"WAS THAT NIGHT ON THE MARGE...
...of Lake Labarge, I cremated Sam McGee."--Robert W. Service. The 1907 poem "The Cremation of Sam McGee" is, by far, the most famous poem of Alaska and the Yukon Territories. I had to look-up "marge" to discover it meant "margin" or "edge." It seems that most places we traveled in our northwest journey there was some reference to the poet or the poem. However, nowhere was it more in-your-face than Dawson City, YT. It was Dawson City that everybody was rushing to in the Klondike Gold Rush from 1896-1899. The town was full of either gold miners or those smart enough to "mine" the gold miners. Robert Service was there for the action and provided much of the entertainment in the local bars by orating poems for the patrons. His name became intimately attached to Dawson City and the gold rush.
Dawson City was one of the most unique and fun towns of our journey. The town prides itself on maintaining the look and feel of its gold rush heyday. All its streets are dirt (and potholes) and all its sidewalks are wood. All buildings are either restored or rebuilt according to strict regulations making sure the buildings are consistent with the "gold rush" character of the town. The town still relies on gold mining as its primary industry but, even though Dawson City is hundreds of miles away from anything, it has thousands of tourists during the summer months.
We arrived in Dawson City in time for the big Discovery Days celebration. This is the celebration of the day, August 16, 1896, when gold was first discovered and the Klondike Gold Rush was on.
|What is a "gold rush" town without some bars babes dancing around |
and showing their underwear?
|Panning for "wild" gold on Public Claim #6.|
|Nancy coming up empty.|
|Striking gold at Claim #33.|
|Nancy's jewelry creation from her gold strikes!|
|Dawson City, BC.|
|Many buildings in Dawson City were constructed on|
permafrost with predictable results.
|Dawson City, YT & the Yukon River.|
|The view from Midnight Dome in Dawson City, BC.|
To enter Dawson Creek from Alaska via the Top of the World Highway you have to take a ferry across the Yukon River. After hours of slowly driving this spectacular highway a cruise across the river is a fun and relaxing ending. Now for the weirdness--The "dock" to exit the ferry is nothing more than a built up dirt platform which is constantly being rebuilt. When we exited the ferry, there was a substantial drop onto the dirt. We made it with no problem. However, when we started driving we heard a loud thumping sound coming from the back of the rig. A quick inspection revealed a large rock wedged between the dually tires. So I got out a hammer and crow bar to free the rock. No go; it was wedged in there solid and wouldn't budge. Next I decided to take 50 psi out of one of the dually tires. Still no go. So I slowly drove the rig 2 miles down the road to a tire repair shop. Wouldn't you know it, on the drive we heard a loud bang and the rock was free. I blame Nancy for this unusual event as I figured that this rock just wanted to join her burgeoning rock collection in the rig.
The big bar in town is in the Downtown Hotel where the primary entertainment is drinking a shot of hard liquor with the pickled toe of a dead man dropped into the drink. The rules are that the toe must touch your lips, the toe must not enter your mouth or worse, be swallowed, and no puking. When we were there it was well over an hour wait in line to get to do the "dead man toe" shot. So this was a great excuse to opt out. However, it was fun watching everybody's reaction to this weird ordeal. Better yet, we had to go through a DUI check-point on our drive back to the campground, so I'm really glad I did not partake.
|The rules of the game.|
|The dead man's toe.|
|The dead man's toe shot drinking station.|
|Mr. & Mrs. Yukon--The stars of the Discovery Days Parade.|
|A must for all parades--the marching band.|
|One of the top-tier floats in the big parade.|
|We were even treated to mud pit races as part of the Discovery Days celebration.|
The race course was simple--just dig two trenches in a dirt parking lot, fill
with water, add trucks with big wheels, then say "GO!"
Just outside of Dawson Creek is the Dempster Highway, a 456 miles drive north to Inuvik, Northwest Territories. The Dempster Highway is another dirt road full of potholes and sharp rocks for gravel. It is recommended that all travelers carry 2 spare tires. When we were there the road north of us was closed due to being washed out and the rivers were running so high that ferry's were shut down. Our journey took us 70 miles north into Tombstone Territorial Park and 2-Moose Lake at the north end of the park. Tombstone is an isolated yet beautiful park featuring towering ragged peaks and broad, sweeping tundra valleys. It was intriguing being in a park with almost no trees as the valleys were dominated by tundra shrubs. This made for spectacular, unobstructed viewing.
|Tombstone Territorial Park, YT|
|Tombstone Territorial Park, YT.|
There were a few trees in the southern part of the park.
After leaving Dawson City and after a couple of long days on the road we ended up in Watson Lake, YT. The town of Watson Lake has nothing to offer but it is one of the most famous stops on the Alaska Highway. Back in 1942, during construction of the Alaska Highway, a soldier named Carl Lindley posted a sign in Watson Lake naming his hometown, Danville, Illinois and its distance, from Watson Lake. So what would you expect; 74 years later there are over 87,000 signs hanging from posts and trees to join Carl Lindley's sign. This weird attraction is known as the "Signpost Forest" and is well worth the stop.
Now for another Nancy complaint. As everybody knows, Nancy collects anything she can find as long as it is a pretty, natural object. Fireweeds are one of the stars of the north--massive growth patches, green foliage in the spring, stunning pink blooms in the summer, deep red foliage in the fall, and seed pods which release hundreds of fluffy, white floating seeds when the pods burst open. Nancy decided to collect some of these beautiful flowers and put them in water in the rig. So as we are cruising along one day I noticed a white floating object in front of my eyes. The next thing we knew there were hundreds of these things floating on the air currents inside of the rig while I was trying to drive. They were all over the friggin' place. I made Nancy discard the flowers, but here we are 2 weeks later and there are still some floaters scooting around the rig. I say-100 lashes with a wet noodle for Nancy! Ahhh...marital bliss!!!
We had a fun stop at Liard Hot Springs in British Columbia. The hot springs water flows into a pool at the headwaters of a creek. For ease of access one side of the hot springs pool has an entry platform, but the pool has a very natural feel. The hot springs are in a beautiful provincial park with a campground making this a very relaxing stop. Also, the park is located in the middle of wood bison territory, so the drive along the highway reveals hundreds of these huge beasts wandering along the highway. In fact, car versus bison encounters are quite common and not all of the encounters are initiated by the car. Whenever we stopped the car to view these wonderful creatures, as soon as I saw one of them give me the ole stink eye I got out of there real fast!
Next we travelled through the northern Rocky Mountains and spent a night camping and hiking in Stone Mountain Provincial Park. The Rockies up here are every bit as beautiful as those in the lower 48. We scored a fantastic campsite on Summit Lake and I had the opportunity to hike to one of the nearby mountain peaks. What a fantastic sight it was from the top as I was able to see this amazing range spread out over the landscape as far as the eye can see.
|Stone Mountain Provincial Park, BC|
|Stone Mountain Provincial Park, BC|
|Stone Mountain Provincial Park, BC|
|Elk in Stone Mountain Provincial Park, BC.|
We are now "Zeros." That is, we are at "milepost zero" of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek, BC. Dawson Creek is the official start of the Alaska Highway which runs 1,390 miles north to Delta Junction, Alaska. The town of Dawson Creek is all about the history of the highway and interesting it is. Did you know that the highway was completed in 9 months and was done in reaction to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Due to its proximity to Japan, Alaska was seen as a critical element in the defense of the west coast, so the highway had to be built and built super fast. The US Army Corp of Engineers moved so fast that they invaded Canada and began construction 1 month prior to approval by the Canadian government! It turned out that the highway never played a major part in the defense of Canada or the USA, but Japan did manage to establish a base in some of Alaska's Aleutian Islands.
Although we are still hundreds of miles north of the "lower 48," we consider our Alaska trip to be concluded as we have hit "mile zero" and can now disperse in any direction our hearts desire. So it will be back to the lower 48, but first lets make a few stops in Jasper and Banff National Parks! Both parks are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Can't wait!
|Mile zero in Dawson Creek, BC.|
|The original milepost zero in Dawson City, BC.|
This marker was relocated 1 block from the Alaska
Highway due to the number of tourists dodging traffic
to get the photo.