Enjoying Winter, & Planning a Summer RV Adventure

We’re having a very easy winter this year, and I’m lovin’ it. The days are getting longer now and everybody is starting to comment on how good it feels – today, January 31st, the sun will rise at 09:22 and set at 17:06. The temperature only dropped to -7°C (+19°F) last night (the average low for this day is -21C/-6F), and will go up to -5°C (+23F) this afternoon (the average high for this day is -11C/+12F).

The biggest news in our life is about our old husky, Monty. He was diagnosed with nasal cancer last summer, was supposed to die in November, and was so sick by late September when I was on a month-long RV trip that I wondered if he’d just not wake up some morning. And yet he still loved life, and would get excited about going for the walks that had to get shorter and shorter.

On October 11th, I rescued a puppy from the Watson Lake shelter (we named him Tucker), for a few reasons. First, because Cathy and I both got “the message” that this was the right puppy to add to our family. Also, though, Monty had done such an amazing job teaching our last puppy, Bella, that we wanted to give him another go at it, even if only for the few weeks he had left. We also wanted to make it easier for Bella (and us) when Monty died.

We were in for a huge surprise, though. Five days after Tucker arrived, Monty suddenly woke up a new dog. He ate normally for the first time in 5 months, had good energy, and was clearly back as leader of his newly-enlarged pack. About 2 weeks ago, he suddenly improved even further for no apparent reason. This is Monty playing ball with Bella 2 weeks ago.

My husky Monty and border collie cross Bella

Monty still bleeds from his nose, though. Last weekend, a series of sneezes triggered an extremely bad one – the house and back yard looked like a multiple-murder scene. I took him to our vet the next day. There’s no explanation for what has happened over the past months, but the very short summary of a long discussion is that he doesn’t have cancer, he doesn’t have any infections, he’s simply not sick. He must have something stuck far up his nose, and a dog’s nose is so complex that there’s no way to find it much less retrieve it, with the equipment we have in Whitehorse.

After 8 months watching the most incredible dog I’ve ever had dying, I’m still in a bit of a daze, but I wash bloody bed-sheets pretty much every day, and thank Dog that he’s still with us.

My pack loves their collective life, and they keep me believing that I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world. A couple of times a day, we take a walk around the property, and it often turns into something like this πŸ™‚

My husky Monty and border collie cross Bella
Bella may be the one who has benefitted the most from Tucker’s arrival. She immediately turned into the most wonderful mommy-dog we could have hoped for. Watching Bella teach and protect Tucker is very special. Her play-time with him is always gauged to his abilities.

My border collie crosses Bella and Tucker
They are pretty much inseparable, and Tucker’s energy has worn off the extra pounds that Bella had put on. In this photo shot a couple of days ago, they were hunting mice in the corral (so was Monty, a few feet away).

My border collie crosses Bella and Tucker
My life isn’t totally about dogs, though. There’s lots more to do, including quality relaxation. And I’m still heavy into working though my collection of old documents and putting material such as my database of Northern films online.

Enjoying a Yukon winter with wine and a hot tub
My biggest project for the final weeks of winter is planning and getting ready for a major trip in the motorhome this summer. I’ll be on the road as soon as the road conditions allow, probably mid April, and will be gone for about 3 months. The huge figure-8 will take us to at least Ottawa, perhaps Quebec City. Cathy is going to be flying to Winnipeg in late May to join me for 4, possibly 5 weeks, and then will fly back to her job in Whitehorse. Because of the crashed Canadian dollar, we’ll be spending very little time in the States – down through Michigan’s UP, and back across the tops of Wisconsin and Minnesota to make the figure-8 work.

I answered a question about the map in the comments, but will add it here as well. I’ve used a few mapping sites, but this one is from Good Sam – you have to be a member to use it. Limitations on the number of waypoints are the biggest challenge for me. I used to use Mapquest, then went to Google Maps, but when Google reduced their waypoint limit to 9 I went searching again. Good Sam’s limit is 25, and I’ve already broken this trip into 3 sections to make it work – 2 sections eastbound and 1 westbound – and it may get broken further yet. The map here is from the first draft of the trip when it all fit in one. The only major change since then is that the route down Michigan’s Upper Peninsula now runs down the west coast.

Map of our 2016 cross-Canada RV trip

So, lots going on and lots to do, and over the coming months I’m going to have a lot to tell you about!

A Day of Sunshine & Fog in the Mountains

With sunshine forecast for both Whitehorse and Skagway, yesterday looked like a good day to make the 320-km (200-mi) drive through some spectacular mountains. Cathy had bought a lot of linens at JC Penney’s last huge sale, and it was all waiting for me at the Skagway post office so I had to go anyway, but the weather forecast certainly looked like it would be a photography day as well.

I decided to only take 2 dogs with me. While they all get to go with me on short trips, Monty has decided that he doesn’t want to share the back seat of the car anymore, and on a long trip that doesn’t work for poor Bella, so Monty got a day at home without the youngsters. We left home right at 09:00, just over an hour before sunrise, with the temperature at -21°C (-6°F).

Despite the forecast of clear skies, fog was widespread on the road south. The temperature bottomed out at -24°C (-11°F) at Carcross, and a few miles further on, a glance in my rear-view mirror prompted the first photo stop to catch the wonderful colours to the north. It was now 09:44, 22 minutes before sunrise.

A winter dawn on the South Klondike Highway, Yukon
The fog visible past the Venus Mine made it clear that Tutshi Lake was still not frozen. That was a bit disappointing, because that’s where the best sunrise colours would be happening.

A winter dawn at the Venus Mine on the South Klondike Highway, Yukon
That belt of fog ahead is right over Tutshi Lake.

Winter fog over Tutshi Lake, BC
Right at sunrise, the fog cleared enough to see some of the peaks along Tutshi Lake light up.

Winter sunrise over Tutshi Lake, BC

Winter sunrise colours on the mountains along Tutshi Lake, BC
I made the usual stop at Tutshi Lake to let the dogs play. This was Tucker’s first road trip, so much about this day was new to him, including this beach with open water. As it often does in the winter going over the low pass between Windy Arm and Tutshi Lake, the temperature had jumped almost 10 degrees Celsius, to -15°C (+5°F).

A foggy winter morning at Tutshi Lake, BC
Bella and Tucker are so good together. She’s both his mommy and his teacher, and at 2 years old, barely out of puppyhood herself, is doing a wonderful job of both.

Dogs playing on the snowy beach at Tutshi Lake, BC

Dogs playing on the snowy beach at Tutshi Lake, BC

Dogs playing on the snowy beach at Tutshi Lake, BC
Tucker is always watching both Bella and Monty to see how various events should be handled. New sniffs? Let me in! πŸ™‚

Dogs playing on the snowy beach at Tutshi Lake, BC
Continuing on, the rising sun was producing some wonderful colours in the fog banks that we drove repeatedly in and out of. Reaching Summit Lake at 10:44, I was quite stunned by this scene. High winds were creating some impressive clouds over and around the mountains.

A winter morning at Summit Creek on the South Klondike Highway, BC
Starting the descent to Skagway, the wind was really screaming, and lots of snow was blowing around. Two plow trucks and a grader were at work on the Alaska side of the pass, knocking down snowdrifts as they formed across the road. Not that there was much traffic to be affected by any drifts – in the past hour I’d only seen 1 car, 1 pickup and 2 semi-trailers hauling fuel.

Winter on the South Klondike Highway north of Skagway, Alaska
The temperature climbed rapidly as we dropped down to sea level – it was -5°C (+23°F) in Skagway, but that north wind made it feel much colder. Despite the wind, though, after picking up my stuff at the post office, I decided to take the fur-kids over to the beach at Dyea – there would be lots of new stuff for Tucker to experience there! And the mountains along the Dyea Road are spectacular.

Mountains along the Dyea Road, Alaska

Mountains along the Dyea Road, Alaska
I seldom go by the pullout above Nahku Bay without stopping for a photo or 3.

Nahku Bay on the Dyea Road, Alaska
I just never get tired of these mountains. I was in a real funk a couple of days ago, spending too much time reading about the horrible things going on in the world, and days like this, out with just my dogs, surrounded by this incredible silent wilderness, really are a healing process for me.

Mountains at Dyea, Alaska
The fur-kids had a ball, and I was pleased to see Tucker go off and do some independent exploring after their play, giving Bella some quiet time.

Border collie cross Bella on the beach at Dyea, Alaska
The Taiya River estuary is an incredibly beautiful place in every season. Although it was quiet yesterday, we’re only a few weeks away from the Spring burst of activity for all manner of wildlife, with the late-March oolichan run a highlight that I need to get down for again this year.

Winter at the Taiya River estuary, Alaska
By 1:00 Yukon time (noon Alaska), we were on our way up the hill again. Before the snow fell, surveyors had marked out the location of a really ugly new bridge that’s planned to replace this unique one over William Moore Creek. If the project goes ahead, it will be just to the left of this one, and this curve will also be gone.

William Moore bridge, Alaska
The wind had increased, and a lot more snow was being blown around heading up to the summit. Sometimes that can offer some good photo ops, but it was all just a foggy blur until we got to the other side. That’s not fog ahead, that’s a cloud of snow blowing down the straight part of the valley!

A cloud of blown snow in the White Pass, BC
Looking back towards the summit from the same spot as the photo above. I noticed only a single snowmobile track in the area. We’ve gotten very little snow so far this winter, and sledders may be just staying home.

White Pass summit in the winter
I stopped a lot going through the pass (as I had planned to). Photos don’t do it justice, and I don’t have the words to tell you how incredibly beautiful it was.

Winter on the South Klondike Highway in the White Pass, BC
To properly capture the scene looking back toward the summit required a series of shots that I created this HDRI with. One of my friends used the term “magic” to describe this image, and that’s a perfect description of the feeling there. Click on this photo to see the enlarged version on Facebook.

I had a new experience at the border crossing at Fraser. I was asked to take the dogs into the office while one of the officers went through my car thoroughly. When you only see 3 cars a day, any little change is nice, I guess. All was as I had told them it was, of course, and we were soon on our way πŸ™‚

I caught this just a minute after leaving the border crossing – one of my 3 favourite shots on the day.

Winter sun and fog on the South Klondike Highway at Fraser, BC
A couple of minutes later, another stop. Tucker was always interested in what I was up to, but Bella is well used to this silliness and never stirred from her nap.

Winter fog on the South Klondike Highway near Fraser, BC
Climbing up above the snow-cloud near Fraser. I was quite amazed by how black that cloud became in places.

Climbing up above a snow-cloud on the South Klondike Highway
“Steam” rising off Tutshi Lake prompted another photo stop. It looked like an area of still water had started to freeze over a coupleΒ of miles before I shot this.

Steam rising off Tutshi Lake, BC
And one final shot of one of my favourite mountains, Dail Peak, at the BC/Yukon border. This shows you just how little snow we’re getting!

Mountains, sunshine, great dog play, and incredible photo ops – I feel much better now πŸ™‚

Winter Solstice in Whitehorse, Yukon

I’m sure that you’ve all heard the stories about how dark and dreary winters are in the Far North – some of you may even believe those stories πŸ™‚ Today I’d just like to give you a brief look at what December 21st was like in Whitehorse. You can see what it looks like year-round in my large Whitehorse photo album.

I had a few errands to run in town, but I also had some shooting to do, with this blog post in mind. The first photo was shot out the front window as I was getting ready, at 09:21, with the temperature at -21°C (-6°F). That’s slightly below the “normal” temperature for the day, but still quite reasonable compared to the record lows for this time of year, into the -40s (Celsius and Fahrenheit are the same at -40).

My front yard in Whitehorse on the Winter Solstice
At 09:37 I was on the Alaska Highway about half-way to downtown Whitehorse. My plan was to do some photography up to sunrise at 10:08, then do my errands.

Winter dawn on the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse
The wonderful pre-sunrise colours over the Yukon River at the southern edge of downtown made this my first stop at 09:48.

Winter sunrise over the frozen Yukon River
From the same spot as above, the SS Klondike peeking through the “steam” off the river was worth a few shots.

SS Klondike in an icy steam
At 09:55, I was up on the Long Lake Road and took a lot of photos of various parts of the city. The temperature had now dropped a couple of degrees, to -23C (-9F). I had planned on shooting the sunrise from here, but discovered that it would rise out of sight to the left. The distant mountain is Golden Horn, which Cathy and I live at the base of – it looks like a volcano, but isn’t.

Whitehorse in an icy winter dawn

Whitehorse in an icy winter dawn
I posted the next photo on my Facebook page, and it’s turned out to be the most popular photo I’ve ever posted there. In its first 24 hours on Facebook, it’s nearing 550 “shares” – to say that it feels really good to get that sort of response is an understatement πŸ™‚ Click on the image below to open the large Facebook version in a new window.

Whitehorse and the Yukon River on Winter Solstice at -23 degrees

A final shot from that viewpoint, looking down the Yukon River, with Shipyards Park the nearest point on the far side of the river.

The Yukon River and Shipyards Park on a cold Winter Solstice morning
At sunrise, 10:08, I was back at the SS Klondike. This doesn’t look much like sunrise, but because of the extremely shallow angle that the sun rises at, it takes a long time to be visible.

Sunrise over the Yukon River in Whitehorse on the Winter Solstice.
My plan had been to be back at my sunrise-photo spot to get a photo at noon, then another at sunrise, but while I was doing my errands, it clouded over. As I was nearing home at 11:11, though, you can get an idea of how high the sun would be at noon (not very!).

11:11 am on the Alaska Highway on the Winter Solstice

I hope that helps people see that it’s not as dark and dreary as they might think in the winter πŸ™‚

Aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway

When aurora-watchers dream about their perfect world, one thing that often comes up is having the aurora show up at reasonable hours of the night instead of 2-3 am. Last night, that came true in a dramatic fashion.

Sunset last night, the day before the shortest day of the year, was at 3:48. A few minutes after that, I noticed that both of the aurora reporting sites I use were calling for a very good night, probably starting as soon as it got dark. At 5:26, I posted on the Yukon Aurora Alert page on Facebook that the lights were already visible to the north, even though the sky was still quite light.

Aurora borealis reports for December 20, 2015
As soon as I could get my gear together and get dressed for the -21°C (-6°F) temperature, I was on the road. A few minutes after 6:00, I started shooting from the ridge above the Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway a few miles east of us. There’s a viewing deck there but the view of the sky, and of the highway in both directions, is better below it. Being this early in the evening, I was hoping to be able to get lots of vehicles lights, something that takes a lot of patience when you’re shooting at 02:00! This is the view towards Whitehorse. I shot it with a 15-second exposure at ISO 800, but the image was a bit bright and I had to darken it in the computer.

Aurora borealis over the Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway
Looking down the Alaska Highway to the east. Having the moon at about 75% full presents both lighting challenges (lens flare and washing out the aurora, primarily) and lighting opportunities (lighting the foregrounds). I had now switched to 8-second exposures at ISO 800.

Aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway
There was lots of movement in the aurora, and I shot almost constantly.

Aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway

Aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway

Aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway
Looking back over the bridge again at 6:25, with the light of a passing jet in the upper left, and vehicles travelling in both directions on the furthest part of the highway.

Aurora borealis over the Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway
Tail lights are usually much better than headlights πŸ™‚

Aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway
A selfie in front of the viewing deck. For normal aurora shooting, I use a 2-second shutter delay, just enough to prevent me from causing any movement. When I want to get into the shot as in this photo, I use an 8-second delay.

Aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway
At 6:45, I decided to change shooting locations, and drove 15 minutes in towards the city, to another ridge above the highway. The movement and patterns were still quite wonderful to the north when I arrived, but had disappeared to the east, the direction I wanted them. Fussy, fussy!

Aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway
The Alaska Highway runs through the broad valley of the Yukon River around Whitehorse, with Marsh Lake to the east just past the narrowing at the lower right of the photo.

Aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway at Whitehorse

The photo above was the last one I shot. The aurora faded, and although I stopped a couple of times as I drove home for brief flashes of light, it didn’t look like the show would return. You never know, though – there’s just no pattern for what might happen. I was back with the family by about 7:30, much to Cathy’s surprise. And mine – I had expected an all-nighter.

At about 8:45, though, the aurora made a spectacular return, and I dashed out to the deck wearing pyjamas and flip-flops to get a few shots (yes, outside in pyjamas and flip-flops at -21°C πŸ™‚ ).

Aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway
I thought about going out in the car again, but after about 15 minutes the show ended as abruptly as it had started. I checked a few times from bed, but never saw any more aurora before the sky clouded over about 11:00 pm.

Aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway
By the looks of our current weather forecast, that may have been our final Northern Lights show of 2015. Clearer skies are being forecast to the north and west of Whitehorse, though, so despite the very cold temperatures ahead, a road trip just might be in the offing yet.

Whitehorse weather forecast

An Icy Drive to Skagway, Alaska

I needed to go to Skagway to deal with a couple of things, and yesterday provided a tiny break between a couple of storm systems that have been and will be dumping a fair bit of snow there and in the White Pass.

I was away from the house at 10:00, 5 minutes before sunrise – this is the street we live on. With the shortest day of the year just 5 days away, sunrise was at 10:05 and sunset at 15:47. The next 5 days only reduce that by a couple of minutes.

Sage Place in Whitehorse, Yukon
It was -18°C (0°F) when I left home, and all the lakes along the South Klondike Highway were frozen until I reached Tutshi Lake. There, the temperature had climbed to -3C (27F) and the lake was still open. This is the spot where I usually run the dogs, but I’d left the whole pack at home this time.

Tutshi Lake in December
After visits to the post office and bank, I had lunch at The Station, one of my regular stops. It was great to see that their new premises are now seriously under construction – for some reason it got stalled for many months after the foundation was poured. When I walked into the restaurant, one of the most incredible uses of a cell phone I’ve ever seen was going on. A guy was being interviewed for a long time (for a job maybe, but sounded more like a magazine/newspaper article) – loudly and on speakerphone for the benefit of his buddies at an adjacent table. Just smh. But the food and service were excellent as always πŸ™‚

The Station restaurant and bar
A major building is finally going up on a prime piece of real estate that was vacated several years ago when part of the Westmark Hotel burned. It’s located across the street from the White Pass & Yukon Route railway depot. It was interesting to see that a large turret is being built on the ground and will eventually be hoisted to the top floor by a crane.

New building across from the WP&YR railroad depot in Skagway
One of my common places to go in Skagway during the winter, the Railroad Dock, is now blocked. There’s a nice short hike up at the far end of it, with lots of ruins from the coal station that used to be there.

Railroad Dock in Skagway
Last Sunday and Monday, Skagway got a heavy dump of snow, but rain has washed away most of it over the past few days. What isn’t obvious in photos is the ice – it’s hard to walk in many places, and I couldn’t get my car parked close to the sidewalk at the post office because it kept sliding sideways on the sloped ice. It was 0°C (32F) when I was there, so nothing more was melting.

Snow at the WP&YR railroad depot in Skagway
I’ve been seeing some incredible prices being asked (and sometimes paid) for old trailers at VintageCamperTrailers.com. Makes me wonder what some of the vintage trailers around Skagway might be worth – rather than “vintage”, we usually use the term “junk” for them πŸ™‚

Vintage trailer in Skagway
Speaking of trailers, here’s what the Garden City RV Park looks like in the winter. These trailers are used by seasonal employees – some are owned by individuals, but many are owned by companies and used as staff housing.

Seasonal staff housing trailers in Skagway
Across the road from the RV park is another group of seasonal staff housing units, these ones owned by the Jeep rental company.

Seasonal staff housing cabins and trailers in Skagway
By 1:30, I was on my way home again. The highway was all quite icy, and the only traffic I’d seen south of Carcross was 4 semis and a couple of pickups.

Semi on the South Klondike Highway in the winter
This fairly large waterfall at Mile 10 is a very popular stop during the summer. Most tour buses stop here and let their people out for a few minutes, often encouraging them to drink the pure, icy water. In the winter, it’s pretty quiet πŸ™‚

Frozen waterfall on the South Klondike Highway
Ruby and I love roads like this, even when the view is minimized by clouds. Any road trip is a good road trip.

Cadillac CTS on the snowy South Klondike Highway
I was amazed to seen an airplane on skis low over the highway just north of Fraser (the plane is marked by the arrow in the photo). He was southbound but certainly had no way of getting through the clouds to Skagway. I heard on the radio that an important meeting had been cancelled because no flights could get in with the people speaking at it. Being on skis, there are a couple of lakes he could land on, though, and even the highway could be a runway in an emergency.

Airplane low over the South Klondike Highway
I hadn’t mentioned Windy Arm on the way south. It was frozen, but was smooth and snow-free. This sort of freeze used to happen often historically, as I’ve read several newspaper reports from 1905-10 about people skating from Carcross to the long-gone mining town of Conrad, but I’d never seen this happen until about 5 years ago, and this is the third time it’s happened since.

Smooth ice on Windy Arm, Yukon
This year must be busting records for how little snow we have, as well as for the relatively warm temperatures. Snowmobilers aren’t happy, but you’ll hear no complaints from me.

Very little snow along the South Klondike Highway in December 2015
This little half-frozen waterfall just south of the Venus mine got me to stop for a few minutes.

Half-frozen waterfall on the South Klondike Highway
The waterfall above really needs a short video to show you how beautiful it was, both visually and in sound.

Some of the patterns formed in the ice on Windy Arm were wonderful. The area shown in this photo is about 150-200 feet across.

Ice patterns on Windy Arm, Yukon
The ice pattern seen above, in context so you get a better idea of the scale.

Frozen Windy Arm, Yukon
North of Pooley Creek, snow started to accumulate on the ice and it was soon not skateable. I thought about climbing down to see if it was thick enough, but didn’t want to be away from home too long and push my luck with our new puppy, who I had left free in the house, though a gate and door blocked off some areas.

Frozen Windy Arm, Yukon
Although I didn’t go down to the ice, and don’t have skates to try it out anyway, here’s a video showing people skating on Windy Arm in similar conditions on December 21st, 2011.

I got home just after 3:30, pleased with the day, and even more pleased that Tucker proved once again that he is the most amazing puppy and I had no messes or damage to deal with πŸ™‚

A Night of Lights – Christmas and Aurora Borealis

Five weeks away from the blog feels like forever. It’s not that I’ve been doing nothing, it’s just that there’s been little worthy of writing about. There’s very little snow, and we’ve had fairly warm temperatures and lots of cloud, so no aurora…

The forecast last night was for a strong aurora display but cloudy skies. Before going to bed, though, I noticed that even though the weather report said that the sky was cloudy, it was in fact completely clear, so I decided to head out on an aurora hunt.

It’s easier on Cathy if I leave as she’s going to bed rather than a couple of hours later, which is often closer to the start of a Northern Lights display. I hadn’t shot the Christmas lights around Whitehorse in many years, and they’re particularly good this year, so that would be a good way to kill time. Just after 10:00 pm, I made my first stop to get this shot of the SS Klondike.

SS Klondike with Christmas lights - Whitehorse, Yukon
I spent about 15 minutes at the boat, shooting from both viewing levels as seen in the photos below, then went across the road to Rotary Park, which although nicely lighted, didn’t result in any photos I was particularly happy with.

SS Klondike with Christmas lights - Whitehorse, Yukon

SS Klondike with Christmas lights - Whitehorse, Yukon
Main Street, very quiet at 10:45, was the next stop.

Main Street with Christmas lights - Whitehorse, Yukon
The huge Christmas tree at the historic White Pass & Yukon Route railway depot seems particularly impressive this year.

WP&YR depot with huge Christmas tree - Whitehorse, Yukon
I noticed this statue I hadn’t seen before beside the train station. I cropped out most of the half-built base, but when I was going through the photos this morning, it appears to be an important part of the piece, as it says “12 Days to End Violence Against Women 2015” – a short article about that program can be read on the CBC site here.

12 Days to End Violence Against Women 2015 - statue in Whitehorse, Yukon
The decorations on City Hall are, as always, some of the nicest.

Christmas lights on City Hall - Whitehorse, Yukon

Christmas lights on City Hall - Whitehorse, Yukon
The next major stop was Shipyards Park. This is the view south along Front Street (formerly First Avenue) from the park.

Christmas lights along Front Street, Whitehorse, Yukon
The thickest grouping of Christmas lights at Shipyards is across the street from Tim’s.

Christmas lights in front of Tim Horton's - Whitehorse, Yukon
At 11:20, an arc of aurora appeared, so I took a few final shots and drove a couple of miles to a new location overlooking the city.

Aurora borealis over Shipyards Park in Whitehorse

Aurora borealis over the Yukon River in downtown Whitehorse
The highest point on the Long Lake Road is one of my favourite shooting locations in the city. A slight widening of the road there allows for safe parking. This is the view to the south, over the Yukon River.

Whitehorse on a winter night, from the Long lake Road
Looking north, the view of the aurora borealis was good for a few minutes, then it very quickly faded.

Aurora borealis over Long Lake Road in Whitehorse

Northern Lights over Long Lake Road in Whitehorse, Yukon
I took a few photos of the city, including Shipyards Park as seen in the next photo, then made the fairly long drive out to Lake Laberge.

Christmas lights at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse, Yukon
I reached the Lake Laberge Campground just before 01:00. My hope had been that the aurora would return in a strong way, but that didn’t happen. The first photo was shot at ISO 1600 with a 30-second exposure, a sign of very weak lights.

Aurora borealis over Lake Laberge, Yukon
A few minutes later I was able to drop the ISO to 800, but a 30-second exposure was still needed. This is a “selfie” – the light is from my headlamp.

Aurora borealis over Lake Laberge, Yukon
The next photo is the same one as above, with some manipulation. The one above is what the scene actually looked like (very dark, with muted colours), while this one has been manipulated to look the way most people seem to like the aurora to look.

Aurora borealis over Lake Laberge, Yukon
This is the strongest the aurora got, right at 01:00.

Aurora borealis over Lake Laberge, Yukon
The next photo is basically the same as the one above, but shot a few seconds later with the light balance set to Tungsten Light, 3200K. As with the above manipulation, most people seem to like to think that the aurora looks like this πŸ™‚

Aurora borealis over Lake Laberge, Yukon
I stayed at Lake Laberge for another couple of hours, but the aurora never returned, so at about 03:00 I started the drive home, and was in bed before 04:00. As I neared Whitehorse, a light snow began, and as I’m writing this just before noon, a light snow is again falling. Added to the thick hoar frost that was already on the trees, it’s really quite pretty.

Fresh snow on our property in Whitehorse, Yukon
Before signing off, I’d like to show you a bit more of what I’m up to. One of the big projects was posting 78 photos from a collection I bought a dozen years ago. The photos were shot and collected by a serviceman at Naval Air Station Kodiak in 1949-50. I’ve just begun the huge job of trying to caption as many of them as I can. You can see that album by clicking on the photo of the B-17 below.

B-17 at NAS Kodiak in 1950

Another project that I’ve finished scanning and am now putting online is a guide to Yukon airports from 1988. The binder in the photo below was one I built as my primary resource when flying my Cessna. It had full airport information for all airports in BC, the Yukon, and parts of the NWT and Alberta, cut out of the “Canada Flight Supplement”, a government publication that was updated a few times each year. I’m taking those pages and adding Google Earth images and my photos of the airports – you can see those starting here

Yukon airport guide, 1988

Working on History – and the House

Winter has settled into Whitehorse, although it’s still fairly warm – as I write this at 05:00; the temperature is -5°C (+23°F). Cloudy skies are the norm, though, and despite some great aurora forecasts, most of the displays are hidden from us. What all that does is keep me in the house a lot, but I’ve been very busy.

It’s becoming more and more clear that I could spend the entire rest of my life doing nothing but scanning photos and documents from my Yukon/Alaska/BC history collection. That collection numbers in the tens of thousands of items, and I love digging significant items out to post on one of my Web sites. Over the past few days, I’ve posted well over 100 photos, either historic or showing historic sites.

The most significant of the material I’ve posted is 79 scans from a collection of 160 Kodachrome slides I bought on eBay in March 2005. They document a drive from Anchorage to Edmonton in September 1948, driving and camping out of a 1941 Pontiac. That 4-page story begins with “Driving Alaska’s Glenn Highway in 1948“.

The Alaska Highway in 1948
One of the historic sites in the Yukon that gets a fair number of visitors but shows up little online is the ghost town of Silver City, just off the Alaska Highway on Kluane Lake. I’ve posted 23 photos of the abandoned community, mostly ones that I’ve shot since I started taking tour groups there in 1990. See “An Explorer’s Guide to Silver City (Kluane), Yukon“.

Silver City, Yukon
Finally, I’ve posted 7 photos of a roadside memorial near Teslin. At Km 1212.2 of the Alaska Highway is a memorial to Corporal Max Richardson of Company “F”, 340th Engineers, U.S. Army, who died near there on October 17, 1942.

Alaska Highway cenotaph for Max Richardson
My collection isn’t the only project getting worked on. As all of you who own a house know, there’s always something to do, and that’s especially true when it it’s over 30 years old and sits on acreage. This week, I’m working on the kitchen again. Installing a large new light fixture that I bought in Calgary on the last trip was the first job, then I added another wall of backsplash that gets highlighted beautifully by the under-cabinet xenon lighting I installed a few months ago. Once I get that grouted, I’ll move on to some cabinet touchups and adding crown mouldings and light mouldings.

Tiling the kitchen backsplash

All of my regular readers know that dogs fit into my schedule somewhere in a major way, and yes, they get a few hours of my attention every day as well πŸ™‚ And we’re about due for a short road trip or 2. Skagway today perhaps, and maybe out to Soldiers Summit to pay our respects on Remembrance Day.

Dogs, last motorcycle ride, and getting ready for Winter

This is always a busy time of year, and as the days get shorter, the list of things to do seems to get longer. There’s no snow on the ground now despite getting a few inches of it over a few days starting on August 31st, and we still have fairly mild temperatures, but the cold (double-digit below-zero lows) is forecast to arrive tomorrow. My outside chores are almost finished, though.

We’ve been getting some very good aurora displays on the few nights that the sky has been clear recently, though I haven’t made any real efforts to photograph them. The forecast for Whitehorse shows 1 clear night in the next 7, but 5 out of 7 a couple of hours drive to the west, so I may be hitting the road for a proper photography night in the next few days. This photo was shot in front of the house back on October 18th.

Aurora borealis in Whitehorse, Yukon
When I got back from the trip, one of the priority jobs was getting snow tires on both Cathy’s and my cars. Having them mounted on wheels makes that a pretty simple job – much better than the hassle of having a shop do it. I do need one of the machines to reset the tire pressure monitoring system on my car, though.

Putting winter tires on my Cadillac CTS
Dogs are a big part of every day now, 19 days after adding a new puppy to the family. Tucker is wonderful – I have no doubt that he’s the best puppy I’ve had because he has 2 amazing role models. Even Molly (the cat) has accepted him far better than she did Bella, perhaps because he’s so small, but maybe there’s more to it than that. In most of Whitehorse, you can only have 2 dogs (3 with a special permit), but in most country residential subdivisions (acreage lots), we can have 4 (6 with a special permit).

Our pets - a cat and 3 dogs - having breakfast
Bella isn’t far out of puppyhood herself (she turns 2 next month), but her maternal instincts have kicked in big time, and she takes extremely good care of Tucker. It’s wonderful to watch her playing with and teaching him – and discipling him when that’s required. Monty doesn’t interact with Tucker a lot, but they do have some chats that are interesting to watch. Tucker would like to be a lot closer to Monty, but is very respectful. Monty has warned him at least a couple of times to keep his distance, but during quiet times they’re side-by-side more and more often.

Our dogs Bella and Tucker
We’ve had quite high humidity for a while, and the frost is getting quite thick, but my walks allow for little photography of anything other than dogs πŸ™‚

Frosty Yukon plants
Tucker’s arrival has made a huge difference in Monty, and there are times when it’s hard to believe that he’s as sick as he is. He’s made it clear to all of us that he’s back to being the alpha of his enlarged pack. From expecting that he was going to die during the trip, all bets are off now – we just take every day as a gift, do what we can to make every day the best day it can be, watch him carefully to be sure he’s getting pain meds when needed, and clean him up often. I photoshopped out the blood that was on his face before posting this photo.

Our dogs Monty and Bella
What a joy this little being is! The shelter told me that his brother was the cuddly one, and on the drive home that was clear, but Tucker was a fast learner, and can snuggle with the best of them now πŸ™‚ He sleeps in a kennel beside my bed most nights, but once a week or so, he sleeps with me as a treat (yes, for both him and me).

My puppy Tucker
There have been a few days recently that have been motorcycle-worthy. I was hoping to get out on Tuesday, which was my 65th birthday, but 2 vet appointments cancelled that idea. The next day, though, I got out for a couple of hours, down the Alaska Highway to Jake’s Corner and back. This was shot along Marsh Lake on the way back.

Alaska Highway by motorcycle in the Fall
My end-of-the-season shot, taken along the Yukon River at the Lewes River dam. There’s actually a small chance that I’ll be able to get out on the bike today, though there’s a 30% chance of flurries and I have some firewood to finish cutting and getting into the shed. We’ll see…

Murray and his Vstar 1100 Classic along the Yukon River

BC/Yukon RVing: Stewart to Whitehorse

By 11:30 on Wednesday, October 7th, day 29 of the trip, we had seen so many amazing places up the Salmon Glacier road that the day should have been over, but it was really just beginning as we pulled away from Stewart. We were really headed home now, though one more night would be required, at some unknown point along the way, though probably around Dease Lake somewhere.

Pulling out onto Highway 37A (sometimes called The Glacier Highway), with the Bear River Bridge ahead and the GPS saying that the next turn would be in 635 kilometers (395 miles), at the Alaska Highway.

BC Highway 37A, with the Bear River Bridge ahead
At Km 17.8, gates are used to close the highway when avalanches hit the Bear Pass area, which they do quite frequently. The cliffs ahead have some incredible waterfalls – a pullout or 4 would sure be nice so we could stop to enjoy them.

Avalanche gates on BC Hwy 37A north of Stewart
Bear River Canyon stretches from Km 36.5 to Km 38.

Bear River Canyon on BC Hwy 37A
At Meziadin Junction, the junction of the Stewart-Cassiar and Glacier Highways, it was good to see the new lodge offering gas – the first time that gas has been available here in many years. I didn’t really need much, but filled up to encourage good behaviour πŸ™‚ Meziadin Junction is at Km 156.6 of the Stewart-Cassiar (measured from Highway 16 at Kitwanga).

Lodge at Meziadin Junction, BC
The view ahead at about Km 175.

Stewart-Cassiar Highway at about Km 175
We spent a long time at the rest area at the first crossing of the Bell-Irving River at Km 188. I had lunch, played with the dogs, and chatted with a fellow from Terrace who’s thinking about moving to Whitehorse, away from the crowds.

Rest area at the first crossing of the Bell-Irving River at Km 188 of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
The Bell-Irving River.

The Bell-Irving River
The metal grate deck of the bridge across the Bell-Irving River. It’s okay to drive across unless you’re on a motorcycle, and it’s tough to walk on.

The metal grate deck of the bridge across the Bell-Irving River
Northbound at about Km 220.

Km 220 of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
Bell II Lodge has been a fairly regular stop for me year round for many years, for gas, meals, and even an overnight stay for Cathy and I in one of their beautiful chalets.

Bell II Lodge on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
The second crossing of the Bell-Irving River is just north of the lodge.

The second crossing of the Bell-Irving River on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
Construction of the Northwest Transmission Line and the extension to Iskut have changed the views along much of the Stewart-Cassiar. While the lines undeniably detract from the scenery, the clearing that they’re in has added views that were previously blocked by trees. This was shot at about Km 263.

Northbound at about Km 263 of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
Along the Ninginsaw River at about Km 285.

Km 285 of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
About Km 288.

Km 288 of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
About Km 305.

Km 305 of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
About Km 310. As you can see, the highway in this area is quite narrow and winding, with pretty much no shoulders. The road surface is quite good, though, with few bad heaves or potholes.

Km 310 of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
About Km 325.

Km 325 of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
The Burrage River bridge at Km 332.7. The canyon to the right has some great pinnacles and makes for a good short walk. The hill beyond is both long (4.2 km / 2.6 mi) and steep (up to 8%), but having been paved in very recent years, it’s much easier to drive now.

Burrage River bridge at Km 332.7 of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
The only gravel left on the Stewart-Cassiar other than some construction at times is a kilometer of the steepest part of the hill at the Stikine River, which also has the only remaining hairpin corner on the highway.

Hairpin corner dropping down to the Stikine River bridge on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway

Hairpin corner dropping down to the Stikine River bridge on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
As 6:00 pm approached, I decided that one of the pullouts in Gnat Pass at Km 464 would be our camping spot for the night. The scar to the right in this photo is the grade for the 1970s Dease Lake extension of BC Railway.

The grade for the 1970s Dease Lake extension of BC Railway
With almost no traffic on the highway, this spot overlooking Lower Gnat Lake would do us nicely for the night, with the broad view offering great aurora viewing if we got lucky.

RV camping at Lower Gnat Lake on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
After dinner, a walk down to the lake provided some good exercise for us all. That large calm area on the lake is ice, though the air was probably a couple of degrees above freezing.

Lower Gnat Lake on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway

I gotten woken up at about midnight by heavy rain, and knowing that the lake was partially frozen, I laid there for a long time imagining that it was freezing rain, and thinking of ways to safely continue if it was. Eventually deciding that there would be no safe way to continue, I decided that was okay, that I could camp there for days if need be, and went back to sleep.

In the morning of our 30th day on the road, I was very relieved to find that the rain hadn’t been freezing after all, and that the road was safe to drive on. Just before 08:30, we started north, descending into fog near Dease Lake in the valley below.

Fog in the valley near Dease Lake, BC
We reached Jade City at Km 602 at 10:40. This is a funny little community centred around the Cassiar Mountain Jade Store, a friendly operation that offers free RV parking.

Jade City at Km 602 of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
Just north of Jade City, another power line was being installed along the highway, but I don’t know from where or to where – it’s not mentioned among BC Hydro’s projects.

Power line being built along the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
We stopped for quite a while at the large Beaver Dam Rest Area at Km 649.3, for lunch and dog-play.

Beaver Dam Rest Area at Km 649.3 of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
Just after leaving the rest area, I noticed that ice was starting to form on my rear-view mirrors. Not a good sign at all (!), and although no ice was evident on the road yet, I dropped my speed a few notches.

Ice forming on my RV's side mirror
A very long (40 km +) stretch of new pavement around the rest area was very welcome, as this section has always been quite rough. A large forest fire went through this area in 2010.

New pavement toward the north end of BC Hwy 37
When I reached the Alaska Highway junction at 12:30, I thought briefly about going to Watson Lake to avoid the high gas prices at the junction, but decided not to. Good thing, as an accident had closed the highway between the junction and Watson Lake, and it was closed for a couple of hours. Freezing rain had passed through the area, and there were several accidents, though nobody seems to have been badly hurt.

The driver of this rig from New Way Trucking out of Calgary became the first professional driver I’ve ever reported to his company. He demonstrated one ignorant and one just plain dangerous passing maneuver within about 10 minutes, getting around me, and then after the 4 vehicles I was following had pulled off, getting around an Allied moving truck (passing him on a curve and hill with very limited visibility). I shot this photo seconds after he passed me – he was well past the double solid when he got into the small space in front of me. Between him and the UHaul in the photo (which was what was holding us all up) were 3 other vehicles, so you can see that there was no room for this sort of move.

Bad driver on the Alaska Highway
Another whoops πŸ™

Rolled pickup on the Alaska Highway
At 5:30, I pulled into our driveway, with 4,077.2 miles on the motorhome trip-meter (it’s an American coach – that’s 6,562 kilometers), and several hundred more on the Tracker. Emptying the rig took days, but some of it was fun – I love souvenir shopping in the Okanagan!

It’s October 17th as I post this. There’s been a great deal to do over the past 9 days, but I need to finish putting the rig to bed for the winter over the next few days, and get to work dreaming about next year’s Grand Adventures πŸ™‚

Exploring the Salmon Glacier Road at Stewart, BC

Wednesday, October 7th, day 29 of the trip, began early at our site at the Bear River RV Park in Stewart. I wanted to have a quick look at the Salmon Glacier, then be on the road for home. An excellent 22-page booklet, “Glacier Highway and Salmon Glacier Self Guided Auto Tour” is available online or at the Stewart visitor centre. It points out 14 major sites of interest, several of which were new to me and will require a couple of days to explore on a future visit.

By 08:00, a few minutes before sunrise, the dogs and I had crossed the unguarded border into Alaska, gone through the village of Hyder, and were well up the road along the Salmon River.

The road along the Salmon River north of Hyder, Alaska
A pullout at Km 27.7 (Mile 17.2) beckons travellers to stop to enjoy the views.

Looking down the Salmon River. The brochure says: “Notice the small ponds located below the toe. These depressions, known as Kettles, are formed by the melting of buried ice blocks, which are stranded on the outwash plain after the glacier recedes. The colour is caused by the fine materials suspended in the water.”

The toe of the Salmon Glacier. When I lived in Stewart in 1975 and worked underground at the Granduc copper mine, I rode a bus along this road to the mine and back to Stewart 5 days a week.

The toe of the Salmon Glacier at Stewart, BC
With nothing nearby to judge scale by, it’s hard to tell how big the ice cave is that the Salmon River is born from, but I’d guess at over 100 feet.

From this ice cave in the Salmon Glacier, the Salmon River is born
Nearing the summit, the original Granduc mine road can be seen far below. In the late 1970s, a new road was built along cliffs less prone to rockslides and avalanches. I don’t know what the collapsed building was, though that appears to be a mining cut beside it.

The original Granduc road far below
The summit viewpoint over the Salmon Glacier, which is the fifth largest glacier in Canada. “Stunning” barely begins to describe the scene. I’ve posted photos of the glacier in 1975 and 2015 to show you how dramatic its retreat is.

Salmon Glacier at Stewart, BC
A young couple had spent the night in their pickup at the summit, and when I arrived, the guy was heading over the side to try to reach the glacier. I’ve heard many times that there’s no way down to it, but have never tried myself.

Salmon Glacier at Stewart, BC

The auto tour booklet ends at the summit viewpoint, but I decided to continue along the road to see if the Granduc mine site can still be reached as it could when I visited in 2002. I’d heard that the Granduc property is being re-opened and is blocked by the new operator, but wanted to confirm that.

The first site of note is this tunnel, which wasn’t a mine as most people would logically think. The road used to go through that tunnel, which is almost a kilometer long. It was covered at both ends by doors which the bus and truck drivers opened by pulling a cord that hung from a “T” post outside. At the far end of the tunnel, a generator station was blasted into the cliff – it provided fresh air in the tunnel as well as power for lights and the doors.

Old road tunnel along the Granduc road
Looking through the tunnel – the pinprick of light in the centre is the far end of the tunnel.

Old road tunnel along the Granduc road
There used to be a lake here called Tide Lake – so called because every few years the water would melt its way under the Salmon Glacier and the lake would drain (the tide would go out). On the far side are some of the original Granduc mine workings from the 1950s.

Former site of Tide Lake at the Salmon Glacier near Stewart, BC
Sure enough, at what was the head of Tide Lake, “No Trespassing” signs halted further progress – smoke in the distance showed that work of some sort was being done on the property. It was now 09:40 and I needed to get going back, so I wasn’t hugely disappointed.

No Trespassing signs on the Granduc road near Stewart, BC
Going by Tide Lake again.

The former site of Tide Lake on the Granduc road near Stewart, BC
On the flat area to the right in this photo, many scenes in the 1982 movie “The Thing” were shot. In 2002, I had fun helping a group of hardcore fans of the movie find the site, and they took away some artifacts that hugely impressed them. Their Web site describing the adventure is still up.

Salmon Glacier at Stewart, BC
Beside the road ahead is one of the avalanche cannon stands from the Granduc days.

Avalanche cannon stands along the Granduc mine road
As much as I was in a hurry, I made a few photo stops. I sure wish that I had taken many more photos in 1975!

The view from the Salmon Glacier road near Stewart, BC
This was the camp for the Boliden Premier Gold Mine, which closed in about 2000, then was the base for their mine reclamation work until 2012.

Boliden Premier Gold Mine near Stewart, BC
At this easy-to-miss spot with its small border monument, downhill travellers go back into Alaska for a few miles. From the 1920s into the 1950s, there was a Canada Customs post about 500 meters back up the hill, at a spot known as Silver Heights.

Canada/USA border on the Salmon Glacier road
It was very quiet at the Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site – no bears to see, and no people looking for bears. This million-dollar facility was opened in 2001.

Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site at Hyder, Alaska
I hadn’t brought my passport with me on the trip, forgetting about wanting to go through this little tit of Alaska, and at the Canadian border, I got hassled about that as expected. I’m an easy guy to check on, though, and a few minutes later, I was on my way again. This has to be the silliest place for a border inspection anywhere in Canada.

Canada/USA border at Hyder, Alaska
I had one more stop to make before going back to the RV park to pack – I needed to update my photo of the memorial for the victims of the Granduc Mine disaster of February 18, 1965. After the memorial was erected, a spelling mistake in one of the names was discovered and it’s now been corrected.

Granduc Mine disaster memorial at Stewart, BC

From Stewart, there would just be one more overnight out in the middle of nowhere south of Dease Lake, but the adventures were not over yet.