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.
Day 9 of this RV trip – Wednesday, August 1st – was spent on a 50-kilometer detour to see remote Ethel Lake Campground, after which I went to a full-service RV park at Carmacks so I could plug into electricity and have the air conditioners running to deal with the heat.
At the junction of the North Klondike Highway and the Ethel Lake Road, there’s a pullout with plenty of room to park the motorhome and unhook the Tracker for the drive in. I had little idea of what to expect except that all the information I’d seen said that it wasn’t suitable for large vehicles. Among the warning signs at the start of the road is the one seen below: “Caution – narrow, winding road next 24 km”.
I found the road to be better than what the signs led me to believe, though some of the hills clearly got very bad in wet weather. Much of the road, though, just wanders up and down through the forest, with occasional broader views.
The final 5 km of so was the worst part of the road, with some very steep and very soft sections, including the water damage seen in the next photo.
Nearing the lake, I discovered that there are quite a few First Nations cabins at Ethel Lake. I expect that none are permanent residences. The sign at this junction reads: “Welcome to Ethel Lake. This lake is very important to the Nacho Nyäk Dun, both spiritually and for food. Please respect this lake and its surroundings.”
Here’s an aerial view of the road and Ethel Lake area. Click on the image to open an interactive map.
The campground is set up in a single line along the lakeshore, with a turnaround loop at the east end.
The campground contains the usual amenities, including this picnic shelter.
The boat launch ramp is in pretty good condition – certainly good enough for the size of boats that will be towed in over that road.
All of the 10 spacious sites are back-in.
The only RV there was a rental pickup/camper rig.
Ethel Lake is a conservation water – the daily catch and possession limits are 2 lake trout, 4 Arctic grayling, and 4 pike.
We didn’t stay at Ethel Lake very long – my curiosity had been satisfied, and it was so hot that Bella wasn’t interested in playing with Tucker, even in the water. The drive back to the highway reaffirmed my initial thoughts that although I could get the motorhome to Ethel Lake, I probably never will. When I worked for the Canadian Army, I drove a semi loaded with a tank (the armoured kind, not the fuel/water kind) on worse roads than that, but as I don’t fish, Ethel Lake just isn’t reason enough to take the motorhome in.
Back on the highway with the Tracker in tow, I stopped at Pelly Crossing for a while to do a basic cleaning of the motorhome and Tracker at a new car wash there. The wet calcium chloride I picked up a coating of on the Dempster Highway is nasty stuff once it dries, and I couldn’t touch anything without getting dirty. It was a well-spent $22.
My day went sour shortly after leaving Pelly Crossing. A white pickup towing 6 red canoes, heading north near Minto, was doing 100+ in an area posted at 70 because of the loose gravel, where responsible drivers slow to 50-60 when meeting other vehicles. The rock his vehicle tossed into my windshield cost me $2,400.
I had thought that we would camp overnight at the Tatchun Creek Campground, but it was too hot. I decided that we needed a full-service RV park, so checked in at the Carmacks Hotel RV Park. The Environment Canada report said that Carmacks was the hot spot in the Yukon at 5:00 pm, at 29.9°C / 85.8°F. With all the RVs running all of their air conditioners, the power blew shortly after I arrived, but the maintenance guy had us back online within about 15 minutes.
The riverfront boardwalk at Carmacks is a lovely walk, but our walk soon after arriving was a very short one.
With the sun setting at 10:15, it was cooling off enough to go for a longer walk along the river.
The next day, we’d head east on the Robert Campbell Highway, back to Drury Creek Campground.
On Day 8 of this RV trip – Tuesday, July 31st – I left the Dawson airport at about 4:20 pm after dropping Cathy off so she could fly home. I was heading back to the Robert Campbell Highway for some more exploring, and the first stop on the way would be at Moose Creek Campground that evening.
Thirty minutes south of the airport, I came to the first section of construction. Automation is even replacing flagpeople. This was a short delay.
Another section of construction an hour south of the airport resulted in a much longer delay – about 15 minutes.
I was hoping to have dinner at Moose Creek Lodge, but I got there at 6:00 and they were closed – breakfast and lunch are the meals they focus on. So, I drove a few hundred meters back to Moose Creek Campground.
I was soon set up in site #15, a spacious, fairly level pull-through. Of the 36 campsites at Moose Creek, 4 are pull-throughs. We had hit about a dozen kilometers of freshly-laid calcium chloride on the Dempster Highway (for dust control), and the RV and Tracker were both thickly coated in the stuff. Once we reached the airport, I threw a few buckets of water on the back of the motorhome to clear my camera so I could see the Tracker again.
At site #15, the picnic table and firepit are below the parking area, while at most they’re on the same level.
Moose Creek Campground is very nice but gets little use. There were about 10 sites occupied that night.
Bella and Tucker and I went for a couple of long walks around the campground the evening we arrived, then the next morning, hiked for about 3 kilometers on a network of interpretive trails that go along Moose Creek as far as the Stewart River, and along a ridge above the creek.
The set of stairs in the next photo takes hikers from the campground level down to Moose Creek, where the Moose Creek Loop trail leads around and back up onto the ridge and campground level.
Moose Creek wasn’t suitable for the dogs to play in.
“Ponds and pools of water collect on the surface in this area because of underlying permafrost. This provides excellent habitat for mosquitoes.” The mosquitoes were quite bad, but not terrible – certainly not bad enough to reduce our enjoyment of the hike.
The interpretive panel seen in the next photo describes some of the bird sounds you may hear along the trail.
Once back up on the campground level, the “Upper Ridge” trail runs along the top of a steep slope for a few hundred meters.
After the hike, I got the fur-kids breakfast, and then got the rig set up for the short drive back to Moose Creek Lodge where I wanted to have breakfast.
Moose Creek Lodge has been a regular stop for me since I arrived in the Yukon – both with my tour buses and when I was travelling independently. The owner, Maja Nafzger, has been my friend for many years, and having a brief visit with her is part of the reason I stop.
This morning, a hearty breakfast was the proper way to start off what promised to be a busy day.
The next photo shows the view to the north on the North Klondike Highway from the lodge as I was about to head south at 10:00.
A few minutes later, I’d unhook the Tracker and head in to remote Ethel Lake Campground.
We had a short day available at the Tombstone Mountain Campground on Day 8 of this RV trip – Tuesday, July 31st. We had to leave by about 2:00 pm to get Cathy to the Dawson airport, but that gave me just enough time for another short hike, down into the Lil Creek Canyon just north of the campground.
I left the campground just after 10:30, and my first stop was just 2 kilometers up the Dempster Highway, at the Tombstone Range viewpoint, Km 74.0.
I climbed up above the viewpoint for most of the photos I shot there. The next photo looks back to the south – the campground is in the centre.
The next photo is a fairly radical HDR image of the scene at the Tombstone viewpoint, making it look rather like a painting.
The next photo looks to the north over Lil Creek Canyon, from about Km 75.
Going back 20-30 years when I was fairly regularly running tours up the Dempster Highway to Inuvik, Lil Creek was a common stop of interest in my early-season tours, as deep ice forms on the upstream side of the highway (seen in the next photo), and the ice canyons that form in the spring were a unique attraction for many of my guests.
The view down Lil Creek from the highway.
All along the edge of the highway at the Lil Creek crossing were the distinctive tracks of caribou.
The next photo shows a caribou leg at the Tombstone Interpretive Centre. You can see the structure that makes the tracks so distinctive. The ankle also makes a distinctive “click” when the caribou walks.
At 11:00, I was down on the creek bed. The large lower culvert handles the normal flow of Lil Creek, while the smaller, higher one takes the water flowing over the ice buildup each spring.
Just downstream from the highway, an unnamed creek about the same size as Lil Creek enters from the north.
At the flow levels during my hike, the two creeks took quite a distance to fully join.
This was definitely a hike for water shoes – crossing the many creek channels and even walking down them wasn’t optional.
After finding the previous day that all of the usual ice on the North Klondike River had melted, I had no expectation of finding any on Lil Creek, but soon encountered a few small accumulations of it.
I thought that encountering caribou and grizzly were fairly strong possibilities in the canyon, and a can of bear spray was in a pocket right at my right hand.
According to the Yukon Bedrock Geology map, this section of Lil Creek cuts through the Road River group which is comprised of black shale and chert, dolomitic siltstone, calcareous shale, and buff platy limestone. It formed during the Ordovician period about 488 million years ago, when this area was covered by a warm, shallow sea.
The canyon gets particularly interesting when you reach two faults and intrusions of the older Narchilla formation, comprised of interbedded maroon and apple-green slate, siltstone, sandstone. This formation formed during the Ediacaran period about 550 million years ago.
The colours in the rocks of the second Narchilla-formation intrusion are even more dramatic and richer.
Now that I’m home and can do some research, I really want to hike the canyon with a geologist. While I can get the basics, there are no doubt some fascinating stories in those layers.
Just thirty minutes from when I first got my feet wet with Lil Creek water, I had almost reached the point where I had decided before starting that I would stop.
Once thick vegetation reduced the sight-lines to a few meters, it was time to focus on the area upstream for the short time I had available. The view beyond was intriguing, though – next time! 🙂
The maroon sandstone here had a great deal of variety. Some layers were cardboard-thin, and the entire layer had grey-blue sandstone intruding in many places.
It amazes me that some plants can gain a foothold in places like this, with no perceptible soil and an extremely harsh climate.
The next photo shows a broader view of the grey-blue and maroon sandstone together.
A closer look.
And there’s some lovely design work by Mother Nature.
At 11:40, I began walking back up the creek.
I got distracted by more photo ops, though. Here’s the maroon sandstone part of the wall of Lil Creek Canyon, as seen with a Lensball.
I wondered what this would look like on a wet day, so splashed some water on the sandstone. A day with light rain might have some pretty amazing photographic possibilities.
There are some large granite boulders that don’t fit into the geology narrative that I have so far, which is entirely sedimentary.
Almost back to the car, at 12:10. That hour and 10 minutes had proved to be even more interesting than I had expected. I wonder how many other people think about what this creek is like up close as they drive by…
Back on the highway, this view into Lil Creek made more sense to me. Below the area of vegetation where I stopped, there’s another colourful intrusion that will make a longer hike worthwhile, perhaps next year during my drive to Tuktoyaktuk.
I had just enough time left for a quick look at the Tombstone Interpretive Centre, to see if there was anything new. There wasn’t, but I re-read many of the panels.
The Friends of Dempster Country had set up a “lemonade stand” in the interpretive centre. One was iced Labrador tea, and the other was infused water with fireweed and yarrow. I hadn’t brought any money with me, so can’t tell you what either tasted like.
Back at the campground, it was a little after 2:00 pm by the time we had lunch and got ready to go. That got us to the Dawson airport in good time for Cathy’s flight back to Whitehorse. Unfortunately her plane was again delayed (for an hour this time, they said), but it was too hot to wait and I wanted to get to Moose Creek Lodge for dinner, so I headed south at 4:20.
On Day 7 of this RV trip – Monday, July 30 – the main activity of the day, following my hike on the North Klondike River Trail, was driving up the Dempster Highway about 50 kilometers. While we just poked slowly along looking for wildlife or anything else that might be of interest, the main focus was a spot on the Blackstone River that’s great for playing with the dogs.
The light wasn’t particularly good for photos for a while after we left the campground just before 11:30, but most of the clouds cleared north of North Form Pass. After going past the little lake in the first photo, I stopped, backed up, and walked a way to get a few shots. The Arctic cottongrass (Eriophorum callitrix) was the feature that made it special for me – it’s one of my favourite northern plants, and it doesn’t grow in very many places that we travel.
The section of the Dempster Highway that we drove was in generally good condition, but the gravel on some parts was loose. When I saw a fuel tanker coming across one of those loose, rock-spraying sections, I just pulled over and let him go by.
The place I had in mind to play was a short stretch of the Blackstone River where it changes from a narrow channel to a broad braided stream. That’s at about Km 120 (the campground is at Km 71.5).
The next photo shows the view north on the Dempster Highway at the same spot as the photo of the Blackstone River above.
Even beyond the dog-play options, this is a particularly beautiful stretch of the Blackstone, especially with the Arctic cottongrass at its peak.
As soon as we got beyond the big rocks, the kids were in! Most of the riverbed varied from fine gravel to soft mud – with shallow water, a perfect playground.
As he often does, Tucker set up a racetrack that Bella was supposed to chase him on. She gave it a good try, but he’s extremely fast 🙂
Tucker just discovered a week previous that in the right conditions, he loves playing in the water. The Blackstone River had those conditions, and he had a ball, in deeper and deeper water.
Turning away from dogs, this is a particularly beautiful section of the river. This was the view looking upstream (to the south).
The kids and I could have stayed there for hours, but the big rocks between the car and the water were too much for Cathy’s bum knee and she had to return to the Tracker to wait. So when Bella and Tucker tired out, instead of laying in the sun savouring this incredible world, we returned to the car.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a vast expanse of Arctic cottongrass. Have I mentioned how much I love that plant? 🙂
The mountains along the Dempster are mostly quite similar, but two of them are studded with amazing jagged outcroppings. I’d like to climb up for a closer look, but the brush between the highway and those open slopes is quite ugly. Maybe some day…
Back at the campground, we had an enjoyable evening just soaking up the wonderful vibe of Tombstone Park.
Cathy rarely shows up in photos I post here, but that evening, she wanted a photo to send to her parents. There was certainly no better place to shoot it than at one of our favourite places in the Yukon.
Our time at Tombstone was short – the next afternoon, Cathy would fly home from Dawson and I’d head south again, towards Little Salmon Lake and Faro.