August 6 Day 32 Robinson Roadhouse to Irons Creek

South Klondike HighwayRainbow LakeWe spent a surprisingly quiet night at the rest area at Robinson Roadhouse and were once again on the road early in the morning with hot tea, deciding that breakfast wasn’t needed.  The sun was still low in the sky, which most of the time is great, except as we passed the beautiful Emerald (also called Rainbow) Lake, the colors weren’t yet illuminated with the sun still behind the high mountains to the east.  The road to Carcross is beautiful, winding through the mountains with vistas of White Pass.  The history of this road is woven tightly into the story of the Klondike gold rush, as it was at Bennet lake west of Carcross that the minors boarded the lake steamers. 

We walked around the burned hull of the Tutshi sternwheeler, reading the sad story of her attempted restoration, only to tragically burn in 1990 before the fire suppression systems were installed. Perusing Mo’s photos of her 1974 journey, we found a shot of the boat before the restoration began. I also found a photo of the Caribou Hotel which was still in operation back then. Today, it appeared empty although it looked as though it was in the process of restoration.

looks like the Caribou is being restored Caribou in Carcross
a great memorial Tutshi in Carcross

The White Pass-Yukon Railroad Depot provided an important route from Skagway to Whitehorse, where it no longer goes, now ending here at Carcross. It was just after 8 as we pulled into town and all was quiet. 

Continuing east along the Tagish Road past the post where the miners were required to check in and have their full ton of provisions documented by the RCMP before they were allowed to continue north to the gold fields.  The circle route adds an extra 27 miles back to the Alaska Highway, but it is beautiful and well worth the trip.

back on the road with only one other rig, not so badWe were back in the Yukon, on the open road with wide vistas spreading out before us on a perfectly clear morning.  There a so many museums at nearly every town, it is hard to see them all.  Reading about George Johnston’s Museum at Teslin, however, was intriguing, and we chose to stop.  I’m so glad we did.  George Johnston was  Tglingit Indian with a story as wild and romantic as the Yukon itself.  As a young man, he was intrigued with automobiles and went to Whitehorse to buy the first automobile brought to Teslin.  Or course, there were no roads in Teslin, so he used the 70 mile long Teslin Lake in the winter and built his own 3 mile road in the summer.

George JohnstonI had read all this in the Milepost, but I must say that the museum brought George to life in a way I would have never understood without our morning stop.  In Teslin Lake 72 miles longaddition to his story of the car, he was a self taught photographer and for 40 years documented the life of his people in Teslin.  As we left, a sign board told the story of the lost language, and how now at last it is being restored.  I would say this is a “don’t miss it” museum, aka the Milepost.  Of course, it says that about lots of places that aren’t necessarily so great.

shiny black bear with a brown noseNot far beyond Teslin Lake we were surprised to see a young black bear grazing for berries on the slope above the road.  He wasn’t the least bit concerned that we stopped for photos, and again, I was glad for a telephoto lens to catch his sweet face up close.  If you look at  the rest of the photos, you might see his crooked little nose.  I swear it is a bit crooked, or plastered on a bit sideways.

Mid afternoon found us at Watson Lake and the famous Signpost Forest.  When Mo stopped here in 74 there were only a few posts along the highway and she took a couple of photos.  The forest now is nothing if not overwhelming. 

Irons Day 32_4229We walked among all the signs from all over the world, amazed at some folks creations and wondering just how many of those city signs were stolen from their local burgs.  We tried to find some of the early signs but could make no sense of it.  Back into the visitor center to find out the 150 of the original posts had rotted and were removed.  All the signs on those posts had been nailed up hither and yon wherever there was a space.  Mo was glad she didn’t have a sign to find.  We added Mo’s sign that we brought from home to the melee and moved on down the road.

gravel road and construction anad we are in a line againWatson Lake is the last major community in the Yukon and as we entered British Columbia the road conditions started going downhill.  We got caught in a long line night camp at Irons Creekof cars in very dusty gravel for about ten miles.  It was time to find a boondock site, and sure enough there was a wide place along a creek just beckoning us to spend the night.  We slipped out of the long line of cars and big trucks to the long gravel road and realized that in order to get level we would have to unhook. 

It was worth it, and eventually all the pilot cars stopped coming, the grader finally quit after 6pm, and we had a beautiful quiet evening reading and enjoying our free spot along Irons Creek.  I did a little bit of reading and found out that at one time the bridge over Irons Creek was a 25 foot diameter culvert, one of the largest in Canada, and it had failed a few years ago requiring that a new bridge be constructed.  The creek didn’t look at all threatening at this time of year, but we were far enough above it that it wasn’t a worry anyway. 

CaptureMiles traveled today: about 317 from point 15 to point 18 on the map at left

Road conditions: good all the way through the Yukon, ten miles of dusty gravel into BC

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

August 3 Day 29 Kluane to Haines

We woke to brilliant sunlight streaming in the east facing windows around 5:30 and with hot tea in the cupholders  were on the road by 6.  At last the Alaska Highway filled all my highest dreams of what this road could be. We were all alone and the Yukon pavement was smooth and silent.  When I lived in a beautiful part of the MotherLode in California, near Sonora, I dreamed of a road to myself.  I couldn’t often see the beauty because there were usually 7 cars behind me wanting to go faster and 7 cars in front of me trying slow me down.  Our drive today filled my yearning for the open road, a highway uncluttered with vehicles, wild and open and all my own.

Take a minute to watch the show and get a taste of what it felt like

this is the world heritage site we have been passingSt Elias MountainsWe took our time and pulled off often to catch the spectacular views of the St Elias Mountains.  A stop at the Kluane National Park of Canada gave us just a taste of the wild expanse of ice that makes up more than half of this magnificent land. Adjacent to and combined with the Wrangell-St Elias, these two parks make up the largest contiguous extent of protected wilderness in the world, and are recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site of great significance. Ice fever called, and I dreamed of returning and taking the time to fly over that vast icefield with glaciers radiating down on all sides.

the St Elias Mountainsthat is a very big grizzly eating berries on the hill above usTo Haines Day 29_3390The road was perfect, except for a short stretch after we crossed into British Columbia, and when we saw the construction signs we pulled to a stop, with no idea what waited for us there. 

After a few moments, we noticed the flagger scanning the slopes to our east and of course, we looked up too.  High on the hill above us, oblivious to the world below, a grizzly grazed intently for berries.  The road folks exclaimed in awe that he was really a “big one”. It was thrilling to watch him move, so quickly and full of grace and power, even through the binoculars. The 300 lens could just barely capture him, but there he is, a real wild grizzly, no collar, no bands, unexpected, in the middle of nowhere.  Without the construction slowdown we would have missed him.

shifting habitats on the Haines HighwayWe crossed Haines Pass, with more wonderful interpretive signs about the gold rush and an especially well done description of the habitat variations from tundra to hemlock forest as we descended into the valley.  the river where 3500 eagles gather each springThe rapid change was dramatic, and beautiful, as we suddenly were surrounded by the thick, dark forest and the broad glacially fed Chilkat River, home to more than 3,500 eagles in the fall at the Eagle Reserve.

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Fort Seward at HainesOnce we arrived in Haines, we took advantage of the sunny afternoon to walk around Fort Seward and explore the shops and galleries on the Fort grounds.  Fort Seward was built in 1902 and operated until 1947.  Eventually it was bought by a group of war veterans and  the grounds and buildings are privately owned with hotels, restaurants and galleries.  I especially enjoyed walking through the Native Arts Center and seeing the huge mess of artistic creativity in the main carving room.

But the main reason we took the extra time to come to Haines was for the bears, and it was time to go find them.  There is a large population of both black and brown bear in Haines, but it is especially famous for the bear viewing along the Chilkoot River at Chilkoot State Park just 9 miles north of town.

Bears at Hainespeople were really obnoxious fighting for position and then stopped and blocking the roadthe bear guard having trouble with the dumb people We unexpectedly drove in Haines on a “cruise ship Wednesday” the only day that ships dock here, so the bear viewing site was full of people in cars and buses, with tour groups and people walking along the road.  It was a zoo, just without fences.  Even so, it was wonderful to see these big brown bears up close and personal.

The only ‘fence’ was the park officer walking around trying to corral all the folks who would think of getting to close to a momma grizzly and her babies.  She seemed somewhat frustrated with some folks especially, and said to me, “Fine, let them get mauled, they deserve it”.  She was saddened especially by the fact that the two cubs will no doubt end up being killed from their exposure to too many people.  They can’t relocate these big brown bears because they stubbornly return to their homelands in record time.

Bears at Haines1If you look closely at the lower right photo in the collage, you will see a salmon fisherman of the human variety.  These fishermen compete with the bears for the spawning salmon, but if a bear comes too close they will run away, leaving behind their catch. This results in bears discovering that humans are a great source of food. The saying goes, “A fed bear is a dead bear”.  Sad

wen had burgers here last nightStill, it was thrilling to watch Mama and her little ones, a male and a female just a year and a half old. Mama was a great swimmer, and her babies were carefully staying in the shallow water as they watched her fish.  The boy cub was much braver than the light boned delicate little girl but he still didn’t go all the way out to fight the strong current with Mama.  Even with her collar and bands, it was wonderful seeing this great wild 7 year old bear fishing in her world, traveling the same routes her mother did and fishing the same waters while she taught her babies.  There is another mom with 3 cubs in the area and 2 other males but we didn’t see them on this trip.

After our bear time, we went back to town to our home on the water at Oceanside RV Park.  It’s not fancy, but it has full hookups, TV and WiFi and with our planned two day stay, it’s nice to have amenities. Our freezer stores are getting a bit low, so we went to the Lighthouse Bar just down the road for great burgers while we watched the light change over the inlet.  Somehow coming to Haines was a full circle return from our cruise last summer when we watched Haines in the distance as we passed by on the Princess.  It was fun to watch the cruise ships pass  on the Lynn Canal as we settled into the evening.

 

CaptureMiles travel today: 214

Road condition: excellent 2 lane paved highway with a short stretch of gravel construction in BC

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here

A LOT of photos of the bears are linked here

 

Day 12 July 17 The Top of the World

Dawson Day 12_1490One of the reasons we thought to leave Dawson today was to avoid the 20 rig caravan scheduled to cross the Yukon on the ferry tomorrow morning. It is a good idea to check with the Information Center about possible caravans leaving on the ferry so you can adjust accordingly. I couldn’t quite imagine driving this wild place in a line of RV’s.  At noon, when we drove down to the ferry, there was already a large line of cars, RV’s, and folks on foot crossing the river. Dawson Day 12_1495The only way west from Dawson is to cross the Yukon River on the last existing ferry along this route, both the Perry Ferry and the Stewart Ferry are now replaced by bridges.  The ferry is free, part of the Yukon highway system.  Sometimes you are lucky and there is no wait, sometimes you are a second kind of lucky and there is.  Our second kind of lucky turned out to be just an hour and a half of time to watch the ferry fight the incredibly strong current of the river loaded up with big Holland America busses and to visit with local folks here for the festival.

Dawson Day 12_1512We initially planned to cross with the Tracker hooked up, but after seeing the big rigs and busses bumping on the exit across the river, we thought better of that plan and unhooked.  Mo had to then get the Tracker back to the end of the line of passenger cars and we hoped we would still cross at  the same time, but it didn’t look good.  I actually enjoyed the wait, watching and visiting, eating another piece of the giant cinnamon bun from Beaumont Lodge, and just enjoying the gorgeous sunlight and the view.

Mo made in the ferry after all, last car onWhen I finally loaded, first rig on the ferry, I was amazed to see Mo get waved on as the last rig because she was short enough to fill in the space.  Perfect. The river was especially high and muddy, with a powerful current now and then laced with huge logs and debris.  Must be a talented person who runs that boat! In no time, we were off the ferry and hooked up with the Protect-A-Tow in place ready to tackle the gravel road to Tok and the Alaska Highway.

I took a gazillion photos so am not going to bother to caption them allI had read about this road, seen photos from other blogs, heard varying reviews from writers that didn’t give me a clue of what was actually in store for us.  This, finally, was the wild north that I had come to see.  This road, rough as it is, was magnificent, utterly breathtaking, awe-inspiring magic. I began to feel the magic within the first few miles, as we climbed the long grade to the ridgetop run that most of the road follows along the spine of the mountains. 

The wild Yukon spread out before me to the east and north, and the deep valleys of the Yukon River and its tributaries to the south.

Dawson Day 12_1586

I wouldn’t have missed this part of our trip for anything. Every single penny of the trip is worth the wild and beautiful landscape we traveled today, on a road built only a few decades ago.  Long ago, in Idaho, I worked in a wild area of the St Joe National Forest, and traveled a ridge run similar to this one for many miles into the back country.  I loved that road, the 201, more than any other in my lifetime.  Dawson Day 12_1593This was the 201 on steroids, winding along the ridges, across open grassy slopes above timberline, with views into hundreds of miles of roadless wilderness only known to First Nations and old trappers. Hundreds of miles without a telephone pole, or a power transmission line, or a cell tower anywhere, or road the only ribbon of civilization crawling through to the distance. Not a clear cut in sight.  Nothing but the wild Yukon into the wild Alaska.

Dawson Day 12_1589I suppose the only mild disappointment was that we still saw no animals at all on the route.  Oops, we did see one more squirrel run across the road, but that was it.  Not a sheep or a bear or a caribou.  So many warnings, both on signs and in the Milepost, indicated that at least here, we would see animals.  Again, it was not to be. 

After two very short hours, we crossed into Alaska.  This northernmost border crossing was simple and quiet, with no one in front of us, even though we had seen a few rigs along the route.  We were asked no questions except how long we had been out of the United States and how many pets we had. After the officer checked our passports and pet papers we were on our way. The rain that we watched building in the west finally overtook us at the Dawson Day 12_1618border of Alaska and we drove on a bit, searching for a wide place along the road.  As promised, the road turned to wet, rough dirty gravel, and Mo was glad to find a nice long turnout where we parked for the night.

Dawson Day 12_1638Since the border behind us closed at 8, there was only a bit of traffic coming along behind us before everything was silent for the rest of the night.  I say “night” very loosely.  We gained an hour, so were worn out, fed and in bed by something silly like 6:30 with our books.  At midnight, when I woke, it was a bright twilight evening, with the almost full moon rising over the ridge behind us.  There is a small stream of water running down the mountain behind the rig, and I had hoped it might bring in some critters.  It’s now 3:30 am and I have been writing for some time and have yet to see any critters in the morning light.  It never got dark at all.

I turned the generator on to run a bit of heat in the 40*F outside temperatures and to keep the inverter on so I could charge up the computer.  I feel like a newborn with my days and nights mixed up, just wondering if in this bright morning light I should now try to get some sleep.  Mo keeps wanting to drive since she hates navigating, so at least she is back there snoozing away while I type and manage photos.  Today we continue toward Chicken and Tok and once again will be on the Alaska Highway. 

The Klondike/Top of the World loop certainly has it great moments and its downside.  Still, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Here is a slide show of the journey.

Miles traveled today: about 125 between site15 at Dawson and 16 at our boondock site

map

Road condition: hard surface fine gravel with rough spots, steep grades up and down to the Alaska border. From the border to our boondock site, gravel that seems more like dirt, rutted and rough, but so far we haven’t had any mishaps inside or outside the MoHo and Tracker.  Kayaks still on tight and all windows still intact.

If you want to see the rest of the photos, they are linked here

Day 8 July 13 Northern part of the Cassiar Highway

Cassiar N  Day 8_930Our wonderful lake respite just happened to be near the midpoint of the Cassiar Highway. We were on the road again this morning by 7:30, feeling well rested and refreshed from our long afternoon on gorgeous Kinaskan Lake.  From this point on, the road conditions began to shift and we started to encounter more and more rough chip seal with sections of gravel, even a section of rough dirt that was in the process of construction, and several construction zones along Dease Lake.

Gnat Valley looking north the RR was started but never built hereDecided to stop at Iskut for fuel, and paid a whopping $5.40 per gallon (C$) adding $192.50 to the tank to be sure we had plenty of gas to get us to the Highway this afternoon. The scenery north of Kinaskan Lake was again beautiful, with several long narrow lakes parallel to the highway before we climbed into a higher landscape thick with spruce and sphagnum soils and wetlands.  We stopped for photos of the lush, green Gnat Valley, with a large beaver lodge along the creek in the distance. 

more gravel but smooth towards Dease LakeBy mile 294 the construction zone took over and the grades were usually 8 percent and the road was very narrow with NO shoulder, dropping immediately from the road surface nothing.  No room for an oops on this road! Dease Lake was just a small community but was alongside the brilliantly blue and very long Dease Lake to the west.  Again, because of the construction, the rest areas and pull outs were less than inviting, so I didn’t get any shots of Dease Lake.  We crossed the invisible summit of the Arctic Divide, and now all rivers that we see are emptying into the Arctic Ocean instead of the Pacific.

Around mile 330 we entered the Cassiar Mountains, and this time I know the name of the range.  Again, this range has it’s own unique personality, huge like everything in BC, but dominantly formed in serpentinite rock, the source of the Cassiar N  Day 8_971asbestos from the Cassiar Mine, that is no longer in operation.  Where there is serpentine, there usually is jade, both rocks hydrothermally altered from old ocean crust rock at great depths and then squeezed to the surface like a watermelon seed.  Yeah, I stole that line from an old geology book about California’s serpentine belt, but I love it, because it describes it so well.

Because of the construction, we were in a line of vehicles when we passed a beautiful green marsh to the west, punctuated by a cow moose and her calf.  The fifth wheel from Texas pulled into the only available space.  I sure hope they are bloggers and got the photo!  We couldn’t stop so just kept crawling along the gravel road with the rest of the line of cars. 

We are now in the Cassiar Mountains, on smooth gravel, with many lakes and marshes parallel to the road beside us.  I managed to make tuna sandwiches with some chips and a pickle while Mo was being piloted at a reasonably slow pace through the construction.  The gravel Good Hope Lakeis smooth, but dusty, and every time one of those big aggregate haulers goes by, it takes a bit for the dust to settle.  Now THIS is what I thought this trip would be like!

wildflowers in the Gnat ValleyWhat I have learned so far is that it’s possible to see the beautiful wild wilderness of northern British Columbia without ever touching a difficult route.  The Yellowhead Highway all the way from Edmonton to Prince George to Prince Rupert is beautiful, in great shape, and there are state of the art facilities just about everywhere you might need them.  You can then drive north on the Cassiar more than half way to beautiful lakes and provincial parks still on great roads.  Some folks recently discussed avoiding the Alaska trip because of how hard it might be on your rig.  I suggest that those folks check out this beautiful, amazing, fabulous part of British Columbia and the north.

Cassiar N  Day 8_965We, however, still want to do the road, The Alaska Highway, even though I am not entirely sure that I haven’t already seen the best part of the trip. It’s now 1 in the afternoon, we are 78 miles south of the Highway, and plan to stop in at Jade City before continuing north.  More later

It’s now “later”, 3:30 in the afternoon and once again a pristine northern lake has called us in.  After only 180 miles we decided that we needed to take on some water and drove down to Boya Provincial Park.  The park attendant at Kinaskan talked poetically about the beautiful turquoise lake that was right on our route north and said we shouldn’t miss it.  Our night destination was to be somewhere between where we were and Whitehorse, but we knew we wouldn’t make it to Whitehorse.

Checking the maps for campgrounds along the highway between Upper Llaird and Whitehorse yielded a few spots, but not many.  We also aren’t sure of the boondocking options along the main route, and really don’t feel like paying top dollar for a regular crowded RV park tonight. We plan to stop in Whitehorse for a couple of days anyway and will pay the big bucks then for the opportunity to do laundry and get caught up on the internet.

If you look closely, you can see me in the center in the waterCassiar N  Day 8_997

Cassiar N  Day 8_1020Once again we are camped on a lake, and within minutes of setting up the rig, Abby and I were in the water. This time I decided to go for a real swim.  Boya Lake is warmer than most northern BC lakes, and the outside temperature this afternoon hit 82 *F!  Pretty darn warm, and I needed a good bath. Boya Lake is underlain by white marl and is so clear that you can see fish swimming beneath you.  There is an interpretive trail here around the lake that we plan to walk later this evening, but not before I try one more dip in that gorgeous water.Cassiar N  Day 8_1026

I think tonight we won’t unload the kayaks, and just enjoy this beautiful place from the beach.  Might be time for a bit of relaxation that doesn’t include paddling for several hours. The park information kiosk posted weather information for the days ahead, and if they are correct, we will be driving into rainy wet skies as we approach Whitehorse for the next few days.  It will be a good time to clean house, clean ourselves, and do a bit of town stuff before we continue north to Dawson City.

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here

Tomorrow: Whitehorse, Yukon Territories

Miles driven today between stop 13 and stop 14: 180

a mix of chip seal and about 1/3 gravel, with several construction zones, no delays.

Kitaskan to Boya lake