Clinton to Whitehorse, Highway 97 / Alaska Highway

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Dawson Creek, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spectra Energy gas processing plant 20 km south of Fort Nelson

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

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

Fort Nelson Hotel, BC

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

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

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

Summit Lake, BC, on a winter night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Vancouver-Whitehorse Drive – Day 1

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

Here’s the basic map of the plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U-Haul depot in New Westminster, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photographing the Northern Lights and a Winter Dawn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Whitehorse, Yukon

Winter dawn at Carcross, Yukon
Carcross has one of Canada’s cutest historic post offices πŸ™‚

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

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

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

Montana Mountain in the winter

A Spectacular Aurora Borealis Morning

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

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

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

Aurora borealis over my home in Whitehorse, Yukon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aurora borealis along the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse, Yukon

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

Red Northern Lights along the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse, Yukon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aurora borealis over the Lewes dam near Whitehorse, Yukon

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

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

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

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

Northern Lights along the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse, Yukon

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

Valentine’s Day with Yukon Wildlife & Huskies

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

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

Yukon Wildlife Preserve in the winter
The wildlife-design touques in the little gift shop were a hit πŸ™‚

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Husky love at Muktuk Adventures near Whitehorse, Yukon

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

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

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

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

Guests listening to Frank Turner's dog sledding stories

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

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

With the Yukon Quest in Dawson City – Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Normand Casavant and his 2015 Yukon Quest team of dogs

Normand Casavant and his 2015 Yukon Quest team of sled dogs

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

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

With the Yukon Quest in Dawson City – Day 1

Wednesday was our first full in-depth day surrounded by Yukon Quest action at the Dawson City checkpoint.

Official sunrise wouldn’t be until 09:24, but I was out for a walk just before 07:00. This was the view to the southwest from the front deck of the Eldorado Hotel.

Red Feather Saloon, Dawson City, Yukon
And looking to the northwest, the oldest operating hotel in the Yukon, the Westminster.

Westminster Hotel, Dawson City, Yukon
The first local I met was this beautiful cross fox (a colour variation of red foxes). He was strolling around as if he owned the town, and this car stopped for a few seconds until he decided which way to go.

Cross fox in Dawson City, Yukon
We began our tour day with a look around Dawson City in the vans. On our way up the Bonanza Creek Road to see how far we could get, we met our first up-close musher, Ray Redington Jr. He and the dogs all looked happy after almost 500 miles on the trail. We turned around then and went back into town to see them arrive at the checkpoint.

Yukon Quest musher Ray Redington Jr nears Dawson City, Yukon
Back in town, I parked my van to give a good vantage point for some of my guests who didn’t want to stand outside with wind chills way down into the -30s. Others walked a block down to the checkpoint in front of the Visitor Reception Centre.

Dawson City, Yukon
At 10:20, here comes Ray and his team running along the trail on top of the dyke!

Ray Redington Jr arrives at Dawson City, Yukon
Dawson is my favourite town in the North for many reasons, not the least of which is that it’s a photographer’s paradise.

Dawson City, Yukon
Jeremy had arranged a tour of the Masonic Temple, which was built as a Carnegie Library in in 1904, with over 5000 books. This was the northernmost Carnegie library ever built, and was considered to be the most elaborate building in Dawson City at the time. After a major fire in 1920, it was empty until 1934 when it was sold to the Freemasons, who restored it.

Masonic Temple in Dawson City, Yukon
The building is stunning inside, but it isn’t heated and was possibly even colder than it was outside!

Masonic Temple in Dawson City, Yukon
Even the light bulbs are impressive, with the filament shaped as a Masonic emblem.

Light bulb in the Masonic Temple in Dawson City, Yukon
After lunch, some of us went over to the mushers’ camp at the West Dawson Campground. To get there, we drove on an “ice bridge”, a road carved from the jumbled ice on the Yukon River. In the summer, the ferry George Black runs back and forth across the river at the same location.

Ice road at Dawson City, Yukon
The Top of the World Highway runs past the campground to Alaska, but is closed in the winter.

Top of the World Highway at Dawson City, Yukon - in the winter
It’s interesting to see the mushers’ camps. Volunteer handlers take care of most duties here.

Yukon Quest musher's camp at Dawson City, Yukon

Yukon Quest musher's camp at Dawson City, Yukon

Yukon Quest musher's camp at Dawson City, Yukon
I led 3 of my guests down the river to the “Sternwheeler Graveyard“, where 7 derelict steamboats lie rotting along the bank and in the bush. The site is in much worse shape than when I first started going there almost 25 years ago, but the names of at least 2 ships, the Julia B. and the Seattle No. 3, can still be read.

Sternwheeler Graveyard at Dawson City, Yukon

Sternwheeler Graveyard at Dawson City, Yukon
Ed Hopkins’ dogs were cozy when we peeked in on the way back to the van.

Yukon Quest sled dogs resting at Dawson City, Yukon
The tour boat Klondike Spirit, a replica paddlewheeler, sits high on the bank on the Dawson side of the river.

Klondike Spirit paddlewheeler at Dawson City, Yukon
We were halfway across the river when we saw Normand Casavant making the short run from the checkpoint to the camp.

Dawson City, Yukon
This is the George Black, the ferry that runs when the river isn’t frozen.

Ferry George Black at Dawson City, Yukon, in the winter
The sun went down at 5:41 pm, but day or night doesn’t mean much to the the Yukon Quest teams, and there were people to meet the teams whenever they arrived.

Yukon Quest team arrives at Dawson City, Yukon
About half of the group showed up for some silliness, but only 4 were brave enough for the Sourtoe Cocktail. Yes, it is a real human toe that’s dropped into your drink! Several of the race vets got their certification just before our folks did πŸ™‚

Dawson City, Yukon

Dawson City, Yukon
The last team that I saw arrive this night was Brian Wilmshurst, at 9:50.

Yukon Quest musher Brian Wilmshurst arrives at Dawson City, Yukon

Yukon Quest musher Brian Wilmshurst arrives at Dawson City, Yukon
Several of us ended this night at The Pit, which is the nickname for the bar at the Westminster Hotel. Just seeing the paintings on the walls, by local artist Halin de Repentigny, make a visit worthwhile. With Halin’s originals selling for thousands of dollars now, the bar is virtually priceless.

Paintings by Halin de Repentigny at The Pit in Dawson City, Yukon

The Pit in Dawson City, Yukon
Soaking up the best in local flavour – both the beers and the character πŸ™‚ We had another busy Yukon Quest day in store for Thursday!

The Pit in Dawson City, Yukon

On the Yukon Quest Trail – the North Klondike Highway

On Tuesday, we had our longest driving day, about 530 kilometers (330 miles) from Whitehorse to Dawson City on the North Klondike Highway. Then we’d spend 3 nights in Dawson City watching the Yukon Quest mushers arrive and depart, as well as seeing their camps during the mandatory 24-hour layover.

Our first stop was at Braeburn Lodge, famous for its massive cinnamon buns. It’s also a checkpoint for many races, including the Yukon Quest which passed through a couple of days ago, and the Yukon Arctic Ultra, which promotes itself as “the world’s coldest and toughest ultra”. It has several classes for mountain bikers, cross-country skiers and runners – Marathon, 100, 300 and 430 miles.

Braeburn Lodge, Yukon
Steve Watson, owner of Braeburn Lodge and creator of the massive buns πŸ™‚

Steve Watson, owner of Braeburn Lodge
It takes 4 healthy appetites to deal with one of these buns!

Braeburn Lodge
Back outside, racers prepare to get back on the trail.

The viewpoint at Five Finger Rapids, which was the main trouble spot for steamboats on the Yukon River, is always a “must stop”. It’s a very long walk down to the lower viewpoint, with well over 100 steps to climb on the way back up – we didn’t go down!

Five Finger Rapids in the winter

We stopped at the Yukon Quest checkpoint at Pelly Crossing, but it was very quiet, as both the Yukon Quest and the 300 had passed through already. It was a handy place to eat the box lunches that we’d brought up from Whitehorse, though, sitting in our vans in the sunshine.

Our afternoon coffee stop was at Moose Creek Lodge, the other “character” lodge on the North Klondike Highway.

Moose Creek Lodge, North Klondike Highway, Yukon
The owner of Moose Creek Lodge, Maja Nafzger. She opened the lodge up for a few days for people following the Yukon Quest trail under very difficult conditions including deep snow and temperatures down to -53°C (-63°F). Huge thanks, Maja – my guests loved your place!

Maja Nafzger, owner of Moose Creek Lodge
This is our base for the next 3 nights – the Eldorado Hotel. Comfortable rooms, a large, friendly saloon and excellent food – many of the ingredients needed for a great trip.

Eldorado Hotel, Dawson City, Yukon

I’m actually a day behind on the blog now – our 2 full days in Dawson City are full of sled dogs and some looks at unique locations around Dawson. We’re heading out in half an hour to watch 2 more teams start down the trail to Eagle, Alaska, but I have lots more to show you shortly.

A Spectacular Day on the Haines Highway

After a rather challenging travel day on Sunday, I was hoping for much better yesterday, and as I was writing the blog the weather and road reports looked very promising.

The view from the deck in front of my room at 07:15 was wonderful. This is a big part of the reason that the Captain’s Choice is where I usually stay when I’m in Haines.

The winter view from the Captains Choice Motel in Haines, Alaska
There goes Jeremy to fuel up one of the vans. In the background is the Bamboo Room where the group met for dinner the previous evening, and some of us stayed a while for drinks.

The Bamboo Room in Haines, Alaska
The view down Main Street to Portage Cove and to Chilkoot Inlet (a northern extension of Lynn Canal) is wonderful in any season, but with a thick layer of fresh snow – wow!

Haines, Alaska
On the right is the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center that most of the group went to when we arrived.

Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center, Haines, Alaska
One of my favourite locations for photography anywhere I go is the harbour, and Haines is one of the better ones πŸ™‚ I took quite a few shots here.

Small boat harbor at Haines, Alaska

Small boat harbour at Haines, Alaska
Looking to the northwest, it was looking like we had a very good day ahead of us! This picture was processed as an HDR image to handle the extremely high contrast between the mountain and the dark street.

Haines, Alaska
Jeremy led the way to a spot I’d never been to, the Haines Fair Grounds, with its replica frontier town with false front buildings that were built for the Disney movie “White Fang”, which was filmed entirely in Haines in 1991. Some of the false fronts are so false that there’s actually no building behind them!

Fair Grounds at Haines, Alaska

Haines, Alaska
Our next stop was the main interpretive stop in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. Although the main gathering of eagles is in November when the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival is held, we did see a couple. This stop provided a bit of exercise…

Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve in the winter
…and a good spot for some portraits πŸ™‚

The 33 Mile Roadhouse is a must-stop, and I do on almost every trip along the Haines Highway.

33 Mile Roadhouse, Haines Highway, in the winter
White vans on snowy roads pose a big visibility problem, so Jeremy added strobe lights to the top of ours.

33 Mile Roadhouse, Haines Highway, in the winter
For both character and food (for most us, that was pie), 33 Mile is tough to beat.

33 Mile Roadhouse, Haines Highway
The highway ahead…

Haines Highway in the winter
I even got to play with a dog, who enjoyed fetching chunks of ice πŸ™‚

The first of only 4 vehicles we saw on the highway north of 33 Mile.

Trucking the Haines Highway in the winter
Looking back down the highway. Our border crossing back into Canada wasn’t quick due to computer problems, but was friendly as always.

Haines Highway in the winter
Enjoying the sunshine. The wind got a bite to it as we climbed, but it was still wonderful.

Haines Highway in the winter
The Three Guardsmen is one of my favourite mountains anywhere, and it was certainly spectacular yesterday. A few miles later, clouds moved in, and combined with high winds, caused our planned group photo at the summit to be delayed until Dawson City.

The Three Guardsmen, Haines Highway, in the winter
We went into the campground at Kathleen Lake to meet Ron Chambers (on the right with Jeremy), who had lit a fire to take the chill off the shelter, and he told us about his life growing up in the area over the past 71 years. Ron could probably tell stories for a week steady, and I always enjoy hearing them.

Ron Chambers
The shelter is a lovely structure.

And the view isn’t too shabby either!

Our planned very-late-lunch stop in Haines Junction didn’t work out because the restaurant closed before we got there, but a stop at the new grocery store got our guests by, and we were back in Whitehorse just as the daylight disappeared.

As soon as I post this, its time to get organized – we’re off to Dawson City in 2 hours πŸ™‚

A Winter Storm Experience on Land & Sea

Yesterday we drove from Whitehorse to Skagway, and took an Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Haines where we spent the night. The weather forecast was for a severe winter storm, and we had come up with 2 backup plans for various situations such as weather closures that might come up, so when we left Whitehorse we weren’t really sure where we’d be spending the night. We did manage to follow the itinerary, and gave our adventurous group some good stories to take back home πŸ™‚

The drive over the White Pass to Skagway was in high winds and blowing snow, but nothing I hadn’t seen many times before. I was extremely surprised to see when we got to the U.S. Customs post at Skagway that the highway was closed! Apparently we were the last vehicles that made it through, and as I write this the next morning at 06:00, it’s still closed.

There were very few people out and about in Skagway. Although the temperature was only -17°C (+1°F), the screaming north wind (80 kmh / 50 mph, I heard) made it as nasty a storm as I’d ever seen in Skagway.

Severe winter storm in Skagway, Alaska
There were no lights visible at the Lemon Rose Bakery which had offered to make us lunch, but she was indeed there, and we picked up some excellent sandwiches and cookies and took them over to the ferry terminal to check in.

Lemon Rose Bakery, Skagway
Getting aboard an Alaska ferry takes a long time, but once the vehicle is staged an hour before sailing time (2:00 pm for us), the terminal is at least comfortable. This was the view out the front window of the van, with our HNS (Haines) destination tag in place.

Waiting for an Alaska ferry at Skagway in the winter
At 1:30, the ferry Aurora appeared out of the swirling snow and sea smoke. Sea smoke (also called frost smoke or steam fog) is fog which forms when very cold air moves over warmer water.

Alaska ferry Aurora in a winter storm
Once everyone was settled on board, I, of course, went wandering with my camera. Being a crew member on the Alaska ferries is probably a great job in the summer – yesterday, not so much! Everyone we met was friendly and cheerful, though.

Crew member on an Alaska ferry during a winter storm
Note the snow being blown off the dock below us. Brrr!

Alaska ferry dock at Skagway during a winter storm
The decks of the ferry had a thick coating of ice, so walking was a challenge and I wasn’t outside much πŸ™‚

On an Alaska ferry during a winter storm
The wind hadn’t raised waves much, and with the wind on our stern, also allowed the one-hour sailing to be very smooth. I don’t see sea smoke very often, and love it!

Although we were in a caravan of vehicles following a grader for the 4 miles from the ferry dock to Haines, once the grader turned off the roads were a challenge, with about 5 inches of snow on every road. Jeremy had arranged for someone to meet us at Alaska Indian Arts, and Lee Heinmiller, a director at the center, had actually come in through these nasty conditions.

Alaska Indian Arts, Haines
Located in the 1904 hospital at Fort William H. Seward, Alaska Indian Arts is a fascinating facility, with all manner of tools on the tables and walls for the creation and restoration of Native art of all sorts, though mostly in wood. Lee did a wonderful job of explaining the things we saw.

Alaska Indian Arts, Haines
Lee said that it takes 50-60 hours per foot to create a totem pole, so this 9-footer would take some 500 hours. Those are octopus tentacles on the right.

Alaska Indian Arts, Haines
A broad view of the main work room.

Alaska Indian Arts, Haines

After leaving the carving shop, we went to the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center, where staff had also shown up and shovelled a path for us. I took a few people over to our motel to start checking in rather than go into the museum. I got the van rather badly stuck on a hill, but managed to get it back on the level and parked after a half-hour or so of struggling.

Just after 6, we met for dinner and drinks at the Bamboo Room a block from the motel, and it was fun to listen to different people’s thoughts about the day.

Looking at the weather forecast and road reports, this morning, we have a great day ahead of us. The storm is gone, there is lots of blue sky coming, and the highway is open.