The Beauty of Late Winter in the Yukon

On Tuesday, with very good weather forecast for most of the day, I made the drive to Skagway. Although it started off rather dull, the afternoon was amazing and I wished that I’d brought a lounge chair with me!

With the temperature at -12°C (+10°F), I left home at 07:10, 40 minutes before sunrise, planning to get some great dawn light in the mountains. There were more clouds than expected, though, so that light didn’t happen.

As we reached the big viewing area on Tutshi Lake a couple of minutes after 8, the colours of a beautiful sunrise peaked.

Winter sunrise over Tutshi Lake, BC
We spent a few minutes at that spot – the dogs got some exercise while I split my time between them and the camera. With no traffic on the road at all, having them playing and exploring beside a highway isn’t an issue. As the sun got a bit higher, I decided it was a good spot to also shoot a car portrait – you can see Bella in the front seat :)

Cadillac CTS portrait
The next stop was at Log Cabin. This is looking north along the White Pass & Yukon rail line, which is still a ski and snowmobile trail.

WP&YR rail line at Log Cabin in the winter
The view to the south dow the railway line, across the highway.

WP&YR rail line at Log Cabin in the winter
The Log Cabin Ski Society had started packing snow for the carvings to be done for the big Buckwheat Ski Classic this weekend.

Snow carving blocks at Log Cabin, BC
I watched the Highways rotary snow plow leave the Log Cabin parking lot, and we soon caught up to him throwing the snow further from the highway.

Highways rotary snow plow near Log Cabin, BC
This is one of my favourite views on the South Klondike Highway in any season. There’s no viewpoint or pulloff here just north of Km 40, you just have to park on the shoulder, which isn’t very wide.

Spectacular mountain view on the South Klondike Highway
I sometimes wonder whether Fraser will ever become a real town, surrounded by recreational cabins for hikers and mountain bikers in the summer and skiers and snowmobilers in the winter.

Fraser, BC
I was surprised to see a helicopter at Fraser, with some camp equipment trailers from Yukon Alpine Heliski nearby.

Helicopter at Fraser BC in the winter
There was surprisingly little sign of either skiing or snowmobiling near the summit, given the conditions.

Winter at the White Pass summit, BC
These peaks across the border in Alaska never cease to amaze me with their beauty.

Winter at the White Pass summit, Alaska

It was much colder all the way down than I had expected it to be, and after climbing to the freezing mark at the US Customs station, dropped back down to -3°C (27°F) at Skagway. Very odd. I picked up my mail, had a big breakfast at the Sweet Tooth Cafe, then went for a bit of a wander as always.

A new passenger car for the railway had recently arrived by barge and was awaiting attachment of the trucks (the wheel assembly).

A new passenger car for the White Pass & Yukon Route railway
Heading north again, this passenger car was just being shoved into the paint shop.

New paint for a passenger car on the White Pass & Yukon Route railway
It was so beautiful through the White Pass that I stopped at the large parking area at Summit Creek so we could go for a walk. The sun was very warm, and I thought that it must be above freezing, but when we left I noticed that it was actually -7C. This was the view to the south, to the summit.

White Pass summit area, South Klondike Highway
Monty – what a guy!

My husky, Monty
Bella, on the other hand, doesn’t do “regal” well – she’s all about “fun” :)

My young Sheltie cross, Bella
This 2-minute video will give you a better idea of how spectacular that spot was.

When we got to Fraser, the helicopter was preparing to leave, so we went for a walk to kill time until it took off. The snowmobiles heading across the frozen lake appeared to be with the heliski operator.

Snowmobiles heading across the frozen lake at Fraser, BC

Snowmobiles heading across the frozen lake at Fraser, BC
In another few weeks the old water tower for the railway’s steam trains (one of which still operates) will be surrounded by trains and tour buses.

WP&YR water tower at Fraser, BC
The grader and snow plow finally caught up with us.

C-FCHQ, a 1973 Bell 206B JetRanger, is operated by Capital Helicopters of Whitehorse. As spectacular as this country is from ground level, it’s even better from the air!

C-FCHQ, a 1973 Bell 206B JetRanger, is operated by Capital Helicopters of Whitehorse
The south-facing slopes of Dail Peak, and Montana Mountain adjoining to the north, have melted out enough that hiking isn’t far away (and is probably not unreasonable now).

Dail Peak, Yukon
That’s enough of Winter beauty – I really want Spring to arrive. The highways are clear now, but there’s still over 2 blocks of snow and ice to get my motorcycle over. I thought about giving it a shot yesterday, then chickened out – the bike is just too heavy for an old guy to drop. If the City send a plow down the road, the warm sun will melt me a path within a few hours…

Motorcycle and snow...

Driving to an Incredible Aurora Borealis Display

On the night of March 17-18, I spent 11 hours driving 493 kilometers to experience one of the best aurora borealis displays I’ve ever seen. The combination of strength, colours, patterns and movement were simply incredible, and just going through the 184 photos I shot to pick some out for this post has brought back some of the excitement of the night.

The aurora forecast was for a night of very high-strength displays, and photos I saw online from the night before were wonderful. But the skies in Whitehorse were cloudy. The closest report I found for clear skies was north at Carmacks, or much further east past Watson Lake.

I left home at 8:20 pm, 15 minutes after sunset. My plan was to simply drive until I found the aurora, though I had Five Finger Rapids and Eagle Rock (north and east of Carmacks respectively) in mind as shooting locations. It started snowing lightly just before 9:00 – the first photo was shot right at 9:00, at Km 215 of the North Klondike Highway (highway mileposts start at the ferry dock in Skagway).

A snowy night on the North Klondike Highway in the Yukon
The snow got heavier as I neared Fox Lake, and the road was bad enough that I started thinking about turning back. It’s not like this was something that I had to do, after all. I decided to keep going until Braeburn Lodge, as sometimes the narrow valley at Fox Lake holds storms and it’s better past that. Shortly after making that decision, I could see a thin bright band that indicated clear skies ahead. By the time I could see the lights of the lodge, pale aurora was also visible. Whoohoo!!

Nearing Braeburn Lodge on the North Klondike Highway in the Yukon at night
At 9:50, just a few hundred yards past the lodge (that’s the Braeburn air strip on the right), I made my first stop of the night to capture these wonderful colours. None of the 33 images in this post have been post-processed (“Photoshopped”) in any way. While the camera “sees” reds and purples better than the human eye does, these are all what came out of the camera, with no unusual settings/filters on it either.

Northern lights in the Yukon
Continuing north, I stopped a couple of times so I could show you what the drive looked like. When the aurora is this bright over the car’s headlights, you know it’s a very strong show.

Aurora borealis on the North Klondike Highway in the Yukon
I stopped at the ruins of the Montague Roadhouse, but the lights had disappeared. I stayed for a few minutes…

Aurora borealis in the Yukon
…and then noticed that the aurora was visible past some clouds ahead. This is the only photo of an aurora that I’ve ever taken with a telephoto lens :)

Aurora borealis in the Yukon
The aurora was gone until just before 11:00, when it returned even stronger than before. The bright line to the right is an airplane, not a shooting star – its track shows up on 3 photos.

Northern lights in the Yukon
A “roadside attraction”, Yukon style! This was shot at the same spot as the one above, at 11:05. There was virtually no traffic (less than 1 vehicle per hour), so I could shoot whenever and wherever I wanted.

Aurora borealis on the North Klondike Highway in the Yukon
At 11:35, I pulled off the road just north of Carmacks and spent a while shooting. I’d never seen such vibrant colours last this long.

Aurora borealis in the Yukon
Looking back at Carmacks. The sky to the south, the direction I needed to get the aurora over the town here, only lit up for a few minutes in the 11 hours I was out.

Carmacks, Yukon, on a starry night
Right at midnight, I reached Tatchun Creek, the furthest north I was going to go. The trees at bottom left are along the creek, the highway going north can be seen just to the left of bottom centre.

Northern lights at Tatchun Creek, Yukon
The view to the northwest down the Yukon River from the same spot.

Aurora borealis over the Yukon River
I went back to the Five Finger Rapids rest area and spent a long time shooting there, as planned.

Aurora borealis over the Yukon River
A “selfie” at the Five Finger Rapids viewing deck.

Aurora borealis in the Yukon
One more Five Finger Rapids shot at midnight:45. Despite my patience, the aurora never did show to the southwest over the Five Fingers rocks. I next headed back south towards Carmacks and the Campbell Highway turnoff.

Aurora borealis in the Yukon
My exposure times and ISO settings were all over the map as I tried to keep up with the light variations. Some of the incredibly bright displays were shot at as short as 6-second exposures instead of my more common 30 seconds.

Aurora borealis in the Yukon
The displays starting a few minutes before 01:00 were absolutely stunning. I don’t have words to describe it, but just going through the photos sends a shiver up my spine. Incredible work, Mother Nature!

Northern lights in the Yukon
The next 4 photos were all shot between 01:00 and 01:30 on a few k stretch of highway just north of Carmacks.

Aurora borealis in the Yukon

Aurora borealis in the Yukon

Aurora borealis in the Yukon

Northern lights in the Yukon
Looking back at Tantalus Butte from halfway down the steep hill to Carmacks, the Yukon River and the Campbell Highway. I’ve done a fair bit of exploring the old Tantalus Butte coal mines over the years, but I need to do more this coming summer.

Aurora borealis over Tantalus Butte, Yukon
Looking to the east up the Yukon River from the same spot as above. The lights are at a home along the Campbell Highway.

Aurora borealis over the Yukon River
As I drove east along the Yukon River on the Campbell Highway, the aurora faded, and was pretty much gone until 03:00 when a strong show gradually returned. My “base of operations” was 27 km east of Carmacks, at Eagle Rock, which is officially the Columbian Disaster Rest Area, with signs that describe the September 25, 1906 explosion on the sternwheeler Columbian that killed 6 people. The next 3 photos are looking down the Yukon River towards Carmacks.

Aurora borealis in the Yukon

Aurora borealis in the Yukon

Northern lights in the Yukon
I really wanted to get the aurora over Eagle Rock itself, but it was in that problematic southerly direction. With a broader view, though, Eagle Rock is seen to the right, the Yukon River to the far right.

Aurora borealis in the Yukon
At 03:30, the aurora got particularly strong again and I was firing off shots pretty much constantly.

Aurora borealis in the Yukon

Northern lights in the Yukon
Finally the display moved over Eagle Rock for just a couple of minutes and I got the shot I’d hoped for.

Aurora borealis over the Yukon River
At 03:40, I shot some “selfies” at the Columbian interpretive signs, then packed up my gear and started the long drive home.

Aurora borealis in the Yukon
On the way home I stopped at Montague Roadhouse again, and after waiting a bit to see if any aurora would appear, had a nap. By the time I woke up, clouds had moved in, and by about 06:00, as I got near Braeburn Lodge, it had started snowing lightly again. Around Fox Lake, the temperature had climbed to near freezing and the road got quite slippery.

A snowy Yukon night drive
No wonder the car was starting to sound and feel a bit odd!

Wet snow buildup in my wheel wells
On drives like this, I always carry my Spot GPS tracker. Almost my entire route was outside of cell coverage areas, but it’s a big comfort knowing that I have a satellite-powered SOS button if I need it. As well as the “hidden” features like that, it broadcasts my position to a Web site that Cathy (or anyone else) can see. A screen shot from that site is seen below, and you can see the real site by clicking on that image (the track disappears in 7 days).

My SPOT trip track through the Yukon

Well, that’s the story of my amazing night on the road. I am so incredibly lucky to be in a position to do silly things like that now :)

Ice Palace Blues Night at the Yukon Transportation Museum

Although Cathy and I both love music and spent years playing (her piano, me trombone), we seldom go out to listen to music. Last night we did get out, though, and it was so wonderful that it just might be the kick we need to do it more.

The event was “Ice Palace Blues”, organized by the Yukon Transportation Museum as part of their 25th anniversary celebrations. The name is a tribute to the recreation centre and dance hall that now houses the museum. Yukon-born blues artist Brandon Isaak was brought up from Vancouver, and he was backed up by well-known locals Paul Stephens on bass and Lonnie Powell on drums.

This was an experiment by the museum, and was a huge success in every way (in the opinion of Cathy and I). There was a wide variety of people there, and it’s a safe bet that many had never been in the facility before.

Ice Palace Blues Night at the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse

Ice Palace Blues Night at the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse

Ice Palace Blues Night at the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse

Ice Palace Blues Night at the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse

Ice Palace Blues Night at the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse
Paul Stephens on bass.

Paul Stephens on bass, Ice Palace Blues Night at the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse
Lonnie Powell on the drums.

Lonnie Powell, Ice Palace Blues Night at the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse

Ice Palace Blues Night at the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse

Ice Palace Blues Night at the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse
Still photos just don’t do justice to the music or the energy last night, so here’s a 3½-minute video I shot.

As a bonus to a wonderful evening, when we walked out to the car, the Northern Lights were putting on a good show. This was shot hand-held with everything wide open – a 0.6 second exposure at ISO 3200 and f3.5.

 at Whitehorse, Yukon

Although I got packed up and went for an aurora-hunt drive after getting home, it had already clouded over.

Another Aurora Borealis Night

After a dismal winter of aurora viewing, with clear skies and a good aurora very seldom coinciding, I had pretty much given up on getting any good photos this year. But last night was the third exceptional night of aurora borealis photography in the past week. I went out a fourth time but it was a dud.

I almost didn’t go out last night because of the full moon, which overpowers most auroral displays. I went to bed early, but woke up at 10:00 pm and saw how incredibly strong the aurora was so got dressed, packed and headed out.

Because of the strength of the display, I decided to start shooting in the city, which is normally the place to avoid because of the light pollution. By 10:35 I was at the Yukon Transportation Museum where I took a few shots, then went next door to the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre to work with the wooly mammoth statues outside. One of the biggest challenges in Northern Lights photography is getting the focus right, especially when you have a foreground up close.

Northern Lights and a wooly mammoth at Whitehorse, Yukon
It struck me that the control tower at the airport would be a superb place to watch the aurora from, so that was my next stop. Not to go up, unfortunately, just to get some photos of the tower.

The Whitehorse airport control and the aurora borealis
The view from my usual airplane-watching spot. The lights at bottom right are from a truck with a flashing light.

Aurora borealis at Whitehorse, Yukon
The aurora had gotten even stronger, so I then went back to the Yukon Transportation Museum and re-shot some of the photos I started the night with. The ones with their Douglas DC-3, CF-CPY (a.k.a. “The World’s Largest Weather Vane”), are my favourite images of the entire night.

Northern Lights over the World's Largest Weather Vane at Whitehorse, Yukon

Aurora borealis over Douglas DC-3 CF-CPY at Whitehorse, Yukon
I was really enjoying being able to shoot Whitehorse landmarks with the aurora, so my next stop was at The Horse, but the spotlights on it were too bright and the aurora didn’t show up at all.

The Horse statue at night - Whitehorse, Yukon
I thought about hiking around the airport trail to get some shots of the city, but I had twisted my ankle out at Fish Lake while trying to shoot the aurora the night before, and decided that that would be just looking for trouble. This is the industrial part of the city looking down Two Mile Hill.

Northern Lights at Whitehorse, Yukon
A broad view of the Beringia Centre from the Alaska Highway.

Northern Lights over the Beringia Centre at Whitehorse, Yukon
My last stop in Whitehorse was at the SS Klondike. The aurora was fading, though, and the spotlights on the ship made the results there mediocre.

Northern Lights over the SS Klondike sternwheeler in Whitehorse, Yukon

Aurora borealis over the SS Klondike sternwheeler in Whitehorse, Yukon
I went down the Alaska Highway, but the results were what you can expect with a normal aurora and a bright moon. This is looking down the Yukon River, with the landscape lit by the moon.

A winter full moon lighting up the Yukon River
A car coming across the Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway.

A “selfie” shot at the viewpoint above the bridge, at 01:40. Without the moon, this would have still been an excellent aurora night.

Northern lights on a full moon night
I thought a lot about ending my night, but kept hoping that the aurora would get stronger again, so continued down the highway. This was shot at Marsh Lake, where I had a short nap.

Marsh Lake, Yukon, on a winter full moon night
I hadn’t continued one of my aurora drives into the mountains past Jake’s Corner for a very long time because I’d never gotten the shots I was looking for. Just as I reached the best spot in that valley, though, the aurora got a big energy boost. I hiked through deep snow a couple of hundred feet to get past a power line, and got the shots I’d been after for many years :)

Aurora borealis over Mount White, Yukon
The Tagish River Bridge was the last place I got a photo worth posting – after a long wait, this one little ray flashed on for just a few seconds.

Northern Lights at the Tagish River Bridge, Yukon

I didn’t want to get home before 06:00 because no matter how careful I am, I always wake Cathy up, so I stopped at the Carcross Desert and slept for another hour. I noticed that there was still a crown of aurora above me – that was almost 10 hours of continuous display.

I got home just after 6, and the girls (dog and cat) were more than happy to join me in bed for a proper sleep :)

There’s nothing in tonight’s aurora forecast to indicate that we’ll have a repeat performance, but the strength of last night’s show was a surprise too, so I’m open to another sleepless night!

Clinton to Whitehorse, Highway 97 / Alaska Highway

Everyone who travels a lot develops their own style, their own preferences. For me, it’s all about the journey – in most cases, getting to a “destination” is anticlimactic and I want to get moving again. When Home is the destination, however, different rules apply, and it was wonderful to get home just before 6:00 pm yesterday.

On trips like this one, I do enjoy slowing down when everything comes together, but this time that never happened, so it was a very quick trip. The drive from Vancouver to Whitehorse took 53 hours, with only one motel stay, and only 4 proper meals.

Because I had only reached Clinton instead of Quesnel on Wednesday, I had 3 hours to make up to reach Fort St. John for a meeting I had set up with another travel blogger at 3:00 Thursday. A further complication was that northeastern BC runs on Alberta time, losing another hour from my day. As a result, I was away from the motel at 02:45.

Round-Up Motel in Clinton, BC
I stopped for a large though quick breakfast at McDonald’s in Quesnel, and was on the John Hart Highway north of Prince George when I shot this at 08:20, as normal people were just getting their day started :) This is the point where I always start to feel like I’m in the North again – I know that Prince George likes to think of themselves as being “North”, but they’re just not, they’re simply close.

John Hart Highway north of Prince George
I reached Dawson Creek at 1:25 local time, allowing for a short visit to the art gallery, as planned.

Welcome to Dawson Creek, BC

I visit the Dawson Creek Art Gallery fairly often. This was the final day of a show titled “am-big-u-ous”, featured 5 local artists. Given my time crunch, the main reason for my visit was to get up-to-date photos for my next post at HelloBC, about the art gallery.

I made it to the charming Whole Wheat ‘n’ Honey cafe in downtown Fort St. John just a few minutes after the arranged 3:00, and that few minutes was taken up by finding a parking spot, so I was pretty pleased with my time management under these conditions!

The blogger I had arranged to meet is Gemma Taylor, who runs Off Track Travel, a travel blog that I got introduced to a few months ago when Gemma and her partner JR were in the Yukon. I thoroughly enjoy her writing style and photography, and the hour we spent chatting (mostly about travel in many forms, not surprisingly) was a great break from the road. Our paths will almost certainly cross again when I have more time.

The weather had so far been somewhat better than the forecasts had indicated, but conditions got quite bad as I left Fort St. John on the Alaska Highway, with high winds and blowing snow on the icy road. I took this shot at one of the calmer moments.

Snowing on the Alaska Highway
I’ve been stopping for meals and accommodations at The Shepherd’s Inn at Historic Mile 72 of the highway ever since I started driving the highway in 1990, and they’ve never disappointed me. It was the perfect place for a big meal and pleasant conversation before starting what I knew would be a long night.

The Shepherd's Inn, Alaska Highway
The snow was erratic, luckily, and there was less commercial traffic than normal on the highway. Some of that commercial traffic, though, is grossly underpowered for these hills and I was caught in one of the resulting slow parades for a very long time. The clearing and lights on the hill mark the location of one of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of gas wells in the area.

Heavy traffic on the Alaska Highway
This is one of the oldest remaining lodges on the Alaska Highway, the Buckinghorse River Lodge at Historic Mile 175. This was just a fuel stop for me. I was surprised to see almost nobody else here, as had been the case at The Shepherd’s Inn. I’m assuming that this is because of the tens of thousands of recent layoffs in the oil and gas industry.

Buckinghorse River Lodge at Historic Mile 175, Alaska Highway
Traffic thinned out considerably past Buckinghorse River, but the snow increased so I stopped and had a couple of hours sleep at a pull-out. After hundreds of kilometers of seeing virtually nothing man-made along the highway, the large Spectra Energy gas processing plant 20 km south of Fort Nelson is quite a shock.

Spectra Energy gas processing plant 20 km south of Fort Nelson

Normally, Fort Nelson is an overnight stop for me, but the weather forecast was for clear skies to the north and the aurora forecast was also good, so I confirmed my earlier thought to continue on and do an all-nighter aurora search.

I saw this scene as I drove past, thought about it for a minute, then did a U-turn and came back to set up my tripod and get the shot. I haven’t stayed at the Fort Nelson Hotel for many years, mostly because I’m quickly passing through and want cheap and park-in-front-of-my-room convenient.

Fort Nelson Hotel, BC

On Steamboat Mountain I came upon a truck accident – a B-train semi tanker jack-knifed into the ditch. He seemed to have lost traction on the extremely icy hill and then slid backwards into the ditch. I slowed to a crawl but didn’t see anybody around, though it looked like it happened just minutes before.

Although the skies were clear north of Fort Nelson as forecast, there was no aurora, so at about 01:00 I pulled over south of Summit Lake and went to sleep. I shot this at 04:15 as I was about to get back on the road. One of my Facebook friends commented that he never drives this section at night anymore because of the number of animals. Most of my winter sports charter driving took us through here at night, though, and it’s just slower at night.

U-Haul on the Alaska Highway on a winter night
I stopped again at Summit Lake with the idea of just sitting and enjoying the night, but an extremely strong north wind made it unbearably cold to be outside there even with all of my winter gear on. By tucking in behind the truck I was able to get this one photo and then continued on. The buildings seen in the photo are across the road at the Summit Lake Campground.

Summit Lake, BC, on a winter night

That bitterly cold stop brings up some of the things that need to be kept in mind when planning a drive like this. First, I could pack everything I need into a daypack, but I carry a suitcase full of survival gear including an Arctic-rated sleeping bag. When stopping at places like Summit Lake, if I’m going to leave the vehicle running, I roll the window down. All it would take is to lock myself out of the vehicle to die – death by freezing would be almost certain before another vehicle came along unless I was able to find something heavy enough under the snow to break a window to get back in. Don’t I know how to have a good time? :)

It was looking like sunrise could be really pretty, so I stopped at Toad River Lodge at Historic Mile 422 to kill some time by having breakfast. This was the most expensive gas of the trip at $1.359. When I pulled away at 07:20, the sun was just starting to light up the peaks ahead.

Winter dawn on the Alaska Highway
The dawn wasn’t as pretty as I thought it might be, but with scenery like this, adding some colour isn’t that big a deal!

Dramatic scenery along the Alaska Highway
The first animal of the trip (!!) – a lone moose munching on creek-bed willows near Muncho Lake. I backed up to get this shot, and he left, though slowly.

Moose near Muncho Lake in the winter
Muncho Lake. I’m using this as the definitive shot to show why I do this drive over and over and over again. Every day is different, and I simply never get tired of seeing this country in all of its varied moods.

Winter dawn at Muncho Lake
The Lower Liard River Bridge, built in 1943, is the last remaining suspension bridge on the Alaska Highway. The Liard River Lodge on the left was abandoned about 15 years ago.

Lower Liard River Bridge, Alaska Highway
I thought about not stopping at Liard River Hot Springs, but decided to go in and spend a while soaking away some aches.

Liard River Hot Springs in the winter
Oh yeah, good idea! I had the pool all to myself, so I didn’t even have the hassle of dealing with a wet bathing suit :)

Liard River Hot Springs in the winter
The new facilities are really nice. There are even mats along the deck so your feet don’t freeze to the wood. The temperature wasn’t bad, though – perhaps -15°C (+5°F).

Over the next couple of hours after leaving the hot springs, I must have seen almost every wood bison in the herd – about 250 of them. Last summer I met an Australian couple who came to the hot springs specifically to see bison after having someone at a visitor centre down the highway assure them that they would see them on the way to the springs. They saw no bison, and didn’t believe me that the bison were always north of the hot springs, only occasionally south of them.

Wood bison along the Alaska Highway
The bison were scattered along the highway for some 130 kilometers (80 miles) yesterday, from about 5 k north of the hot springs to 2 k south of Contact Creek. There were 3 herds of 50-60 animals each, and many small groups and individuals.

Although I wasn’t hungry or thirsty particularly, I stopped at the new cafe at Fireside to see how things were going. They just opened last June after buying the long-abandoned property. It doesn’t look like much yet, but the cake, coffee and conversation made me really glad I stopped. I suggested among other things that if a trail could be built from the lodge down to the foot of Cranberry Rapids it could be an excellent attraction, and it’s already in their plans.

Fireside Cafe on the Alaska Highway
The highway itself was in terrible condition for hundreds of kilometers north of the hot springs. A warm spell had melted the packed snow on the highway enough to turn it into glare ice, which had then pot-holed. It was as bone-jarring and deafening a drive as I’ve even had on the highway, all because the Highways contractors didn’t run a grader over it when it was soft.

I didn’t take any photos north of the road surface one that was shot just south of Watson Lake – I just wanted to get home. Just before 6:00, I was back with my family. I slept for 9 hours last night, and now it’s time to post this and get the U-Haul into town, pick up my car at the shop and then probably come back for some time in the hot tub (there are still some sore spots to deal with :) ).

Another Vancouver-Whitehorse Drive – Day 1

The joy of being retired is that you can accept any fun thing that comes up. While I was in Dawson doing the last fun thing a couple of weeks ago, Cathy accepted a new job for me – helping a fellow she works with get the rest of his stuff to Whitehorse from Vancouver. Fly to Vancouver, pick up a U-Haul, meet friends to load the truck, and drive back home – simple, eh? :)

Here’s the basic map of the plan.

Route map of the drive from Vancouver to Whitehorse
A 04:00 start this morning got me to the Whitehorse airport for the 05:50 Air Canada flight to Vancouver. It was cloudy most of the way, but for a few minutes long before sunrise, some of the Coastal Mountains could be seen.

BC's Coastal Mountains in the pre-dawn light
Multiple layers of cloud went very close to the ground in Vancouver – 5°C and wet provided no encouragement to stay a while :)

Approach to YVR on a cold, dreary winter day
For such a large airport, YVR always impresses me with its user-friendliness as well as its great architecture.

The U-Haul pickup was many miles from the storage facility but was at least fairly close to a train line. The first train to take was the Canada Line from the airport to the waterfront in downtown Vancouver. That was quick and easy.

Poor signage made finding the next train take longer than it should have, but I was soon on the Millennium Line to the far edge of New Westminster. It’s a very scenic line in several places.

The U-Haul place was said to be a short walk from the train station. It was a lot further than I expected, and heavy traffic (cars, trucks and trains) made it very slow going.

At 10:30, though, I was ready to go, only a half-hour or so later than I had expected. The truck was dirty inside and out and smelled bad, but it runs well, and that’s the important thing on a trip like this.

U-Haul depot in New Westminster, BC

There were 3 people at the massive storage place to meet me, and by 1:00 we had the truck loaded and I was on my way north.

With a lengthy stop in Chilliwack for an early dinner and some road-trip shopping, I was at Hope just after 4:30. The heavy traffic in Vancouver makes me nuts, but once I get past Chilliwack life gets good, even if it’s raining :)

Highway 1 north of Chilliwack in a winter rain
I made a brief stop at the Sailor Bar tunnel to get a photo for an upcoming article about the Fraser Canyon tunnels on my HelloBC blog.

Sailor Bar tunnel, Fraser Canyon
By the time I reached Spuzzum I needed to stretch my legs, and walking part-way across the bridge over the Fraser River provided a spectacular place to do it.

Fraser River bridge at Spuzzum, BC
And it had been many years since I got any photos of the long-abandoned Alexandria Bridge from the new bridge.

Alexandria Bridge, Fraser Canyon, BC
My original plan had been to make it to Quesnel tonight, but I really like the Round-Up Motel in Clinton, almost 3 hours short of Quesnel, so that’s where I’m spending the night. From my experience, this is the best $69 motel in BC.

I’d like to make it to Fort Nelson tomorrow, but I have a couple of people to see in Peace Country, so we’ll just see what happens :)

Photographing the Northern Lights and a Winter Dawn

I never thought that I’d get 2 great Northern Lights photography nights in a row, but it just happened. This morning’s aurora didn’t last as long as it did yesterday, but for a few minutes the display was even more spectacular.

The aurora forecast was good, so I went to bed at 8:30 with the alarm set for 12:30, figuring on pretty much an all-nighter aurora shoot. I looked out at 10:30 and the sky was still clear but there was no aurora. By 12:30, the sky was completely covered by clouds, so I gave up. At 04:00, I was up again, and had both requirements to hit the road – a clear sky and a very good auroral display.

I took some test shots of the house at 04:15, as the aurora was not the bands and rays that are the most photogenic, it was rapidly-moving, vaporous clouds of colour. But when these images turned out, I loaded the car and headed out.

Northern Lights over my home in Whitehorse, Yukon
By 04:45 the vaporous auroral clouds had begun to turn into the more usual forms. This was shot looking towards Whitehorse from near the Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway.

Aurora borealis near the Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway
From the rest area at the bridge a few minutes later, I went for a walk down the river on a rough track, to get some shots with the Lewes Dam. By now the vertical rays were very good.

Aurora borealis over the Lewes Dam on the Yukon River
The Yukon River Bridge lit up by a car passing by.

Northern Lights over the Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway
Directly overhead there were some fast-moving patterns swirling around and joining the rays to form a complete arc.

Northern Lights overhead near Whitehorse, Yukon
I decided to go on a lengthy road trip loop via Carcross, and by 05:45 was stopped shooting at the M’Clintock River Bridge at Marsh Lake. This and the next photo show a fairly rare colour. These are not manipulated in any way – that’s what the camera recorded. While I was parked here, one car stopped and backed up to be sure that I didn’t need help. I try to be obvious when I’m stopped in the middle of nowhere that I don’t, but wasn’t successfully in this case.

Northern Lights over the Alaska Highway at Marsh Lake, Yukon
A few miles further along, a very powerful ray appeared, but was gone in less than 5 minutes. A power line along the highway to the left ruined most of the shots I took here.

Northern Lights over the Alaska Highway at Marsh Lake, Yukon
At 6:10 I knew that I was running out of night, but the aurora was fading anyway. I decided to continue on my loop to capture some dawn images, though.

Northern Lights over the Alaska Highway at Marsh Lake, Yukon
The Tagish River Bridge is a great place to shoot the aurora, but it’s a long way from home and I’ve only been lucky a couple of times. Dawn light is wonderful there, too, though :)

Winter dawn at the Tagish River Bridge, Yukon
The view down the Tagish (a.k.a. Six Mile) River from the bridge at 06:45.

Winter dawn at the Tagish River Bridge, Yukon
Choutla Peak (I think) from the Tagish Road, which goes from the Alaska Highway through Tagish to Carcross.

Caribou Mountain from the Tagish Road, Yukon
Montana Mountain, which looms over Carcross, is in the centre. The peaks to the right are half-way down Lake Bennett, almost at the Yukon/BC border.

Mountain dawn along the Tagish Road
Looking back at Choutla Peak.

Caribou Mountain from the Tagish Road, Yukon, at dawn
The next 2 photos were shot from the bridge over the Nares River on the South Klondike Highway at Carcross. It looked like the sunrise might be very pretty so I hung around there for a while, but the light went flat before that happened. The first photo is of Caribou Mountain.

 Whitehorse, Yukon

Winter dawn at Carcross, Yukon
Carcross has one of Canada’s cutest historic post offices :)

Carcross post office
Looking up Lake Bennett to the peaks bordering the West Arm.

Looking up Lake Bennett to the peaks bordering the West Arm
Heading home, the sunrise started to light up the peaks as I reached Emerald Lake.

Dawn at Emerald Lake, Yukon
One final shot looking back to Montana Mountain. I got home at about 08:30, very pleased with the results of the past 4 hours :)

Montana Mountain in the winter

A Spectacular Aurora Borealis Morning

Usually, getting up before 04:00 isn’t a good start to my day. However, today it was, in a major way. As soon as I fired up the computer I saw some notices on the Yukon Aurora Alert page I set up last year, saying that there had been a display around midnight. When I checked, the aurora was still there, and covered much of the sky!

With the temperature at -3°C (it was +3 in town), I went out into the front yard in my pajamas and took a couple of shots. For life in general, I love living in a forest – for Northern Lights photography, it’s not so good. I normal start shooting at 30-second exposures at ISO 1600, but the aurora was much too bright for that – this was shot at 15 seconds with the ISO knocked way back to 500.

Aurora borealis in Whitehorse, Yukon
I wasn’t going to go for a drive, so just took a couple of shots of the house and went back inside. When I pulled this shot up on the big screen, though, my plan changed.

Aurora borealis over my home in Whitehorse, Yukon

Within a few minutes I was on the road. My first destination was the Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway as is often the case, but I had to go a few miles in the wrong direction to get gas before starting my aurora wander.

At 04:45, I starting shooting at the Yukon River Bridge. This is looking south from the rest area there.

Aurora borealis along the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse, Yukon
Looking south along the Alaska Highway. In my photography, I often put man-made things in the picture, and roads are a particular favourite. With the aurora, perhaps it brings back some great memories of spending hour after hour driving down the highway under the Northern Lights when I was driving winter bus charters.

Northern Lights over the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse, Yukon
Looking towards Whitehorse. The Yukon River Bridge is straight ahead, the Lewes Dam is on the right, and the lights of the city add some colour to the sky. Clouds had started to move in with the fairly strong south wind – very disappointing but as least I got a few shots.

Aurora borealis along the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse, Yukon
Another shot to the south as the clouds covered more of the sky. With almost no traffic on the highway, I parked in the traffic lane and set up my tripod beside the car for this shot.

Aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse, Yukon
This was shot looking south at the bridge from a side road that goes to the dam and some homes.

Northern Lights at the Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse
By 05:15 the clouds had mostly disappeared and there was getting to be some really interesting vertical rays in the aurora, so I started shooting some vertical photos.

Aurora borealis along the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse, Yukon

Aurora borealis along the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse, Yukon
Then some red aurora began to appear even to the naked eye. Cameras “see” much more red than our eyes do, so when you can see the red you know a good photo is there.

Red Northern Lights along the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse, Yukon

Red aurora borealis over the Yukon River near Whitehorse
At 05:30, I was back at the rest area looking for some traffic shots, but with only 1 vehicle every half hour or so, that plan often doesn’t work.

Aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse, Yukon
But trucks are particularly fun when it does work :) None of the photos in this post have been “Photoshopped” – they are exactly what came out of the camera. The different colours between this photo and the one above in particular are caused by the camera reacting to the truck’s lights.

Trucking under the Aurora borealis on the Alaska Highway
Just towards Whitehorse from the bridge is this wonderful view over the Yukon River, but there’s no place to get off the road so I don’t shoot here very often.

Northern Lights over the Yukon River near Whitehorse
I’m drawn by the Lewes Dam in all seasons, and this morning was no exception.

Aurora borealis over the Lewes dam near Whitehorse, Yukon
Looking down the Yukon River from the dam.

Aurora borealis over the Yukon River at the Lewes Dam
A couple of minutes before 06:00 I was doing more vertical shooting for those spectacular rays.

Aurora borealis over the Lewes dam near Whitehorse, Yukon

Aurora borealis over the Lewes dam near Whitehorse, Yukon
Back on the side road, but shooting towards the city. A pilot car with flashing lights was going by on the Alaska Highway.

Northern Lights along the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse, Yukon
A traffic shot that didn’t quite work but is funny because of that. The movement was caused by me getting slammed by an extremely strong wind from the wide load that had moved over towards me to get room crossing the bridge :)

Aurora borealis along the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse, Yukon
By about 06:40, the light of dawn was wiping out the lights of the aurora, even though sunrise didn’t happen until 08:19 this morning. I drove around a bit looking for shots. The aurora doesn’t show well in this shot…

Dawn and aurora borealis over the Lewes Dam near Whitehorse, Yukon
… but this one looking down the river was a good one to finish off a wonderful morning of shooting with.

Northern Lights along the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse, Yukon

Now, I have 2 days to get ready for my flight to Vancouver and drive back to Whitehorse.

Valentine’s Day with Yukon Wildlife & Huskies

Saturday was Day 11 of our Yukon Quest tour – the final full day. It was a day to see some Yukon wildlife, and one last look at the world of dog sledding.

Our first stop was at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, which opened early for us and had the bus warmed up for our tour around the 700-acre property.

Yukon Wildlife Preserve in the winter
The wildlife-design touques in the little gift shop were a hit :)

Wildlife-design touque at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve
At each of the major animal pens, we got off the bus and our guide, Maureen, did an excellent job of describing the animals and their lives in the wild and at the preserve. This is one of the wood bison (Bison bison athabascae).

Wood Bison at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve in the winter
In all of my trips to the preserve (Cathy and I are members), I’d never seen the moose (Alces alces) right up at the fence before. This is the only moose at the preserve now – 3 others have died of old age in recent years.

Bull moose at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve in the winter
Across from moose habitat is the pasture and forest where a large herd of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) live. Although the deer could jump the fence if they wanted to, life there is apparently good – in fact a couple of years ago a wild mule deer jumped into the enclosure and has never left :)

Visitors at the mule deer habitat at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve in the winter
As the climate changes, mule deer have become much more common and are ranging further north in the Yukon, and cougars are following that expansion.

Mule deer at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve in the winter
The thinhorn sheep (Ovis dalli) were being particularly photographer-friendly! These dark rams are Stone sheep (Ovis dalli stonei).

Thinhorn sheep at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve in the winter
The white thinhorns are known as Dall sheep (Ovis dalli dalli), and are the most numerous in the Yukon.

Dall sheep at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve in the winter
The muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) were unfortunately at the far end of their enclosure.

Mush oxen at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve in the winter
A mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) in his favourite position, high on a cliff overlooking the road. There were several up there as well as one in a meadow beside the road.

Mountain goat at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve in the winter
The lynx were visible, unlike the common situation in the summer when they’re usually hidden by leaves and other vegetation, but I wasn’t able to get any good photos. The little Arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus), however, were very cooperative.

at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve in the winter
After our 2-hour visit to the wildlife preserve, we drove to Muktuk Adventures, a sled dog kennel operated by Frank Turner and Anne Taylor. As well as spending some time with the dogs, the Muktuk staff was preparing a special farewell lunch for us.

Muktuk Adventures near Whitehorse, Yukon
Staying in Valentine’s mode, there was plenty of Husky Love to go around with their 126 dogs :) I’ve been to Muktuk many times over the years, both winter and summer, and always love it – these dogs have great lives.

Husky love at Muktuk Adventures near Whitehorse, Yukon

Valentine's Day husky love at Muktuk Adventures near Whitehorse, Yukon

Husky love at Muktuk Adventures near Whitehorse, Yukon
The walls of the dining room are filled with posters and other memorabilia from Yukon Quest race history, going right back to the first one in 1984.

Frank Turner truly is a mushing legend in the Yukon. He attempted the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest 24 times in 25 years, crossed the finish line 17 times, placed in the top six 10 times, and won the race once, in 1995. Working on the Rules Committee for the race now, he keeps up with the details of the sport, and can tell stories all day.

Yukon mushing legend Frank Turner at his home near Whitehorse
Frank’s stories certainly keep people’s attention. Our lunch was as delicious as it sounded, with bison, elk and Arctic char as well as salad, potatoes and vegetables.

Guests listening to Frank Turner's dog sledding stories

The 3 hours that we spent at Muktuk was a great way to wind the trip up. I was hoping that a Northern Lights show would be the bonus, but although I checked several times during the night as the forecast was good and the skies clear, no luck.

At 03:20 this morning, I drove back into town to take everyone to the airport for their first flight of the day, to Vancouver. It really was an awesome trip to be able to share with my new friends, and I’m sorry to see it end. But, in 10 days I fly to Vancouver for the next Adventure, bringing a U-Haul up to Whitehorse – and I have a lot of work to get done around the house in those 10 days :)

With the Yukon Quest in Dawson City – Day 2

On Thursday, we spent another full day immersed in Yukon Quest sled dog action at the Dawson City checkpoint.

The morning dawned clear and cold, though a bit warmer at -29°C (-20°F). I got to the checkpoint just before 8:00 – after missing 3 teams by arriving minutes too late, I had stopped depending on the Live Tracker as more than an approximation.

Dawson City, Yukon, on a winter morning
Ryne Olson arrives at 08:39, in 14th position.

Ryne Olson's Yukon Quest 2015 team arrives at Dawson City, Yukon
Seconds after arriving at the checkpoint, Ryne Olson didn’t look like she’d just mushed a dog team through 500 miles of wilderness! :)

2015 Yukon Quest musher Ryne Olson at Dawson City, Yukon
I didn’t spend nearly as much time doing non-Yukon Quest shooting as I thought I would, but some scenes such as the Third Avenue Hotel Complex couldn’t be passed up.

Old buildings - the Third Avenue Hotel Complex - at Dawson City, Yukon
Jeremy and I moved the schedule around a bit so that the group could all see two mushers depart from the campground for Eagle. We arrived about 40 minutes early to allow lots of time, as walking in heavy gear is slow and tiring.

Yukon Quest mushers' camp at Dawson City, Yukon
Final preparations to get back on the trail were being made at Ed Hopkins’ camp as we passed by.

Yukon Quest musher Ed Hopkins' team at Dawson City, Yukon

Yukon Quest musher Ed Hopkins' team at Dawson City, Yukon
Ed’s wife, Michelle Phillips, gives lead dog Bear some love. Michelle had won the Yukon Quest 300 just 2 days before.

Michelle Phillips with Yukon Quest musher Ed Hopkins' team at Dawson City, Yukon
For spectators, part of the excitement of the race is certainly seeing and hearing the dogs’ excitement. This short video gives you a bit of that.

I got a position out on the riverbank to shoot the departures. Fifteen minutes after the schedule 10:20 departure of Ray Redington Jr., a team came down the trail, but it was Ed Hopkins, at his scheduled time.

2015 Yukon Quest musher Ed Hopkins' team leaves Dawson City, Yukon
To avoid a very large stretch of open water below Dawson, this year’s trail goes back up-river for a half mile or so before crossing to the north side.

2015 Yukon Quest musher Ed Hopkins' team leaves Dawson City, Yukon
Word was passed down to those of us along the trail that Ray Redington Jr. had scratched at the last minute, moving Ed Hopkins up into 5th place. Here, work starts on taking apart Ray’s camp for the return to Knik, Alaska.

2015 Yukon Quest musher Ray Redington Jr's camp at Dawson City, Yukon
This is Lance Mackey’s fancy sled setup, with a cooker behind the main sled and a basket sled for a possible injured dog behind that.

Lance Mackey's fancy Yukon Quest sled setup at Dawson City, Yukon
One of the race vets at work.

Yukon Quest mushers' camp at Dawson City, Yukon
Returning to town, we next went to the Dawson City Museum, which opened up for us. It does a very good job of explaining what life was life both before and after the big gold strike on August 16, 1896 that would make the name “Klondike” famous around the world.

Dawson City Museum, Yukon
Although for the majority of people, life in the Dawson City area after the strike was a basic frontier one as shown by the log cabin in the photo above, for others Dawson was “The San Francisco of the North”, with most of the amenities seen in any city of the time, including electricity, and entertainment aimed at the mostly-male population.

Dawson City Museum, Yukon
We next drove back across the river and past the “Closed” sign on the Top of the World Highway, to see if we could reach a great view over Dawson and the Klondike River. Some other people had had the same idea, so we reached it with no problem.

Top of the World Highway in the winter
Dawson and the Klondike River.

A winter view of Dawson City, Yukon, from the Top of the World Highway
The pastel colours of the Westmark Hotel are wonderful in the winter (though the hotel is only open in the summer).

A winter view of Dawson City, Yukon, from the Top of the World Highway
It was a great spot for a group portrait as well (2 people didn’t come).

A winter tour group portrait overlooking Dawson City, Yukon
Driving back to town.

Top of the World Highway in the winter
At 4:15, several of us were back at the mushers’ camp for the departure of two more teams. Up on the road, I got hugs from 3 of this fellow’s very sociable dogs :)

Sled dogs at Dawson City, Yukon
Normand Casavant’s team gets ready for the trail to Eagle – he would start in 7th place. Journeys by Jerry Van Dyke, the company I’m working for on this trip, sponsored his bib, #3.

Yukon Quest 2015 musher Normand Casavant's team at Dawson City, Yukon
Cody Strathe’s would be the next team out, in 6th place.

Yukon Quest 2015 musher Cody Strathe's team at Dawson City, Yukon
Love the license plate on the back of Lance Mackey’s sled – “on by” is the command for dogs to go by something that’s distracting them.

Lance Mackey's sled at Dawson City, Yukon
Mike Ellis’ Siberian huskies looked like they were ready to go, though they weren’t scheduled to depart for over 4 hours yet.

Some of the Siberian huskies in Mike Ellis' Yukon Quest 2015 team
At 4:50, exactly 24 hours after arriving in Dawson, Cody Strathe and his dogs were on their way to Eagle. I love the smile on that dog – he’s back doing what he loves to do :)

Cody Strathe and his dogs on the 2015 Yukon Quest trail
This British couple were hiking back down the river to an island that they live on, after coming to town for supplies.

Hiking down the Yukon River in the winter
At 5:13, Normand Casavant and his team were back on the trail.

Normand Casavant and his 2015 Yukon Quest team of dogs

Normand Casavant and his 2015 Yukon Quest team of sled dogs

That was the end of my up-close-and-personal Yukon Quest action for this year, but some of my guests were back down to the river for more that night. I’ll be watching the rest of it from my nice warm office chair :)

On Friday, we made the long drive back to Whitehorse, and tomorrow, Saturday, we’ll be giving the group a final look around the city before their flight out Sunday morning.