Fall colours, cemeteries, and the aurora borealis

This is always a crazy-busy time of year for me. That’s partially because there are a few projects that need to be done before it gets cold, and partially because I get a bit manic trying to fit in all the fun stuff as well. I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks because there just hasn’t been time! But yesterday was fun and interesting enough (to me at least) to tell you about it.

The day began with a drive to Skagway. The justification was to pick up the new 10-18mm lens that I’d ordered, primarily for shooting the aurora. The weather forecast called for clearing in the late morning. A couple of minutes after I shot the next photo just north of the White Pass summit, visibility dropped to a hundred meters/yards or so.

Driving the White Pass on the South Klondike Highway
A few days ago, I started work on adding the 3 Skagway cemeteries to my cemeteries project. After I picked the lens up at the post office, I decided to get some more photos for that project. I got kind of carried away, and ended up with 275 photos from the Pioneer Cemetery, and 185 of the current Skagway Cemetery! Two of the graves at the Skagway Cemetery have airplane propellers on them – this is the grave of Francis Steven Lewis (1914-1981).

The grave of Francis Steven Lewis (1914-1981) in the Skagway Cemetery
There are a few unmarked graves in the Skagway Cemetery, and many in the Pioneer Cemetery. On the left in the next photo is the grave of one-day-old Daniel Jacob Whitehead (1998), but the large one beside it is unmarked, though I assume that it is his mother. While many of the graves tell stories that are normal life-and-death, some are extremely sad.

Skagway Cemetery
I spent 45 minutes shooting there, then went back down the Dyea Road to the Pioneer Cemetery. It took me a while to figure out what the name of this cemetery is, as that name is sometimes used for what is actually the Gold Rush Cemetery. The Pioneer Cemetery is the middle one both in time and location – it was used from 1908 until 1974. Findagrave currently lists 253 interments, of which I’ve added a few over the past few days. The burial database quits in the middle of the letter “M”, though, and I expect that there are actually over 400 gravesites. Many of Skagway’s most influential pioneers are buried here.

The grave of Henry A. Dedman in Skagway
Two original White Pass & Yukon Route steam locomotive nameplates are mounted on graves at the Pioneer Cemetery. The nameplate for #59 is on the grave of Roy E. Gault (1879-1949). The locomotive, a 4-6-0, was purchased new in May 1900, and was retired and scrapped in 1941.

The nameplate for Baldwin locomotive #59 is on the grave of Roy E. Gault (1879-1949).

I spent almost an hour and a half at the Pioneer Cemetery, which wiped out my idea to have lunch before heading home. My car was in the shop and I had Cathy’s Jeep, so I had to get back to pick her up from work.

There must have been a lot of rain in Skagway in the past day or so, because all the waterfalls were in full flow. That, of course, stopped me a time or two – I love the combination of water and granite πŸ™‚

Waterfall along the South Klondike Highway near Skagway

Waterfall along the South Klondike Highway near Skagway
The new William Moore Bridge project is really taking shape now – the blasting and grading has it now looking pretty much the way it will when it’s finished.

The new William Moore Bridge project
Once back into the rain shadow, the drive home was beautiful. The next photo was shot along Tutshi Lake.

Tutshi Lake, South Klondike Highway
The Fall colours are well past peak but there are still some really bright spots along the highway.

Fall colours along the South Klondike Highway
The aurora forecast for last night was exceptionally good, and I was really excited to get out with the new lens. However, it didn’t turn out that way. I started at a small, remote subdivision high above Lake Laberge. It would have been a great shooting location except for the damn street lights. Street lights literally in the middle of nowhere. Yukoners need to get rid of this idea that having street lights everywhere makes us look modern. Think “dark skies” people, and embrace it.

Aurora borealis over Lake Laberge, Yukon
I quickly realized that my new lens was defective. It wouldn’t focus either in auto or manual mode – the focusing ring just spins freely.

Aurora borealis over Lake Laberge, Yukon
The aurora was so wonderful that I shot about 40 photos, hoping that the focus would be acceptable. It wasn’t, and I’ve deleted them all except for a couple as samples of the problem. It’s going back, but the reviews on the lens are so positive that I ordered another one first thing this morning.

Northern Lights over Lake Laberge, Yukon

Back to work now. I probably won’t talk to you again until next week, when I’ll be in Calgary visiting my kids and their families. Then the week after, Cathy and I will be in Ontario visiting her family.



A 6-hour Aurora Borealis hunt on the Tagish Loop

I hadn’t been out on a good aurora shoot in a very long time, mostly due to camera issues. I didn’t go out at all last winter (!), and the results from a 6-hour shoot a couple of nights ago were so poor that I’ve now ordered what I need to fix the problem.

The aurora forecast put out by the University of Alaska Fairbanks is my main source of inspiration to have a sleepless night, and the forecast for Wednesday night gave me extremely high hopes for a night of full-sky aurora. That’s not what happened, but it was a good night of scouting locations for future shoots along a 240-km (150-mi) route, primarily along what we call the Tagish Loop – from Whitehorse down the Alaska Highway to Jake’s Corner, returning along the Tagish Road and South Klondike Highway.

The aurora borealis forecast
I left the house just after 11:00 pm, and my first stop was the Lewes Dam on the Yukon River. Within a few minutes of arriving, the aurora show began, with a small arc along the northern horizon. Most people shooting the aurora seem to go for special effects, enhancing the colours and/or dramatically lightening them. I’m still old school – the photos I post show you what the Northern Lights actually look like.

The Northern Lights at the Lewes Dam
Continuing along the Alaska Highway, my next stop was at the M’Clintock River Bridge at Marsh Lake. I stayed there for a while, shooting both with and without traffic. Even this close to Whitehorse, very few vehicles are on the highway, and it takes a lot of patience to get one. I shot the next photo at 12:30 am. Noises in the bush here made me very nervous about bears and hurried my departure. With no snow on the ground, it’s very dark, and a headlamp is needed to move around.

The Northern Lights at the M'Clintock River Bridge, Alaska Highway
Because of the broad view, I had planned the Tagish Bridge to be one of my main shooting locations. The next photo was shot from the bridge at 1:47 am. During the 40 minutes or so that I was on the bridge, there was no traffic, no noise except a distant generator for a few minutes.

The Northern Lights from the Tagish Bridge, Yukon
I put myself in the next photo, shot a couple of minutes before 02:00. I was already getting very frustrated with getting far too many focus fails from the 18-200mm lens that is pretty much always on my Canon 7D. Too many as in about 90% – this lens just doesn’t want to manually focus.

Watching the Northern Lights from the Tagish Bridge
Next, I went to Carcross and then south along the South Klondike Highway to the Bove Island viewpoint. Well actually a bit north of the viewpoint, where trees are blocking the view too much now. Tourism or Highways really needs to do a bit of logging there. The next photo was shot at 02:45 – the moon had come up at about 12:45, just after I left the M’Clintock River Bridge.

The aurora borealis over Bove Island, Yukon

While I was at Bove Island, I could see a really strong auroral display in a narrow spot of sky to the north, just out of my photographable area. Timing and location have to come together for this to work. The 7 photos that I’m posting here were from the fairly brief strong displays that night, between which there were long periods of very faint aurora.

I stopped at Nares Lake on the way north, and met several young people from Skagway. Some were seasonals and had never seen the aurora before. With the border closed for another 5 hours or so, they were headed to Whitehorse next, for a very-early breakfast at MacDonald’s πŸ™‚

I spent quite a while on the beach at Carcross, but got nothing usable. It was a gorgeous night, though, with Lake Bennett calm and amazing stars – the Milky Way was as clear as I’ve ever seen it. I tried to get some star photos but none focussed properly.

Northbound towards home, I stopped at the Emerald Lake viewpoint to have a nap, but as soon as I got settled, the aurora burst into life again, so I moved down to the shore of the lake. Emerald Lake is the most-photographed lake in the Yukon, but it doesn’t look like this in many photos. It was now 04:20.

The aurora borealis over Emerald Lake, Yukon
The final photo was shot from the Emerald Lake viewpoint, at 04:30.

The aurora borealis

I went to bed for a couple of hours as soon as I got home just after 05:00. When I got up, the first thing I did was go through my photos. Seeing the number of focus fails, I then logged on to my Amazon account and bought a better aurora lens. A Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM lens is now on the way, and I expect to be doing many more aurora hunts this coming winter.
[Edit: it turned out that the Canon STM lenses are not suitable for night-sky photography, and I’ve now ordered a Rokinon 10mm F2.8 ED lens]



Photographing Fall colours and Dall sheep at Paddy Peak, BC

Yesterday wasn’t a great day weather-wise, but a photographer from Kelowna and I had a great day photography-wise in one of the most spectacular spots that you can reach on a day-trip from Whitehorse – Paddy Peak.

When we headed south from Whitehorse, I wasn’t certain that we’d be able to drive to the plateau below the peak. It had been 4 years since I’d been up there, and I’d heard that a tour company from Skagway has done a lot of damage to the road with ATVs. For more information about Paddy Peak, see my blog posts from 2 trips in 2013, on August 13th and August 14th.

A friend of mine from high school had introduced Linda Quon and I a few months ago, so we could go shooting while Linda was in the Yukon on business. Once I saw her Web site, Foilan’s Photography, I knew that it was a good match, and I hoped that Paddy Peak would work for us.

Linda was at my house well before our arranged 09:00 time, and we were almost at Carcross by 09:15. The Fall colours are near peak this week, and we made a few stops along the South Klondike Highway.

Fall colours along the South Klondike Highway
The weather forecast had actually been reasonably good, but although we saw some brief signs that the clouds might part as we continued south, it didn’t happen.

Fall colours along the South Klondike Highway
We had a look around Carcross and stopped for coffee, but by 10:30, were well up the road to Paddy Peak, which meets the South Klondike Highway 11 km south of the Yukon/BC border. I was very quickly glad that I had taken the Tracker instead of Cathy’s new Jeep as she suggested a couple of times. The road is very narrow and bushes brush the car in a few places – a few more scratches on the Tracker just don’t matter.

The road to Paddy Peak, BC
I had come prepared to move some rocks for the creek crossing if necessary, but we got across with no problem, though the far side takes a lot of care to not bottom out on large immovable rocks.

Creek crossing on the road to Paddy Peak, BC
The old mining camps provided a good opportunity to explain a bit about the mining that caused the road to be built. The drill cores that are scattered around probably cost over a million dollars to gather, and can be a valuable resource. Once the cores are spilled out of their coded boxes, though, they’re worthless. In Whitehorse, the H.S. Bostock Core Library houses drill cores and rock samples from some Yukon properties, so that they’re always available for research.

Drill core boxes
The reds, in this case the reds of the fireweed, prompted a few photo stops.

Fireweed in the Fall
The road was pretty bad, but the Tracker did her usual amazing job of getting us to the top. Conditions up top weren’t very good, though, with clouds, some misty rain, and an icy wind. But, finding a band of 9 Dall sheep (Ovis dalli) while wandering the old mining roads immediately removed any thoughts about weather πŸ™‚

Dall sheep (Ovis dalli) near Paddy Peak, BC
Linda got a few “insurance” shots with her 700mm lens (500mm with a 1.4 extender), then starting walking down the road towards the sheep. I let her get far ahead, and then cautiously moved the car closer.

Linda Quon photographing Dall sheep in northern BC
Here’s a broad view of the plateau, looking away from the ridge that the sheep were on. Pretty awesome country, even in this weather. Below the distant ridge is Lake Bennett, well hidden by low clouds.

Chevy Tracker in the high alpine in northern BC
I was getting quite close with my 200mm lens, and the sheep weren’t bothered by our presence at all. Then Linda asked if I wanted to use her 700mm. I only said “no” once πŸ™‚

Dall sheep (Ovis dalli) near Paddy Peak, BC
Oh my! I could sure get used to having a lens like that available.

Dall sheep (Ovis dalli) near Paddy Peak, BC
Getting right up close and personal for a few minutes was wonderful. It’s pretty incredible to be able to get as close as we did and have the sheep express curiosity, not fear. Then the sheep moved behind a ridge, and we retraced our route back to a point where we could get to the unnamed glacier that is the most unique feature up here.

Dall sheep (Ovis dalli) near Paddy Peak, BC
With as many mining roads as there are up there, I’m really upset that BC Environment is allowing the tour company to tear up the tundra creating even more with their ATVs. Multiple complaints to the department by at least 2 people have had no result.

New road created by ATVs below Paddy Peak.
The glacier and its lake are so well hidden below Paddy Peak that some people may come up and never know that they left without seeing it.

Glacier below Paddy Peak
The tour company has even spray-painted rocks to guide people towards the glacier! Grrrr……

Glacier below Paddy Peak
Just after 12:30, we started down from the glacier. Another larger band of sheep was grazing in a patch of sunshine on the far side of the plateau, but much closer to the road, the 9 that we’d spent time with earlier were climbing up another road that’s not accessible to most vehicles due to a very rough and deep creek crossing.

Dall sheep below Paddy Peak
A glacial cirque at the head of this valley holds a lovely small lake that I took a brief swim in on my last visit.

A glacial cirque below Paddy Peak, BC
While Linda spent more time photographing sheep, I focussed mostly on the colours and patterns at my feet.

Tundra plants in the Fall
At 1:15, we started back down the steepest part of the road. It doesn’t seem steep in photographs, but it’s steep and loose enough that friends with dirt bikes have twice been unable to climb it this summer. It’s pretty much right at the limit of what the Tracker can handle.

Old mining road leading down from Paddy Peak, BC
One of the colourful slopes above the road.

Fall colours in northern BC
Yes, this is pretty incredible country, and it’s only an hour and a half from Whitehorse.

Fall colours in northern BC
I stopped at Pooley Canyon, and we climbed a ridge to get a look at the waterfall that prevents hiking up the canyon to the 1906 Vault mine.

Pooley Canyon, Yukon
A closer look at the waterfall. There are often mountain goats on the cliffs here, but there were none this day. Just to the south a few hundred meters, there were a few more sheep, though.

Waterfall in Pooley Canyon, Yukon
A look back at the 1912 mill for the Venus silver mine, located on Montana Mountain far above it.

The 1912 mill for the Venus silver mine
I wasn’t finished showing Linda my world, so the historic Conrad townsite was the next stop. It was the service centre for the 1905-1906 silver mines including the Venus and Vault. The first photos show the Conrad Mines dock and the terminal for the largest of the aerial tramways.

Conrad Mines dock and aerial tramway terminal
There were lots of brilliant colours at Conrad, along the roads, the beach, and through the townsite.

Fall colours at Conrad, Yukon

Fall colours at Conrad, Yukon
One of the two remaining buildings has been stabilized, but the largest one, probably a store, may be beyond saving without a huge investment.

Collapsed building at Conrad, Yukon
The walk back to the car. Once a popular campsite, the Conrad townsite is now gated off and an official campground has been built beside it.

Fall colours along the road into Conrad, Yukon
It looked like a spot of sunshine was going to pass by as we were overlooking Bove Island, but no luck, so I shot this as an HDRI to bring the distant colours out.

Bove Island, Yukon
One more stop, to show Linda the Carcross Desert.

Carcross Desert, Yukon


A Fall colours evening on Mount Mac at Whitehorse

The weather hasn’t been great lately, but despite the clouds, the Fall colours are getting really pretty around Whitehorse. When my friend Karla asked if I wanted to go out shooting after she got off work on Wednesday (September 6), I was in. I suggested that we take the Tracker up Mt. McIntyre (known locally as Mount Mac).

The light in my back yard that morning was lovely. Although it almost looked like a storm light when I shot the first photo, a bit of blue sky behind Golden Horn held promise.

Fall colours in my back yard at Whitehorse, Yukon
I met Karla in town just after 5:00 pm, and we started up Mount Mac. The access road that I’ve always used has been blocked, but we soon found the new route that goes through the Lobird gravel pits. By 5:20 we were well up the mountain road.

Fall colours on Mt McIntyre at Whitehorse, Yukon
The yellows along the lower part of the road were really nice even under the cloud cover, but it was the reds up high on the mountain that I was really looking forward to photographing.

Fall colours on Mt McIntyre at Whitehorse, Yukon

The views quickly get to be quite stunning on the Mount Mac road. The road also quickly gets very rough, though, and most people seem to hike the road. We saw that some vehicle had recently straddled a big rock and put a hole in their oil pan – we followed a trail of oil until their engine probably seized, and they got towed out. Not paying attention can get very expensive on roads like this πŸ™

There was a storm at the south end of Fish Lake. We hoped that it would stay down there so we could get a bit of walking in.

Fall colours on Mt McIntyre at Whitehorse, Yukon
Progress up the mountain was quite slow, as we made a lot of stops for photos. The next photo was shot at 5:35, looking to the northwest over Fish Lake.

Fall colours on Mt McIntyre at Whitehorse, Yukon
The road ahead, at 5:41.

Fall colours on Mt McIntyre at Whitehorse, Yukon
Once you reach the top of Mount Mac, there’s an aviation navigation facility. A good 4×4 can skirt around it and continue for many miles along the ridge, down into a couple of valleys, and far beyond.

Fall colours on Mt McIntyre at Whitehorse, Yukon
This is within a few hundred meters/yards of the Whitehorse city limits. Is it any wonder that we proudly call it “The Wilderness City”?

Fall colours on Mt McIntyre at Whitehorse, Yukon
At 6:00, we were looking down on the Mount Sima ski area, with the Yukon River beyond.

Fall colours on Mt McIntyre at Whitehorse, Yukon
I hadn’t brought Bella or Tucker, but Karla’s little Meeko was having a ball – she even flushed some ptarmigan a few minutes before she settled down for a photo session, seemingly quite pleased with herself πŸ™‚

Fall colours on Mt McIntyre at Whitehorse, Yukon
From the Mount Mac ridge, the view to the east extends to Marsh Lake, about 45 minutes southeast of Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway.

Fall colours on Mt McIntyre at Whitehorse, Yukon
At about 6:15, we started back down the mountain. By the time we got halfway down, the rain had reached the spot where we’d been on the ridge. Perfect timing.

Fall colours on Mt McIntyre at Whitehorse, Yukon

Our entire outing only took a couple of hours. It’s pretty amazing to be able to have an experience like that so close to home.



More exploring at Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC

In the last 2 posts, I’ve covered the 7 canyons that I hiked during my 5 days at Muncho Lake Provincial Park in late August. But the dogs and I did a lot more – here’s a look at a couple of hiking trails, campgrounds, airplanes, storms, and more.

Before I take you to Muncho Lake, I want to show you some bison. I don’t often take photos of bison anymore, other than new calves. But this was one of the largest herds I’ve ever seen – probably more than 100 animals – and they caused quite a traffic jam. They were at about Km 860, north of Fireside.

A large herd of bison along the Alaska Highway
A huge pullout at Km 717 of the Alaska Highway was my parking spot for the 5 days / 4 nights. I had intended to just stay for a couple of days and then move down to Summit Lake, but the hiking – the experience generally – was so wonderful that I stayed here.

Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
A great view is one of my two most-wanted features for overnighting with the RV – the other is simply a level spot. The pullout had a long list of positive attributes, including the view. Sunrises were stunning, with a broad vista to the south and a closer look at the mountains to the west as they turned brilliant red.

Sunrise along the Alaska Highway in Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
I had come down to Muncho because of a really good weather forecast. It turned out to be nowhere near as good as I’d hoped, and there were some wild storms. Luckily, I never got hit by any of the storms while I was out hiking the canyons, although I only made it back to the motorhome with minutes to spare a couple of times.

Storm in Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
Settled in the motorhome, rainy spells are good times to rest, read, snuggle with Bella, Tucker, and Molly, and just listen to the rain on the roof. The storms were all as short-lived as they were wild, though.

Rain on the Alaska Highway at Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
This storm on Saturday evening was by far the wildest one I saw, and it never did reach us. The RV in the photo stopped for a few minutes, and the driver got out and took some photos of what he was going to drive into. A few minutes later, a motorcycle stopped, and he got lucky. In the 10 minutes or so that he sat at the pullout, the storm passed over the valley, and he probably didn’t hit any rain at all.

Storm at Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
The pullout has good separation from the highway so I didn’t need to leash Bella and Tucker to take them for walks. During their walks, I took a lot of photos of the highway with the beautiful limestone mountains of the Sentinel Range behind.

Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
I did some late-evening traffic photography, but it took all the patience I could muster – a vehicle only came by every 20-25 minutes. This is my favourite shot, though a strong wind shook the tripod during the 13-second exposure as a semi went by at 9:20.

Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
The pullout was a pretty good people-watching location, too. This woman spent her time taking selfies with her dog while her partner fuelled up their pickup with several jerry cans of gas.

Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
Even with the amount of stuff strapped onto the roof, there couldn’t have been much room in this minivan with a dog that size in it. The driver was sure taking good care of that dog, though – he got a drink and a whole lot of love during the few minutes they spent there.

Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
Okay, let’s go exploring. This is the view to the north from the north end of my pullout.

Bison warning sign on the Alaska Highway in Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC

Salt Lick Trail

Ten kilometers north, at Alaska Highway Km 726.7, is the Salt Lick Trail (a.k.a. Mineral Lick Trail), a 1½-km loop trail that goes to a view over the Trout River, and some hoodoos.

Salt Lick Trail, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
The rock flour (rocks ground into powder by glaciers) found along the Trout River contains calcium, magnesium, sulphur, phosphorus, and sodium, so moose, Stone sheep, caribou and other animals come here to lick the soil to get those important nutritional supplements.

Salt Lick Trail, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
The view over the Trout River, looking south towards Muncho Lake. The steep banks along this trail are all fenced to keep visitors safe.

Salt Lick Trail, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
Driving south on the Alaska Highway, at Km 711.6, just south of the Muncho Lake viewpoint that most travellers stop at.

The Alaska Highway in Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
The amount of gravel that’s been shoved around to control spring floods is quite amazing, but work continues every year. This new channel is at Km 711.3.

Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
Staff at the Watson Lake Visitor Reception Centre recommended the Muncho Lake RV Park at Km 710.1, and new signs along the highway point to it. The owner of the property apparently came up with a new plan, though, and it appears to be some sort of private RV club or co-op now.

Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
The view south at Km 699, just north of the Muncho Lake community and the Double G Service lodge.

Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
The Red Rock Canyon Trail at Km 697.4 is as far south as we went. It didn’t look all that interesting, though, and even the aerial photos aren’t enticing compared to the many other hiking options in the area.

Red Rock Canyon Trail, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
The federal government is in charge of the Alaska Highway in much of British Columbia. While most of the kilometer-posts are the usual small green ones, each sign marking even hundreds of k is a special one with a red maple leaf. The Km 700 sign is seen on the right in the next photo.

Alaska Highway Km 700 in Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
There are only 2 small government campgrounds in Muncho Lake Provincial Park. Each has 15 sites, and costs $20 per night. Strawberry Flats Campground is pinched between the highway and the lake at Km 700.5.

Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
The next photo shows the turnaround at the north end of Strawberry Flats Campground. Most of the campsites are right on the lake, with a nice gravel beach steps away from the picnic table and firepit at each site.

Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
Going for a walk along the beach north of the campground, we came to a culvert under the highway. It’s just over 6 feet high, and I always like to get Bella and Tucker used to unusual situations, so we walked through it. Bella was okay, but Tucker wanted no part of it! He eventually gave in and came with me, though. They were on leashes so he didn’t have a lot of choice, but he did come without being dragged.

Alaska Highway culvert in Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
There, one more bit of reinforcement that I only ask them to do things that are reasonable πŸ™‚

Dogs coming out of a highway culvert in Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC

Old Alaska Highway Trail

From there we walked over to the start of the Old Alaska Highway Trail. This is a section of the original 1942 road that ran along the top of the cliffs along Muncho Lake. The road/trail can be seen angling up the far slope in the next photo. The hiking guide rates it as Easy, and says that the 4-km return hike should take 3 hours.

Old Alaska Highway Trail, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
The very steep and loose climb up from the alluvial fan should have eliminated “Easy” from the trail description, and another steep section further on should have confirmed that.

Old Alaska Highway Trail, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
The first part of the trail offers wonderful views over the modern highway, Strawberry Flats Campground, and Muncho Lake. With an open trail and nobody around, Bella and Tucker were off-leash here.

Old Alaska Highway Trail, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
When the trail went into the forest and berry-laden bear scat started appearing, the leashes went on to keep everyone safe.

Old Alaska Highway Trail, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
The old road can be followed past the point where the trail guide says that it ends. That takes you to this view to the south.

Old Alaska Highway Trail, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
Just past that view, a slide effectively blocks further travel. I’ve crossed the slide when I didn’t have dogs with me, but the old road ends at a cliff just past it. At the slide, a cairn was built on the cliff-edge, and empty beer cans and broken bottles litter the trail. I carefully disassembled the cairn so it didn’t topple over the side and kill somebody passing by below.

Old Alaska Highway Trail, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
The spectacular cliffs along Muncho Lake have made it one of my favourite sections of the Alaska Highway ever since I first saw them in 1990. There’s been a bit of highway straightening along the lake, but not much.

Cliffs along the Alaska Highway in Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
Muncho Lake at its finest, looking towards the Northern Rockies Lodge.

Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
I’ve always enjoyed my stays at the Northern Rockies Lodge, but it’s sure getting some awful reviews on TripAdvisor lately. Yes it’s expensive, but it’s the nicest lodge on the highway and the location is superb.

Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
The main reason that I stopped at the lodge this time was to see their aircraft. Operated as Liard Air, Ltd., they’re used primarily for fishing trips and flightseeing. C-GUDK is a De Havilland Canada DHC-3 Turbo Otter, a heavy modification of Otter #349, built in 1958. Urs Schildknecht, owner of the lodge, flies this beauty. In January 2011, Urs lost all 3 of his aircraft when a generator in the hangar here caught fire.

C-GUDK is a De Havilland Canada DHC-3 Turbo Otter, a heavy modification of Otter #349, built in 1958
The other float plane is C-GRMU, a Cessna 208 Caravan I. It was just being readied to take some fishermen out.

C-GRMU, a Cessna 208 Caravan I, at Muncho Lake, BC
The other government campground at Muncho Lake is the MacDonald Campground, at Km 709. This is the view of the access road to it while northbound.

MacDonald Campground, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
MacDonald really is a lovely campground, and has a boat launch. It’s quite a way off the highway, so is also the quieter of the two.

MacDonald Campground, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
The view north at Km 715. I saw this view many times as I wandered during this 5-day stay πŸ™‚

Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC
The only wildlife we saw were Stone sheep, which we saw twice. Tucker can be a barky little beast, but he was very polite with the sheep both times, so got to have a good look and sniff with the window open. Bella, taught well by Monty, has always been good with wildlife.

Muncho Lake Provincial Park, BC

Well, that was Muncho Lake. As a result of my 9 hikes on this trip, I’ve now posted my own guide to Hiking along the Alaska Highway in northern BC. I’m not nearly finished exploring that area, but Winter is coming soon and I have a lot of work to do, so I may be shutting the motorhome down for the winter this week.



Hiking 7 of the Canyons at Muncho Lake, BC: Part 2

I spent 5 days, from August 24-28, hiking 7 of the 14 main canyons located in the Muncho Lake area, between Km 726 and Km 697 of the Alaska Highway. In Part 1, I described the canyons at Km 725.6, Km 720, Km 718.4, and Km 716.8 (Boulder Canyon). In this post, the canyons covered are the ones at Km 714.9, Km 708.3, and Km 699.4 (I’m describing them from north to south, though that’s not how I hiked them). I had planned on spending a couple of days at Muncho Lake and then moving down to Summit Lake, but the hiking at Muncho is so superb that I stayed there. As a result of my hikes on this trip, I’ve now posted my own guide to Hiking along the Alaska Highway in northern BC.

Km 714.9 Canyon Hike

Late on Sunday afternoon (August 27th), I drove the Tracker 2 kilometers from the pullout where I parked the motorhome for 4 nights, to hike the next canyon to the south. The first photo shows the canyon access from the highway.

Alaska Highway Km 714.9 Canyon Hike
Looking back towards the highway. Berms force the creek into 3 channels – the one shown is the furthest south.

Alaska Highway Km 714.9 Canyon Hike
The weather continued to be very erratic, from heavy rain and cold wind to very warm sun. When I started this hike at 2:30, a very cold wind forced me to wear a jacket and toque, but as soon as I moved into the shelter of the canyons walls, it warmed up dramatically.

Alaska Highway Km 714.9 Canyon Hike
Strange and fascinating rocks are everywhere – these canyons are all a rockhound’s dream.

Alaska Highway Km 714.9 Canyon Hike
By the time I was 25 minutes from the car, the sun was out and it had warmed up nicely. A few trees had managed to survive the spring floods on the canyon floor.

Alaska Highway Km 714.9 Canyon Hike
Five minutes later, the rough part of the canyon was just ahead.

Alaska Highway Km 714.9 Canyon Hike
Neither Bella nor Tucker had expressed any interest in coming with me. That was clearly a good thing in this canyon – this is not dog-friendly country. Well, I suppose it’s not really people-friendly either, but… πŸ™‚

Alaska Highway Km 714.9 Canyon Hike
The Keen sport sandals that I wear for most hikes are wonderful on the slick rock that has to be navigated at many places in these canyons. Their grip made me feel like I had some Spiderman powers, but a couple of times, I went up slopes that were so steep that they were really scary to go back down.

Alaska Highway Km 714.9 Canyon Hike
As in most of the canyons, there are some places that I really want to get back to see with water flowing. While navigating the canyons will be much more difficult, some of the waterfalls will be gorgeous.

Alaska Highway Km 714.9 Canyon Hike
Almost an hour from the car, the route-finding was getting quite difficult at times. To get shots like this, I set up my tripod and run to the chosen spot.

Alaska Highway Km 714.9 Canyon Hike
Five minutes later, I was almost ready to turn around, but wanted to see around one last corner just ahead.

Alaska Highway Km 714.9 Canyon Hike
This is where I turned back. I was goofing around in the last photo from this canyon, imagining how wonderful a little waterfall would be here.

Alaska Highway Km 714.9 Canyon Hike

The aerial photos show that there is lots of great hiking in this canyon network. By the time I got back to the car, having a look at the start of it had taken an hour and 50 minutes.

Km 708.3 Canyon Hike

The last canyon we hiked, on Monday morning (August 28th) was the one just a few hundred meters/yards north of the Northern Rockies Lodge, where I’ve stayed a few times while on trips by car or truck. The alluvial fan below the canyon is massive, and the aerial photos show that it would take several days to explore the network of canyons accessed from it.

Alaska Highway Km 708.3 Canyon Hike
With lots of easy walking to start, I brought Tucker with me on this hike. Bella, though, was still hurting and she stayed in the motorhome.

Alaska Highway Km 708.3 Canyon Hike
A look back towards Muncho Lake, across the huge alluvial fan. This panorama was created with two 18mm photos.

Alaska Highway Km 708.3 Canyon Hike
Fifty minutes from the car, we reached the start of the canyon, and a creek. Although I had brought water for Tucker, it’s always nice to have a creek so he can drink whenever he wants. Unlike Bella, he seldom goes into water without a good reason.

Alaska Highway Km 708.3 Canyon Hike
An hour and a half from the car, the walking was still easy, but some hoodoos and extremely impressive cliffs now towered above us. There was enough forest along the canyon that I was now carrying my bear spray in my hand, and for a few hundred meters, Tucker was quite freaked out by something in the forest, though I couldn’t see what he was upset about.

Alaska Highway Km 708.3 Canyon Hike
A telephoto look at the main tower of rock that soared hundreds of meters above us.

Alaska Highway Km 708.3 Canyon Hike
A look at some of the sedimentary rocks that the creek is cutting through.

Alaska Highway Km 708.3 Canyon Hike
This is where we turned back, an hour and 50 minutes from the car. It didn’t look very dog-friendly from here on.

Alaska Highway Km 708.3 Canyon Hike

As we got back onto the alluvial fan, I saw another couple of hikers turn back. They were only the second pair of hikers I had seen on the 7 canyon hikes.

Km 699.4 Canyon Hike

For our morning canyon hike on Sunday, August 27th, I drove 17 km south from the motorhome to the south end of Muncho Lake. We seldom get to the trails/canyons early – the sun didn’t hit the motorhome until 08:55, when we go for our second short walk of the day where we parked. So we began this one at 10:00.

Alaska Highway Km 699.4 Canyon Hike
Aerial photos show that it’s about 2½ kilometers (as the crow flies) of fairly easy walking along the alluvial fan and creek bed before it narrows and gets rougher. The old fuel barrels that have been washed down, probably from an old mining exploration camp, were surprising and disappointing.

Alaska Highway Km 699.4 Canyon Hike
I posted this photo and information about it on the BC Parks Facebook page, and they quickly responded that they had passed the information on to the area supervisor. It would be a shame to see a grease barrel reach the gorgeous waters of Muncho Lake.

Alaska Highway Km 699.4 Canyon Hike
There’s an impressive wall of conglomerate rock and gravels about 35 minutes from the highway.

Alaska Highway Km 699.4 Canyon Hike
About 10 minutes past the cliffs, a creek appeared, and Bella was in it right away, with a big grin on her face! The creek vanished into the gravel long before reaching the lake.

Alaska Highway Km 699.4 Canyon Hike
This is one of many reasons that I love my Keens – I can walk back and forth across creeks all day. The creek in this canyon was deep enough in places that I carried Tucker across.

Alaska Highway Km 699.4 Canyon Hike
About 2½ kilometers and 55 minutes from the highway, a side canyon joins the main one. This panorama was created from three 18mm photos.

Alaska Highway Km 699.4 Canyon Hike
We only walked for another 10 minutes, and then it got too rough for Bella so we turned back. She’d been a trooper but I know that she hates walking on rocks.

Alaska Highway Km 699.4 Canyon Hike
There’s a wall of spectacular erosion pillars (hoodoos) on the opposite side of the canyon from where the side canyon joins. I’d guess them to be a good 30 meters (100 feet) high.

Alaska Highway Km 699.4 Canyon Hike
Another look at the wall of conglomerate, which even has a window!

Alaska Highway Km 699.4 Canyon Hike
I love being able to hike as comfortable as possible in places like this where there’s virtually no chance of meeting anyone else. We didn’t get as much sun as I’d expected from the weather forecast, but I made use of every ray that arrived πŸ™‚

Alaska Highway Km 699.4 Canyon Hike
Relaxing with the kids and enjoying this magnificent place.

Alaska Highway Km 699.4 Canyon Hike
A look back at the canyon as we neared the car, 2 hours and 50 minutes after leaving it.

Alaska Highway Km 699.4 Canyon Hike

Well, that’s all the canyon hiking covered. But we did other exploring in Muncho Lake Provincial Park, and I’ll do up a short post to tell you about that.



Hiking 7 of the Canyons at Muncho Lake, BC: Part 1

On Thursday, August 24th, I finished the drive to Muncho Lake with a 270-km (168-mi) leg down the Alaska Highway from the Watson Lake Campground. I parked the motorhome at a huge pullout at Km 717, which would put me in the heart of the best of the canyons that I wanted to explore.

My initial plan to was to spend a couple of days at Muncho Lake and then move down to Summit Lake in Stone Mountain Provincial Park, but as it turned out, I stayed at Muncho for 4 nights, and another few would have been great. I just discovered how incredible these canyons are during a trip two years ago, and now am really anxious to see all of them, and more of each of them (many of the canyons could be multi-day trips).

Tourism Northern Rockies has published a 90-page Hiking & Motorized Trail Guide. I’ve posted a digitized version of it – it’s a 67MB download. As a result of my hikes on this trip, I also have enough material to post my own guide to Hiking along the Alaska Highway in northern BC.

Between Km 726 and Km 697, there are 14 main canyons, of which I hiked 7 (I also hiked two non-canyon trails). Each of the 7 canyons that I hiked will be described below, listed from north to south. None of the canyons except Boulder seem to have names. I’ve added 3 of the significant Km points, including my parking spot, to the map below – click on it to open an interactive version in a new window.


Muncho Lake canyons map

Km 725.6 Canyon Hike

The furthest-north of the canyons was the first one I hiked, late on Thursday afternoon (August 24th). It taught me that the tight canyons are no place for Bella in particular. She hates the rocks, and even Tucker isn’t a big fan. I was going to park at a pullout on the highway, but then decided to drive up the road/trail on the right a ways (a few hundred meters/yards).

Alaska Highway Km 725.6 Canyon Hike
The first few minutes was really nice walking for all of us.

Alaska Highway Km 725.6 Canyon Hike
As we found out later during our stay, violent storms with heavy rain are common here. The rain does a lot of damage within the canyons, and until massive berm systems were built 15-20 years ago, the Alaska Highway was closed a few times by floods.

Alaska Highway Km 725.6 Canyon Hike
The geology of the region is complex and fascinating – a rockhound’s dream location. I took many photos of rocks in all of the canyons.

Alaska Highway Km 725.6 Canyon Hike
This is as far as we went – just 20 minutes from the car. It was just too hard on Bella. The aerial photos, though, show that it splits into a couple of exceptionally interesting canyons further up, so I’ll definitely be back to this one, by myself.

Alaska Highway Km 725.6 Canyon Hike

Km 720 Canyon Hike

From the highway, it can be seen that a wall of rock isn’t too far away, so I left the dogs in the motorhome for this hike on Saturday afternoon (August 26th). The creek is just a few yards south of the Km 720 post. Most of the walk to the canyon is very easy, on the berm along the creek.

Alaska Highway Km 720 Canyon Hike
The first look at the canyon, just over 10 minutes from the car. It didn’t look promising.

Alaska Highway Km 720 Canyon Hike
Going in for a look. I had no real plans for any of the canyons, and was open to anything – these hikes were just meant as initial reconnoitres.

Alaska Highway Km 720 Canyon Hike
That was certainly the end! It must be an incredibly beautiful spot when the water is flowing.

Alaska Highway Km 720 Canyon Hike
Checking out a possible route around the cliffs. It seems doable. The aerial photos show that the cliff section is very short, and getting around them gives you access to a large network of canyons.

Alaska Highway Km 720 Canyon Hike
Walking back to the car, 40 minutes after leaving it.

Alaska Highway Km 720 Canyon Hike

Km 718.4 Canyon Hike

After the 40-minute hike at Km 720 on Saturday afternoon (August 26th), I drove 1.6 km to the next canyon. I expected that this one would take me longer to do my initial exploration of.

Alaska Highway Km 718.4 Canyon Hike
Although the country looks dry and drab from the highway, there are some brilliant colours when you get a close look.

Alaska Highway Km 718.4 Canyon Hike

Alaska Highway Km 718.4 Canyon Hike
The creek has a large double set of berms to protect the highway from flooding. It must have caused some big problems in the past. Neither of the berms are walkable (with level tops) – you have to go up and over them.

Alaska Highway Km 718.4 Canyon Hike
Entering the canyon proper, 30 minutes from the car. The weather had been erratic, from heavy cloud and cold wind to warm sun. Some of the clouds looked like rain.

Alaska Highway Km 718.4 Canyon Hike
Almost an hour from the car, some hard-rock shelves to climb over.

Alaska Highway Km 718.4 Canyon Hike
Ten minutes later, this impressive little slot canyon required me to climb up and around it, but the going was fairly easy, with a sheep trail as a guide. I had learned not to trust sheep trails too much, though – they sometimes lead to places that only sheep should attempt.

Alaska Highway Km 718.4 Canyon Hike
An hour and 10 minutes from the car, the canyon split. The next photo is a panorama created from three 18mm vertical photos – it’s quite tight in there.

Alaska Highway Km 718.4 Canyon Hike
As in all of the canyons around Muncho Lake, the geology is complex, and many of the rocks quite fascinating. The mountains are primarily limestone, but many of the most dramatic parts of the canyons have been created by intrusions of shales and chert.

Alaska Highway Km 718.4 Canyon Hike
I managed to hike up and around this wall, but got stopped by another just a few minutes further along. The aerial photos show that there is a lot of rugged hiking ahead in both the main canyons. By the time I got back to the car, this canyon had taken me 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Alaska Highway Km 718.4 Canyon Hike

Km 716.8: Boulder Canyon Hike

In the late afternoon of Friday, August 25th, I hiked one of the 2 canyons that are signed as hiking routes – Boulder Canyon, at Km 716.8, where I parked the motorhome. The information panel at the trailhead gives it a difficulty rating of “Moderately easy”, which I consider absurd except at the very lowest section. I turned back when the route got too extreme. It was just good luck (or perhaps listening to that “little voice”) that I hadn’t taken the dogs despite that rating, or I wouldn’t have gone very far at all. The panel says that the route is 4.6 km return, which should take 3 hours – I went much further in much less time.

Boulder Canyon hike - aerial photo

Here’s the complete trail description from the Tourism Northern Rockies guide:

The trail starts heading east up the alluvial fan on a road leading to an old quarry. In about 10 minutes you will cross over a berm created to contain the water coming out of the mountains, and take your first turn a tight valley. Follow the creek bed for several turns until you reach a small (4 ft) waterfall or rock wall (depending whether there is still water flowing in the creek). Here you will have to decide if you can climb over the rock (good foot and handholds) or backtrack a short ways and wander up the right side and walk along the top to get over.

Carrying on, you’ll shortly enter a very steep walled section of the creek bed. It’ll lead you to a dead end with sheer, rock walls over 25 ft high. Backing out of this canyon, you’re able to scramble up the right side again and pass over this section. A distinguishable trail is visible in the ground at this point and continues on for a short while before dropping back down into the creek bed.

It’s possible to continue on past this point all the way until the creek bed splits in two or beyond. Be aware, that small waterfalls or rock walls are prominent along the way and you’ll have to climb up or scramble around them to continue.

Special Notes: This trail is best done in the fall when the water levels are low or there is no water running in the valley at all. Don’t be fooled by the fact that there is no water down at the highway level; there could still be water further up the creek bed disappearing into the ground before reaching the highway. Also be careful when clambering up side slopes in this valley. Much of the rock is loose and is easily dislodged. Proceed up side hills one at a time.

The start of the “trail”, at the south end of the huge pullout where I’d parked the motorhome.

Alaska Highway Km 716.8, Boulder Canyon Hike
Fifteen minutes along, I entered the start of the canyon proper.

Alaska Highway Km 716.8, Boulder Canyon Hike
It got much rougher quickly past that point. I met another couple of hikers at this point who told me that you need to be part mountain goat to do this hike.

Alaska Highway Km 716.8, Boulder Canyon Hike
Half an hour from the start, the rock wall described as being 4 feet high (I’m quite a bit taller than 4 feet πŸ™‚ ).

Alaska Highway Km 716.8, Boulder Canyon Hike
After another 5 minutes, this very impressive slot canyon is reached. It isn’t walkable even with no water running, so I backtracked down the canyon to climb around it.

Alaska Highway Km 716.8, Boulder Canyon Hike
On the way out, I found that there’s a fairly good route up the slope further down the canyon, but I hadn’t seen it, so used this steep and loose route up to a sheep trail that goes around the slot canyon.

Alaska Highway Km 716.8, Boulder Canyon Hike
Dropping back down to the canyon floor, some wonderful sections of rock are encountered, all fairly easy to navigate. I really need to get back to see these when the creek is flowing. I think that this is about where the trail description panel assumes that hikers will turn back.

Alaska Highway Km 716.8, Boulder Canyon Hike
Running into another slot canyon, I was back on a high sheep trail at 55 minutes from the parking lot.

Alaska Highway Km 716.8, Boulder Canyon Hike
Back on the canyon floor, this impassable wall was soon reached, but a route around it looked fairly easy.

Alaska Highway Km 716.8, Boulder Canyon Hike
Looking down from the route around the impassable wall. It wasn’t as easy as I’d expected – it was both steep and loose.

Alaska Highway Km 716.8, Boulder Canyon Hike
Forced back down to the canyon floor by cliffs, I soon reached another section that could be considered impassable or just extremely difficult.

Alaska Highway Km 716.8, Boulder Canyon Hike
With the next photo showing the view up from that difficult/impassable spot, this is where I quit, an hour and 15 minutes from the parking lot. Going beyond here is not for solo hikers.

Alaska Highway Km 716.8, Boulder Canyon Hike

I had planned on keeping all the canyon hikes in one post, but this is long enough so there will be a Part 2…



RVing down the Alaska Highway to Watson Lake

I haven’t done nearly enough hiking this summer, so last week I went looking for some sunshine to put a bunch of miles on. Two years ago, I discovered how incredible the adjacent BC provincial parks of Muncho Lake and Stone Mountain were, and the forecast down that way looked very good. On Wednesday, August 23rd, I drove the first 422 km (262 mi) to Watson Lake, did some exploring there, and camped at the Watson Lake Campground.

By 07:15, I was about ready to leave home, in a light rain. All the fur-kids came with me, but Cathy had to work.

RV and toad ready for the next Yukon/BC trip
I had never been into the Big Creek Campground at Km 1042 of the Alaska Highway, so stopped in there for a look. The next photo shows the Big Creek Bridge right at the campground. I hadn’t expected to reach sunshine until well south of Watson Lake, but it was already beautiful.

Big Creek Bridge, Km 1042 of the Alaska Highway
There are only 15 campsites at Big Creek, 7 of which are pull-through sites. It has a very odd layout, with roads and campsites in a seemingly random pattern.

Big Creek Campground, Yukon
While the layout of the campground is odd, it’s very nice, with the usual large sites that can usually be expected at Yukon campgrounds. Some of the pull-throughs are just wide parts of the road, but will no doubt work for some RVers who are just overnighting.

Big Creek Campground, Yukon
We had made a lot of stops along the highway and didn’t reach the Watson Lake Campground until about 2:30. It’s 5 km off the Alaska Highway just north of Watson Lake, and the gravel access road was pretty rough in places.

Watson Lake Campground, Yukon
I set up in pull-through site #44. As is usually the case, it’s large, well-spaced, and fairly level. There’s a picnic table and firepit, and a trail leads to the lake. The lake water level was so high that there was no beach – I don’t know if that’s the normal situation nor not.

Site #44 at the Watson Lake Campground, Yukon
Apparently firewood theft is particularly bad here, as the park staff who loaded the firewood box spent almost as much time painting each piece as he did moving it from the pickup truck.

Firewood at the Watson Lake Campground, Yukon
The boat launch and dock was a good distance from our campsite to be a dog-walking destination a couple of times, and Bella was immediately in the water both times. She doesn’t go swimming, just likes to get her feet and sometimes her belly wet πŸ™‚

Watson Lake Campground, Yukon

I noted on our walks, and when I drove out of the campgrounds, that some “Exit” signs would be really useful in navigating the maze of roads.

At about 4:00 pm, I drove the Tracker into Watson Lake. The next photo shows the start of the community on the Alaska Highway.

Watson Lake, Alaska Highway
I stopped in at the Visitor Reception Centre to see if there’s anything new I needed to see, but already knew that my first destination would be the Watson Lake Airport, located north-west of town off the Campbell Highway (I took the next photo the following morning after it had clouded over).

Campbell Highway, Watson Lake
The Watson Lake Airport (YQH) is certainly one of the most interesting airports in the territory historically, and from the air, the location on a peninsula jutting into the lake, is exceptionally beautiful. Both the Air Terminal Building and the hangar in the next photo were built in 1941 when Watson Lake became a significant base on the Northwest Staging Route used to ferry Lend-Lease aircraft to Russia.

Watson Lake Airport (YQH)
The updated terminal is a very attractive and comfortable place to wait.

The Watson Lake Airport terminal

The Watson Lake Airport terminal
In 2004, a large display of historic aviation photos was mounted in the terminal. Among the photos is this one that surprisingly has no information on the caption tag. On October 16, 1943, this United States Air Force B-17 crashed into Lake Bennett while attempting to land at Carcross – 11 men drowned in the frigid waters. The late Les McLaughlin tells more of the story.

B-17 crash at Carcross in 1943
This Chesterfield cigarette poster from 1942 features Joan Bennett in her American Women’s Voluntary Services uniform – she was then starring in the comedy film “Twin Beds”.

Chesterfield cigarette poster from 1942
This cairn is dedicated to the men who flew planes in the Lend Lease program and the Winter Experimental Establishment (W.E.E.), and in particular to the 3 men who died in 3 crashes at Watson Lake in 1948 and 1951.

This cairn at Watson Lake is dedicated to the men who flew planes in the Lend Lease program and the Winter Experimental Establishment (W.E.E.)
Heading back into town, I detoured to see the new hospital (it opened in 2013). Although construction was controversial and incredibly expensive, it’s a beautiful facility.

Watson Lake Hospital, Yukon
My favourite building in town is Watson Lake Motors. Originally built in 1953, it expanded 2 years later and was the busiest garage in the Yukon for years.

Waton Lake Motors, Yukon
What’s a visit to Watson Lake without a stop at the Sign Post Forest, which began with a handful of directional signs in 1942?

Sign Post Forest, Watson Lake, Yukon
In the Visitor Reception Centre, you can follow the growth in the number of signs from 1988 to 2016, when the number is said to have been 83,886. Realistically, that’s just an estimate, because even defining what constitutes a “sign” is problematic. Many years ago, I put up a license plate from Tasmania, Australia, brought by one of my bus passengers who brought it along, not realizing that we didn’t go to Watson Lake on his tour. The plate seems to have been stolen, though, because I was never able to find it again.

Sign Post Forest, Watson Lake, Yukon
As many times as I’ve wandered through the Sign Post Forest, I still enjoying seeing some of the really creative signs, and wondering how some of them ever arrived in the Yukon.

Sign Post Forest, Watson Lake, Yukon

Sign Post Forest, Watson Lake, Yukon

The next morning, we were off to Muncho Lake as the first of our hiking destinations.



A laid-back solar eclipse long weekend at Kluane Lake

When we went looking for a place to camp for the Discovery Day long weekend, Kluane Lake was the only place that had sun forecast. As it turned out, we had little sun and lots of cold screaming wind. But it was a great weekend anyway – we had nice campfires each evening, hiked the Spruce Beetle Trail for the first time, and got clear skies for the solar eclipse.

We drove out to Congdon Creek Campground on Kluane Lake on Friday night. We set up in site #24, up in the forest. We generally move down to a beach site, but because of the winds, stayed there for the weekend. Sunrise on Saturday was lovely, but clouds soon moved in.

Sunrise at Congdon Creek Campground on Kluane Lake
The first thing that I wanted to see at the campground was the newly-built electrified enclosure for tents. Because of grizzlies, tenting has been prohibited at Congdon Creek for several years, and the enclosure was built as a test project. It’s located at the east side of the campground, in a section of the campground that was closed permanently a dozen or so years ago.

Electrified enclosure for tents at Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
The electrified fence is powered by solar panels that are well hidden behind a grove of trees.

Electrified enclosure for tents at Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
There are 8 tent sites, each with its own parking spot. Outside the enclosure are bear-proof lockers, as well as a couple of picnic tables and firepits.

Electrified enclosure for tents at Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon
When picking a tent site, there is a variety of natural areas and raised platforms to choose from. Each tenter is asked to fill out a survey. I hope that the results will be made public – I’d like to see if campers are as impressed as I am.

Electrified enclosure for tents at Congdon Creek Campground, Yukon

We took the dogs out onto the beach for a walk on Saturday morning, but the wind was so awful that we stayed in the forest for our many other walks. Up in the forest, you’d hardly know that it was windy except for the sound – it didn’t affect our campfires at all.

On Sunday, Cathy had a craving for a soft ice cream cone, so we drove to Haines Junction (87 km east) for that treat.

On the way back to the campground, we stopped to walk the Spruce Beetle Trail at Km 1596 of the Alaska Highway. It’s always intrigued me, but neither of us had ever walked it – whenever we go by, we’ve always been on a mission to get somewhere.

Spruce Beetle Trail, Yukon
The Spruce Beetle Trail is in an area that was particularly hard hit by the infestation of spruce bark beetles than began in 1992. Interpretation is excellent.

Spruce Beetle Trail, Yukon
The trail is about 1½ km long, and we spent 40 minutes on it. There are fairly minor grades up and down, but lots of tree roots to navigate over.

Spruce Beetle Trail, Yukon
This appears to be a man-made modification, many years ago, just for fun, I expect. I found it to be quite amusing.

Spruce Beetle Trail, Yukon
Most of the trail is in the forest, but there are two viewpoints, the one shown in the next photo, and another much broader view across the valley to the mountains. It was a very good stop, well worth seeing.

Spruce Beetle Trail, Yukon
The big event Monday was the solar eclipse. At Kluane Lake, the sun would be 48% covered by the moon. We drove a couple of kilometers to a large pulloff. I had planed to go to Sheep Mountain where Parks Canada was doing something eclipse-related, but we could see that clouds covered the sky there.

Pulloff on the Alaska Highway along Kluane Lake
I had brought my welding helmet for viewing the eclipse. It’s far from optical-quality glass, but I got this photo of the peak coverage through it. It would be pretty cool to see a total eclipse.

Solar eclipse in the Yukon - 48% coverage
After seeing the peak, we continued on to Sheep Mountain, where the sky had cleared a bit and a few people were still watching. Cathy borrowed viewing glasses from a woman who got hers from an astronomy club she belongs to.


The Dall sheep are starting to come lower on Sheep Mountain now, but it will be a few weeks before they’ll be seen on the highway. In the next photo, there are small groups to the left and right of the centre.


We were in no hurry to leave on Monday, and stayed until late afternoon. Congdon Creek remains our favourite campground in the territory.


It’s now 06:25 on Wednesday, August 23rd. I have the motorhome ready to go again, and in a couple of hours, the dogs and cat and I are heading down the Alaska Highway into BC, to Muncho Lake and then Summit Lake. The forecast is for mostly sun once we get past the Yukon’s clouds and showers, and there are a lot of hiking trails and routes to explore. I’ll have neither Internet nor cell access, so the next post will be in about a week when I get back home.



I’m not finished with Summer, but Fall has arrived

Over the past week, I’ve been on a couple of fine summer hikes, but the morning temperature has been below freezing twice (down to -4°C), and a drive to Skagway left no doubt that Fall has arrived.

The first hike was at Atlin, where my friend Karla had invited me to join her on the Monarch Mountain Trail. I’d never hiked it before, but it’s an excellent trail for spectacular views within a few minutes of leaving the car. The light was really poor for photography, but it was a great day to get out into the mountains for some cardio and mental therapy, and Bella and Tucker and Karla’s little Meeko, all had a lot of fun as well.

Another call from Karla got me out to the Fish Lake Trail on Tuesday to join her and Hilary, who I hadn’t seen in several years. This is another hike I’d never been on, even though the trailhead is only 20 minutes from downtown Whitehorse. You have to work to get through the forest to the views on this well-used trail, but the views are certainly worth it.

The Fish Lake Trail at Whitehorse, Yukon
It’s easy to stop at the saddle and enjoy the views from the there, but none of us was ready to turn around yet, so the summit in the next photo was our destination.

The Fish Lake Trail at Whitehorse, Yukon
The view from the summit. From there, a trail beckons hikers to continue, but the next peak would be almost an hour away, so we stopped here. Despite the sun, the wind had quite a chill to it.

The Fish Lake Trail at Whitehorse, Yukon
I seldom wander around downtown Whitehorse anymore, but arranged to meet a friend for coffee on Wednesday, and went in a bit early to look around. I don’t know why I’ve quit coming downtown, because it’s a very welcoming place and there’s always lots going on. The next photo is looking north on Front Street, at Main.

Downtown Whitehorse, Yukon
This is the new MacBride Museum under construction. I hate it. About 98% of the people in Whitehorse dislike it, and made that clear right from the first drawings that appeared. It was scaled back a bit from an even more awful start, but is still just plain obnoxious – a over-sized, sterile warehouse on a waterfront that was coming along so nicely.

The new MacBride Museum under construction in Whitehorse, Yukon
The very popular waterfront trolley isn’t running this year. The MacBride Museum took it over and then shut it down, citing maintenance problems. The trolley is probably inside the “engine house” – the car sitting outside is the Red Line Express, a self-powered car that the White Pass & Yukon Route had built a few years ago. It was a failure mechanically, and it was bought by the Yukon government.

The waterfront trolley at Whitehorse, Yukon
The little box on the left has a door on it. I opened it to find that it’s a Little Free Library. I love the concept, and it’s nice to see one on the waterfront. There are only 3 books in it, though, so it’s apparently not getting much use.

Little Free Library in Whitehorse, Yukon
My busy week continued on Thursday. I had to go to Skagway to pick up some car and RV parts I’d ordered. On the way, I stopped to visit with more friends, including Michelle at her Tutshi dog camp. While I was chatting there, a woman arrived with her family and when she heard my name, said “Murray? Murray’s Guide?” From Buffalo, they were travelling with my guide to the South Klondike Highway, and we chatted for a bit about their trip, and life here. I tell people who buy the guide to watch for me on the highway, and I love meeting people this way.

Michelle Phillips' Tutshi Sled Dog Camp
Along Tutshi Lake, the forecast rain started. Through the White Pass, visibility was only a few meters/yards, and even down at the William Moore bridge construction, there wasn’t much to see.

William Moore bridge construction
There were 3 large ships in, but a cold rain driven by strong south winds was keeping the streets pretty quiet even at 11:00 when I went to the post office. On my usual wander around town after, I noticed that the WP&YR’s steam locomotive, No. 73, was loading passengers from the Disney Wonder, and stopped for a few photos. The wind made it impossible to keep the camera lens clear of rain drops.

The WP&YR's steam locomotive, No. 73
As noon approached, the streets started to fill with people, but I didn’t go back up to Broadway.

Skagway, Alaska
A couple of the different ways to see coastal Alaska – by cruise ship, and with a rented RV on the State ferry.

Different ways to see coastal Alaska - by cruise ship, and with a rented RV on the State ferry.
Seeing Holland America’s Noordam brought back some wonderful memories of a cruise in the Caribbean on this gorgeous ship. Talking to Cathy about it that evening, we agree that she was one of our favourite ships so far.

Holland America's Noordam in the rain at Skagway, Alaska
Getting stopped at the William Moore bridge on the way home allowed me to get a few photos of the project. There’s some pretty extreme rock-moving going on, and I’d sure love to get a tour of it!

William Moore bridge construction

William Moore bridge construction
One more photo just before the clouds moved back in.

William Moore bridge construction

That certainly felt like a Fall trip, but I’m not slowing down yet. I’m writing this blog from Kluane Lake, where Cathy and I are camping for the Discovery Day long weekend, and I’ll be heading out again on Tuesday.