On Wednesday I drove to Skagway and Dyea again. The Fall colours are a bit of a disappointment this year, but the South Klondike Highway is always a stunningly beautiful drive in any season.
One of the definitive signs of Fall in the Yukon is the arrival of corporate jets carrying rich big-game hunters. When I went into Whitehorse to fuel up, there were 3 of the little jets on the ramp, including this 1992 Dassault-Breguet Mystere Falcon 900. Owned by a charter company in Connecticut, it can carry up to 12 people, at a charter rate of about $5,500 US per hour. If you’d rather have your own Falcon 900, $42 million US can make that happen 🙂
My drive started off very well with a grizzly grazing right beside the highway at Kookatsoon Lake. That would be about a 1-hour walk to my house for him. I didn’t take any photos because of the number of cars stopped to watch.
The new bridge at Carcross is coming along nicely The arrival of the main steel beams a few days ago caused quite a stir along the highway. They’re each 143 feet long, and were trucked up from Vernon, BC! The back 5 axles of the trailer have their own driver to make corners possible.
I was surprised to see that the Windy Arm wildfire is still burning in many places, despite below-freezing nights.
Just swinging the camera to the left gives a very different impression of that scene at Bove Island.
I’m trying something new today – posting enlarged versions of some of the photos that I use in other social media platforms (my pages at Twitter and Facebook). Clicking on the image below will open a new window with a much larger version that you’re welcome to download, save, share, etc. This photo shows the changing seasons – looking up Montana Mountain to Fall and Winter from Conrad.
After 112 years, most of the towers for an aerial tramway that ran from a dock at Conrad to the Mountain Hero silver mine are still standing.
Just above the highway a few kilometers further south are some of the towers from the Vault silver mine, also from 1906.
I made my usual stop at Tutshi Lake to walk Bella and Tucker. There were a couple of tour buses at the parking area, so as I had Cathy’s Jeep, I drove down the beach to a quiet bay.
This small un-named lake at Km 45.9 sometimes provides good photo ops, and sometimes a bear. This used to be grizzly country, but in the past decade or so, the grizzlies have left and cinnamon bears (brown-coloured black bears) have taken the territory.
This spot along Shallow Lake often stops me. I should try to remember to check the WP&YR schedules – it would be great to have a train rounding that curve at Ptarmigan Point. A few years ago, I shot a video of a rotary snow plow working its way down the line at that point, and it has over 76,000 views now. Clicking on the photo will open a much larger version in a new window.
Nearing the White Pass summit at about Km 30 – Summit Lake is on the left.
I need to go through my photos and see how much this glacier has shrunk in recent years. I think the retreat has been pretty dramatic.
The other new bridge on the South Klondike Highway, replacing the unique Captain William Moore Bridge, is also taking shape now. It’s not so much a bridge as a culvert and fill, though.
After picking up a few packages at the Skagway post office, I drove over to Dyea so the kids could have a beach play. The next photo shows the famous pilings from one of the very long docks that were built during the Klondike Gold Rush.
A cold wind made our Dyea beach stop fairly short. The next photo shows Nahku Bay (a.k.a. Long Bay) on the way back to Skagway.
Progress has been speedy on a new mile-long loop track for the WP&YR trains at the White Pass summit. Much of the work involves blasting solid granite – this must be the biggest construction job on the line in recent decades. Crews are living in trailers set up at the summit, and they have a fuelling station for the equipment set up at Fraser. I posted a large version of this photo at the Narrow Gauge Railroad Discussion Forum on Facebook this morning.
We made another stop at Tushi Lake on the way home.
The view to the south along Tutshi Lake.
To end this post, a couple more photos of the Windy Arm fire.
As soon as Cathy gets off work this afternoon we’ll be going somewhere in the motorhome for the weekend, but I don’t know where yet. Maybe Kluane Lake, but maybe just down to Conrad…
I got home yesterday from a quick trip to Surrey (a suburb of Vancouver), where I went for the 50th anniversary reunion of my high school graduation class. From our little school, Princess Margaret Senior Secondary, 97 people (including some spouses) had signed up to come. It was wonderful, and it was overwhelming.
I flew from Whitehorse to Vancouver on Air North’s 07:30 flight on Thursday. The weather forecast for the entire 3-day trip was for clouds and showers, but the rain in Whitehorse was very close to being snow when I left home for the 15-minute drive to the airport. I shot the first photo as our Boeing 737 was being pushed back. The ATR 42-300 would be leaving for Dawson shortly.
Far south of Whitehorse, the clouds cleared enough to get a view of the peaks below for about 20 minutes. I just never get tired of seeing them. The next photo was shot just north of Stewart.
Vancouver has one of my favourite airports. I love the architecture, the fact that it never feels crowded, and the art. Much of the art is quite incredible, like the Rivers Monument by Marianne Nicolson. Each pole is a cut through of the Columbia and Fraser River systems, with the top of the column representing the surface and the bottom of the column the riverbed. I was in no hurry, and spent quite a while with this piece.
I soon had my rental car from Thrifty – a VW Jetta that I immediately disliked. Are they as cheap as they feel? Even the radio was junk. Anyway, I had time to kill before I could check into my hotel in Langley, so went to Boundary Bay Airport, where I did some advanced training (multi-engine and much higher speeds) in 1987, in a Grumman Cougar, a beauty of an aircraft. I see that the aircraft I trained in, once C-GTFN, was sold to a company in Michigan the following year. You can see a current photo of it here.
The memorial in the next photo honours the 29 airmen who died while serving at RCAF Station Boundary Bay. The Skyhawk Restaurant in the new terminal was an excellent place for an early lunch.
Going back to my car, I noticed that this Solo 1-person electric car had arrived. It’s really cool for $20,000, but the company’s other two cars are bloody awesome! Especially the electric 356 Porsche replica (for $124,900 🙂 ).
I spent a fair bit of time at Crescent Beach in the ’60s, so went for a look at what 50+ years has done there. There are actually surprisingly few changes – in the village, new homes have largely been done in styles that fit in very nicely, and the multi-million-dollar ones along the way are well hidden in the forest. The photo shows Blackie Spit Park, which was a popular party spot in my day, and in more recent years has been a nude beach. Now it’s a lovely, heavily-protected area for migratory birds – stay on the path, and dogs aren’t allowed. The fellow in the centre of the next photo called me over to chat while I was down in that area. His name is Sook (that’s probably spelled wrong). A Sikh, he moved to BC from Singapore in 1990. He’s the same age I am, and we talked for quite a while about the changes in Southeast Asia and in BC over the years.
This photo popped up in my Facebook Memories as I was writing this post, so it’s obviously supposed to be included 🙂 From September 1969, this was bandit drag racing at its finest, on Latimer Road in Langley. A few days before I shot this photo, I had bought a 1969 rs SS Camaro from Westminster Motors for $4,395 plus tax. In less than 2 years it was a wheel-standing beast, and I spent many nights at these bandit strips.
At 1:00, I reached my motel, the Days Inn in downtown Langley. Langley had been chosen for the reunion rather than Surrey because it has better facilities and isn’t quite as crazy-busy as Surrey.
Room 313 was exactly as you’d expect in a hotel like this – immaculate and well equipped. When I fired up my laptop to do some work on my Pioneer Cemetery project, the wifi was fast, so life was good.
The view wasn’t inspiring, so there was nothing to distract me from important things – including an afternoon nap before the reunion banquet that evening.
Another of the grads and I had planned to get photos of each person as they arrived, but that didn’t work out, so the first order of business once everyone (we thought) had arrived was getting a group photo. One of the spouses got a photo of me setting the shot up (thanks, Bob). Yes, I was having fun.
There are only 60 people in the photo, so it seems that many people who registered didn’t come. A 10-second timer on the shutter allowed me to get into the 3 shots I took.
We had a 20th anniversary reunion in 1988, and it didn’t seem like most people had changed that much from high school.
The added 30 years had changed us all, but many are aging very well. One of the things that was quickly confirmed is that good friends are always good friends – after 50 years, conversation with them is still easy. It was a wonderful evening, and I was really glad I came down for it. It was overwhelming, though, and I didn’t get to talk to nearly as many people as I had hoped to. I hoped to rectify that somewhat at a school tour the next day.
On Friday, I drove around the Newton and Scottsdale parts of Surrey looking for anything familiar, but it’s all gone. The next photo shows the lot where the home I grew up in used to be.
The school that we attended was bulldozed many years ago, but when some of us gathered in the office of the new Princess Margaret Senior Secondary School for the tour, I was pleased to see a series of paintings of the school we knew.
The school principal, Paulo Sarmento, had offered to show us around the school. I was very quickly impressed by his love of what he’s doing, and by his respect for the school’s history.
They don’t build schools like they used to! I knew from touring my grand-daughters’ high school about 3 years ago that it’s a different world now, but it was interesting to see this direct comparison. The murals in the gym are wonderful – a lion has always been the school emblem.
One of the teachers dug the school yearbooks from 1966, ’67 and ’68 out of the library archives, and we spent a while going through them.
Although they were damaged while being moved from the old school, all of the old class photos have been restored, some with huge effort, and are hanging. A current student spent quite a while talking with us there. It occurred to me that this visit would be like the Class of 1918 coming to visit us in our final year there – it seemed to be a big deal to everyone we met, students and teachers alike.
We interrupted a few classes, and had fun doing it 🙂
The main hallway is beautiful. There are 1,300 students at Princess Margaret now, about double what there was in 1968, I think.
At the end of the tour, Mr. Sarmento (that sounds funny but “Paulo” doesn’t seem right 🙂 ) presented each of us with a t-shirt that proclaims “Once a Lion Always a Lion”. Peggy and John allowed me a photo of theirs. What a great souvenir – very appropriate.
We gathered for a group photo at a totem pole that was created many years ago by students working with elders from the Semiahmoo First Nation. It has a very interesting history, and has survived two attempts to destroy it.
Fred John was my math teacher for his first 3 years of teaching – he also taught art. At 77, he’s still teaching, and was a big part of our reunion. He’s a good example of the quality of teachers we had 50 years ago.
The special needs class has been given control of the school sign on 72nd Avenue, and told to have fun with it. They are indeed having fun with it, no doubt putting a smile on many faces of people driving by! 🙂
The school tour ended up being over 2 hours long. It really was quality time – with fewer people, it was easier to get into conversations – and was an excellent way to complete the reunion.
That night, I went to another airport restaurant, Adrian’s @ The Airport in Langley. It was a fine way to end the day, and brought me back to the Langley airport the next morning.
Langley (Langley Regional Airport – YNJ) was my primary airport during my flying years. Much of my training beyond my basic private licence as done here at Skyways, whose office is now home to Adrian’s restaurant. When I owned my own plane, it was tied down here. So in a light rain on Saturday morning, I wandered around the airport. As with everything else I’d been seeing the past couple of days, not much was familiar.
The Canadian Museum of Flight, which I put many volunteer hours working at, is now based at Langley. They didn’t open until 10:00, which was too late for me, but I had a look around at what I could see. One of the gems in the collection is CF-PWH, “Spirit of the Skeena”, the oldest surviving DC-3 in Canada. Built on February 24th, 1940, for American Airlines as “Flagship Texas”, she later served in the USAF, and with Trans Alaska Airlines, Queen Charlotte Airlines, Pacific Western Airlines, Great Northern Airways, and Trans Provincial Airlines. Her flying career ended in 1972.
I had thought about doing some more wandering, but the rain wasn’t really conducive to that, so I returned to the Vancouver airport a couple of hours early. I can always amuse myself there watching airplanes. This Air Canada Dreamliner, C-FGDT, was throwing up a good spray on her takeoff run.
Even in the secure area, you can wander for what feels like miles, and there’s always something going on. My Air North flight was at gate B-18, in an area where most of the other gates had WestJet 737s at them.
We boarded the plane at 1:00, but were delayed for a long time. Within a couple of minutes of taking off just before 2:00, we had vanished into the low clouds. But I had seen a forecast showing sunshine in Whitehorse so had high hopes for my window seat. Just north of Stewart, it started to clear, and a little while later, the community of Telegraph Creek, badly hit by wildfires a few weeks ago, was below.
Atlin Lake often provides a stunning view, and yesterday was one of those. Teresa Island is in the centre of the photo, the Llewellyn Glacier is on the left, and Juneau is on the shore of the distant salty waters.
Looking down on the community of Atlin a few seconds later.
One final shot of Lewis Lake, commonly called Lewes Lake, as we descended into Whitehorse. Cathy had been getting Bella and Tucker excited about my arrival, and I got a wonderful greeting from my family.
There is now talk about planning more reunions for the Class of ’68 – every 5 years perhaps, or even small annual ones. There are many people I’d still like to talk to, so I hope these happen. Except for that, the odds of me returning to Surrey are pretty much zero – the world I knew no longer exists.
This little exploration was prompted by a couple of videos that were posted on Facebook recently, showing a beaver crossing 4 lanes of traffic on Two Mile Hill in Whitehorse. My response was something to the effect of “where is he going? There’s no water over there”. Somebody responded that there is a creek, so I had to go for a look, having driven by it thousands of times. What I found was a surprise. Although Spook Creek is little more than a ditch when its flow is controlled through the city, a trail along its forested upper reaches is quite lovely.
This aerial view from Google Maps is a good way to start our tour from the mouth of Spook Creek to its headwaters, a total distance of only about 1.4 kilometers (0.9 miles). The headwaters are in a gully that runs across the aircraft approach to the Whitehorse airport. Click on the image to open an interactive version of the map in a new window.
Let’s start at the mouth of Spook Creek (on the left in the next photo) where it empties into the Yukon River at the upper end of Clara Monarch Slough. The slough was named after the steamboat Clara Monarch, whose hull was abandoned there in February 1907. The slough is one of the best places in Whitehorse to watch birds (especially nesting gulls, and hunting bald eagles) and beaver. The large building in the distance is in the Marwell industrial area, on the site of the CANOL oil refinery built during World War II.
Going upstream, Spook Creek now enters a culvert to go under the former White Pass & Yukon Route railway, now part of the Trans Canada Trail (recently -re-named The Great Trail – a really poor decision, in my opinion). Then the creek goes into the long culvert seen in the next photo, under Quartz Road.
Spook Creek now really does become a ditch along Quartz Road, along a still-undeveloped piece of property beside Save-On-Foods. The next two photos look downstream along that section.
Now we come to the spot that captured my interest in seeing more of Spook Creek – a beaver dam recently constructed between Save-On-Foods and Home Hardware.
In the next photo, I’ve crossed over the 4 lanes of traffic that the beaver has been crossing, and am looking downstream again. Here, it’s not really recognizable as a creek anymore. Peter Long, who runs the amazing Whitehorse Walks Web site, is promoting development of that section of the creek as “a Spook Creek trail/parkette with a paved wheelchair-accessible trail, complete with flowers, trees, benches, lights. It would formally link the Lower Escarpment Trail with the Waterfront Trail at Spook Creek Station.” I think it’s a great idea.
Above the Two Mile Hill road, the City has done some work to mitigate the silt that comes down the creek from fairly frequent mudslides in the gully. Along the section of the creek, a beaver path is well-worn, but I never did see what he’s up to.
From there, I was very surprised to find that a trail has been built by persons unknown. It crosses the creek several times, and each crossing has a bridge.
The next photo shows the only crossing that doesn’t have a proper bridge. Those pallets are heavy, though – a great deal of work has gone into the trail.
Many sections of the trail have been cut into the sidehill, and many trees that have fallen across the route have been cut.
The next photo shows the only sad part of the trail – a squatter’s camp where several people have been living until recently. It will take considerable effort to clean this mess up.
There are some other items that may properly be described as artifacts, probably dating to World War II. There are two possible reasons for the name of the creek – one is derogatory, coming from an encampment of Black soldiers of the U.S. Army located somewhere along the lower section of the creek. The other possible source of the name “Spook” is a First Nations cemetery that I’ll show you at the end of this post.
Continuing up Spook Creek, which is less than a foot wide at this point. The banks aren’t well defined, or a bridge wouldn’t even be necessary.
The next photo shows one of the largest bridges on the trail. At this point, the lumber and nails/screws have been carried a long way from the nearest point a pickup truck can get to.
Continuing up the creek.
Suddenly, the forest opens up as the airport is neared.
Reaching a road that runs from the airport level down some aviation equipment, you can either go up to the trail system that runs around the airport…
…or down to a landing-light tower. To the left of that tower is a marshy area where a friend of mine says 6 varieties of orchids grow. There are also signs of it being a dumping area for the military decades ago.
That takes us up to the airport trails, which is a fairly extensive network. The primary access to those trails from downtown has been the Black Street Stairs for many years.
The furthest-north of the airport trails runs along the top of the Spook Creek gully. The next photo looks across the gully to the landing approach lights. On July 18, 1967, a USAF Martin EB-57E Canberra crashed there while on approach, killing both crew members.
The trail through the forest along the top of the gully is very nice, but is seldom used.
It’s nice to see that tree-fort building still goes on – most of my friends did that when we were kids.
As the trail starts to drop down a ridge along the clay cliffs, the largest First Nations cemetery in Whitehorse can be seen below.
The trail down the ridge is very steep, and I wouldn’t do it in wet or icy conditions – this silt gets extremely slippery.
The cemetery is fenced off and visitors aren’t welcome. About 100 meters past this point, I was back at my car which I had parked in a large parking area along the Two Mile Hill road.
It’s nice that Whitehorse continues to surprise me. This was a particularly fine discovery, and Spook Creek will be on my list of walks regularly now.
One would think that, because it’s so close in both physical and emotional ways, that the Pioneer Cemetery in Whitehorse would have been a prime focus in my cemeteries project. But it had been neglected for so many decades that my heart just wasn’t in it. That has all changed now – the cemetery is well along on a major renovation, and I’m putting a great deal of time into documenting it now.
Originally called the 6th Avenue Cemetery, the Pioneer Cemetery is located in downtown Whitehorse, at the base of what we call “the clay cliffs.” Atop those cliffs is the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport. The image below is from Google Maps – click on it to open an interactive version in a new window.
The main entrance to the Pioneer Cemetery used to be at the southeast corner.
A grand new entrance has been constructed at the northeast corner of the cemetery, where the United States Military Cemetery was located during World War II. The new entrance has 3 interpretive signs that describe the history of the cemetery and a map of the 701 grave sites that are now known (701 by my count of the plots on the map).
The beginning of the renovation planning dates back to 2012. One of the early parts of it was the construction of a leash-free dog park a couple of blocks away, as people walking their dogs in the cemetery and not cleaning up after them has been a long-standing complaint. The sign in the next photo is now in place at the main entrance.
In February 2017, Ecofor Consulting brought in a Ground Sensing Radar unit to search for unmarked graves. There were surprises – both the number and location of lost graves. Although 800 grave sites is the number that’s been used for many years, and my list of reported burials has 808 names, there are, as I mentioned, 701 known grave sites marked on the map at the new cemetery entrance. I took photos of all 235 markers a few days ago for my cemetery Web site, so we’re still missing approximately 107 grave sites, and 673 grave sites need names. (Photo by Ecofor)
Last spring and summer, raising and levelling headstones that had sunk and/or shifted was the main priority – that work was done by crews from Sidrock. Part of that work involved building concrete bases for most of them. (Photo by Sidrock)
Once in their proper position, the headstones were cleaned. You can see in the background how badly sunk some of the headstones and grave surrounds were. (Photo by Sidrock)
The next photo shows the front of the cemetery as it looks now. Known grave sites that don’t have markers now have concrete pads, and if names are ever found, markers will be installed – the type of marker is still being discussed.
Further back in the cemetery, work continues. Known grave sites have been marked as seen in the next photo, and the concrete pads will soon be in place on them as well.
Completion of the new fence around the cemetery is rapidly approaching. It’s felt that a high-quality fence will greatly add to the respect that the cemetery gets, and it will eliminate the paths across the property that developed over the years.
On Wednesday (September 5th), a Grand Re-opening ceremony was held. There wasn’t much promotion about the event, so the turnout was quite small.
The Yukon’s Member of Parliament, Larry Bagnell, was the first speaker at the ceremony.
Gordon Steele (seen in the photo) and the late Grant Lundy, both of the Yukon Order of Pioneers, put countless hours into this project since planning began.
Helmer Hermanson of the RCMP Veterans Association is another of the primary drivers behind the renovation. “Respect” was a word heard many times during the presentations. The respect that had been lost by neglect of the cemetery, and the respect that has returned.
The ceremony was short and to the point, and soon the ribbon was cut. While there is still a lot of work to do, this is a project that everyone involved can be proud of.
After the opening ceremony, tours of the cemetery were led. I went with consultant Ian Robertson, who showed his group some of the headstones that he found most interesting in various ways.
Now, we as a community have hundreds of grave sites to try to identify. Anyone with early photos of the cemetery can help fill in those blanks. In 1949, Robert Allen Burnside died the day after his 13th birthday. A cousin, Patty Hannah-Miller, sent me this photo of his grave, taken shortly after the headboard and surround were erected – there is no marker on the grave now. Several other photos and other information about people buried in the cemetery have been posted in my Yukon History & Abandoned Places group at Facebook, adding more pieces to the puzzle.
In some cases, even headstones present mysteries. An example is the one in the next photo, which just has the initials “IKG” carved in it. I haven’t found any name of my list of burials that matches those initials.
At the end of the war, all the men that had been buried in the United States Military Cemetery were moved to the States, and that ground is now the location of the new entrance. But at the lower left of the next photo is the grave of Max Cyr. He now has a headstone located some 60-70 meters away from that spot, and so far we have no answer as to how that can be.
My part of the project is now primarily posting all of the photos I shot of the existing grave markers, on my Pioneer Cemetery pages. That will take 40-50 hours. I hope that I’m not yet finished with the motorhome for this season, though, and in 5 days I’m flying to Vancouver for the 50th anniversary reunion of my high school class, so I have a very busy month or so ahead.
On Friday (August 24th), I drove to Skagway and back to pick up a couple of things I had ordered online. The weather turned to be better than I had expected, but the light was quite flat and I didn’t take many scenic photos.
I planned to go to Dyea so it would be a rather long day. I borrowed Cathy’s Jeep so Bella and Tucker would be more comfortable, and left the house at 08:40. Twenty minutes later when I took the first photo, we were well down the South Klondike Highway.
The new highway bridge over the Nares River at Carcross is coming along nicely. The contract was won by Ruskin Construction Ltd. of Prince George, a company very experienced in bridge building. The $12,662,494 job was started in about March this year, and will take 2 years to complete.
To get the shot of the bridge, I drove up what was essentially my driveway for many years. It was my driveway in the sense that I maintained the one-kilometer-long road year-round, and it was rarely used by anyone else. It had been a few years since I’d been on it – it was an odd feeling. My cabin at Carcross was a very important part of my life for 20 years. A few weeks ago I sold the pickup that was an integral part of my cabin life, so I guess that chapter is now closed.
I was really happy to see that the Windy Arm wildfire was very quiet despite a strong wind and no rain. I climbed up above the Bove Island viewpoint to get the next photo.
At its southern extent, the Windy Arm fire is into a large area with no continuous paths of spruce or pine trees. With the prevailing being from the south, it should burn out soon now.
On Wednesday, I had driven down just before sunset to see the fire, and got a lot of pretty cool images that show the flames much better than daylight photos do.
It was a pretty quiet day in Skagway, with chilly weather and only 2 cruise ships in. Sometimes when I’m there I get the urge to cruise again, but only Carnival and Norwegian were there and I wouldn’t sail with either again (the food on Norwegian was awful, and everything about the Carnival experience was awful). The next photo shows the Carnival Legend berthed at the Railroad Dock.
I expected that over the past winter the White Pass would deal with the increasingly unstable rockslide area above the Railroad Dock. A massive rock at the top is a disaster waiting to happen – small stuff coming down has already damaged the dock at least twice. A lot of work of some sort was done last winter, but the big rock is still up there.
Neither Bella nor Tucker are big fans of walking across bridges or out on docks. Although the didn’t fight me going on, when I turned around they were anxious to get back to solid ground 🙂
An interesting vessel, the Arctic Wolf, has been docked in Skagway for a few weeks. Ocean Explorers, who used her as a research vessel, says about her: “Developed by Henry Tomingas as a multipurpose, shallow draft, ice strengthened landing craft. As a geophysical or geotechnical research platform 1994-2005 the USA Arctic Wolf has an aft covered deck, helideck, an open archway, a moon pool, and a four point anchoring system. As a supply vessel or tug, the Arctic Wolf is equipped with with a bow mounted ramp and a deck crane to facilitate cargo transfer and pushing knees to engage cargo barges. The comfortable staterooms accommodate 24 persons.” They also say that she’s no longer in service, so I’m curious about why she’s here.
The next photo looks down Broadway to the Norwegian Jewel, at 200mm. It’s a rather cliched Skagway shot now, but I still like doing them.
Playing on the beach at Dyea was meant to be a big part of the day, but neither of the kids was into it for some reason. When it started raining a bit, Bella went back to the Jeep and asked to get in. A few minutes later, a heavy storm hit.
A horse excursion in heavy rain. Is that the part where they’re having fun? Yuck!
The Dyea Road in the rain.
Driving north of the South Klondike Highway. A couple of minutes later, we were in the clouds, and visibility was as low as about 100 feet until we got over the summit.
I got home at about 4:30. As I write this on Sunday morning I’m watching for decent weather to return, but don’t have any solid plans for the next outing. Fresh snow fell on the mountain-tops west of Whitehorse yesterday, so I’m running out of time to get back into the high country.
My one hike of the Discovery Day long weekend was a short one on Sunday morning, 2½ hours up spectacular Williscroft Canyon and back. Williscroft Creek flows into Kluane Lake just below Km 1657.8 of the Alaska Highway, where it flows through a culvert.
I had posted on a Facebook hiking group I belong to that I was going to be at the trailhead at 10:00. Even though nobody had responded, I was. You can drive a few hundred meters up from the Alaska Highway, passing a gravel pit along the way.
Although you can drive another few hundred meters, the parking is much better where I stopped alongside the berm built to contain the creek at its lower levels. I read at YukonHiking.ca that hikers “should expect to be crossing the creek multiple times.” Not knowing exactly what that meant, I left Bella and Tucker with Cathy at the Congdon Creek Campground.
I left the car at 10:10 The hike begins along the berm. All of the creeks along Kluane Lake have been directed this way – some for several kilometers, right back to the canyons they flow out of.
I was surprised to see a section of the Haines-Fairbanks Pipeline still in place – I thought it had all been removed. This pipeline was a Cold War era project operated by the U.S. Army from 1955 to 1973. The 8-inch diameter pipeline transported fuel from a deep-water port at Haines to Fort Greely, Eielson Air Force Base, and Ladd Air Force Base.
At 10:20, I began to enter the canyon. I had passed a couple wallking along the highway with their dog. When I saw that they were following me up the creek, I stopped to talk to them, and was very pleased to find that it was 2 friends from Whitehorse who had seen my note on the hiking group. They were camping at the Cottonwood RV Park and Campground on the lake immediately north of Williscroft Creek.
The water level was very low so creek crossings were easy. While Kevin and Rebelanne were wearing boots and had to find rocks to get across on, I could just walk through 🙂
Looking back at Kluane Lake at 10:35.
I was very impressed by the canyon, with towering, complex walls and some great colours in the rocks, from oranges to greens. The geology of this region isn’t well understood yet. Following 6 summers of study, the Yukon Geological Survey is currently writing a report to finalize the Kluane Ranges Bedrock Mapping project. Part of the complexity of Williscroft Canyon is due to the fact that the active Denali Fault runs across it at about the point where the next photo was shot.
By 10:40 we were into very deep shadows and I shot many of the photos from there on as HDRIs to bring out the details in both the lighted and shadowed areas.
I had also switched to my 10-18mm lens upon entering the canyon – my standard 24-105mm lens wasn’t nearly wide enough to capture it all. The next photo was shot at 10mm.
The further up the canyon you go, the more impressive it is.
I’d like to see Williscroft Canyon at a much higher water level in the spring. It must be even more spectacular, especially at spots like this where the creek runs right against a cliff.
Although this looks like a hoodoo – an erosion pillar – I don’t think it is technically, because it appears to be solid rock rather than gravel and rocks.
At this point in the heart of Williscroft Canyon, we were 45 minutes from my car.
Nearing the end of the hikeable part of the canyon, the creek gets steeper and the rocks a bit more challenging to navigate.
The end of the hike, exactly an hour from the car. Here, a boulder is jammed in a very narrow section of the canyon. You could easily get under it, but a small waterfall immediately behind may block further access anyway.
With canyoneering gear – especially a wetsuit – continuing further might be quite an adventure. The next photo was shot with my camera on a tripod and set to take a shot in 10 seconds. Hit the shutter, move fast, and then look calm 🙂
When I saw Kevin shooting a video, I was reminded that waterfalls are best recorded on videos.
It’s a very powerful location.
I started to leave 3 or 4 times, then was drawn back to the boulder. Kevin seemed to be having the same problem leaving.
Just before 11:30, we did start hiking out. We soon ran into some fairly fresh grizzly scat – perhaps from the previous day. The apparently large bear seems to have been having a good feast of raspberries.
There may be a good walk along the top of the canyon as well – a faint trail leads off that way from near the start of the canyon. It could be just a game trail, though.
Almost back at the bottom of the canyon, right at noon.
While my friends walked back to Cottonwood, I followed Williscroft Creek down to the lake in the Tracker and on foot. The next photo looks back up the creek to the Alaska Highway and the canyon.
I had brought my kayak with me, but a strong wind blew all weekend so it never got taken off the Tracker.
Back at Congdon Creek Campground, our relaxing weekend continued. Dinner that night was simple – Whitehorse-made bison smokies cooked over the campfire.
Although Tucker normally gets the prized position on my lap in front of a campfire, it was Molly’s turn that evening. She thinks that the RV/camping life is about the best life a cat could have. What a love she is.
Tucker was happy to cuddle up with his big sister at the edge of the campsite.
On Monday, the weather went sour despite a good forecast. I had planned on staying for another few days to do some more hiking either in Kluane or at the Haines Summit, but I led Cathy home instead, with a stop in Haines Junction for dinner.
The Mile 1016 Pub turned out to be a particularly good stop. Not only was their Damn Good Burger aptly named, we met my long-time friend Ollie Worth, legendary owner of the Burwash Landing Lodge, as we were leaving, and had a great chat. That really finished off my weekend in a fine way 🙂
Although we planned our long weekend at Kluane Lake to be a relaxing one, we decided on Saturday to drive to Cultus Lake, on the opposite side of the lake from our campground. I discovered in 2016 that the lowering of Kluane Lake had resulted in what had been Cultus Bay being separated from Kluane, becoming Cultus Lake. After going there twice then, I posted a detailed guide to what I call the Kluane North Road.
The first photo shows the view from Km 1.4 of the Kluane North Road, looking to the west, towards Kluane Lake.
Despite the plan when we bought it, Cathy’s Jeep rarely gets used off-road. It’s quite a different experience from driving it in the old Tracker!
The lovely emerald lake seen below at Km 7.0 deserves a name, but doesn’t have one on the maps. Some day I’ll meet a local who knows what the map doesn’t.
High above Kluane Lake at Km 13.0. On a long weekend, I expected that we’d meet other vehicles on this one-lane road, but we only met two right at the end of the drive out, and those were both met at rare wide spots where passing was easy.
What an incredibly beautiful place this is. That’s Kluane Lake, seen from Km 17.0 – there’s easy vehicle/ATV access to that beach.
I was extremely surprised and disappointed to find that an artificial channel has been dug to re-join Cultus Lake to Kluane Lake. It’s resulted in the lowering of Cultus Lake by about 2 feet, destroying the shallow, gently-sloping beach that was fun to play in – now the steep drop-off into deep water is only a couple of feet from shore.
The new level of Cultus Lake. I can’t imagine why that channel was dug. Mother Nature had created a wonderful new lake, and the channel ruined it.
After a fairly short stay at the lake, we continued north on the road for a few miles. There are 2 more creeks to ford, and one was irresistible to me – I dropped Cathy off with the camera and backed up for a splash-run 🙂
The next photo shows the only camping spot that has developed along Cultus Lake (it seems to have been there for many years).
The small island below is one of at least two that have been created by the lowering of Kluane Lake.
This great switchback is at Km 5.2, the north side of the Little John Creek valley. Little John Creek is the second creek you ford on the drive in.
Christmas Creek is seen ahead – it’s the first and largest creek you ford on the drive in.
On the wy back to the campground, we stopped at the Sheep Mountain interpretive centre to see if any Dall sheep were visible. There were 11 sheep, but they were all just dots high on the mountain (often called “Dall dots” by tour guides 🙂 ) – the next photo was shot at 400mm with a 1.4 extender added, so 560mm.
I hadn’t gotten close to any bords with my new lens yet, but a raven at Sheep Mountain was very cooperative.
We noticed a bad smell in the Jeep, and soon realized that Bella had found something to rol in at Cultus Lake – bison dung, perhaps. Luckily, we had access to a really big bathtub back at the campground, and she got de-scented!
In the Yukon, the discovery of gold that led to the Klondike Gold Rush is celebrated by Discovery Day, a statutory holiday and long weekend. After discussing a few options, we eventually decided to go back to the Congdon Creek Campground on Kluane Lake for the long weekend – it’s our favourite campground overall.
One of the things that helped make Kluane Lake our destination was the weather forecast, even though it’s seldom accurate (and turned out once again not to be).
I decided that, given the great weather forecast, I’d stay beyond the weekend to do some hiking, perhaps at the Haines Summit. To make that possible, I’d take the motorhome and Tracker out early on Friday, and Cathy would drive her Jeep out when she got off work.
I left Whitehorse at about 12:30, and an hour later met this unfortunate semi on the Alaska Highway. He had pulled over too far onto the shoulder, and sunk in. He had apparently already hitchhiked to Haines Junction where he could get cell service and call for help – when Cathy came by, the truck was gone.
2:00 pm – I never tire of seeing those mountains getting closer.
I stopped at the Kluane Range Rest Area at Km 1566 to take this shot so I could post it on Facebook from Haines Junction. The message I posted with it was “In a few minutes I’ll be entering the dark zone for some hiking and bear-hunting. See you in a week or so 🙂 ”
We’re at the Congdon Creek Campground so often that it’s starting to feel like a second home 🙂 There were no lakefront sites available, but with a fairly strong wind blowing, that wasn’t a bad thing. I was soon set up in site #26 at the top of the forest loop.
By 4:00 Bella, Tucker, and I were on the beach. The dogs don’t much like the rocks in front of the campground, so I drove a mile west to where there’s plenty of sand to play on. A couple of guys were enjoying the beach on their ATVs, too.
Let ‘er rip!! Bella had no chance of catching Tucker, who had a particularly fine stick, apparently 🙂
We then took a slow drive back down the Alaska Highway in search of bears or anything else interesting. Seeing a Highways worker dealing with graffiti on a rock at Sheep Mountain, I stopped to talk to him. He said that in his 18 years working there, this was the first time the mountain has been tagged. “It’s usually just the outhouses.” I hope that the taggers break an axle in a pothole that this guy could have patched if he wasn’t dealing with this sort of stupidity.
Stopping at the historic Alex Fisher cabin, I was pleased to see that the sculpture by Kelly Wroot was still in place. The “Error” message glued to the computer screen that made the original message clear is now gone, though – it said “Error. Cultural Identity not found.”, with buttons for “Accept Change” and “Try again”.
This location at Slims River Flats made me think that the level of Kluane Lake is still dropping, though slightly – perhaps 6 inches.
The boat launch at Km 1651.9 now has the end of the concrete ramp well marked.
When I went by this RV boondocking at Horseshoe Bay the first time, a couple of people were swimming in the lake. I expect that it was a very short swim – Kluane Lake never warms up.
There’s not much left of Horseshoe Bay anymore.
Back at the campground, Cathy joined us just after 7:30. After a little break, we all went out bear-hunting.
At 9:00 pm, just a couple of kilometers east of the campground, we met a moose grazing willows along the side of the Alaska Highway. I took a couple of “insurance” shots with my regular 24-105mm lens in case she left, then switched to my new 100-400mm lens.
The next 3 photos were shot at 400, 312, and 286mm. I don’t recall ever seeing a moose stripping the leaves off willow branches the way she was. We spent quite a while with her, then returned to the campground and went to bed.
My first look at the Faro area and Drury Creek Campground in particular on July 26th caused me to cancel the Alaska part of the trip and return for a better look from August 2nd until the 6th. This post, the final one about the trip, describes some of what I saw in Faro during the return visit.
The first photo shows Mitchell Road, which runs 10 km to Faro, from Km 414.3 of the Robert Campbell Highway.
A scenic pond along Mitchell Road a few hundred meters from the Campbell Highway.
The extensive network of hiking and multi-use trails around Faro was a large part of what caused me to return. The first one that Tucker and I hiked was the short one to Van Gorder Falls. There are several possible access points to the trail, but I chose to park at the upper end of the John Connelly RV Park – from there, it’s 1.2 km to the waterfall.
The trail is described as being self-maintained, but it’s in generally excellent condition. Stairs and benches make some of the grades easier, and there are several interpretive panels. The feeling for the first part of the trail is rather unusual, as its route is along a light-industrial area and crosses a road.
Although the day was warming up in a hurry, the trail is mostly shaded.
Twenty minutes after leaving the campground, we arrived at the viewing deck high above Van Gorder Falls, which was named after Del Charles Van Gorder, a pioneer gold miner and trapper who later ran the Taylor & Drury trading post at Pelly Banks from 1910 until 1944 and then the company’s post at Ross River until 1949.
A closer look from the viewing deck. Although I like to get to the bottom of waterfalls whenever possible, I saw no way to get there.
Back in town, I drove around for a look. The population of Faro as of March 2018 was 415, so probably 80% of the buildings are empty. The condition of the buildings varies greatly – some look pretty good, others are derelict. Many are for sale – the Town has a page that lists all the properties for sale, at prices starting at $5,400 for a 3-unit townhouse building – yes, that’s $5,400 for the whole building. For $135,000, you can buy an operating bed-and-breakfast.
In part of the lower section of Faro, there’s quite a contrast between the single-family-home side of the street, almost fully occupied, and the apartment side of the street, fully abandoned except for one which has been turned into the Faro Studio Hotel.
Downtown Faro as I knew it 25 years ago is gone – the hotel burned and the commercial complex is all empty. I went back to the visitor centre to find out where the grocery store and liquor store are hidden now, to stock up before going back to the motorhome.
I did find one section of Faro that looks quite normal – that is, almost fully occupied. The single-family-home section on the uppermost part of town has a few homes for sale, but is in generally good condition.
From upper Faro, I headed into the wilderness to the east, to the Mount Mye Sheep Centre. It’s located 8 km up the Blind Creek Road, seen in the next photo.
Things were quiet at the Mount Mye Sheep Centre when I was there, but in a few weeks, Fannin sheep (or Fannin’s sheep) will be returning to the mountain slope it faces. At about the same time, thousands of sandhill cranes will be on their southward migration overhead. I will note here that, although the tourism page says: “Being in one of the most densely populated wildlife corridors, you will most likely encounter many species of wildlife during your visit in Faro”, I saw no animals larger than a squirrel during my 5 days in the area.
Back in Faro, here’s a look at the 9-hole golf course that runs through the middle of town. The level of maintenance of many spaces in Faro – notably the lawns and parks – is very high. Surprising given the fairly small tax base.
The 1960s Bombardier Muskeg in the photo below is sitting in front of what I think was a mechanical shop in the mine days. Posting this photo in my Yukon History & Abandoned Places group got the response that a couple are still working in the Klondike gold fields – a story and photos about one working on Stowe Creek in 1980-81 can be seen on Robin Trethewey’s Hotspring Lodge site.
I wanted to see more of the Faro Mine if possible, so the next trail on my list was the Moose Trail. The visitor centre has a handout about it, but its not very accurate. On my 3rd pass along the road near the possible starting point, I found the trailhead, an ATV trail at Km 15.9 of the mine road.
Seven minutes from the mine road, I could see what I expected was the mine’s haul road ahead.
The ATV trail provides easy access to the haul road.
The haul road is huge, and provided a useful view over the mine property. The ATV trail then goes down into the forest again, and eventually leads to the back side of Mount Mye. It looks like a superb ATV trip.
At 3:30, it was time to get my errands done and get back to Drury Creek Campground where Bella and Molly were waiting for Tucker and I. First, I found the liquor store in a cul-de-sac with the school and recreation centre (and an empty strip mall). Then, I topped up the Tracker’s gas tank – the gas station in the next photo has been a 24-hour cardlock but that system died back in May and is now manned during the day.
The tough business to find was the grocery store, even with directions. There’s no sign, and I eventually walked into what turned out to be the manager’s office. But I found what I wanted in a real old-time “if we don’t have it, you don’t need it” store 🙂
We’ve been back home for a few days now. This 13-night trip turned out to be very different than the one I had planned. The upper map of the 2 below shows the planned route, the lower one is the actual route as a result of cancelling Alaska in favour of Faro.
Not counting the well-stocked RV cupboards that I departed with, our total expenses were $1,592.28 – almost half of that was for fuel and much of the rest was for Cathy’s flights to and from Dawson. I paid for parking/camping for 1 night of the 13 – roadside stops and my Yukon Parks annual pass (which is free for Yukon seniors) covered the rest.
Fuel for the RV – 659.60
Fuel for the Tracker – 100.54
Camping (1 night in Carmacks) – 37.80
Sani-dump (1 in Dawson) – 5.00
Meals – 180.68 (118.38 of that was 1 meal in Dawson)
Groceries – 41.96
Wine, coolers – 34.70
Car wash – 22.00
Flights for Cathy – 510.00
With Fall having now arrived in Whitehorse (it was 1 degree below freezing yesterday morning), I’m running out of time for more exploring, but have a few ideas yet.
The final stop on our 14-day wander around the Yukon was Drury Creek Campground on Little Salmon Lake. We spent 4 nights there, from August 2nd until the 6th, and made a couple of drives to explore more of Faro, as well as shorter drives to explore other places.
Driving east on the Robert Campbell Highway from Carmacks, I was worried that things may have changed since my last visit to Drury Creek Campground, and we wouldn’t be able to get a good campsite. I was quite shocked to find the campground empty, except for one site, #10, the one I had camped at the week previous. While my initial plan had been to take site #10 again, site #8, the first one on the left in the first photo, looked great.
A soon as I parked the rig, I let Bella and Tucker out, and they were in the water immediately. The word “beach” gets Tucker excited, and his new-found excitement about water is fun to watch. By the time I had our campsite set up, Bella was the one still playing in the water.
I took the next photo with my phone so I could post it on Facebook when I went into Faro the next day.
Although it doesn’t look like it in the next photo, it was still very warm – probably about 26°C (79°F). Having a bit of cloud move in wasn’t unwelcome.
That afternoon, the dogs and I took a drive to see a couple of places further east along the highway. The first was a rest area at the junction of the highway and Mitchell Road, which leads to Faro.
Then we drove 5 km back to the Fisheye Lake recreation area.
Fisheye Lake with its dock, change rooms, outhouses, and small sandy beach, looked like a nice place to spend a hot day. There apparently used to be a campground here, though I couldn’t find where it was.
Looking back at the beach and changing-house from the end of the dock. The small waves were making the dock rock enough that neither Bella or Tucker were very happy about being asked to go out on it.
Up the road from the beach, a sign pointed down to a boat launch and picnic area. Like some other lakes I saw in the region, Fisheye Lake was much higher than normal, and access to the picnic area was underwater.
Back on the beach at Drury Creek Campground at 5:40 pm.
The view down Little Salmon Lake from the beach in front of my campsite.
By 8:00 pm, smoke from one or more of the wildfires burning moved in and added some colour to the sky.
Tucker and I spent much of Friday, August 3rd, exploring more of Faro, but I’ll tell you about that in my next and final post about this trip. As I got near the campground that evening, wildfire smoke appeared again, and by the time I got to the campground at 5:40 pm, it was scary thick. I sent Cathy a text via the satellite capabilities of my inReach – she checked the fire reports and replied that she couldn’t see anything in our area.
When Tucker and I went to Faro, Bella and Molly had gotten left behind in the motorhome because of the heat. Bella was happy to get back onto the beach when we returned.
After she got off work Friday evening, Cathy made the 297-km, 3½-hour drive north to join us. We were treated to a very colourful sunset – the next photo was shot at 9:10 pm.
On Saturday morning, the wildfire smoke had cleared, and there were some very interesting clouds to the east.
Cathy and I went into Faro for a look around on Saturday, but it was mostly a quiet day of just enjoying this wonderful place, and playing with the dogs. The lake was warm enough that I even went swimming. Having seen the photo I posted on Facebook, a friend from Whitehorse drove her motorhome up, and was able to get campsite #9 beside us.
After dinner, 4 loons joined us.
By 9:00 pm it had gotten windy and started raining, so we moved inside the RV.
Bella was okay with moving inside – it was past her preferred bedtime anyway 🙂
The weather had improved on Sunday morning – the next photo shows what our combined campsite looked like.
Cathy and I drove down to the Little Salmon Lake Campground for a look. As it had been when I was there a week previous, it was quite busy. Well, it was quite busy by Yukon standards! 🙂 The Drury Creek Campground was a better choice for us.
Cathy had to return to Whitehorse Sunday evening, and after she left, the rain returned. For a while, it came down in buckets!
On Monday morning, it was still raining. Shortly after breakfast, I started back towards Whitehorse, while our friend planned to move to Faro to camp for another day or two.
My plan had been to explore the Frenchman Lake Road and see the 3 campgrounds along it. I stopped at the Columbian Disaster rest area and unhooked the Tracker to do that, but as I was loading dogs and gear, the rain got heavier. I decided to wait for a while and see if it improved, but by noon I had given up and was heading for home. The final photo was shot on the Robert Campbell Highway as we neared Carmacks.