Day 12 July 17 Dawson City

Dawson City from the DomeDawson City. As I sit here a day later trying to express what we felt about Dawson, I am at a loss for words. Disneyesque? Tourist Town? Another destination for cruise ships? Dawson Berry Farm? (aka Knotts Berry Farm)? For all those lovers of Dawson, I apologize. It wasn’t quite what we thought it might be. Of course, it may have been because we arrived during the annual July Dawson Music Festival that the town was so crowded, or because of the several huge Holland America busses there as well.

Dawson from Mo’s 1974 Dawson_Yukon_03photos

I think Mo was a bit more surprised than I was, because she saw Dawson more than 30 years ago, when it was truly an old historic town full of crazy old buildings and history. This time, for her the whole place was just too slick and shiny, too much a destination “thing”. Today, however, we were blessed with gorgeous weather to walk the town, and watch the myriad types of people doing the same.

There were many young people, some we spoke to from Yellowknife and Fairbanks, alternative type kids with dreds and beards, backpacking and hitch hiking out of town after the music, friendly and polite and fun to talk to.  While sitting on a bench with Abby, waiting for me to check out a gallery, Mo visited with a woman from the Holland America cruise ship bus, touring Alaska by boat, bus, and train, and having a great time.  She was from Henderson, Kentucky, and wanted the chance to see Dawson in the snow, for just two days or so.  We had fun talking about the beautiful hardwood forests of Henderson and the Audubon Park that we visited last fall.

settled in at Klondike River Campground space 24overflow channel of the Klondike RiverToday, after a beautiful quiet night ten miles east of town at our campground,Klondike River CG Yukon Parks, we decided that in order to avoid the caravan of 20 motorhomes crossing the Yukon tomorrow morning, we would forfeit our prepaid camp fees for tonight and leave for the Top of the World this afternoon.  With that decision made, we both felt better about our visit to Dawson.  There really wasn’t enough here for us to see to warrant a two day visit as originally planned.

Dawson Day 12_1407Yes, there is a lot to see.  There is the ride on the Yukon on the sternwheeler, a great thing to do if you have a spare 120 Canadian for two people.  Dawson Day 12_1405There are the dancing girls at Gertie’s, and the gambling, neither of which particularly interested us this time around. We skipped the Follies in Whitehorse, thinking that we would enjoy the funkier version in Dawson.  Seems as though they no longer have a Follies show in Dawson, and Gertie’s Dancing Girls are the replacement.  Three shows a night, ten bucks a show, lasts half an hour, great costumes according to the visitor center people.  Last night we had no desire to drive back to town for contrived night life at 8:30 to jostle for a first come first serve show.

We filled the MoHo at the only gas station open for 5.49 per US gallon and backtracked to the road leading to Dredge No.4, a Canada Historic Site down the road to the gold discovery site that started the whole thing. We saw the first wildlife since Arctic ground squirrels when a small fox crossed the road in front of us with breakfast dangling from his mouth.

Dawson Day 12_1430mining still the main industry in DawsonPlacer mining is familiar to me. I did soil survey in Murray, Idaho, another historic placer mining district, with valleys filled in with placer tailings. In Columbia, California, heart of the gold country, I mapped soils developed on 150 year old piles of the chemical mix left over from hydraulic mining.  I wear gold, I use metal as we all do, mining is a necessary thing, but what is left from the mining industry is daunting to me.  The landscape here at Dawson looked incredibly familiar to me, even though I had never been here.  We saw some signs in town saying, “Placer Mining Supports This Store and This Store Supports Placer Mining”. Of course, mining is the heart and soul of Dawson and of the Yukon. Important stuff.  Necessary. The sign made me think that there are probably some folks out there taking issue with the mining.  As always, it is challenging to find some kind of balance.

Dawson Day 12_1449Abby is always a hitWalking around town for a couple of hours taking photos was perfect for us. There was a beautiful city garden full of huge delphiniums along the river, and flowers everywhere throughout town. Some of the buildings were painted in Technicolor and others were crafted of old tin and weathered boards.  The visitor center was beautiful, a replica of the old HBC building that stood there at one time. We certainly didn’t see everything or do everything. There are many blogs out there filled with great stories of fun in Dawson City where I can go read all about what I didn’t do some winter evening when I am back reviewing my own take on visiting Dawson.

the guys insisted someone lived in this little house on the riverI loved the Yukon River. I loved the magical line between muddy Yukon water and clear green water from the Klondike as the rivers merged along the waterfront.more Dawson color I loved the power of the Yukon River, and looking at it, I loved imagining it’s winding course to the Bering Sea in the north.  I loved reading about how it once flowed south until the continental glaciers turned it northward. I loved the flowers and the brilliant sunshine that again came out for us in Dawson. I loved the crazy mix of people.

look close, there is Mo walking toward the MoHo in DawsonWould I ever need to see Dawson again? Probably not.  I bought a small copy of Jack London’s Call of the Wild.  His house is here is Dawson, among other authors of north country lore.  Hadn’t read that book since high school, and read it while I watched the moon come up in the midnight twilight of the Yukon when I couldn’t sleep. The book was written in 1903 and the names of places throughout the book rang true to me, places we had driven yesterday on the Klondike, Perry Crossing, the Stewart River, others that meant nothing to me as I read the book so many years ago, now ringing with a different sort of familiarity. 

Dawson City. Mythical town of the Klondike Gold Rush, all dressed up for the 21st century.

Many photos from this day are linked here.

Miles traveled this morning 0

Coming Next: Everything changes at the Top of the World


Day 11 July 16 Driving the Klondike Highway

we drove up here before the rain hitWhen Mo and I first started planning this trip, one of many choices had to do with choosing whether we would leave the Alaska Highway to travel the North Klondike Highway through Dawson and over the Top of the World. We heard varying reviews about the pros and cons, and after we listened to a young woman at Boya Lake who made her husband drive all the way from Ontario because she wanted to see it one more time, we finally decided we wanted to see it.  Mo also had some fond memories of Dawson City from her time there as well and thought it would be fun to go back.


Fox Lake heading northKlondike Day 11_1224The day started overcast and dreary, but things perked up when we got a 3 percent discount for gasoline for no reason whatsoever. The first impressions as we drove north was that there was so much water, so many lakes.  Thanks to our friendly Alaskan guys at the boat launch yesterday, we knew that Fox and Little Fox Lake would be wonderful for kayaking, but by the time we got there, it was still fairly cold and gray and neither one of us was particularly up for stopping so quickly and undoing the kayaks.  We passed Lake Laberge, made famous by Robert W. Service in his poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. 

the famous cinnamon bun from Braeburn Lodge 9 bucks of sugarThe cinnamon buns at Braeburn Lodge are a tradition we didn’t want to miss, so in the dreary rain we pulled over for a bun.  The owner of the place ignored me for awhile before he grudgingly got up to sell me a $9. roll that took up nearly half the passenger seat.  Mo and I ate on that thing for days before finally giving the last of it to Abby.

Braeburn Lodge in the rainWe continued north through the broad lush landscape, seeing the only bear of the day as a blur of brown along the roadside.  Even though he was brown, it was probably just a brown black bear, but he was a bit bigger than the two cubs we had seen previously on the Cassiar.  Again, there was no way to stop on the road, no place to pull over, and when Mo finally stopped and I got out to try to backtrack to where the bear was, he was nowhere to be seen.  I didn’t really want to tromp around in thick wet vegetation to find him either! I’m not completely stupid. So once more, no photos of our bear sighting.

Klondike Day 11_1235Just beyond the bear was the historic Montague Roadhouse, with logs mossy and nearly hidden by the thick vegetation.  I loved comparing Mo’s photos from her 74 trip to what the roadhouse looked like today.  When she passed, there were no trees around and today it was nearly hidden in the forest.  As we continued north, we passed the beautifully colored Twin Lakes, one on each side of the road, with that gorgeous turquoise color so characteristic of glacial meltwaters.

Klondike Day 11_1247We stopped for the interpretive signs about the community of Carmacks, fully intending to stop in and walk along the river and explore the town.  Somehow we missed the turnoff and were on the bridge over the Yukon River before we realized what had happened.  We watched Carmacks in the rear view mirrors and decided, Oh Well. 

Klondike Day 11_1259The Klondike Highway is the historic route to the Gold Rush world of Dawson City, and the Yukon River is the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush.  I loved this huge river, and our stop at Five Fingers Rapids was the highlight of the day.  We hiked down the 218 stairs to the boreal forest along the river to overlook the historic rapids.  The Klondike Day 11_1274Yukon has impressive parks and interpretive signs about the history and landscape of the area.  It was gorgeous.  It was hard to imagine the old sternwheelers navigating those wild rapids through the channels on their way to Klondike Gold.

Farther north I was thrilled to see deposits of white volcanic ash from the White River ash deposits from 1,250 years ago, the source possibly buried beneath the Klutlan Glacier in the St Elias Mountains in southeast Alaska.  The ash covers more than a third of the southern Yukon.  I studied volcanic ash soils in the northwest throughout my career, so this was a delight, and of course I had to get out and collect some to take home.

the terminus of continental glaciation!  I had no clueSomewhere along the way, we came to the boundary marking the end of Continental glaciation in the Yukon and the beginning of what is called Beringia, an area of the far north that was not ever under the great ice sheets during the last ice ages. This area under what is now the Bering Sea was the land bridge between North America and Siberia facilitating the migration of animals and humans from Asia to North America.  Somehow, even with all my training in earth history and geology, I had missed the fact that all of the north wasn’t under the glaciers.

Klondike Day 11_1329At the historic Pelly Crossing overlook, we stopped for lunch in warm 80 degree sunny weather, without a single bug to trouble us.  The beautiful weather and lack of gnats, flies, and mosquitoes has been quite a surprise. Another beautiful crossing at the Stewart River, and then we started climbing to a large, rolling plateau with scraggly spruce and not much else.  It wasn’t until we reached the Tintina Trench rest area, that things started to look interesting again.

The Tintagel Tranch, largest fault in North AmericaThis huge trench extends hundreds of miles across Yukon and Alaska and is the largest fault in North America. We also began to see hordes of buses from Holland America, coming and going on the road, and stopping at the rest areas.  Up until now, we had been almost alone on the highway, so it was a shock to suddenly have to share a rest stop with 60 people at once! In spite of the crowd,  I really enjoyed once again learning about more earth history.  That feeling of learning something completely brand new and unknown is so delightful to me.

The Yukon River flowing north from DawsonWe decided that rather than going in to the town of Dawson City, we wanted to dry camp at the Klondike River Campground, a Yukon Territory site that was just $12 for the night.  Neither of us wanted to fight the music festival crowds in Dawson so it was a good choice.  Even on Saturday night, there were plenty of sights and we settled in easily.  The storm clouds were coming in, but the rain held off long enough for us to drive to the top of Dome Mountain to see the classic view of the beautiful Yukon.  We drove down into town to see what was going on, and stopped in at the visitor center to get our bearings before returning to our quiet dark campground in the evening rain.

Miles traveled today: 331


Road conditions: Almost all the Klondike Highway was good paved 2 lane road, however there were enough rough areas that it required constant attention.  There were also several sections of construction and bridge work, but no delays.

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here.