After driving the Dempster Highway we were through with dirt roads. However we had one more to tackle. The Top of the World Highway takes you from Dawson City in the Yukon to the Alaska border where it meets the Taylor Highway. The Canadian side is paved for the most part but the US side is not and it’s pretty rough. We didn’t bother cleaning Buster too thoroughly because we knew he would need another cleaning after these next two roads.
The Top of the World Highway starts in Dawson City, Yukon and goes west to the Alaska border and there is a reason for the name. The views along this stretch of road are stunning. You have to watch out for the corners though. There are no guard rails along this road and some of the drop offs are hundreds and even thousands of feet. We were originally going to stay in Dawson that night but there were too many tourist there so we decided to keep going. We spotted a good pull off for the night where a cyclist had set up camp. His name was Christian and he was from Germany. He flew in to Whitehorse and had cycled all around Alaska and was on his way back to Whitehorse. It turns out this wasn’t his first trip to the Yukon and Alaska. He had been there several times before on numerous expeditions (check out Christian’s website – www.long-expeditions.de). After talking for a bit we headed to bed.
The next morning we said goodbye to Christian and headed to the Alaska border. Along the way we lost our power steering and upon further investigation found that the power steering pump belt had come off the pulley. I reinstalled the belt and drove off only to loose it again a mile down the road. We drove back to the rest stop and I installed one of the spare belts we had with us. The one stayed put and we were off to the border. The northern crossing between Alaska and the Yukon is high up in the mountains between Dawson City and Chicken, Alaska. It’s probably the highest border crossing between Canada and the US – at least the highest one I’ve been to.
After crossing the border we headed to the old gold mining town of Chicken Alaska. Chicken, named that way because no one could agree on how to spell ptarmigan, has a couple RV parks, a restaurant, a liquor store and a winter population of about 15 people. We stopped for lunch and a photo op and kept on going. We stopped for the night just outside of Tok (pronounced toke as I was kindly corrected by the gentleman at the border).
In Tok we got gas, a few groceries and another car wash for Buster, this time a thorough wash including the motor. From there we headed northwest towards Fairbanks through the town of Delta Junction where the Alaska Highway officially ends and the town of North Pole where it is Christmas never ends. We were planning on staying at a pull off somewhere south of Fairbanks but the area is too heavily populated and there was nowhere to stop. There is also an air force base south of Fairbanks that you have to drive through where there is no stopping allowed. We ended up staying in the Fairbanks Walmart parking lot for the night. Fairbanks is a town of about 100K and is a good place to stock up before heading anywhere else in Alaska.
From Fairbanks we headed south to Denali National Park where Denali (Mount McKinley), the tallest mountain in North America lies (20320 ft). To see the mountain up close you need to take one of the park buses into the park because the 90 mile park road is closed to public traffic to limit the number of vehicles. When we arrived in Denali the weather was perfect for viewing the mountain but the campgrounds with views of Denali were all booked up. We had to wait two days to get a spot and by then the weather had closed in and it was raining. We had planned to stay one night at Wonder Lake campground and the following two nights in the backcountry. There are no trails in Denali so you have to bushwhack to where you want to go. There are also approximately 500 grizzly bears in the park and they park gives you a bear safety talk and a bear-proof food container before you go in. When we got to Wonder Lake the mountains were hidden by rain clouds. Because of its size Denali creates its own weather even if it is a clear day. We only stayed one night in the backcountry because the weather was so bad.
After spending almost a week in Denali we headed south towards Anchorage. Along the way Buster hit a milestone, the odometer hit 200000 miles.