June 29, 2015 – Chicken to Quartz Lake, Alaska – From Chicken I headed along the Taylor highway back to the Alaska Highway and North towards Fairbanks. Wide vistas, some good pizza, an informative pull out along the Tanana river, end of the original Alaska Highway, a nice campground in the forest and my first Moose sighting were highlights today.
The Fortymile area around the Taylor Highway was consumed in fire a few years back, but the green of new vegetation glows up through the sticks of small Black Spruce trees. Understanding the critical renewal that fires provide for a forest makes it easier to look at the wide expanse of the burns. Black spruce cones can lay dormant for years without opening, waiting for a fire to burn off the outer resin and release the seeds at the best moment for their survival. The soil now rich with burnt vegetation, the still standing trees provide cover for now, but will fall over and provide more nutrients later.
The road follows the contour of the hills, back and forth, up and down. It is a two lane road with some broken spots and sunken grades, patches from years gone by and a few new patches being worked. It can be a little rough for a trailer in places, but long straight stretches offered cars the opportunity to pass at intervals. I passed several folks on bicycles along this road, happily at places where I was able to give them a wide berth.
The Taylor highway joins back up with the Alaska Highway at Tetlin Junction. A short distance northbound the Alaska Highway crosses the Tanana River, a large tributary of the Yukon. We will be following the Tanana for the rest of the trip to Fairbanks and beyond. At this crossing there is a nice rest area and view point at the site of the old bridge. Very nice interpretive signs provide history of the area and the Alaska Highway. Pieces of the old bridge are still in place as monuments to that original engineering feat and the footings are used for a fine view of the river and the new bridge.
“This is no Picnic!” reads the job announcement quoted on one of the signs. “Working and living conditions on this job are as difficult as those encountered on any construction job ever done in the United States or foreign territory. Men hired for this job will be required to work and live under the most extreme conditions imaginable. Temperatures will range from 80 degrees above zero to 70 degrees below zero. Men will have to fight swamps, rivers, ice and cold. Mosquitoes, flies and gnats will not only be annoying but will cause bodily harm. If you are not prepared to work under these and similar conditions do not apply.”
Tok is a smallish town, but it is an intersection through which all north/south traffic passes. Turn west to Anchorage, stay north to Fairbanks. I believe a visit to Tok would not be complete without a stop at Fast Eddies restaurant. In my travels I had opportunity to sample burgers and pizza as well as the salad bar. All very nice food, with friendly service.
Heading north we arrive in Delta Junction. Here we find a visitor’s center with the final mile post and other interesting interpretive displays. It is on the left side of the road as you head north. It is in the triangle between the junction of the Alaska Highway and the Richardson Highway. Having made an effort to visit the various visitor’s centers I had a “hello” from the staff at the other end to deliver.
As the day started to wind down I sought out camping. I hadn’t done much in the way of research in advance so I ended up visiting several places before I settled on one. I ended up at Quartz Lake. It appears to be a local fishing and maybe water-sports destination. The camp sites were up in the forest and nicely maintained with fresh gravel pads.
As I was driving in along the road I was treated to a Moose sighting. My first Moose on this trip. She was grazing in the right margin along the road. She spotted me pretty quickly and headed for the woods. I managed to get a picture or two before she trotted through the dense forest and disappeared in a flash.