When Mo and I first started planning this trip, one of many choices had to do with choosing whether we would leave the Alaska Highway to travel the North Klondike Highway through Dawson and over the Top of the World. We heard varying reviews about the pros and cons, and after we listened to a young woman at Boya Lake who made her husband drive all the way from Ontario because she wanted to see it one more time, we finally decided we wanted to see it. Mo also had some fond memories of Dawson City from her time there as well and thought it would be fun to go back.
The day started overcast and dreary, but things perked up when we got a 3 percent discount for gasoline for no reason whatsoever. The first impressions as we drove north was that there was so much water, so many lakes. Thanks to our friendly Alaskan guys at the boat launch yesterday, we knew that Fox and Little Fox Lake would be wonderful for kayaking, but by the time we got there, it was still fairly cold and gray and neither one of us was particularly up for stopping so quickly and undoing the kayaks. We passed Lake Laberge, made famous by Robert W. Service in his poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”.
The cinnamon buns at Braeburn Lodge are a tradition we didn’t want to miss, so in the dreary rain we pulled over for a bun. The owner of the place ignored me for awhile before he grudgingly got up to sell me a $9. roll that took up nearly half the passenger seat. Mo and I ate on that thing for days before finally giving the last of it to Abby.
We continued north through the broad lush landscape, seeing the only bear of the day as a blur of brown along the roadside. Even though he was brown, it was probably just a brown black bear, but he was a bit bigger than the two cubs we had seen previously on the Cassiar. Again, there was no way to stop on the road, no place to pull over, and when Mo finally stopped and I got out to try to backtrack to where the bear was, he was nowhere to be seen. I didn’t really want to tromp around in thick wet vegetation to find him either! I’m not completely stupid. So once more, no photos of our bear sighting.
Just beyond the bear was the historic Montague Roadhouse, with logs mossy and nearly hidden by the thick vegetation. I loved comparing Mo’s photos from her 74 trip to what the roadhouse looked like today. When she passed, there were no trees around and today it was nearly hidden in the forest. As we continued north, we passed the beautifully colored Twin Lakes, one on each side of the road, with that gorgeous turquoise color so characteristic of glacial meltwaters.
We stopped for the interpretive signs about the community of Carmacks, fully intending to stop in and walk along the river and explore the town. Somehow we missed the turnoff and were on the bridge over the Yukon River before we realized what had happened. We watched Carmacks in the rear view mirrors and decided, Oh Well.
The Klondike Highway is the historic route to the Gold Rush world of Dawson City, and the Yukon River is the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush. I loved this huge river, and our stop at Five Fingers Rapids was the highlight of the day. We hiked down the 218 stairs to the boreal forest along the river to overlook the historic rapids. The Yukon has impressive parks and interpretive signs about the history and landscape of the area. It was gorgeous. It was hard to imagine the old sternwheelers navigating those wild rapids through the channels on their way to Klondike Gold.
Farther north I was thrilled to see deposits of white volcanic ash from the White River ash deposits from 1,250 years ago, the source possibly buried beneath the Klutlan Glacier in the St Elias Mountains in southeast Alaska. The ash covers more than a third of the southern Yukon. I studied volcanic ash soils in the northwest throughout my career, so this was a delight, and of course I had to get out and collect some to take home.
Somewhere along the way, we came to the boundary marking the end of Continental glaciation in the Yukon and the beginning of what is called Beringia, an area of the far north that was not ever under the great ice sheets during the last ice ages. This area under what is now the Bering Sea was the land bridge between North America and Siberia facilitating the migration of animals and humans from Asia to North America. Somehow, even with all my training in earth history and geology, I had missed the fact that all of the north wasn’t under the glaciers.
At the historic Pelly Crossing overlook, we stopped for lunch in warm 80 degree sunny weather, without a single bug to trouble us. The beautiful weather and lack of gnats, flies, and mosquitoes has been quite a surprise. Another beautiful crossing at the Stewart River, and then we started climbing to a large, rolling plateau with scraggly spruce and not much else. It wasn’t until we reached the Tintina Trench rest area, that things started to look interesting again.
This huge trench extends hundreds of miles across Yukon and Alaska and is the largest fault in North America. We also began to see hordes of buses from Holland America, coming and going on the road, and stopping at the rest areas. Up until now, we had been almost alone on the highway, so it was a shock to suddenly have to share a rest stop with 60 people at once! In spite of the crowd, I really enjoyed once again learning about more earth history. That feeling of learning something completely brand new and unknown is so delightful to me.
We decided that rather than going in to the town of Dawson City, we wanted to dry camp at the Klondike River Campground, a Yukon Territory site that was just $12 for the night. Neither of us wanted to fight the music festival crowds in Dawson so it was a good choice. Even on Saturday night, there were plenty of sights and we settled in easily. The storm clouds were coming in, but the rain held off long enough for us to drive to the top of Dome Mountain to see the classic view of the beautiful Yukon. We drove down into town to see what was going on, and stopped in at the visitor center to get our bearings before returning to our quiet dark campground in the evening rain.
Miles traveled today: 331
Road conditions: Almost all the Klondike Highway was good paved 2 lane road, however there were enough rough areas that it required constant attention. There were also several sections of construction and bridge work, but no delays.
The rest of the photos for this day are linked here.