Friday, November 18, 2011

Roadhouse Road Trip - Fall 2011

We took one last trip in our camper before freeze-up—a 500-mile round-trip down the Richardson Highway to Gakona Junction, up the Tok Cut-off to Tok, and then home via the Alaska Highway and Richardson Highway. One of the reasons for going was to take photos of roadhouses.
Roadhouses were an essential Alaska institution during the early historical period. Situated about 25 miles apart along main trails (and later roads), they provided shelter and food for travelers, and often served as community centers for the surrounding area. As trails and roads improved or were re-routed, some roadhouses fell into disuse. With the introduction of automobiles people could travel further without stopping for the night, and more roadhouses were abandoned or converted to other uses.
Now there are only a few historic roadhouses left, but several still stand along the Richardson Highway and Tok Cut-off. I wrote about the remains of the Richardson Roadhouse in a blog a few weeks ago. Rika’s Roadhouse is at Big Delta State Historical Park just north of Delta Junction and I have taken myriad photos there so bypassed it this trip.
Sullivan's Roadhouse
Sullivan’s Roadhouse is in Delta Junction but originally it was located about 20 miles to the south along the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail (now the Richardson Highway). The roadhouse, abandoned for decades, ended up in the middle of a military bombing range. It could have easily been lost, but fortunately, the U.S. Army relocated the building to Delta Junction, where it is now a museum.
 Black Rapids Roadhouse
Black Rapids Roadhouse is about 40 miles south of Delta Junction along the Richardson highway. It opened in 1904 and finally closed in 1993. By the end of the 1990s the roof on the older section was caving in and portions of the building were braced upright with poles. I was sure it was destined for destruction but new owners stabilized and are repairing the oldest part of the roadhouse. Unfortunately they had to tear down some of the more recent additions. Right now the roadhouse looks similar to what it looked like in its early days. It is not open, but the owners built a new lodge on the ridge behind it.
Gakona Roadhouse
 Gakona Roadhouse is at Gakona, a few miles up the Tok Cut-Off from Gakona Junction. When the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail was punched through in the early 1900s (it was an offshoot of the Valdez-Eagle trail) Gakona was where the trail took off. Eventually the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail was re-routed away from Gakona. The Gakona Roadhouse was built in 1929 and is still in operation today.
Doyle's Roadhouse
Behind the Gakona Roadhouse are the ruins of Doyle’s roadhouse, built in 1904. It was abandoned when the larger Gakona Roadhouse was built.
Slana Roadhouse
Slana, on the Tok Cut-Off about 60 miles east of Gakona and 65 miles south of Tok, is where the last roadhouse on this trip’s itinerary was located. The Slana Roadhouse is at mile 1 of the Nabesna Road. It was built in 1928 to serve travelers headed for the mining community of Nabesna about 40 miles to the east. The Tok Cut-off was re-aligned in 1953, bypassing the roadhouse. It closed shortly after that and is now a private residence.

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