A tiny gem of a town perched at the very edge of the Yukon River itself

At first the road perched on the edge of a continuous precipitous chasm that fell to the Fortymile River far, far below, producing beautiful if terrifying views. Then it plunged what felt like straight down to run for a few miles right next to the river, we were close enough to look for salmon (didn’t see any) and then straight back up again over still more mountains. We stopped at American Summit, a bald knob where the trees were sparse and stunted and the woolly lousewort is thick on the ground. We felt like we could raise our hands and touch the sky. There followed a steep, hairpin-turned and hair-raising descent into Eagle (nowadays, population 152), once a hub of gold mining activity for the upper Yukon drainage, and a tiny gem of a town perched at the very edge of the Yukon River itself.

I don’t know what I was expecting here, but it wasn’t this kind of beauty. A thousand foot cliff to the west where eagles roost and where Eagle got its name. The Olgilvie Mountains of Canada to far to the east, a hint of snow-capped peaks. The banks of the Yukon, between which the river presses relentlessly westward in ripples and eddies and swirling backwaters and swift currents.

In 1881 Eagle was one lone log cabin. By 1898, following the gold strikes in the Klondike, Eagle’s population was 1,700. In 1899 the US Army established Fort Egbert, and the road in is courtesy of them, as it it wouldn’t exist if in 1903 they hadn’t run a telegraph cable from Valdez to Eagle. Eagle was the southern most section of the Yukon River inside the United States and as such considered a strategic location.

Alaska Traveler Chatter

Dana View All →

Author and founder of Storyknife.org.

1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. Thanks for that description. I saw very little of that road with my eyes closed from Eagle till we got off the bus! My love of the mountains, anywhere, seem to bring me to these drives that scare me to death.

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