I haven’t done nearly enough hiking this summer, so last week I went looking for some sunshine to put a bunch of miles on. Two years ago, I discovered how incredible the adjacent BC provincial parks of Muncho Lake and Stone Mountain were, and the forecast down that way looked very good. On Wednesday, August 23rd, I drove the first 422 km (262 mi) to Watson Lake, did some exploring there, and camped at the Watson Lake Campground.
By 07:15, I was about ready to leave home, in a light rain. All the fur-kids came with me, but Cathy had to work.
I had never been into the Big Creek Campground at Km 1042 of the Alaska Highway, so stopped in there for a look. The next photo shows the Big Creek Bridge right at the campground. I hadn’t expected to reach sunshine until well south of Watson Lake, but it was already beautiful.
There are only 15 campsites at Big Creek, 7 of which are pull-through sites. It has a very odd layout, with roads and campsites in a seemingly random pattern.
While the layout of the campground is odd, it’s very nice, with the usual large sites that can usually be expected at Yukon campgrounds. Some of the pull-throughs are just wide parts of the road, but will no doubt work for some RVers who are just overnighting.
We had made a lot of stops along the highway and didn’t reach the Watson Lake Campground until about 2:30. It’s 5 km off the Alaska Highway just north of Watson Lake, and the gravel access road was pretty rough in places.
I set up in pull-through site #44. As is usually the case, it’s large, well-spaced, and fairly level. There’s a picnic table and firepit, and a trail leads to the lake. The lake water level was so high that there was no beach – I don’t know if that’s the normal situation nor not.
Apparently firewood theft is particularly bad here, as the park staff who loaded the firewood box spent almost as much time painting each piece as he did moving it from the pickup truck.
The boat launch and dock was a good distance from our campsite to be a dog-walking destination a couple of times, and Bella was immediately in the water both times. She doesn’t go swimming, just likes to get her feet and sometimes her belly wet 🙂
I noted on our walks, and when I drove out of the campgrounds, that some “Exit” signs would be really useful in navigating the maze of roads.
At about 4:00 pm, I drove the Tracker into Watson Lake. The next photo shows the start of the community on the Alaska Highway.
I stopped in at the Visitor Reception Centre to see if there’s anything new I needed to see, but already knew that my first destination would be the Watson Lake Airport, located north-west of town off the Campbell Highway (I took the next photo the following morning after it had clouded over).
The Watson Lake Airport (YQH) is certainly one of the most interesting airports in the territory historically, and from the air, the location on a peninsula jutting into the lake, is exceptionally beautiful. Both the Air Terminal Building and the hangar in the next photo were built in 1941 when Watson Lake became a significant base on the Northwest Staging Route used to ferry Lend-Lease aircraft to Russia.
The updated terminal is a very attractive and comfortable place to wait.
In 2004, a large display of historic aviation photos was mounted in the terminal. Among the photos is this one that surprisingly has no information on the caption tag. On October 16, 1943, this United States Air Force B-17 crashed into Lake Bennett while attempting to land at Carcross – 11 men drowned in the frigid waters. The late Les McLaughlin tells more of the story.
This Chesterfield cigarette poster from 1942 features Joan Bennett in her American Women’s Voluntary Services uniform – she was then starring in the comedy film “Twin Beds”.
This cairn is dedicated to the men who flew planes in the Lend Lease program and the Winter Experimental Establishment (W.E.E.), and in particular to the 3 men who died in 3 crashes at Watson Lake in 1948 and 1951.
Heading back into town, I detoured to see the new hospital (it opened in 2013). Although construction was controversial and incredibly expensive, it’s a beautiful facility.
My favourite building in town is Watson Lake Motors. Originally built in 1953, it expanded 2 years later and was the busiest garage in the Yukon for years.
What’s a visit to Watson Lake without a stop at the Sign Post Forest, which began with a handful of directional signs in 1942?
In the Visitor Reception Centre, you can follow the growth in the number of signs from 1988 to 2016, when the number is said to have been 83,886. Realistically, that’s just an estimate, because even defining what constitutes a “sign” is problematic. Many years ago, I put up a license plate from Tasmania, Australia, brought by one of my bus passengers who brought it along, not realizing that we didn’t go to Watson Lake on his tour. The plate seems to have been stolen, though, because I was never able to find it again.
As many times as I’ve wandered through the Sign Post Forest, I still enjoying seeing some of the really creative signs, and wondering how some of them ever arrived in the Yukon.
The next morning, we were off to Muncho Lake as the first of our hiking destinations.
When we went looking for a place to camp for the Discovery Day long weekend, Kluane Lake was the only place that had sun forecast. As it turned out, we had little sun and lots of cold screaming wind. But it was a great weekend anyway – we had nice campfires each evening, hiked the Spruce Beetle Trail for the first time, and got clear skies for the solar eclipse.
We drove out to Congdon Creek Campground on Kluane Lake on Friday night. We set up in site #24, up in the forest. We generally move down to a beach site, but because of the winds, stayed there for the weekend. Sunrise on Saturday was lovely, but clouds soon moved in.
The first thing that I wanted to see at the campground was the newly-built electrified enclosure for tents. Because of grizzlies, tenting has been prohibited at Congdon Creek for several years, and the enclosure was built as a test project. It’s located at the east side of the campground, in a section of the campground that was closed permanently a dozen or so years ago.
The electrified fence is powered by solar panels that are well hidden behind a grove of trees.
There are 8 tent sites, each with its own parking spot. Outside the enclosure are bear-proof lockers, as well as a couple of picnic tables and firepits.
When picking a tent site, there is a variety of natural areas and raised platforms to choose from. Each tenter is asked to fill out a survey. I hope that the results will be made public – I’d like to see if campers are as impressed as I am.
We took the dogs out onto the beach for a walk on Saturday morning, but the wind was so awful that we stayed in the forest for our many other walks. Up in the forest, you’d hardly know that it was windy except for the sound – it didn’t affect our campfires at all.
On Sunday, Cathy had a craving for a soft ice cream cone, so we drove to Haines Junction (87 km east) for that treat.
On the way back to the campground, we stopped to walk the Spruce Beetle Trail at Km 1596 of the Alaska Highway. It’s always intrigued me, but neither of us had ever walked it – whenever we go by, we’ve always been on a mission to get somewhere.
The Spruce Beetle Trail is in an area that was particularly hard hit by the infestation of spruce bark beetles than began in 1992. Interpretation is excellent.
The trail is about 1½ km long, and we spent 40 minutes on it. There are fairly minor grades up and down, but lots of tree roots to navigate over.
This appears to be a man-made modification, many years ago, just for fun, I expect. I found it to be quite amusing.
Most of the trail is in the forest, but there are two viewpoints, the one shown in the next photo, and another much broader view across the valley to the mountains. It was a very good stop, well worth seeing.
The big event Monday was the solar eclipse. At Kluane Lake, the sun would be 48% covered by the moon. We drove a couple of kilometers to a large pulloff. I had planed to go to Sheep Mountain where Parks Canada was doing something eclipse-related, but we could see that clouds covered the sky there.
I had brought my welding helmet for viewing the eclipse. It’s far from optical-quality glass, but I got this photo of the peak coverage through it. It would be pretty cool to see a total eclipse.
After seeing the peak, we continued on to Sheep Mountain, where the sky had cleared a bit and a few people were still watching. Cathy borrowed viewing glasses from a woman who got hers from an astronomy club she belongs to.
The Dall sheep are starting to come lower on Sheep Mountain now, but it will be a few weeks before they’ll be seen on the highway. In the next photo, there are small groups to the left and right of the centre.
We were in no hurry to leave on Monday, and stayed until late afternoon. Congdon Creek remains our favourite campground in the territory.
It’s now 06:25 on Wednesday, August 23rd. I have the motorhome ready to go again, and in a couple of hours, the dogs and cat and I are heading down the Alaska Highway into BC, to Muncho Lake and then Summit Lake. The forecast is for mostly sun once we get past the Yukon’s clouds and showers, and there are a lot of hiking trails and routes to explore. I’ll have neither Internet nor cell access, so the next post will be in about a week when I get back home.
Over the past week, I’ve been on a couple of fine summer hikes, but the morning temperature has been below freezing twice (down to -4°C), and a drive to Skagway left no doubt that Fall has arrived.
The first hike was at Atlin, where my friend Karla had invited me to join her on the Monarch Mountain Trail. I’d never hiked it before, but it’s an excellent trail for spectacular views within a few minutes of leaving the car. The light was really poor for photography, but it was a great day to get out into the mountains for some cardio and mental therapy, and Bella and Tucker and Karla’s little Meeko, all had a lot of fun as well.
Another call from Karla got me out to the Fish Lake Trail on Tuesday to join her and Hilary, who I hadn’t seen in several years. This is another hike I’d never been on, even though the trailhead is only 20 minutes from downtown Whitehorse. You have to work to get through the forest to the views on this well-used trail, but the views are certainly worth it.
It’s easy to stop at the saddle and enjoy the views from the there, but none of us was ready to turn around yet, so the summit in the next photo was our destination.
The view from the summit. From there, a trail beckons hikers to continue, but the next peak would be almost an hour away, so we stopped here. Despite the sun, the wind had quite a chill to it.
I seldom wander around downtown Whitehorse anymore, but arranged to meet a friend for coffee on Wednesday, and went in a bit early to look around. I don’t know why I’ve quit coming downtown, because it’s a very welcoming place and there’s always lots going on. The next photo is looking north on Front Street, at Main.
This is the new MacBride Museum under construction. I hate it. About 98% of the people in Whitehorse dislike it, and made that clear right from the first drawings that appeared. It was scaled back a bit from an even more awful start, but is still just plain obnoxious – a over-sized, sterile warehouse on a waterfront that was coming along so nicely.
The very popular waterfront trolley isn’t running this year. The MacBride Museum took it over and then shut it down, citing maintenance problems. The trolley is probably inside the “engine house” – the car sitting outside is the Red Line Express, a self-powered car that the White Pass & Yukon Route had built a few years ago. It was a failure mechanically, and it was bought by the Yukon government.
The little box on the left has a door on it. I opened it to find that it’s a Little Free Library. I love the concept, and it’s nice to see one on the waterfront. There are only 3 books in it, though, so it’s apparently not getting much use.
My busy week continued on Thursday. I had to go to Skagway to pick up some car and RV parts I’d ordered. On the way, I stopped to visit with more friends, including Michelle at her Tutshi dog camp. While I was chatting there, a woman arrived with her family and when she heard my name, said “Murray? Murray’s Guide?” From Buffalo, they were travelling with my guide to the South Klondike Highway, and we chatted for a bit about their trip, and life here. I tell people who buy the guide to watch for me on the highway, and I love meeting people this way.
Along Tutshi Lake, the forecast rain started. Through the White Pass, visibility was only a few meters/yards, and even down at the William Moore bridge construction, there wasn’t much to see.
There were 3 large ships in, but a cold rain driven by strong south winds was keeping the streets pretty quiet even at 11:00 when I went to the post office. On my usual wander around town after, I noticed that the WP&YR’s steam locomotive, No. 73, was loading passengers from the Disney Wonder, and stopped for a few photos. The wind made it impossible to keep the camera lens clear of rain drops.
As noon approached, the streets started to fill with people, but I didn’t go back up to Broadway.
A couple of the different ways to see coastal Alaska – by cruise ship, and with a rented RV on the State ferry.
Seeing Holland America’s Noordam brought back some wonderful memories of a cruise in the Caribbean on this gorgeous ship. Talking to Cathy about it that evening, we agree that she was one of our favourite ships so far.
Getting stopped at the William Moore bridge on the way home allowed me to get a few photos of the project. There’s some pretty extreme rock-moving going on, and I’d sure love to get a tour of it!
One more photo just before the clouds moved back in.
That certainly felt like a Fall trip, but I’m not slowing down yet. I’m writing this blog from Kluane Lake, where Cathy and I are camping for the Discovery Day long weekend, and I’ll be heading out again on Tuesday.
Some of my regular readers have been wondering when rescue puppies were going to appear on the blog again. Here are the first, and there will be lots more coming over the next few months 🙂
On Saturday, there was a request on the Yukon Animal Rescue Network (YARN) Facebook page for someone to shuttle 5 or more puppies from the Watson Lake shelter to foster homes in Whitehorse. I offered to do it on Sunday.
Just before 08:00, I left home for the shelter 425 km down the Alaska Highway. With my preferred dog hauler, the Tracker, still in the shop, I took Cathy’s Jeep Cherokee. The Jeep has a lower rear cargo area, but is a lot more comfortable. I shot this photo as soon as I turned onto the Alaska Highway.
The weather forecast called for a bit of everything along the way – sun, cloud, and showers.
I made a stop for fuel at the commercial cardlock in Watson Lake, stopped for lunch, then went over to the shelter.
It took a while to figure out crates for the 7 puppies I was going to take, from 2 litters. I had misjudged, and the large crates I had taken were an inch too high to set up. Four crates may actually be safer, but it’s harder to comfort the puppies if that’s needed.
Here are the puppies I took – this is Benny and Joon, about 10 weeks old. Joon has a shoulder injury of some sort. It doesn’t appear serious to me, but she needs to see a vet about it.
The other 5, the Marble litter, are about 8 weeks old, and quite small. Judging by my Tucker, they’ll be about 25 pounds. This is Aggie.
Peewee was the favourite at the shelter.
And Steely. Getting everything set up takes a bit of time. It was too busy to get any photos (most of the puppy photos here are by YARN), but I did get some puppy-snuggles in.
Poor Joon was not happy, and she let me know about it in very clear tones. She cried and howled for half an hour or so. I stopped and brought her crate up to the passenger’s seat, we had little chat about how awesome her life was going to be, and she calmed right down. Every now and then I could feel her looking at me, so I looked at her and reassured her, and it was okay for the rest of the 4 1/2-hour drive. She is so sweet.
Once I got Joon settled, it was a quiet trip. With great scenery and a good Blues station playing on Sirius, helping these fur-babies was a really fine way to spend an afternoon.
I dropped Benny and Joon at their foster home in town, then brought the Marbles out to a family near my home. Benny was adopted immediately – love at first sight – and the other 6 are available through the YARN Web site.
My contribution to these puppies was a total of about 12 hours. In mid-October, once the camping season is over, Cathy and I will start watching for another litter to foster. Letting some of the last litter go to new homes was so heart-breaking that we weren’t sure that we could do it again (I still sometimes get wet eyes thinking about the one I called Peanut), but we’re going to.
This year, the world-famous RCMP Musical Ride is on a cross-country tour in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, visiting all 10 provinces and the Yukon Territory. On August 12th and 13th, they performed 3 shows in Whitehorse, but they were also visible around town in other ways.
The last time (the only other time) that the Musical Ride was in Whitehorse was in 1995. They performed at Rotary Park then, but neither parking nor seating areas were really large enough. This year, a field was prepared for them beside the Canada Games Centre.
Cathy bought our tickets as soon as they were available. There aren’t many events you can go to for $11 anymore.
We parked at the Canada Games Centre and got in line just before 11:30 for the 1:00 performance, and at noon the “gates” opened.
Cathy got a front-row seat (we brought our own comfortable folding chairs), and I was behind a small child who was beside her. By 1:00, the area around the field was well filled by several hundred people.
Yukon favourites Hank Karr & the Canucks provided entertainment. When they sang “After Yukon“, a pretty fair percentage of the audience knew the words and could sing along when he asked us to 🙂
The opening “horse” act was the Spirit Riders 4-H Horse Club. It was great to see them out there. I’ve ever met a 4-H kid I didn’t like, and they put on an excellent performance.
Each of the Spirit Riders’ horses had a maple leaf on the rump. I thought that the Musical Ride horses had a maple leaf that was created by back-brushing the hair, but they didn’t this time.
At 1:55, the Musical Ride could be seen through the trees as they walked up Hamilton Boulevard from their stabes a kilometer away at Takhini Arena.
The underpass used by cross-country skiers made an impressive entrance for them, though my view was blocked a bit.
This entrance put a lump in my throat. I see people complain about the cost – I don’t care what it costs to instill the sort of pride this does in many people.
Inspector Patrick Egan is the Officer in Charge of the Musical Ride. He rides Piper, a 20-year-old gelding who is in his 14th year with the Musical Ride.
I put this photo as my Facebook cover photo right after the show.
Manoeuvres get increasingly complex. Some, the fleur de lis in particular, would be awesome to see from the air or at least a higher vantage point.
Being a member of the Musical Ride is now a 3-year term, though it used to be indeterminate and a few members have been there for many years. Each of the riders is a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – they each come from regular policing duties, and return to regular policing duties after the 3 years is up. This is Constable Renée Everett joined the RCMP in 2009. Originally from Ottawa, this is her second year as a member of the Musical Ride. She rides Gendarme, an 8-year-old gelding in his third year with the Musical Ride.
Some of the members look very serious during the performance, but Corporal Geneviève Neily was more often smiling. Originally from Candiac, Quebec, she joined the RCMP in 1997, and has been a member of the Musical Ride since 2004. She rides Comet, a 12-year-old gelding in his 5th year with the Musical Ride.
A bit of video is probably needed to get a proper feeling for the Musical Ride, so I shot 40 seconds of it.
This is the extremely complex fleur de lis formation.
The dome formation.
And to finish off the performance, the charge!
Heather Jones was the oficial event photographer. Here, she’s starting the VIP portraits.
Each of the riders and their horse take up a position around the field to let people ask questions and meet the horses. The horses, even beyond their abilities in action, are amazing – they seem to take anything and everything in stride.
At 2:45, the Musical Ride formed up again and filed out of the field.
Cathy and I walked out to Hamilton Boulevard to watch them walk back towards the stables.
A visit to the stables was our next stop after giving them half an hour to get settled. It was pretty cool to see the arena converted this way.
Each of the Musical Ride members has their own “hockey card” that are very popular collectibles. I scanned Constable Sarah MacQuarrie’s to show you what they look like.
One final photo, of one of the 3 semi-trailer rigs that take the horses from place to place. Depending on the distance involved, riders take a bus or fly.
Today, August 14th, the Musical Ride is travelling to Skagway, Alaska, to perform. The weather forecast for Skagway isn’t bad – hopefully the 50% chance of showers turns to 0%. They then have a very long haul to Burnaby, BC, for the next performance on August 18th.
Leaving Tombstone Park on Sunday, August 6th, was supposed to lead to another multi-day adventure, but the Tracker broke down and after a night at Five Finger Rapids, I’m now I’m back home instead.
Following my last hike during Geology Weekend at Tombstone, we drove to the Dawson airport so Cathy could fly home while I continued wandering. At 3:55, her Air North plane arrived, one of their new ATR 42-300 turboprops. A few minutes later, Cathy went into the terminal, and I drove into Dawson.
This was Day 10 on the road without services, and I had various tanks on the RV to empty or fill before continuing on. I thought about just taking care of the waste, water, and fuel tanks, but decided to check into the Gold Rush Campground downtown, as I wasn’t really finished with Dawson City yet.
It ain’t much but it serves the purpose. The sites are very small and not very level, for $49 per night. It’s the only RV park that lets you easily walk anywhere in Dawson, though.
I started by walking to the Eldorado Hotel for dinner, leaving the air conditioners roaring to keep the RV cool (it was about 30C/86F). Once the sun had dipped below the mountain to the west enough to put the trail along the Yukon River in shade, I took Bella and Tucker for a long walk. The Flora Dora Hotel is one of my favourite buildings in Dawson 🙂 It closed about 30 years ago, but it’s great to see that the owner has a sense of humour that makes it one of the most-photographed buildings in town.
The next morning, I walked over to the YOOP Eight Avenue Cemetery, final resting spot of many members of the Yukon Order of Pioneers. I took a few photos during the walk.
The cemetery entrance. Most of the cemeteries in Dawson are grouped together up on the hill, and few people know that this one exists. My goal was to take photos of every one of the graves and markers this morning.
Some of the headboards are pretty much rotted away. I think that it’s a safe bet that there are records for each burial in this particular cemetery.
“Joseph E. DeLage. Died March 17, 1903, age 53. He loved his dogs.”
I had only been working for about 10 minutes when I started talking to a couple from BC. It turned into a very long conversation, and I eventually had to leave to get the motorhome out of the campground by the 11:00 checkout time. So much for that project…
Stopping for fuel and dog walks, actually getting on the road took a while. Then the Tintina Trench viewpoint was a perfect location for a long lunch stop.
While it’s being towed, the Tracker has to be started every 200 miles to keep fluid circulating in the transfer case. I stopped at the Stewart River rest area to do that. The river is very low – odd when the Yukon River is very high.
The Tracker wouldn’t start – the starter just spun without engaging the engine! Dust was very thick in the engine compartment, so I hauled a few buckets of water up from the river to clean it off for a look. My Haynes manual said that it’s a clutch inside the starter that has died, and there’s no remedy except to replace the starter. That put an end to my wandering – we had to get home 🙁
I decided to park overnight at the Five Finger Rapids Recreation Site. A couple from California asked me if that was legal, and when I replied that it was, they joined me. Another RV joined us sometime after I went to bed. Just before 06:00 the next morning, I took the next photo as the full moon was about to set.
It was a gorgeous morning. I wanted to hike down to the rapids viewpoint, but had to wait for the sun to come up further to get the light I wanted. In the meantime, dog walks and other photography filled the time nicely.
One of the reasons that I wanted to hike down to the rapids viewpoint was to get a count of the number of steps in the stairs – a few different numbers appear in various accounts online.
At 08:50, the light I wanted had arrived, and I started down the stairs. It’s too many stairs for Bella in particular, so I left both dogs in the motorhome.
There are some wonderful rock formatins along “the fingers”, including this large arch. While most visitors stop to see the view at the upper viewpoint, few make the hike down.
One you make it down the 226 steps on two sets of stairs (162 on the upper set, 64 on the lower set), most of the trail is really nice, with minimal grade. Then there’s a steep rocky section and 7 more steps up to the rapids viewpoint.
One final photo shot as I started the walk back to the parking lot. By 10:00 we were on the final leg home.
I dropped the Tracker off at the GM dealer (it’s handy being able to tow your own broken-down vehicle!), and am now just waiting for it to be fixed so I can get away again. The next destination will be wherever there’s sun – perhaps down the Alaska Highway in the Muncho Lake area.
From Thursday, August 3rd, until Saturday the 5th, we camped at Tombstone Mountain Campground, and attended a few of the events during “Tombstone Rocks”, a Tombstone Park Geology Weekend. There was some awesome hiking and I’ll be back for more next year, but next time, I’ll try to keep notes!
The first event that we attended was on Friday night, and it began with Leyla Weston, Outreach Geologist at the Yukon Geological Survey (YGS), showing us the basics of tectonic plate movement, using a box filled with layers of flour, jello, and I don’t know what else. The folds appeared in those materials pretty much as they have in the rocks around us, which I thought was really cool.
We then moved inside a picnic shelter with black-out curtains, for a Powerpoint presentation by Don Murphy, Geology Emeritus at YGS. It was great to see the room full.
The presentation started off on a sad note for me, and for some others including Don. I hadn’t heard that geologist Charlie Roots had died of ALS last year. He was a great help to me while I was researching and writing my book about mining on Montana Mountain, ensuring that my explanations of the complex geology were correctly simplified from his and other geologists’ work in the area. It was also Charlie who started this Tombstone Geology Weekend program.
On with the program. Don and Leyla explained the basics of the formation of the mountains in the Tombstone area, and also described the physically demanding process of creating geology maps. A large geology map of the Tombstone area is online – it’s a 124MB download. I went to bed that night with my head loaded with new information! 🙂
On Saturday morning, about 15 people met at the picnic shelter and we car-pooled up to the Goldensides trailhead again. It was much nicer in the sunshine!!
The light was perfect for showing many of the features that Don and Leyla were talking about.
Way up on an outcropping of bedrock chert, the geological map came out and the explanations of what we were seeing got into much more detail. While I remember the basics, I want much more now.
Yukon Parks interpreter Olivia was on hand to explain some of the natural stuff beyond the rocks – including plants, animals, and glaciers. I hope that there’s a glacier section on this weekend next year.
The view to the northeast, with the sun reflecting off chert and slate slopes.
The variety in the terrain is quite incredible. In this photo, you can see both folding of sedimentary layers in the foreground, and igneous intrusions of syenite which date to 92 million years ago.
A lunch break at the top, with lots of talking.
I headed back down the trail at 12:45.
Assessing a block of chert alongside the trail. As I walked, I was watching for a similar block that had a layer that Don said was caused by an underwater avalanche, but couldn’t find it again.
To the left is the outcropping of chert where we had our first major talk.
Charlie Canyon Trail
The next hike was supposed to start at 2:00 pm, but we had run late on the Goldensides ones, so it was a bit late. This one was to Charlie’s Canyon, one of Charlie Roots’ favourites because it gives people a glimpse at what a geologist does while mapping, crashing through brush and hoping for a moose trail to ease the route.
The crossing of Charcoal Creek saw all sorts of answers to the problem, from barefoot crossing while carrying boots, to waterproofed boots, and attempts to jump it. Two of us were wearing sports sandals and just walked across 🙂
Charlie’s Canyon is a surprisingly complex location, in a geologic way. Complex enough that I can’t even attempt to pass any useful information on to you yet.
Most of the hikers had done the Goldensides trail, and everyone’s enthusiasm was still high. Don or Leyla never tired of explaining how a certain rock people found was formed.
Don somehow found the microscopic remains of some of the radiolarians that help create chert, on the 60-foot-high canyon walls. Most of us had a look at them with hand lenses – even Leyla had never seen them “in the wild” like this.
That evening, Cathy and I drove down to the Grizzly Creek trailhead, to be sure that the motorhome would fit for the hike on Sunday morning. Cathy was flying home that afternoon and I didn’t want to take time away from the trail to drive back to the campground to get the motorhome. Due to new parking lot improvements with a large RV area, it would fit. The next photo was shot right at the Km 60 post as I drove back to the campground.
Back at our campsite, a very confident snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) came to visit us for the second evening. I was amazed at how close he came, even with 2 dogs (I was very pleased with both Bella’s and Tucker’s calm reaction to the hare, too).
Grizzly Creek Trail
At 10:00 on Sunday morning, another group of about 15 people had gathered at the Grizzly Creek trailhead. All but 3 of the group were new to the Geology Weekend events, so the 40-minute introduction to the area started with the basics.
At Km 1.5 of the trail, we took a break and Don and Leyla explained more about the area’s geology. This spot on Cairnes Creek is the last spot where water bottles can be filled – the trail starts to climb fairly steeply soon after.
While YukonHiking.ca rates the trail as Easy, they’re the only ones who do. Yukon Parks says: “Many people are not prepared for the level of difficulty they encounter on this trail. …From [Km 1.5] it’s a steady and relentless climb through willow and dwarf birch and then finally through rocky terrain to the Mount Monolith Lookout [at Km 3]”. Some of our group turned back at around the time the next photo was shot, at 11:25.
There was a rest stop at “the first lookout”, and Don was noticeably pleased when everybody said that they were going to continue another 20 minutes to the main lookout where he wanted to do his talk.
The start of the final climb.
Yes, it is that steep. And it was very warm, 24C/75F perhaps.
This, however, is the reward. I’m calling this one of the finest views I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world, for a variety of scenic and emotional reasons. Mount Monolith is the one with “the finger” 🙂
I very seldom hike with other people – my passion is for solo wilderness travel. Being in a location like this, on a day like this, with a group of like-minded people, though, made this a very special experience.
Don Murphy was clearly in his element. He may be retired, but he still lives and breathes rocks.
Looking to the north-east from the lookout, to Fold Mountain. From this vantage point, those ridges of Keno Hill quartzite can be followed quite clearly from Fold Mountain, across two valleys and far up towards Mount Monolith.
I had to head down at 12:45 to get Cathy to the airport. When I went to thank Don and Leyla for an awesome weekend, they asked if I’d be interested in working with them on a Geology & History Weekend on Montana Mountain next year. Wow – would I ever!
Hiking back to the car alone, I could take many more photos than I did on the way up. The trail requires you to watch your footing quite closely.
On the way up, I hadn’t noticed that the trail climbs up a glacial esker and runs along the top of it for a few hundred yards/meters. Eskers are one of my favourite glacial landforms – each is unique, and I love the way they wander across the land. There are also 2 blow-down areas, where every tree has been knocked down by micro-burst wind events, over areas of about 1 and 3 acres.
Back at the trailhead, 25 minutes early. It was exactly 3 hours round trip.
From there, the Dawson airport was the next stop, and then, to an RV park in Dawson for the night. This was Day 10 on the road without services, and I had various tanks on the RV to empty or fill before continuing on for another few days.
On Thursday, August 3rd, we left Dawson and headed north for Tombstone Mountain Campground for a 3-night stay. We had timed the Tombstone part of the trip to be there for “Tombstone Rocks”, a Tombstone Park Geology Weekend, but Cathy also got to see a part of the Dempster Highway she hadn’t yet seen.
We stopped and made lunch at the start of the Dempster Highway. The tiny one-lane bridge over the Klondike River is being “rehabilitated” at a cost of $3.325 million. That’s a shocking bill for what’s basically a Bailey Bridge!
When we arrived at the Tombstone Mountain Campground just after 2:00 pm, it was already almost full. Unhooking the Tracker in the parking lot at the campground entrance so the trailer behind us wasn’t delayed cost us the camp site that I wanted (they took it), but we got a site with a great view anyway. The campground has a good mix of forest and open sites, and there are no “bad” sites at all. We were very pleased to find once again that there were very few bugs of any kind – I’m tempted to say that there were no bugs, but there were a few.
I started my hiking with one guided by a Yukon Parks interpreter that evening. We met at the campground at 7 pm, and carpooled 2 km up the Dempster Highway to the Goldensides trailhead. The hike is fairly easy – 4 km (2.5 mi) round trip, with an elevation gain of 210 meters (689 feet).
The light was quite flat for photography, but the clouds produced some cool HDR effects.
We had a big group – 26 of us, with an age range of about 10 to 75 years.
Our guide, Ella Parker, was very good. Her passion for the park is contagious.
The views are spectacular right from the trailhead, and get even better very quickly. The next photo is looking down the Dempster Highway, with the campground and interpretive centre visible in the foreground.
Ella made a few stops to explain various things. The white spot down on the North Klondike River is ice – it generally lasts for most of the summer and is a good place to spot animals.
Ella was explaining how when she and her Dad were hiking along the Blackstone River, he had suddenly stripped down to his underwear and waded out into the river. A few seconds later, he was holding a whole mastodon tusk over his head! They sent the location to the Yukon palaeontologist with their InReach, and put it back.
As we were on our way back down right at 9:00 pm, some wonderful light appeared for a few minutes.
I started Friday off by exploring the campground and then walking to the interpretive centre. With no camp sites left by about 3 pm on Thursday, people were camped in the entrance parking lot, at the picnic shelter, and over at the interpretive centre.
The registration desk is in the centre of this photo of the entrance area. Our camp site was about 40 meters/yards to the right.
The next 2 photos show one of the group camping areas – the group that was there had already packed up and left by 8:40 when I shot the photos.
The trail to the interpretive centre crosses over Charcoal Creek on a bridge.
At about 11:00, we decided to take a drive up the Dempster Highway, looking for animals and anything else that might catch our interest. We had no particular turn-around spot in mind, it would be a casual wander. Fireweed brightened up the dull day in many places.
The view to the north from North Fork Pass, which is the highest point on the highway at 1,300 meters (4,265 feet).
Dramatic lighting on some of the peaks.
The view to the north at the Km 96 post. The country changes quickly north of North Fork Pass, and I always suggest that people go to at least Chapman Lake (Km 116) to see the difference.
This communications tower, painted to blend into the hills, is accessed by a side road about a kilometer long.
From the communications tower, the vast views are wonderful. This is an HDR image.
We turned around at this point just north of Windy Pass, at about Km 158. It’s a really unique area, and is now the furthest north that Cathy has been on the Dempster. My plan for next year is to drive right to Tuktoyaktuk on the new road, though, to complete her Dempster experience.
Looking south to Windy Pass.
The view to the west from Windy Summit, which is 1,060 meters high (3,478 feet).
We went to our first Geology Weekend presentation that evening, but I’ll tell you about that in the next post, to keep all the Geology Weekend information together.
We woke up on Saturday morning (August 5th) in glorious sunshine. As well as a long dog walk, I went to re-shoot some of the photos that I’d shot on the previous cloudy days. The light on the foxtails along the highway was great.
These muddy footprints along the highway give an indication of what the conditions can be like when it’s wet.
The interpretive centre.
The interpretive centre parking area.
And “Dog Parking” at the interpretive centre, with tie-out chain, water bowl, and cleanup bags. There’s separate “parking” for 4 dogs.
Then, it was all about rocks for the rest of the weekend. Yes, Tombstone Rocks! 🙂
Cathy and I had 3 nights (July 31st and August 1st and 2nd) and 2 full days to explore the Dawson area. We didn’t have any plans, but saw a little bit of a lot, and spent a lot of time just relaxing at the Yukon River Campground in West Dawson.
We were in campsite #42, a large pull-through right on the Yukon River.
The view of the river from the campsite was good, but a short trail from the campsite leads to the riverbank. Peregrine falcons and gulls nest on those cliffs. We saw gulls constantly, but no falcons.
Our first destination was the Midnight Dome, on Monday night (July 31st). This was the view down the Yukon River from the 887-meter (2,911-foot) summit at 7:35 pm.
Looking over Dawson City and up the Yukon River.
We watching a hang-glider prepare his gear and launch, and a few minute slater, land on the waterfront park in downtown Dawson. We had just missed his previous launch which resulted almost immediately in a spectacular crash into the top of a tree. Apparently only his pride was injured 🙂
We finished our evening with a walk along the river dyke. The city has done a great job making this pile of gravel into a lovely, people-friendly place. This photo was taken at 8:50 pm, just before te sun dipped behind the mountain to the west.
On Tuesday afternoon we took the free ferry back across the river again. Our first destination was the Bonanza Creek Road. Both Claim #6, where you can pan for gold for free, and Dredge No. 4, seen in the photo, were very busy.
The cemeteries above Dawson City were our next stop. We took a walk through the upper part of St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery.
There are many babies and children in the cemetery. Catherine Mary A. MacDonald died on August 31, 1905, at the age of 2 years, 6 months.
It was very warm, and Cathy wanted to find a shady spot to walk, but I made a short stop to pay my respects at the grave of my friend Ken Spotswood, in the YOOP Cemetery (Yukon Order of Pioneers).
The skies were threatening as we crossed the Yukon River back to the campground at 3:20, but the rain never arrived.
We went back into Dawson Tuesday night, for a fabulous dinner at our favourite restaurant, The Drunken Goat Taverna. We shared the Poikilia, which is an assortment of Greek specialities – lamb chops, Greek style ribs, chicken breast, garides, spanakopita, tiropita, pita bread with feta dip, and a Greek salad. It’s a bit spendy at $77.95 (which seems like a huge increase since the last time we had it), but it’s best as a meal for 4, so we took plenty of leftovers back to the RV!
On Wednesday morning, the situation at the Dawson side of the ferry was a mess. Two RV caravans were trying to get to the Top of the World Highway, and it apparently hadn’t occurred to anybody in those caravans to assign times for each rig. We talked to one woman who drove the couple’s “toad” (the towed car) across and then waited for more than 4 hours for her husband to get across.
We certainly weren’t going to take a ferry, so headed up the Top of the World Highway. This was the view ahead at Km 30.
We went to the summit, a few hundred meters from the Alaska border, then headed southwest on an old mining road that goes into the Sixty Mile gold mining area. I hadn’t been on the road since I came out on it when I was working on the gold dredge that’s now a tourist attraction in Skagway (I was researching its history for the new owner).
This is spectacular country, with ghosts everywhere. Almost every valley bottom has been mined over the past 120 years.
The road got too small and rough for comfort after about half an hour, so we headed back to the highway. The next photo shows the Canada/USA (Yukon/Alaska) border crossing.
Looking down the Top of the World Highway from the summit towards Dawson as we started back down, at 1:20 pm.
By 4:00 most of the RVs had made it across the ferry, so we went back into Dawson to visit the Dawson City Firefighters Museum. Did we ever luck in – their freshly-restored steam fire engine had just been unloaded from the shipping container!
The quality of the restoration of this 1898 Clapp & Jones steam pump is absolutely superb. I expect that this is the finest example of its type in the world now. The restoration was done by Stan Uher of Classic Coachworks in Bleinheim, Ontario. It took over 1,400 hours and 18 months to complete. The cost was $250,000, of which some $50,000 was for nickel plating. Many of these steam pumps are now copper – once the nickel/corroded nickel has ben stripped off, it’s just too expensive to re-do. Most of the money for the restoration came from Dawson’s volunteer firefighters donating the stipends they get for attending fires, for several years. To me, that says a lot about Dawson, and is a significant part of the story.
I went around and around, over and under this magnificent machine, and the quality is consistently perfect.
It wasn’t possible to restore the fire engine to operating status, as parts of the boiler such as the water sight glass seen in the next photo don’t meet current standards.
This painting on the wall hints at what the steam pump would have looked like in operation. It must have been very impressive.
After the Firefighters Museum, we went to the Visitor Information Centre so I could use the wifi, and get another look at the incredibly detailed model of the Klondike Mines Railway that’s pretty much hidden in a back room (temporarily, I hope).
I often don’t realize that Cathy has never seen sights that I’ve been to many times. The Sternwheeler Graveyard is one of those places, so after having dinner at our campsite, we walked down the riverbank to see it.
Before leaving the campground on Thursday morning, I walked around the entire campground taking photos for my campground guide. There’s a huge variation in the quality of campsites – some are quite awful (tight and very un-level), while others have great character, such as this terraced pull-through one on the upper level.
The riverfront sites are all very nice, ranging from tenting sights such as the one in the next photo, to large pull-throughs such as the one we were in.
Just after 11:30, we boarded the ferry for the last time, and after a bit of grocery shopping, headed north towards Tombstone Territorial Park.
On Friday evening, July 28th, Cathy and I headed north for 9 days of exploring and relaxing. We camped for 2 nights en route to Dawson City, including a detour to Mayo and Keno City. On Sunday, Cathy will fly home from Dawson and I’ll wander for another week or so on the way home.
Cathy took the Tracker to work on Friday, and when she got off work, I met her in downtown Whitehorse a couple of blocks from her office. A few minutes later, the Tracker was hooked up to the motorhome and we were on our way.
We went an hour and half up the North Klondike Highway to the Twin Lakes Campground, a particularly lovely campground. There are 26 camp sites, 9 of them pull-throughs, and a boat launch. The campground was about half full (most of the campers were Yukoners), and completely quiet – a perfect place to start the week off. A huge bonus was that we were already out of what seems like the never-ending clouds and rain in Whitehorse. This must be the wettest July in history in Whitehorse.
We got away fairly early on Saturday morning (just after 09:00), and right at 10:00, crossed the Yukon River Bridge at Carmacks, which is getting a new deck.
At 12:30, the Visitor Information Centre pullout at Stewart Crossing was a handy place to have lunch. Although there’s a Visitor Information Centre here, I think I’ve seen it open twice in the past 27 years 🙂 I had a nice chat with a family from Merritt, BC, who were on a whirlwind tour of the north, perhaps to get away from the heat and forest fire smoke.
Our destination for Saturday was the Five Mile Lake Campground just north of Mayo. I’ve driven through it and the adjacent Recreation Site, but hadn’t camped here yet. There are 20 camp sites, 3 of which are pull-throughs.
We set up in site #7, a pull-through right in front of the beach access. The sites at Five Mile Lake Campground are huge, some to a ridiculous degree. Our motorhome-car combination is 51 feet long, and many of the sites could hold 4 of our rigs.
A small sandy beach has been created on Five Mile Lake, and although this photo taken early Sunday morning shows it as being peaceful, we won’t be back to this campground on a weekend. It’s packed with locals about 16 hours a day, and between screaming/crying kids and the constant cruising of locals’ vehicles, the noise is incessant. Some of the camp sites seemed to have many other vehicles visiting. I didn’t understand why the Recreation Site wasn’t being used as intended, but when I went over there for a look, found that it’s been all but abandoned, and no sandy beach has been created – it just has the natural grassy/marshy shore. Using the campground for day use is unfortunately a no-brainer. As a campground, though, it was only about half full, and as at Twin Lakes, most of the campers were Yukoners.
On Sunday, we drove to the old silver-mining town Keno City, about 60 km away. On the way, I was pleased to see that a small rest area has been created at the Minto Bridge. There are outhouses, one picnic table, good level river access for launching small boats, and a huge parking lot.
We had a look at the Keno Community Club Campground. It’s fairly rustic, built for smaller RVs, and costs $15 per night. Many of the sites were occupied, but my impression was that most were people working in the area, not recreational campers. The photo shows the turn-around at the end of the campground.
We had a couple of ideas for Keno, the first being a drive to the signpost near the top of Keno Hill. It was erected at an elevation of 1,849 meters / 6,065 feet. The drive up is spectacular. With care, it can be driven in a regular car, but having an SUV is better.
The mountains around Keno are dotted with silver and gold mines dating from recent years to back a century.
It was nice to see that a porta-potty has ben placed near the signpost, as most visitors come up here, either simply for the view, or to go hiking.
As soon as I started to turn around at the top, I felt a flat tire. Well poop. That set a new record as my highest-altitude flat tire ever 🙂 But, a few minutes later, it was fixed and life was good.
The famous Keno Hil signpost can be seen on the right. The rock cairn, which strangely was built on a now-rotting wooden base, holds a brass plaque dedicated to geologist and mining engineer Alfred Kirk Schellinger, who staked the “Keno” silver claim here on July 29, 1919.
A distant look at the most-photographed of the old mining cabins on Keno Hill. Although there was plenty of sunshine all around us, one large and very dark cloud kept the top of Keno Hill in deep shadow.
On the way back down the hill, I made a detour to show Cathy my favourite mine on Keno Hill. From this adit, a railway runs out…
…and this ore car was used to dump waste rock that had been blasted in the adit. The side-dumping ore carrier has been removed, probably now in somebody’s back-yard collection of cool stuff.
This large placer gold mine in a valley near the bottom of Keno Hill worked until about 10 years ago, if I remember correctly.
We had hoped to have a pizza lunch and chat with my friend Mike Mancini, but the sign on the door said that he was closed until 5 pm. We drove over to the pub, but an aggressive dog tied up at the entrance halted that plan. So we drove back to Five Mile Lake and made our own lunch.
On Monday morning, the condition of the beach at Five Mile Lake was bloody appalling. Garbage, various articles of clothing, and lots of toys were scattered everywhere. That sort of lack of respect makes me nuts. We soon left for Dawson.
I made a quick stop at a tire repair on the way into Dawson City, and just after 2:30 were ready to board to ferry George Black. It would take us across the Yukon River to the campground.
The ferry captain waited a few minutes for the paddlewheel tour boat Klondike Spirit to clear our path. I was happy to sit and watch her go by.
Once on the west side of the river, we were soon set up in site #42 at the Yukon River Campground, the largest campground in the Yukon. It’s a large pull-through site right on the river, fairly close to outhouses and firewood. We’re here for 3 nights, then will head up the Dempster Highway to Tombstone Mountain Campground for 3 nights.
We can watch boats go by on the river right from our camp site, but a short trail leads down to the riverbank for clear views. We’ve been surprised by the number of boats going by. In the last photo in this post, the Klondike Spirit has just passed the village of Moosehide.
Now, we have a couple of days to explore more of the Dawson area.