My first stop in Dawson City when I arrived at noon on Wednesday (September 21st) was the Visitor Reception Centre. I had decided that the ghost towns of Forty Mile and Clinton Creek would be the first destinations, and I wanted to find out if they had any information about either site. Other than having an excellent brochure about the Forty Mile townsite, the answer was no.
As I was about to leave, the woman I was talking to mentioned a new model railway layout in a back room. That I had to see.
The railway layout shows various parts of the Klondike Mines Railway, and the detail is superb. I took a photo with my camera, posted it on Facebook, and one of my friends quickly said that it wasn’t new, that it was built years ago by a fellow from Vancouver. I had heard about a layout in North Vancouver, and Google quickly confirmed that this was indeed the layout bult by Brian Pate. Four years ago, Michael Gates published an article about the layout, and Brian has his own very detailed Web site about the railway and construction of the model.
The fact that the railway model was now in the Visitor Reception Centre (VRC) made me think that Brian had perhaps died, but no, he’s just down-sizing, and the railway has now joined his large model of Dredge No. 4, which has been in the VRC for many years.
While some of the structures are educated guesses as to what the originals looked like, as no photos are known to exist, Brian’s Web site has close-up photos of his models with photos of the original buildings, and the detail really does have to be seen to be believed.
The new home of the model railway is, I hope, temporary, as it’s really not suitable. To visit it, you have to walk in front of people watching films, and the room isn’t nearly large enough. But it’s great to have it here.
I learned at the VRC that the Gold Rush Campground in downtown Dawson allows RV parking for free after they close (services have all been shut off, of course). It was too late in the day to start for Forty Mile, so the location was perfect for a day of walking and other exploring, as it was when we stayed there last June.
Bella and Tucker were now ready for a long walk, so we went to the south end of downtown, to the mouth of the Klondike River (“Klondyke” is a historic spelling). From there, we walked back along the high dyke that protects the town from the Yukon River.
There are interpretive signs everywhere in Dawson. This one, in front of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) detachment, describes the Government Reserve where all government buildings were located in the early years.
With the kids happy and ready for a nap, it was time for lunch for me, and I went to the Sourdough Saloon at the Downtown Hotel, for the hundredth time or so over the years 🙂 Despite the fact that the hotel has passed from the Van Nostrand family into the hands of a Yukon investment/development company, the character of the place hasn’t changed.
After a leisurely lunch, I went back to the motorhome to get Bella and Tucker, and we continued our walk. This building beside the Palace Grand Theatre has seen many uses over the years. For 3 years or so in the 1990s, it was the apartment for Atlas Tours’s highway drivers and local guides, and I spent many nights here. Now, it’s the Cat’s Pyjamas Travellers Hostel.
While I don’t think that this broken-backed building is actually part of the hostel, in Dawson you never know! The rate, $32/night, sounds good for a location like this.
One of the most loveable of Dawson’s old-timers was Newt Webster. He died in about 2010, in his 90s, but right until his last summer, he could be found most evenings sitting on the steps of the Masonic Lodge, across from Diamond Tooth Gertie’s casino, greeting visitors and locals. His photo still looks out from the lodge to the casino.
Newt came to Dawson in 1937, and was a collector. By the time I met him in the early 1990s, his house was so full of stuff that he had had to move a trailer onto the property to live in. At least that was his story 🙂 He would never show me any of his collection, but you could see through the windows that the house was indeed full of something.
In business, timing is everything, and it’s really nice to see that Husky Bus was in the right place at the right time with the right service.
The Dawson City Post Office, then and now. While the old building stands, the operating post office has been in several other locations since moving out of this building in 1923, and is now a couple of hundred meters/yards to the left. This building, built in 1900, was designed by Thomas W. Fuller, who later became Chief Architect of the Department of Public Works.
At about 5:00, we went back to the RV, got the Tracker, and drove about 20 km (12 mi) out into the Klondike goldfields, to Dredge No. 4, at Claim No. 17 Below Discovery on Bonanza Creek. That’s close to the spot where its buckets quit scooping gold-bearing gravel in 1960.
The bow section of the hull is currently being rebuilt, with timbers sawed at an on-site mill. I started taking tourists through the dredge in 1990, when it was sitting at about a 20-degree angle, filled with mud and ice, but was as complete as the workers walked away. The next summer, Parks Canada began the massive job of raising it, stabilizing it, and restoring it.
The dredge was a great place to launch the drone. The last time I got this view was 31 years ago when I flew my Cessna over her. The video I shot will take some time to edit.
The gold mine just up Bonanza Creek from the dredge was going full tilt. In the 26 years I’ve been watching the property it’s been abandoned, and then had small crews for a few years, but this is the largest operation I’ve seen on it yet. Gold being at $1,332 USD at the moment continues to keep miners active.
There’s apparently been an awful spell of vehicles and equipment being stolen and/or vandalized in the Dawson area. Just down from the dredge, this hoe and loader were torched.
There’s some amazing equipment, such as this tiny bulldozer and oddly-configured tractor.
This early McLaughlin touring would be quite a car if a guy had $100,000 or so to put into it!
I’m not sure what goes on at Leo’s Corner when he’s there.
Leo certainly has a quirky sense of humour, though – his signposts are pretty interesting 🙂
A quiet spot along the Bonanza Creek Road as we headed back to Dawson, with the road winding between a couple of ponds in the dredge tailings. The distant hills were the site of a large hydraulic gold-mining operation 20-odd years ago – it was very interesting to watch.
Some Dawson miners go out of their way to be jerks. A couple of weeks ago, Michel Vincent and Michael Heydorf applied to the Yukon Surface Rights Board to evict several families living in the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation subdivision, which their gold claims overlap. This photo shows their claim and part of the subdivision. The Yukon clearly needs to revise some of the regulations, which regularly cause problems.
I don’t yet know who the artist is who paints the city’s compost bins, but they’re beautiful.
This guy has apparently had no luck getting the copper pipe stolen from his building returned – the sign has been there for a long time.
I had planned to go out for a good dinner and then to Diamond Tooth Gertie’s, but with Cathy not there, just couldn’t get into it. As the sun set at 8:00 pm, the kids and I went for a final walk, along the waterfront, always an interesting place. Some of this raft-home from the summer is being salvaged.
The freight barge Amelia Lupine, with the Dawson ferry crossing the river behind her. We’d start Thursday with a ride on the ferry.
As we got back to the motorhome, this ambulance went screaming by. That’s certainly an unusual sight here.
The plan for Thursday was to visit Forty Mile and Clinton Creek ghost towns, and camp somewhere along the Top of the World Highway, perhaps at the summit, though the high chance of getting snow overnight at altitude made that a “maybe” still.
I got home yesterday afternoon from 6 days in the RV, exploring along the North Klondike and Top of the World Highways, and in Dawson City. I had only very brief Internet accessibility in Dawson, so didn’t post or even write any blogs. It was a great trip and I have a lot to tell you about, though.
I got away from Whitehorse fairly late, after an interview with a couple of researchers from UBC. Since I was going through Whitehorse anyway, we used my motorhome as the meeting room, which was pretty cool – well, it would have been if not for Molly, who dropped nasty a bomb in the litter box and didn’t bury it. *sigh*
I had only the vaguest of plans for the week. Dawson was the general goal, and I had to be back to pick Cathy up at the airport at 11:00 pm on Sunday. Other than that, whatever caught my interest along the way would determine the actual route and timing.
By 11:00, I was heading north on the North Klondike Highway, which most locals still call the Mayo Road. That name goes back to the 1940s when the road went to the silver mining district of Mayo, not to Dawson. At the bottom of the curve ahead in the photo is Horse Creek, which is at Km 212 (the kilometer posts mark the mileage from the ferry terminal in Skagway).
The Fall colours are almost finished now, but there were still some bright patches along Fox Lake. With summer traffic long gone, the highway was very quiet, though I did meet 3 rental RVs headed south.
The Fox Lake Burn, too, provided some colour. A forest fire started by careless campers on the Canada Day weekend (July 1st) in 1998 burned all summer, eventually destroying 45,000 acres of the spruce/pine forest that had been here. Human-caused fires in the Yukon are generally in or near communities or along roads, so are spotted and extinguished fairly quickly – this one was an exception. The brochure “Driving the Fire Belt” describes this and other fires along the North Klondike Highway.
At the summit at Km 272, we stopped at the Fox Lake Burn rest area and went on the interesting 20-minute interpretive walk.
Several signs along the trail tell the story of the fire, and its short and long-term effects on the plants and creatures that live here.
Most people don’t realize how dry the Yukon is – many south-facing slopes support only grasses and sage. That and the short growing season combine to make re-growth after a fire extremely slow.
At 2:00, we reached Montague Roadhouse, a spot that I usually stop at. The timing this day was perfect, because Tucker had let me know that it was past our afternoon nap time. So we stayed in this pullout for quite a while 🙂
During our after-nap walk around the roadhouse property, I was both surprised and pleased to see that a couple of layers of logs have been recently added to the walls of the roadhouse. The Montague Roadhouse operated into the 1940s, and when it was closed, the roof was removed and used on the Carmacks Roadhouse, which still stands as a complete building.
About 15 km (10 mi) south of Carmacks, at 2:35.
We stopped at the Carmacks rest area for another walk. None of the fur-kids are big fans of the driving part of the RV trips. It’s the walks and other adventures that Bella and Tucker love, so I make sure that they get lots of them – and they’re good for me as well, of course. Molly seldom gets outside, but she’s happy just having her family close.
The Yukon River bridge at Carmacks. I really like the style of these old bridges, and have been sad to see almost all of them on the Alaska Highway replaced by wider but boring concrete structures.
At the bottom of the hill ahead, the Campbell Highway leads east to Faro, Ross River, and Watson Lake. The hill, Tantalus Butte, was the site of a series of coal mines that started operating in the 1920s, with the last one closing in 1967.
We reached the Five Finger Rapids Recreation Site, another place that I seldom just drive by, at 3:15. Both the view and the history of this site keep me coming back year after year. The weather forecast had called for sunshine, but clouds were moving in, and the light for photography was poor.
The stairs down to the rapids overlook are great exercise, but with the poor light, I decided to delay that until Sunday, on the drive home. Various reports put the number of steps at around 220-230, and it’s been years since I counted.
Almost all the leaves had fallen from the trees by the time we reached Km 470, north of Pelly Crossing, at 4:20.
At 5:15, it was about time to stop for the day. It would have also been a great time to be lazy and have a cafe meal, but my long-time friend Maja had had a busy season at Moose Creek Lodge, and had closed for the season a couple of days earlier. I’ll be seeing her again when she opens the lodge for the Yukon Quest sled dog race, though, as I’ll be guiding another tour following the 2017 race.
Looking north from Moose Creek Lodge, the highway crosses Moose Creek just ahead, and just past that is Moose Creek Campground. While the campground closed on September 15th, I hoped that it would be one of the ones that didn’t lock the gate.
The gate at the campground was indeed open 🙂
By 5:30 we were set up in site #20, a huge pull-through at the back end of the campground. I don’t recall ever hearing anybody mention Moose Creek Campground, but it’s very nice.
The road is wide and the sites are very large so it’s big-rig friendly, the facilities are all in excellent condition, and it’s quite far off the highway to keep noise down.
I used to wonder why some – perhaps most – of the parks close and lock the gates off-season. At Moose Creek, I saw why. Garbage bins full of household trash, signs on the firewood sheds stating “Firewood Protected by Theft Proof Coded Flakes” (whatever that means exactly), and picnic tables chained to the ground. So our parks have to be protected from theft and vandalism by locals – how bloody sad is that? Strangely, as if to confirm what I was writing at 05:30 in the morning, a pickup truck drove past my site. There’s no possible good reason for a pickup with no camper on it to be at the back end of the campground almost 3 hours before sunrise.
After getting the kids dinner, Bella and Tucker and I went out to explore more of the campground. We soon found a network of trails – one main interpretive trail along the bench above Moose Creek, and some side trails.
The trails vary from a very old road as seen in this photo – a wood-cutting road is my guess – to narrow paths.
These stairs lead down to Moose Creek and on to the Stewart River, about a half-hour walk.
There are several interpretive signs about the ecosystem and the birds and animals who live here. I was surprised by how steep the slope is, and how far down the creek is.
The second-growth spruce forest is lovely, with a thick carpet of moose. I expect that the original forest was logged to power the sternwheelers that ran the Stewart River.
It was a peaceful night as usual, with all the kids snuggled up with me on the bed. The established order in the motorhome, which is different than the one at home, is that Tucker sleeps half on me, often on my shoulder, Bella takes the other pillow, and Molly is tucked up to one of my legs.
On Wednesday morning, while I waited for sunrise, I read through the manual for my drone again, as I planned to do some flying and am still not very comfortable with its abilities and limitations.
I was in no hurry to get on the road, so it was 09:30 by the time we reached Gravel Lake rest area, only 61 km (38 mi) from the campground.
The Tintina Trench viewpoint and rest area at Km 655.2, at 10:20.
At 10:40, I reached the Dempster Highway junction and had to decide whether some of the Dempster Highway was on the itinerary or not. The road reports a couple of days before had been quite bad due to a lot of rain. I’d think about it while fueling up.
When the AFD (Alberta Fuel Distributors) cardlock opened at the former location of the Klondike River Lodge, it was dramatically the cheapest fuel in the Dawson area. I don’t know whether it still is, but filled up at $1.239 anyway. Before heading south, I’d fill at the North 60 commercial cardlock and could see who’s the cheapest – at North 60, you don’t know what the price is until the invoice arrives in the mail.
The flashing sign at Mile 0 pointed out structural problems with the one-lane bridge over the Klondike River ahead, and the fact that the campground at Tombstone was closed.
The highway sign had other important information as well. If it had been dated, I might have gone for a look 🙂
An AFD fuel tanker on the Klondike River bridge. They’ve sure done well since moving north.
I decided against the Dempster. There were too many other sites to visit, including some I’d not been to yet. At 11:45, I stopped at the unique “Welcome to Dawson” sign.
Dawson City is a wonderful place to just wander, and that was the basic plan for the rest of day.
Yesterday morning I was cooking up a storm, getting some chili and meatloaf in stock for an RV trip that was to start today. Then I got a call about finding some historic sites along Lake Bennett by floatplane. That led to an invitation to go flying to check the sites out, and 5 minutes later I had gotten changed, grabbed some aerial photos of the area, and was on the road, headed for the Whitehorse Water Aerodrome (CEZ5, a.k.a. Schwatka Lake).
There are 42 photos in this post – sorry! 🙂
At 11:20, Kyle Cameron was doing the final get-ready stuff on his beautiful bird, a 1957 Cessna 180A on floats. Kyle’s Dad, aviation historian Bob Cameron, and Tracey, a friend and history fan from New Zealand, were also coming.
This gorgeous Turbo Otter turned out to be particularly interesting once I checked it out online. Formerly C-GCQA with North Star Air in Pickle Lake, Ontario, she’s a 1955 DHC-3 model (serial number 77) and has just been rebuilt by Recon AirCorp for Rainbow King Lodge. Newly registered as N947RK, she was passing through Whitehorse on a ferry flight to Alaska with pilot Virgil Peachey.
We lost our sunshine within minutes of leaving Whitehorse, but the ceiling was high with a bit of ragged low cloud. With at least 3 of us in the plane very interested in aircraft wrecks, which the Yukon has a lot of, we first had a look at the wreckage of a United States Air Force C-119 Flying Boxcar which crashed just off the Annie Lake Road on November 23, 1961 (the wreckage is marked by the arrow). Seven men died in the crash – see a newspaper article written 2 days later.
Looking up the Watson River, with a light rain starting. A rough mining road runs up the right (north) side for about 5 miles, crosses the river then goes another 5 miles or so. It’s spectacular country with a fascinating history.
Heading down the Wheaton River. Even opening the window, the mist made it tough to show how brilliant the Fall colours are – we’re pretty much at peak colours now.
Looking down the Wheaton River to Lake Bennett, with Millhaven Bay on the right.
I’d sure love to canoe the Wheaton!
The sandy head of Millhaven Bay. The initial call from Kyle had been about the location of Otto Partridge’s lumber mill on Millhaven. I think that there have been 3 mills here, and that one was near the head of the lake, but from the air we could see no signs of any of them. Sometimes the forest canopy can hide sites that are fairly obvious when you’re on the ground.
Brilliant Fall colours on the west side of Millhaven Bay.
With no luck at Millhaven, we landed on the main arm of Lake Bennett, close to the location of a Gold Rush boat-building yard, just before 12:30. Here in 1898, the Bennett Lake & Klondyke Navigation Company built 3 small sternwheelers – the Ora, Nora, and Flora.
While Kyle and his Dad got the plane secured, I walked up the lakeshore in search of the boatyard, which I hadn’t been to in 10 years or so. Up close, some of the colours were quite spectacular.
I expected to find the site very quickly, but the further I walked, the more confused I became. Nothing looked familiar, and the heavy erosion that’s occurred made me start to think that it had all been washed away.
I spent almost an hour walking to the mouth of the Wheaton River and back to the plane. Either everything had been washed away, or I’d walked in the wrong direction.
All 4 of us scattered along the beach and into the forest to the north of the plane, and very quickly found the first signs that this was the right way.
Within 15 minutes, Kyle found the grave that’s at the south end of the boatyard. When I was here 10 years ago, I lightly stabilized the fence and headboard – the headboard was still leaning against the post I sunk then, so it will at least rot slower.
The inscription carved into a piece of marble inset into his headboard states simply that R. Saunders died in May 1899, at the age of 39. Mr. Saunders is, so far, largely a mystery man – all I’ve been able to find out about him is a brief mention in the 1899 North West Mounted Police report, stating that he died of natural causes on June 21, 1899 (contrary to the headboard’s date). Several years ago, I got an email from a man who had met Mr. Saunders’ son some 40+ years ago in Calgary, and he believed that his father died in a boating accident. Saunders clearly had either some very good friends or a family wealthy enough to afford to hire this level of grave construction. At the bottom of the photo, you can see a steel rod that was put through the board to prevent it from warping and popping the marble out.
The view from Mr. Saunders’ final resting spot.
From the grave, the first debris from the boatyard is only 100 meters/yards or so. There’s all manner of metal, from food and gas cans to broken pieces of equipment, most of which we couldn’t identify.
Bob looks over the main food-container dump. It’s hard to say how deep the material is, but it would have taken a substantial workforce to quickly build 3 sternwheelers.
A lead-soldered tin can and a broken bottle. There’s very little glass among the debris, and I expect that “collectors” have removed it over the years.
This was possibly a root cellar, but the small diameter makes me think that it was a well. It would be easier to get good water from a well than from a frozen or storm-lashed lake, regardless of how close it is.
This was one of the 2 most interesting pieces of equipment we found, and we have no idea what either were.
A piece of something from Boston, it appears.
This is the view from the middle of the boatyard. Extremely high water levels are hiding the pilings which allowed me to positively identify the site as being the Bennett Lake & Klondyke Navigation Company’s, many years ago, by comparing the view to a photo of the dock in 1899.
Does that look like pretty much the perfect Yukon day? 🙂
This survey was done a few years ago to delineate the First Nations settlement land here.
The way water sorts sand and gravel always intrigues me. There’s about a foot of extremely clear water over those materials.
Kyle, Bob, and Tracey discussing departure at 3:30. We decided fly a few miles south to get a high view of another site before heading back to Whitehorse.
If we would have looked at the right spot at the right second as we were landing, we could have walked right to the grave!
Away we go again. It was amazing to see Lake Bennett calm, and then to stay calm – that’s not a common occurence.
The view to the south, down the main arm of Lake Bennett. The Yukon/BC border runs across the lake just to the south of the island.
Looking at the island from the BC side of the border. On that island are 2 Gold Rush graves, those of Luc Richard and Thomas A. Barnes who were drowned when they fell through rotten ice on Lake Bennett on May 10, 1898. See a brief 1898 report on that accident from The Caribou Sun, a newspaper printed at Caribou Crossing (now Carcross).
The historic Pennington section house on the White Pass & Yukon Route rail line. Every time I see it, I wish that somebody would turn it into a B&B 🙂
Looking north on the lake towards Carcross.
At 3:45, we crossed over Millhaven Bay again, and headed up the Wheaton River.
Another little detour, through a notch in Gray Ridge. Mount Gilliam is on the left (north) side, the peak on the south side is unnamed.
At the bottom of that cliff is a cave that appears to be quite deep. Some of us are quite intrigued by the thought of making the tough hike up to it 🙂
One the east side of that notch in Gray Ridge is another plane crash. The arrow points it out in the main photo, and the inset shows the upside-down Cessa 180 floatplane that 4 men were killed in. To non-pilots, looking for this sort of site may seem morbid, but when you’re flying in this country, it’s good to always keep in mind what can happen when you make bad decisions. During the years that I was involved with CASARA (and actively flying), I spent countless hours looking for tiny specks of metal like that, always hoping to see survivors waving at us.
Looking east across the Watson River to Lewes (or Lewis) Lake and the Mount Lorne ridge.
My house is at the lower left in the Mary Lake subdivision, the model aircraft club’s airport is left of centre, and the abandoned stock car track (where I often fly my drone) is right of centre.
Turning onto the base leg of the approach to the floatplane area of Schwatka Lake, with Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport ahead.
Air North’s base of operations.
When I got home, I got back to my cooking, but my departure in the motorhome has been delayed by a day. The weather is supposed to improve tomorrow anyway, so it’s all good 🙂
I got home from Kelowna just after midnight last night (Thursday), but this post will cover the final legs of the drive down, from Hudson’s Hope to Clinton, and Clinton to West Kelowna.
After checking out of the Sportsman’s Inn in Hudson’s Hope at about 07:45 on Tuesday morning, I drove back to the small museum. I knew that it wouldn’t be open, but I got the views over the Peace River that I wanted. After a huge dinner at the hotel the night before, I hit the road without breakfast.
At 09:25, I was at the eastern end of Highway 29, dropping down into Chetwynd.
Heading south from Chetwynd on Highway 97, BC’s longest highway, after fueling up at Chetwynd. Highway 97 stretches right from the Yukon to Washington State, under several different names for various sections – this one being the Hart Highway. Much of the hillside is covered with electrical transmission lines from the massive W. A. C. Bennett Dam at Hudson’s Hope.
At 10:30, I stopped at the huge Pine Pass rest area for a few minutes. There was extensive damage to the highway in the area from floods this past June, but I couldn’t see where the road had been destroyed. There’s a great deal of work being done on creeks all along the highway from Chetwynd south, though, and there were a few short delays.
Bijoux Falls Provincial Park is a wonderful place for a short walk as long as there are no tour buses there, and I spent a few extra minutes chatting with a woman from Mackenzie who had a friend’s recently-rescued dog out for the day.
From Bijoux Falls, except for a fuel stop at Prince George, I drove straight through to Clinton (a 590 km / 367 mi run), where I planned to spend the night. This photo was shot south of Williams Lake at 4:30.
I reached the Round-Up Motel at Clinton at 6:00. I’ve stayed here 3 times in recent years, and it was the reason I chose Clinton to overnight. The motel has a new owner, and I wasn’t surprised to hear that the previous owners have retired in Edmonton. I got the last room available (room #17), a kitchenette which the owner gave me for $80 plus taxes, a bit of a senior’s discount. I was very pleased to see that the new owner is keeping up the previous owners’ high standards.
Once I got settled, I did a bit of browsing at the antique store across the highway from the motel. The Clinton Emporium has a large and varied stock, and much of it, right down to toy trucks and other “portables”, is left outside on tables beside the road overnight.
Prices seemed really reasonable, too – this large freight wagon was only $1,795. No, I’m not shopping – there was a time, however, when this freight wagon would have gotten me thinking… 🙂
Although fires have taken many of Clinton’s oldest buildings since I started seeing the community almost 60 years ago, there’s still a lot left. The Palace Hotel was built as a private home in 1862, and became a hotel in the 1880s.
Even the government office building, built in 1927, looks like it would be worth a look inside. It now houses both the Village of Clinton and Service BC offices.
I had dinner at the pub in the Cariboo Lodge, four blocks or so from the Round-Up. The waiter screwed up my order, but the chicken burger was good, and probably healthier than what I ordered anyway 🙂 After a fairly long day of driving (769 km / 478 mi. in 10 hours), I was in bed early.
This is the Round-Up Motel on Wednesday morning just after 8:00, as I was about ready to hit the road for the 3-hour, 270-km drive to West Kelowna.
Beside the motel, at the southern edge of Clinton, is this cairn: “Clinton. This cairn marks the junction of two routes to the Cariboo Gold Mines. The original 1859 Cariboo Trail from Lillooet and the Cariboo Road through the Fraser Canyon built in 1863 by the Royal Engineers. Originally called Cut Off Valley, renamed in 1863 honoring Henry Pelham Clinton, 5th Duke of Newcastle, Colonial Secretary, 1859-64.” A tiny plaque below the large one says “Derward Smith, Clinton’s Land Inspector 1955 – designed and built this cairn with stones he collected from both routes”.
At 09:00, I turned off Highway 97 onto 97C, which would take me through Ashcroft, Logan Lake, and Merritt. Despite some very steep grades, it’s the shortest route, avoids the awful traffic congestion through Kelowna, and I hadn’t driven it in many years.
Nearing Logan Lake half an hour later, I came to Highland Valley Copper’s mine tailings pond. It’s almost 10 kilometres in length, with a massive earthen dam, seen in this panoramic photo. The Highland Valley Copper mine is the largest open pit copper mine in Canada. It also produces large amounts of molybdenum, and small amounts of gold and silver.
I was very surprised to see a couple of wild horses grazing on a small patch of grass among the vast expanse of tailings.
A closer look at the far end of the earthen dam.
There were short delays at a few spots along the highway west of Logan Lake. This one was for re-paving of a section of the road.
Ranching is still important throughout much of the dry areas of central BC. Although the log building in the distance was abandoned long along, the fence and gate leading to it are fairly new.
Clear-cut logging along the Okanagan Connector part of Highway 97C, between Merritt and West Kelowna.
Nearing the eastern end of the the Okanagan Connector at noon, with Okanagan Lake visible.
About 3 minutes after I arrived at my friends’ home, a couple of energetic young fellows arrived to unload the truck. All the kitty’s stuff was now in her new home (she flew down from Whitehorse on Air North on Sunday night), and she was settled 🙂
The view from the kitty’s new home. I had a very enjoyable visit, spent some time with my Dad at his new home nearby, and at 7:30 on Thursday, headed for the airport to fly home.
This is a map of the entire 3½-day trip – click on it to open an interactive version in a new window.
I was going to leave for a couple of weeks with the motorhome tomorrow (Saturday), but I’ve all of a sudden developed a bad cold, so we’ll see what happens in the morning.
Monday morning started easy at the Northern Rockies Lodge on Muncho Lake. I spent a couple of hours writing yesterday’s blog, with a comfortable desk and a spectacular mountain view. I’d continue driving south through northern BC once I got moving, with no real plan for the destination – Chetwynd perhaps. I was going to take the Highway 29 cutoff rather than go through Dawson Creek, to see what changes if any the Site C dam project has brought about so far.
A look down at the breakfast buffet setup at 07:15. I was the only non-staff person there for the first half-hour. It’s a very basic buffet, though the home-made bread was notably good.
I went out for a bit of a walk after breakfast, to get some photos of the property while I waited for the light to get better to start the drive. These mountains are too wonderful to not see them in good light when you just have to wait an hour or so.
During my walk, I took a couple of photos of this plane, which allowed me to add a new aircraft to my favourite online aircraft database. C-GMUD is a 1995 Maule M-7-235B Super Rocket from Hines Creek, Alberta – it’s new in the database under that registration because it was just brought to Canada last year. I wonder why you can’t easily search cars the way you can airplanes?
At 08:20, I started down the Alaska Highway, though it was a slow start, with several photo stops along Muncho Lake.
The original Alaska Highway is above these cliffs – it’s now an excellent hiking trail. The heavy blasting required to get the road down to lake level was done shortly after the highway was finished, though – about 1945-46.
This sheep ran across the road from the lake to the cliffs, then found that there was no place else to go. I took a couple of quick photos then left him in peace. He’s a Stone sheep (or Stone’s sheep), Ovis dalli stonei.
The road ahead at the Highways maintenance camp at the east end of Muncho Lake, signed as Historic Mile 456 of the Alaska Highway, a checkpoint and refueling stop.
I stopped at Toad River Lodge to get enough fuel to reach Fort Nelson, then a few minutes later, at 09:00, went for a short walk after crossing the Toad River bridge. I remembered to take my phone with me so I could take this photo with it for an Instagram post. I seldom use my Instagram account because I just don’t use my phone to take photos.
The Racing River required another stop and walk. I wasn’t making very good time! 🙂
A look back up the highway from the Stringer Creek culvert, where the Racing River photo above was also shot.
I had plans for a big hike at Summit Lake, and the weather was perfect for it. I climbed up the Ridge Trail over the campground first. I thought that it continued up to the microwave tower road, but I came to a dead-end, so went back down.
I walked across to the microwave tower road and started up it, but didn’t get very far before I got really bad grizzly-bear vibes. I’m trying to limit my bear attacks to no more than one per year, so stopped just above the point seen in the next photo, and headed back to the truck. When I get those feelings, I always listen.
As I started climbing to Steamboat Summit at 11:30, the view in my mirror prompted a stop to get this photo.
The view to the south from a large pullout just east of Steamboat Summit. Dropping down the hill, I was surprised to see the long-abandoned Steamboat Lodge gone – there’s just a pile of burned timbers left. It looks like the fire was very recent.
Just north of Fort Nelson, Conservation Officers had a hunting and fishing check-stop set up. A brief, pleasant chat, and I was on my way again.
I stopped at Fort Nelson for lunch and a full load of fuel. The new manager of the Fort Nelson Hotel had asked me to stop in to see him, but he wasn’t around. The hotel was sure dead – well, the whole town was.
About an hour south of Fort Nelson, I saw one of the silliest signs I’ve ever seen on the highway. On the large yellow sign at the edge of endless forest out in the middle of nowhere: “Danger. Wildlife Area. Enter at your own risk.” I should have taken a picture of it, and I watched for another so I could get a photo of it, but no luck. I can’t imagine who would have installed it, or why. I haven’t noticed it on previous trips, and it’s hard to miss.
Heading into the Peace District – oil and gas country – at 2:20 pm.
Mae’s Kitchen served a lot of people over the past few decades, but when the oil boom hit, they started catering to just crews. I guess they’ve made their millions and retired now. Millions? Well, a sign at the place next door says “Room and Board from $160 per night”.
Across Pink Mountain and for dozens of miles to the south, the highway is being re-paved, and delays were quite lengthy.
There are plenty of anti-dam signs on Highway 29 north of Hudson’s Hope, but this one at one of the ranches that’s going to disappear under the Site C reservoir is one of the best (another on a hill along the highway shows how high the water will be – quite shocking).
Three guys on Harleys passed me, and when I stopped at the main Peace River viewpoint, they were there. We had a nice chat for a few minutes. I’m not sure how far the dam reservoir is going to reach, but I think that it will cover as least the near part of this view.
I was tired by the time I reached Hudson’s Hope so decided to call it a day. I’ve had some good meals at the Sportsman’s Inn, so figured the rooms must be good as well. Not so much. But it was only $55, $61.02 with taxes.
The room was clean, but the neighbours were noisy (that’s no surprise when the parking lot is full of pickups), there was no coffee for the coffee machine, and no table to write at so now I have a sore back. Oh well, I should have known better. It’s now 07:00, time to get out of here – the planned destination tonight is Clinton, but I’m open to other possibilities as they might appear.
I’m back on the Alaska Highway headed south again. This time, I’m alone, helping friends move by driving their U-Haul from Whitehorse to Kelowna, a 2,440-kilometer trip (1,516 miles).
I left Whitehorse just before 10:00 am yesterday (Sunday), with weather forecasts showing mostly sun all the way. After the amount of rain we’ve been having, that was a relief to see. There was some thick fog along the Yukon River and Marsh Lake (which are both extremely high) as I headed south, but within an hour it was pretty much clear.
I made a brief stop at a rest area along Teslin Lake. The mountains in the southern Yukon got a heavy dump of snow on Friday night – it makes a nice addition to the Fall colours as long as it stays up there 🙂
Wandering through the mountains south of the community of Swift River – the highway crosses the Swift River at the bottom of the hill I’m descending.
At 1:30, I reached Rancheria Lodge at Historic Mile 710 of the highway. I can always count on Rancheria for good food and service, and a burger and soup were perfect for a late lunch.
The approach doesn’t look bad in this photo, but I’ve always hated the curves at both ends of the Big Creek bridge. The hills on both sides of the creek, though, don’t leave many options.
This is by far the nicest of the many U-Hauls I’ve driven. It’s almost new, with only 26,000 miles on the clock, but a few buildings or whatever have already left dents and scrapes on the box.
The Hyland River bridge. Even though the new bridge has no character, this is one of my favourite crossings on the highway, though I don’t really know why. I have a lot of photos of it, in both directions.
The road ahead at Km 915. The intensity of Fall colours varies a lot year to year. While the southwestern Yukon has brilliant colours this year, as I got into BC, they faded and went mostly brown.
Right at Km 905 is a Point of Interest I’d never stopped at.
Now I know – the Alaska Highway crosses back and forth across the BC/Yukon border many times. There are many historic milepost markers along the highway, some with interpretive signs about their significance, many without.
The the left of the highway as it crosses Scoby Creek is an old section of highway that’s extremely well preserved. I’ve not yet stopped to drive or walk it, but it’s on the list 🙂
This is another spot that I have many photos of – the Alaska Highway and Liard River about 20 minutes north of Liard Hot Springs.
As always, there were plenty of bison beside and on the highway all the way from Contact Creek to the hot springs. People make ne nuts sometimes. At 2 spots where there were bison right on the paved shoulder of the highway, as I crawled by, RVs and semis coming the other way seemed to not slow down at all. I saw a dead bison calf, with a headlight and other pieces of a motorhome still laying in front of it, so it had probably just happened. There were half a dozen extremely long full-lock semi skid-marks around the herds, too. Just slow down when you see them! Geez… 🙁
Mom and baby were having differing opinions about whether it was meal time or time to go somewhere else – Mom was winning 🙂
I was up and down about whether to stop at Liard Hot Springs, but just before 6:00 pm, I pulled in, paid my $5, and started the walk. The light was gorgeous.
I was going to go up to the Hanging Gardens first. Or maybe not: “Danger, Area Closed. Problem bear in area. Do not enter.”
I had a good long soak in the hotter part of the pool. With all my sore spots feeling much better, I decided that the stop was worthwhile.
The reconstruction of a lengthy section of the highway between the hot springs and Muncho Lake Park is in its final stages. The rains of the last few weeks have made some of it pretty soft, but it’s looking great.
I just have a little truck – I want a bigger truck! 🙂
A very impressive slope stabilization project.
The final rays of sunlight along Muncho Lake at 7:25. Ten minutes later, I stopped for the night.
I had made reservations for the Northern Rockies Lodge just before leaving home. This is the nicest lodge on the Alaska Highway now. The rooms are good value at $129 (lake views are $149), but meals, though very good, are spendy – adding dinner and breakfast to your room is $55. The lodge is also among the most expensive places on the highway for fuel – it’s $1.699 per liter today (Whitehorse was $1.159 and I last filled up at Contact Creek at $1.114). Guests get a 20 cent per liter discount, but I never fuel here except when I’m on my motorcycle and have little choice because of the small tank on it.
The view from Room 305.
This look at the dining room gives you a good idea of the quality of the construction of the lodge -it’s quite spectacular.
It’s almost 07:00, so time to get the day started. The weather is cold but beautiful, so I expect that I’ll be stopping for a hike or two along the way. I have no idea where I’ll be stopping tonight.
After spending the first 2 nights of the Labour Day long weekend at Million Dollar Falls Campground, we moved to Dezadeash Lake Campground on Sunday evening, with the idea of canoeing, and hiking the Rock Glacier Trail on Monday.
It was nice to have some variety in campsites as well – Dezadeash Lake only has 20 sites and they’re all fairly small, but most have lake views and easy beach access.
Dezadeash Lake 30 feet or so from our RV.
Monday morning was very calm as usual. This is probably the time that I enjoy the most in the RV – it’s a wonderful vibe to start the days off 🙂
The view from the RV door at 10:00. It was too windy to launch the canoe, so the dogs and I headed out for the Rock Glacier Trail instead – the trailhead is just 6.6 km (4.1 mi) from the campground.
The view to the north at Km 202 – the trailhead parking lot is on the left just ahead. Everything to the left (west) of the highway is within the boundaries of Kluane National Park.
It was a quiet morning at the trailhead, as expected. The woman taking the picture left right after that, and I assumed that the people from the camper were on the trail.
At 10:32, we started up the trail. One of the signs at the trailhead says that it’s a 3.2 km (2 mi) round trip, with an elevation gain of 90 meters (300 feet), which should take between half an hour and 2 hours (that’s quite a range!). The park Web site says that the trail is a 1.6 km (1 mi) return trip, which seems to me to be the correct figures. I’ll give the exact times I shot many of the photos so you can see how short the trail is, despite having wonderful variety.
After going through 30 meters/yards or so of forest, a boardwalk takes the trail across a wet area.
At 10:35, we were back in the forest for a couple of hundred meters/yards.
“Trail Built by Conservation Corps, 1978”. This national program was very active in the Yukon in the 1970s. It spun off the Yukon Youth Conservation Corps in 1990, and they continue to do work on various conservation projects in the territory.
10:36 – the sign in front of the bridge says: “Icy Streams. Although the rock glacier is now inactive, the last of its lifeblood is still flowing. Intermittent streams drain meltwater from the remains of the large ice mass that once allowed the glacier to move.”
Climbing the very steep toe of the glacier at 10:38.
Some sections of the boardwalk and stairs up the toe of the glacier could use some levelling, but it’s not bad yet.
The slope of the toe is very steep.
Once on the glacier at 10:39, the broad views of Dezadeash Lake and beyond are wonderful.
The sign (seen just past Bella in the photo above) says: “Edge of the Glacier. When it was active, this rock mass was higher and its leading edge even steeper. As it advanced it covered everything in its path. Later, as the ice core melted, the rock mass stopped and gradually settled to its present level. Slow-growing lichens on the rocks around you indicate that the glacier has been stable for centuries.”
Climbing across the glacier at 10:44 – the sign says: “Rock Waves. As the rock mass flowed, its surface buckled into undulating ridges because of compression forces. The resulting wave-like pattern is characteristic of all rock glaciers.”
A great deal of rock has been moved by hand to create an easy walking path. Just before I took this photo, we’d met the couple and dog from the camper that was in the parking lot. Once they were clear, I let Bella and Tucker off their leashes.
As the views get better and better, the trail zig-zags back and forth across the glacier to keep grades fairly shallow.
10:49, 17 minutes from the trailhead. This is the viewing area where most people turn around. Over the years, a rock wall has been built on the south side to shield hikers from the winds that often blow here (but weren’t this day).
For those wanting a longer hike, a route runs basically up the middle of the glacier from the viewing area. The sign ahead says: “The Living Rock. A rock glacier is almost alive. Like a ponderous beast it moves, grows and devours forests. Even when it is no longer active, it still gives birth to the lichens and mosses that grow on it. And if you had several hours, you could climb up the glacier over its hard, rough skin and see where it was born from the bare rock and old glacial ice amid the rugged peaks of the St. Elias Mountains.”
Up and up we continue, at 11:01.
At 11:14, we reached the highest point we’d hike to this time – I don’t find the route beyond here very rewarding for quite a while. I found it interesting that, while some “traditional” cairns had clearly been toppled and the rocks spread around, other hikers have used their rock-stacking skills to build several chairs.
The view from the point where we turned around.
While we were at the top, a young European guy arrived, and continued up the slope – he can be seen towards the lower left of the photo.
The walk back down to the car was much quicker – we reached it at 10:38, and hour and 6 minutes after leaving it. The trail provided a great start to the active part of the day.
The Labour Day long weekend is the final outdoor weekend for many Yukoners, and we decided to take advantage of the best weather forecast in the region for a return to the Haines Highway. I’d been there a month ago without Cathy, but had pretty dismal weather, so was hoping for a much better experience with Fall colours and sunshine.
We had only vague plans when we left home Friday night, but we ended up at the Million Dollar Falls Campground that evening.
Million Dollar Falls is an excellent campground – I don’t think there’s a bad site there. We got site #11, a very large and private L-shaped site right at the main parking lot for the trail to the falls. This is the view from the entrance to that site.
I love any waterfall, but for me, there’s something very special about this one. It’s not large, or even especially scenic, but has a very special power.
The Takhanne River just above the falls.
Looking over the falls and down the canyon. I’ve heard that there’s a long and rough trail on the opposite side of the river that leads from the highway to the bottom of the canyon, but I’ve never hiked it, or even tried to verify its existence.
A closer look at the lip of the falls.
This 6-minute video takes you on a walk from the campground to the falls, along a network of stairs.
Just before noon at Saturday, we drove back to Haines Junction, with a stop at Kathleen Lake to possibly go canoeing. It was very busy, though, so we didn’t stay. The lovely spot in this photo is at the junction of the Haines Highway and Alaska Highway in downtown Haines Junction.
Cathy had a craving for soft ice cream, and the kids agreed that that was a wonderful idea! 🙂
On the way back to the campground, we stopped at Dezadeash Lake Campground, and conditions were perfect to launch the canoe there. It didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped, though. Bella had been in the canoe last summer and was fine, but she was with Monty, who was her role model and her rock in many ways. She wanted no part of the canoe this time. I finally gave up, and took Tucker out – he was fine. Bella swam out after us, and I figured that might change her mind.
At 18 pounds, Tucker is a really easy canoe partner 🙂 I bought this beautiful Kevlar Wenonah-Jensen race-touring boat quite a few years ago, with the idea of running the Yukon River Quest, but my only attempt at finding a partner to do that turned out badly. When I bought it, YukonAlaska.com was my main Web site and effectively my sponsor, but I don’t use it anymore, and the domain is for sale.
I got Bella into the canoe, but all the reassuring in the world wouldn’t get her to calm down, and I eventually gave up.
Leaving the Dezadeash Lake Campground at 3:30.
Every time I drive the Haines Highway, I wonder why I don’t come over here more often. The variety of mountains is quite incredible, and the Fall colours certainly enhance that.
Rain showers in front of a distant layer of glacier-studded peaks.
Autumn colours here vary a lot in intensity year to year. Some years, like this one, they’re very good, but other years most of the leaves just turn brown. My impression is that a warm spell followed by a sudden cold snap is what makes the brighter colours.
We got back to the RV at about 4:30, fed the kids dinner, and started a campfire. After a busy day, Tucker was happy to just curl up and go to sleep.
On Sunday, we decided to spend the day to the south, in the Haines Summit area. Photo stops were frequent, though.
The Blanchard River, from the highway just north of the Yukon/BC border.
The Blanchard River, from the bridge just south of the Yukon/BC border.
South of the Blanchard, the highway climbs up into very different country. The bright colours largely disappeared, but none of the grandeur did. This fellow was taking his horse for walk across the highway from a guiding operation 🙂
There are countless glaciers along the highway, and few have names.
One of the more dramatic peaks beside the highway.
Looking towards Three Guardsmen Mountain (commonly just “The Three Guardsmen”) from the highway summit.
Glave Peak (1,920 meters / 6,299 feet high) is part of Three Guardsmen Mountain.
Just south of The Three Guardsmen, we stopped for a long while at the large pullout seen in the distance.
The pullout was a spectacular location for lunch, and to run Bella and Tucker.
The view to the west from the pullout. That near ridge offers superb hiking from Marinka’s Hill, accessed on a very old section of highway.
After lunch and dog-play, launching the drone seemed like a good idea.
And it was great fun. Flying the drone is a somewhat vicarious way of enjoying flight, but it’s far better than not flying at all.
Heading north again, we went up a short side road where this little pond in front of The Three Guardsmen offered a great spot to shoot some photos to create an HDRI.
While the broad views showed litte colour, looking closely revealed plenty of reds and even purples.
In the Haines Summit area, hiking trails aren’t need – you can just walk in any direction you choose.
And it’s a great place for energetic dogs to play!
Continuing back towards the campground, we stopped at the Chuck Creek / Samuel Glacier trail. I was surprised to see it so well developed.
It’s certainly a popular trail! There were vehicles at pretty well every one of the many trailheads along the highway, but this was by far the busiest.
For a fair distance around Km 122, the creek alongside the highway is only a few inches below the road.
The view northbound at Km 138.7.
We decided to continue a few miles past the campground and drive down to Dalton Post. Once a very busy salmon fishing area, it was totally quiet. Dalton Post used to be a name that came into conversations a lot, but neither Cathy nor I have heard anybody mention it in years. Here, the silty Tatshenshini River meets the clear Klukshu River.
Brilliant colours as we neared the Haines Highway on the climb up from Dalton Post.
When we got back to Million Dollar Falls Campground at about 5 pm, we decided to move to Dezadeash Lake, only a half-hour away, for Sunday night, with the idea of spending Monday getting Bella into the canoe.
My motorcycle hasn’t gotten much use this year, as I’ve already spent about 80 days in the motorhome, far from the bike. But yesterday, I put about 350 km (217 mi) on it riding to Skagway and back.
The feel of Fall has been in the air for a couple of weeks now, and Fall colours have begun to arrive in many places.
Every bus, and most rental-car drivers, stop at the “Welcome to the Yukon” sign. The nearest bus is from a brand-new company (there have been a few in recent years) – after 15 years guiding for other people, Raymie Eatough has set up her own operation, Midnight Sun Excursions. My reason for stopping, though, wasn’t to look at the sign or buses, but to have a chat with long-time friend Jacqueline St. Jacques, who sells her handcrafted stone-and-wire jewelry here (and online at YukonRusticJewelry.ca).
An excellent new interpretive sign has been installed near the Welcome sign this year. It describes the Dall sheep and mountain goats that are commonly seen on the slopes directly above that spot.
Another sign change – the “Welcome to British Columbia” sign has been moved to the parking-lot side of the highway to avoid the dangerous situation of having people crossing the highway. Actually, the sign says “Welcome. The Best Place on Earth. British Columbia. Canada”. Speaking of that sort of danger on the highway, what’s with this new fad among Asians to get their photos taken with the centre-line of highways??? GET OFF THE ROAD!
I got an email earlier in the week from a researcher wanting to hike to the grave of Fred Whitcomb Jr., and had sent him detailed directions to the remote site. After seeing near-flood-level waters in all the lakes, though, I had to send him a follow-up note last night, telling him that the site is inaccessible except by boat now.
I haven’t shot a motorcycle selfie in a while, and this pullout at a little lake provided the perfect spot for it. The bike is a 2009 VStar 1100 Classic that I bought new to celebrate my 60th birthday – after 6 years, I still think that it was the perfect choice. When I was shopping, I was looking at older, smaller (and much cheaper) bikes. Cathy finally said “why don’t you buy the bike you really want?” – and a few hours later, the VStar was in our driveway 🙂
I also went for a short hike at that pullout. The light wasn’t great for scenic shots, but the ground offered lots of subjects.
I’d heard at the “Welcome” signs that the weather turned nasty at Fraser, and stayed that way right into Skagway. It had improved a bit, and I stopped at the Fraser interpretive lookout for a few shots of a train loaded with new ties – the line must be close to having 100% new ties now.
I rode into fog near Summit Creek, and it got fairly thick near the summit. The rain that I’d been told to expect never happened, though.
The new “signature wall” at the summit. Some people wonder why there’s such animosity between locals and seasonal employees. Here’s a good example – “SPM” notes his 3 summers here (all 3 years were painted 2 weeks ago), and now other disrespectful morons are joining in.
I went for lunch at the Skagway Pizza Station, and despite the fact that they were extremely busy, it was excellent as always. Then I went for a wander on the bike to see what’s new. Every now and then, seeing the ships gets me a bit wistful, and this was one of those days. That may have been partly because, 6 years ago, Cathy and I went on a particularly fine cruise in the Caribbean on the nearest ship, the Noordam. Last week, we got asked by friends to think about going on a European river cruise with them – we were going to stay close to home with the motorhome for a few years, but…
I keep track of the bike’s mileage by taking photos of the odometer rather than writing it down. Even with 2 slack summers since buying the RV, I’m pretty happy about having put 29,000 km on the bike with zero problems.
Despite the comments that show my frustration with some people, it was a great day. There’s nothing like putting 350 km on the bike to blow out the crap that’s accumulated between my ears 🙂
We haven’t decided yet where to take the motorhome this weekend, but looking at the weather forecast, I may be back in Skagway tonight!
Has the wilderness for many people just become a unique place to take a quick selfie before rushing back to the latte shop to post the image to Facebook? Is that “wilderness experience” even better when you’ve left your mark by building cairns?
Or is having respect for incredible places that Mother Nature has created, or even letting other people enjoy unspoiled views in such places, now just an old-fashioned concept?
In what’s becoming known as “The Age of Entitlement”, perhaps we need to look back a few years, even to the late 1970s when “Leave No Trace” and similar outdoors-related ethics became well known and were commonly practised. Even in 4-wheel-drive vehicle advertising, “Tread Lightly” policies were widely followed in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Today, 4×4 ads once more show the earth being torn up, painted graffiti is common around the world – we even found it in parks in New Zealand – and in natural and even wilderness areas, buildings cairns is often the “I’ll do whatever I want” equivalent.
In Canada, these rock piles are often called “inukshuks” as many try to replicate the Inuit (and other Arctic peoples’) cairns shaped like people and commonly known by that name. An inukshuk in the form of a human being, though, is actually called an inunnguaq. The Inuit were not the only people that related their cairns to people. In German, a cairn is known as a “steinmann” (“stone man”), and in the Italian Alps, they are known as “ometto” or “small man”.
Regulations on Public Lands
Building cairns has become such a popular activity that Parks Canada, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) all have regulations or policies that discourage or prohibit it. Many other park systems around the world are also adopting similar policies – in Wales, building cairns has become a particularly big problem in Snowdonia National Park. While there are differences, the regulations for Canada’s Auyuittuq National Park are typical except for the request to not disturb any you find.
Do not build cairns, other markers, or leave messages in the dirt. Such markers detract from other visitors’ sense of discovery and wilderness experience. They can also be misleading and potentially dangerous. For example, a cairn marking a good river crossing one day may mark a deadly crossing place when the river changes its course or flow, which rivers here do regularly. Do not disturb or destroy any cairns that you do find. Some are of great historical significance.
At the Jasper SkyTram in Jasper National Park, Alberta, signs at the start of the trail to Whistler’s Mountain beyond the upper tramway station ask hikers to not build cairns. Despite that, there are many near the summit. The route near the summit is lined with rocks in a garden-path sort of way, and to add injury to insult, most of the cairns have been built using those rocks.
Signs at the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefield Area, also Jasper National Park, make the acceptability of cairns even more clear. DON’T build cairns, and DO kick over any you see. Unlike the situation in Auyuittuq National Park, there are no historic cairns here.
Social media has started to become one of the educational tools used by parks. The comments on such posts often show the sort of attitudes that make trying to educate people a frustrating process. Click on the Zion National Park image below to open that Facebook page in a new window – the post currently has over 2,400 comments with some very strong opinions both pro and con!
The long-abandoned Myra Canyon section of the Kettle Valley Railway, located in Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park and Protected Area near Kelowna, BC, has one of the largest collections of cairns I’ve seen yet. BC Parks doesn’t seem to have a policy on visitors building cairns yet.
The Two Sides in Alaska/Yukon Tourism
Along the South Klondike Highway north of Skagway, cruise ship passengers are clearly the most prolific builders of cairns. Tour bus drivers can and do play a large part in either encouraging or discouraging the activity. On the “discouraging” side, Sherry Corrington offers The ‘Inukshuks Suck’ Tour: “Your driver escorts you up the Klondike Highway to a 7 mile stretch past the White Pass summit to knock down as many stacked rocks and Inukshuks you can possibly destroy in a minimum of 4 hours.”
Another Skagway tour operator, Dyea Dave, encourages his passengers to build them, even on his Web site: “You will have a chance to build your own “Inukshuk” to leave a part of yourself in the mountains.” On Beyond Skagway Tours’ Web site, one of their clients is shown building building one. It’s been clear a few times when I’m camping at Summit Creek that a large number of cairns appear after a particular bus goes by – the implication is that the driver has an attitude like Dave’s. I haven’t yet taken notice of which bus(es) that happens with.
Located on the South Klondike Highway 29 km (18 mi) north of Skagway, a large pullout at Summit Creek is one of the major stops for most bus and van tours for cruise ship passengers. With a large supply of both blasted and natural pieces of granite of all sizes, that also makes it the most popular place I’ve seen in the North for building cairns. As I drive and camp along the highway a lot, keeping Summit Creek cairn-free has become an activity that I spend a fair bit of time at now that I’m retired.
The first photo, which I also used to introduce this post, was shot in 2012 when building cairns at Summit Creek peaked, with little or no backlash from those of us who object.
I first became very vocal about my objections to cairns as part of raising hell about painted graffiti that appeared at Summit Creek in late June of 2015. A brief article at CBC North used to have dozens of comments, but a new policy on comments resulted in them all being deleted. The story also prompted a wonderful cartoon by Wyatt in the Yukon News, and generated a great deal of controversy, with a large number of emails and Facebook messages sent my way, many of them nasty. A couple of weeks after I met with a couple of people who work with Yukon Justice in restorative justice, however, the graffiti disappeared. I don’t know for sure who did the cleanup, but it took a great deal of work.
I’ve spent a lot of time RV-camping in the White Pass this summer, and the next two photos show the before and after of building cairns and cleaning up the mess a few weeks ago. Cathy was watching from the RV a couple of hundred yards away and said that all she could see of the activity was rocks flying through the air. I’ve found that just toppling the cairns is only a minor disruption of the building of them, but if the rocks are tossed into a nearby hollow that becomes a pond in the Spring, the effort of getting them up to a high point stops a lot of the re-building.
Below are links to other articles about building cairns – first the cons (don’t build cairns), and then the pros (have fun building cairns). The comments on some of those articles are as interesting as the articles themselves.
The Cons (Don’t Build Cairns)
In “Making Mountains Out Of Trail Markers?“, Robyn Martin, a lecturer focusing on ecological oral histories at Northern Arizona University, says “Yes, I have knocked a few down, sure,” adding that she considers the cairns to be “pointless reminders of human ego.”
In Robyn Martin’s essay Stop the rock-stacking, she says that “Building cairns where none are needed for route finding is antithetical to Leave-No-Trace ethics.”
Leave No Trace: A Backpackers Oath – this excellent 12-minute video by Dave Collins teaches crucial “Leave No Trace” skills that will help you to reduce your impact on the wild and leave pristine wilderness areas.
Leave No Trace Hiking: Removing Cairns Graffiti from Punch Bowl Falls
The Pros (Have Fun Building Cairns)
While I have a strong impulse to argue with many of the points in these articles, I’ll resist 🙂
The spiritual practice of stacking stones by Jane Hugo Davis, at BaptistNews.com. “The spiritual practice of stacking stones claims ordinary moments of life for God and invites those who pass by to notice the holy ground on which they already stand. What markers of God’s presence are you leaving behind on the trail for those who come after you?”
Relaxation: Rock Stacking and the Art of Balance by Peter Rogers, at SimplySonoma.co. “Why balance rocks? Reason 1: Because they are there. Reason 2: Because for a short time you leave something in the landscape artfully altered, showing you were there. Reason 3: The joy of the process.”