In the deep interior of Alaska the Yukon River cuts through bluffs and mountains of an ancient landscape to unmask rocks whose histories reach back a billion years to life's beginnings on Earth. The 2.5-million acre Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve includes all 106-river miles of the Charley River, a tributary of the Yukon, and encompasses its entire 1.1-million-acre watershed. Flowing first through upland valley, then through stream-cut valley, and finally onto mature floodplain, the Charley offers spectacular unspoiled wilderness scenery.
Eons have passed here without catastrophic change. Today, the Yukon-Charley persists as a haven largely untouched by glaciations and mostly free of human imprint. The preserve includes prime breeding grounds for endangered peregrine falcons, calving grounds for caribou herds, choice paleontological sites, superb recreational waters, and the timeless presence of the mighty Yukon River. What scientists think may be remnant Ice Age vegetation occurs as patches of arctic steppe on sun-drenched benches and bluffs.
Truly isolated, the preserve is wilder and less populated now than it was 50 to 80 years ago. The late-1800s Klondike and Nome gold rushes turned the nearby town of Circle into the "Paris of the North," boasting an opera house. After the gold rush ended, most inhabitants of the area left. The few people who stayed after the glory days of gold faded—Han Indians already home and recent arrivals who decided to stay—settled back to a slower pace, trapping, hunting, fishing, and gardening.