Yukon RVing: Dempster Highway to Chapman Lake

Most people who drive up the Dempster Highway only go as far as the Tombstone Range viewpoint at Km 74, not realizing that the best part of the highway starts just a few miles beyond that. On Sunday, we took the Tracker up to Chapman Lake at Km 116, and despite rather flat light for much of the day, had a wonderful experience.

As always on this trip, we got off to a very lazy start, and didn’t get to the Tombstone Range viewpoint until 11:30. Every stop here is different – the weather and even just the light can change the view quite dramatically.

Tombstone Range viewpoint, Dempster Highway
This view looking up the North Klondike River (or North Fork) shows Tombstone Mountain, 2,140 meters (7,021 feet) high, on the right. It’s 24 kilometers (15 miles) away, seen between the Tombstone Range on the left and the Cloudy Range on the right. The interpretive sign explains that the jagged peaks were formed by molten syenite squeezing up through layers of sedimentary rock – syenite is like granite but with little or no quartz in it.

Tombstone Mountain from the viewpoint on the Dempster Highway
This is a fairly radical HDR (High Dynamic Range) version of the photo above.

HDR image of Tombstone Mountain from the viewpoint on the Dempster Highway
North Fork Pass summit is one of the spots on the Dempster that I particularly love. Only 5 km past the viewpoint, this is where the country changes dramatically. At 1,400 meters (4,593 feet), it’s the highest point on the highway, and marks the Continental Divide between the Yukon and Mackenzie River systems.

North Fork Pass, Dempster Highway, Yukon
Fun in the North Fork Pass gravel pit. There are apparently artists working for the Department of Highways here 🙂

Gravel pit at North Fork Pass, Dempster Highway, Yukon
The spectacular descent to the north from North Fork Pass summit. The lakes below are unusual – the one to the left never has ice on it past late May, the smaller one on the right stays frozen all summer. That probably means that the one on the right sits on deep permafrost, which is ground that is permanently frozen.

The spectacular descent to the north from North Fork Pass summit, Dempster Highway, Yukon
This is a better look at the lakes.

Dempster Highway, Yukon
The complex and often fascinating geology along the Dempster is one of the aspects of the drive I never tire of.

Complex geology along the Yukon's Dempster Highway
The view north at Km 86, along the East Fork of the Blackstone River.

The view north at Km 86 of the Dempster Highway, Yukon - the East Fork of the Blackstone River
At Km 97.9, a road leads off to the west, to a microwave station. There’s very little room at the top to turn around, but the view is great and it’s a fine base for some off-trail ridge hiking.

Dempster Highway, Yukon
I’ve never seen so much of the lovely Arctic cottongrass (Eriophorum callitrix) as on this trip – mile after mile, thousands of acres of it.

Arctic cottongrass along the Yukon's Dempster Highway
Distances are vast here – from Km 100.8 of the highway, it’s 261 km (162 miles) to Eagle Plains Lodge, where basic services can be found, and 633 km (393 miles) to the full services of Inuvik. Be sure that your vehicle and related skills such as knowing how to change a flat tire are up to this.

Mileage sign on the Dempster Highway, Yukon
Two Moose Lake is reached at Km 102.5.

Two Moose Lake - Dempster Highway, Yukon
The viewing deck at Two Moose Lake has 4 interpretive signs about the lake’s formation, birds and mammals, and life for the first peoples of the region.

Interpretive signs at Two Moose Lake - Dempster Highway, Yukon
Monty was certain that he saw something in the bushes along the lake, but we couldn’t figure out what (and we didn’t let him out to confirm) 🙂

Husky checking out something suspicious at Two Moose Lake on the Dempster Highway, Yukon
This is one of my favourite photos from this day, looking up the East Fork of the Blackstone River from a large rest area at Km 107.6.

East Fork of the Blackstone River- Dempster Highway, Yukon
This lovely unmarked memorial on a short side road at Km 113 surprised me. It honours Joe and Annie Henry, who were both born near here at what was known as Black City. It was a collaborative work that was begun in 2002 after Joe’s death by artists Jackie Olson (granddaughter of Joe and Annie), Harrison Tanner, and Bela Simo.

Memorial to Joe and Annie Henry on the Dempster Highway, Yukon
Chapman Lake at Km 116 was our turnaround spot, partly because the bugs were so bad (the only place on our entire trip that they were). It was still only 1:15 – adding considerably to your Dempster experience doesn’t take long.

Chapman Lake - Dempster Highway, Yukon
The sign marking the southern boundary of Tombstone Park isn’t in a photographically-pleasing location, but the northern one, at Chapman Lake, is.

The sign marking the northern boundary of Tombstone Park - Dempster Highway, Yukon
Traffic continued to be very light – perhaps 4 vehicles per hour, one of those a truck, 2 of them RVs and the other a regular car or pickup.

Semi-trailer truck on the Dempster Highway, Yukon
It was time to give the kids some major play time, so we went down a rough track to a spot along the Blackstone that still had a thick buildup of ice in many places.

Summer ice on the Blackstone River - Dempster Highway, Yukon
They loved it! 🙂

Huskies on summer ice on the Blackstone River - Dempster Highway, Yukon
I really wanted to wade across the river to see the old blue ice, but didn’t want to keep Cathy and the kids waiting that long.

Blue summer ice on the Blackstone River, Dempster Highway, Yukon
Storm clouds were rapidly building to the south and we could see that rain had begun, so we headed back towards our campground just before 2:00.

Storm clouds along the Dempster Highway, Yukon
When we reached Two Moose Lake, one of my eagle-eyed scouts (Cathy this time), spotted, as advertised, 2 moose on the far side of the lake! They can be seen on the shore, with a few more acres of Arctic cottongrass behind them.

Two moose at Two Moose Lake - Dempster Highway, Yukon
The moose climbed the bank above the lake, and as they reached this point, saw something that spooked them badly and they took off running to the right as fast as they could.

Two moose at Two Moose Lake - Dempster Highway, Yukon
Still going full speed, across the highway to the north, much to the delight of the people in the motorhome, no doubt. We never did see what had scared them – a grizzly or a pack of wolves, I would think.

Two moose at Two Moose Lake - Dempster Highway, Yukon
Almost home just before 3:00 – that’s the Tombstone Mountain Campground in the centre of the photo.

Dempster Highway, Yukon

Although we questioned that evening whether we should leave Tombstone, we decided that we did want to see Dawson City again, so made plans to head down the highway on Monday afternoon.



Comments

Yukon RVing: Dempster Highway to Chapman Lake — 1 Comment

  1. Stunning area. So much of this I still need to see. By car, by bicycle, by motorcycle and with time to burn. As always thanks for sharing and your thoughtful commentary.