We were the only guests at the Tangle River Inn last night. As such, we had the royal treatment – a tour of all the mementos in the lounge and the bar including a bear skin, a photo of Sarah Palin (I had to keep my mouth shut) and a certificate from the President’s office recognising the work that they have done to support fishing parties for disabled veterans. The owner, Naidene Johnson, generally sits at the bar regaling everyone with stories about her life but she came to sit with us in the dining room last night and gave us the (very) long version of her life story including how she had a mountain named after her. She is now in her late 70’s. The food at Tangle River is better than the average food we have had here but the serves are huge. Some of our friends could share a meal between them and still have enough left over for lunch and dinner on the next day.
It was drizzling rain when we left but it cleared up in the middle of the day. We returned to the Richardson Highway and headed north to Delta Junction. We are glad that we didn’t count on finding any services at the highway junction in Paxson. The whole town consists of one derelict motel – that’s it. Seriously!
We found some quite interesting scenery as we travelled north including the aptly named ‘Rainbow Mountains’. I’m not quite sure what minerals create the different colours in the rock but they were quite colourful.
We actually saw four moose today. That’s four times as many as we’ve seen on all the other days of driving put together (apart from in Denali National Park). We were lucky enough to snag a couple of quick photos but they are not going to make the National Geographic Magazine.
We made the town of Delta Junction in time for lunch although there are only a couple of places in town to eat. We missed one of them because we thought that the building was the Masonic Hall. It wasn’t until we looked up the app, Yelp, on my phone that we recognised it as one of the cafes.
The town was originally a telegraph station and in 1928 a herd of 23 bison were brought from Montana to provide game for the hunters.The herd has grown and since then has been kept to several hundred animals by the annual issuance of hunting permits. During World War Two, the United States helped Russia by sending aircraft and supplies from the large airforce base near here. The Alaska Highway was built to connect an existing road to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada, with the Richardson Highway in Alaska, a distance of 2,290 km. After World War Two a U.S. army base, Fort Greely, was built next to the air field and was used for training soldiers for cold weather combat during the Cold War with the former Soviet Union. Since the cold war ended, a number of immigrants from the former Soviet republics have come to the area and significantly changed the makeup of the local population.
As we continued to Tok (pronounced Toke), we stopped by the roadside once or twice to look at some of the wildflowers that grow on the verge. We wondered whether we might be too early in the season to see any wild flowers but they appear to be well established. One of the things we are grateful for (so far) is the lack of mosquitoes. Alaska is very wet. One of my friends described it as being like a giant swamp. The last two summers here have been very dry and the mozzies have been less of a problem. I had expected squadrons of them to descend upon us every time we opened the car door, but so far we have’t even opened our bottle of mosquito repellant.
The closer we came to our destination of Tok, the more it began to rain. It’s still raining now – a few hours after we arrived. In a way, the latter part of our day was a good time for it to rain as the scenery along the highway near Tok is quite boring. This road was built as a significant engineering feat during WW2. I guess that the army, who built it, didn’t have to worry about deviating around private property so they just built long straight stretches of road until they came to a natural object such as a hill or a river. In addition, there were major fires around here in the 1990’s and the area was desolated. The town of Tok was evacuated (but saved by a wind change) and the surrounding forests are now just small trees struggling to grow back in this sub-arctic mate.
Tok is a very uninspiring city. Like other Alaskan towns, it extends for a long stretch of a kilometre or so along the highway. The buildings are purely functional without any form of architectural design whatsoever. There are a number of versions as to the origin of the name of this town and no one seems to know which one is correct. In one version, the name Tok is derived from the Athabaskan indian word for “peaceful crossing place’ of the nearby river. In another version the name is derived from the English words “Tokyo Camp”. (In the early days of Alaska’s development,the Japanese provided much of the cheap construction and domestic labour). Apparently, the base camp set up here during the construction of the road was called Tokyo Camp and later shortened to Tok to make the name more politically acceptable in the war. Yet another version claims the name was derived from the canine mascot for one of the engineering units that built the highway.
We arrived here early in the afternoon and have settled into a much warmer and comfortable cottage than the very basic one we had last night at Tangle River. However, we will have to brave the wet weather later in orderr to drive up to Fast Eddy’s restaurant at the other end of town for something to eat for dinner.