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Top of The World Hwy & Taylor Highway

 

It only takes a few miles climbing out of Dawson City to realize where the name of this road comes from. For much of the 127 kilometers (79 miles) between Dawson and the Alaska border, it wanders around the high points of a series of ridges far above treeline, and the views just go on and on forever.

The great views actually start just a few minutes after crossing the Yukon River on a little ferry - the photo to the right shows Dawson City and the Yukon and Klondike Rivers as seen from the highway.

Soon after crossing into Alaska, the Top of the World actually ends, and you head south on the Taylor Highway. Another thing that ends is pavement - for about fifty miles, at least.

 

Jack Wade gold dredge

The Jack Wade gold dredge worked the valley until the 1920s, and now sits right beside the road.

Commonly called the Jack Wade Dredge, it began as the Butte Creek Dredge. Installed in 1934 below the mouth of Butte Creek, it was later moved to Walker Fork, then to Wade Creek. It was one of the first bucket-line dredges used in the area and it worked the longest time. Mining continues in the vicinity today, some on lands managed by the BLM.

 
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Chicken, Pedro Dredge

In 1948, the Taylor Highway was completed to Chicken, connecting it with the Alcan Highway. This narrow gravel road provided the first modern ground transportation link for Chicken which previously had depended on dogsled, horse, river and foot travel.

In 1952, F.E. Co. (Fairbanks Exploration Company) bought most of the claims around Chicken, as well as the ground the community was built on. In 1959, the "Pedro" dredge (see photo below left what it looks like today) was moved from Fairbanks to Chicken where it operated until 1967.

 

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Pedro dredge is an elevator dredge. It is basically a flat-bottomed boat that uses an endless chain of small buckets to scoop up the material from the river bottom and empty it on the dredge into a trommel (a container built of screening). The material is rotated in the trommel as water is played on it.
The gold-bearing sand sinks through perforations in the trommel and drops onto shaking tables, on which it is further concentrated. Dredging can also be used in dry beds of ancient rivers if ample water is within a reasonable distance. A pit is dug, and the dredge is moved in and floated on water pumped from the adjacent source.

While the mining of gold no longer involves hundreds of people to mine a single creek, there are still many small family owned operations. Most gold found is either done by placer mining or suction dredging. Placer mining is done with bulldozers and consists of taking off the top layers of dirt until the "pay" layer is reached. This is usually about two feet above bed rock. This layer of dirt is then sluiced and the gold is recovered. Suction dredging is done at the creek bottom. Dirt from the creek bottom is sucked up and put through a sluice box. 

 

Why Do They Call it "Chicken?"

Good Question. In the late 1800's, early miners traveled far in search of gold. Food was sometimes scarce, but a particular area near the South Fork of the 40-Mile River was abundant in Ptarmigan, now the state bird which bears a resemblance to a chicken (Ah the foreshadowing is thicker than steel.) The miners kept themselves alive with the help of the Ptarmigan (if you consider being eaten as helping.)

In 1902, Chicken was to become incorporated, the second town in Alaska to do so. The name "Ptarmigan" was suggested. Many people liked the name, but felt the quotation marks were too presumptuous. The name was shortened to Ptarmigan.

The only problem was that nobody could agree on the correct spelling. They didn't want their town name to be the source of ridicule and laughter, so they decided on "Chicken." (The irony is thicker than the foreshadowing.)

 

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Copyright 2007, Hanspeter Hochuli, Ennetburgen, Switzerland
last updated:  15.04.2008