local Athabascans and homesteaders. However, John had many other interests, including the responsibility of US Game Commissioner. Sitting still and running a roadhouse did not appeal to him very much so he simply asked guests to make themselves at home and leave some money on the table. He ran it in this way until 1918, when finally a dependable, hard-working Swede named Rika Wallen was hired to take over.  The roadhouse was restored in the late 1970's by the state of Alaska and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rebuilt with original timbers on a new foundation, it is still a welcome retreat from the dusty road. ( )

And, if I might add… they have awesome cinnamon rolls, bearclaws, and a strawberry rhubarb pie that is to die for!

After we take our leave from Rika’s we head through Delta Junction where we meet up with the official end of the Alaska (or AlCan) Highway.  The Alaska Highway is 1500 miles of road that was constructed in 1942 under extremely harsh conditions in just under 8 months by the Army under the direction of our then President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  The road was built as part of the war effort to help protect our borders from Japanese invasion.  A little known fact is that the farthest Aluetian Islands of Alaska are only about 750 miles from Tokyo, Japan and during WWII one of those islands was overrun by Japanese forces making it the first US territory to be taken by enemies since the war of 1812.  The Alaska Highway played a major role in the land-lease program that was set up, transporting 100’s of planes, trains, trucks and other supplies to the Russians for use on the Eastern Front.  Fascinating history!!

The Alaska Highway leads us to Tok, AK which is the final community before we head into the Yukon Territory.  Tok has a population of about … (to be continued…)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

What a whirlwind the past few weeks have been.  I have wanted to blog, but have been too busy or too exhausted.  I am sure everyone is familiar with that feeling of not enough hours in a day to get everything done that you want to do.  As such, I may be doing catch up over the next few days… we shall see how far I get tonight.

I got back from my last blog and expected to turn around in a couple days and head back on the highway.  However, I was at 80 hours in the past 8 days so I needed a few days off for my hours to decrease.   As coach drivers in Alaska we are limited to 80 hours on duty in any 8 day period.  However, when crossing the border into Canada it turns into 70 hours in 7 days.  It may sound the same, but when you are working 60+ hours in 5 days you have to take off a couple days in order for your hours to start dropping off.

That being said, I was reassigned to a tour that left on the 29th of May.  This gave me a few days off in Fairbanks that I took advantage of by touring the city and jumping on a couple excursions.  The excursions are things offered to our guests in order to drain just a little more coin out of their purses.  While burning hours I learned about the gold dredges and sluice mining, I also got the opportunity to pan for gold where I found about $16.00 of the precious yellow metal.  Later in the same day I rode a sternwheeler down the Tanana River.  This was a three hour tour that took us to a Native Alaskan village where we learned about salmon fishing and the way of life of the Alaskan natives in the interior.  One interesting fact I learned is that linguists have determined that the dialects spoken in the interior all stem from the same Athabaskan dialects that can be found along the Pacific Coast and down into the American Southwest and Northern Mexico.  A map can be found here on Wikipedia and following is a listing of the Athabaskan dialects as broken down by area:

  • Alaska: Ahtna, Deg Hit’an, Dena’ina/Tanaina, Gwich’in/Kutchin, Hän, Holikachuk, Koyukon, Lower Tanana, Tanacross, Upper Kuskokwim/Kolchan, Upper Tanana
  • Yukon Territory: Gwich'in/Kutchin, Hän, Kaska, Mountain, Tagish, Northern Tutchone, Southern Tutchone, Upper Tanana
  • Northwest Territories: Bearlake, Dëne Sųłiné/Chipewyan, Gwich’in, Hare, Mountain, Slavey, Tłįchǫ Yatʼìi/Dogrib
  • Nunavut: Dëne Sųłiné
  • British Columbia: Babine-Witsuwit’en, Bearlake, Beaver, Chilcotin, Dakelh/Carrier, Hare, Kaska, Mountain, Nicola, Sekani/Tsek’ene, Slavey, Tagish, Tahltan, Tsetsaut
  • Alberta: Beaver, Dëne Sųłiné, Slavey, Tsuut’ina/Sarcee
  • Saskatchewan: Dëne Sųłiné
  • Washington: Chilcotin, Kwalhioqua-Clatskanai (Willapa, Suwal), Nicola
  • Oregon: Applegate, Clatskanie, Galice, Rogue River (Chasta Costa, Euchre Creek, Tututni, Upper Coquille), Tolowa, Upper Umpqua
  • Northern California: Eel River, Hupa, Mattole-Bear River, Tolowa
  • Utah: Navajo
  • Colorado: Jicarilla, Navajo
  • Arizona: Chiricahua, Navajo, Western Apache
  • New Mexico: Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan, Navajo
  • Texas: Mescalero, Lipan
  • Oklahoma: Chiricahua, Jicarilla, Plains Apache
  • Northwestern Mexico: Chiricahua

Later in the week I had opportunity to take a small plane up above the Arctic Circle where during the Summer, the sun never sets.  We landed in a Native Alaskan village named Fort Yukon where we were given a tour in an old school bus of the community and were able to learn how the Alaskan Natives now live after their introduction to western civilization.  It was an eye-opening experience to say the least.  The First Nations, as they are called in this area, started as a nomadic people following their food wherever it may wander.  They did not start building permanent settlements until Europeans started to make the scene in the early 1700s.  At that time, many of the natives found it profitable to set up permanent trading camps where they could trade furs, artisan works, and slaves to the white skins in exchange for weaponry and whiskey.  I don’t know if it was a good trade.  At this time in Fort Yukon unemployment ranges around 85%.  Many of the people still live without electricity and running water and are permitted to live off the land.  Subsistence living, living off the land, is still a way of life for many of the Alaskan Natives.

Oi!  I am exhausted!  Watch for more tomorrow, as well as some pictures…