The Klondike

8/10/15 – 8/19/15 (8,760 miles)

Map Anchorage to Dawson City

Returning from Anchorage along our now familiar trail, we stayed again at Tolsona Wilderness RV and Tok RV parks. We noticed the shortening of daylight hours. This close to the pole summer days are longer than in Dallas and winter days are shorter, so it should have been intuitively obvious to the casual observer that the shortening of the length of days after the summer solstice would be more rapid here. Somehow, until we experienced this, it had not penetrated our brains. On July 18, when we first arrived in Tok, the day was 19 hours, 9 minutes long. On August 13, as we left the day was 16 hours, 34 minutes long. We felt the increasing need to hurry home while we can still see.

Mt. Drum
Mt. Drum, wearing a halo

We left Tok (for the third time) on Thursday to drive across the Top of the World Highway to Dawson City, Yukon Territory. Autumn had arrived in Alaska, with the temperature at 38°F/3°C. School was back in session and hunters on their ATV’s were all over the mountains. The leaves were changing, and families were out in the afternoons picking blueberries. The air was clearer, and we saw Mt. Drum, in the Wrangell Range, wearing a halo.

Our first destination of the trip was Chicken, Alaska, 77 miles from Tok over mostly paved roads. Many years ago the people of this area applied for a Post Office, thinking that would help the town grow. The postal inspector arrived, agreed that the town had enough residents and was far enough from another mail delivery site to qualify for a post office, so he asked what the name of the town was. The residents looked at each other and realized there really wasn’t a name for the town. The inspector asked about a prominent family name. This was an egalitarian town with no real leader. “How about what is unusual about the town?” asked the inspector. “Well,” the residents agreed, “There are a lot of Ptarmigans here.” The inspector asked how to spell Ptarmigan, and the residents had no idea, but they told him that the birds look a lot like chickens, so the town was christened “Chicken.”

Chicken currently has about 250 residents in the summer, and about 20 in the winter. We stopped here for a scone (Donna) and piece of blueberry pie (Stephen) and a cup of coffee each. It was all good.

Beautiful Downtown Chicken, Alaska
Beautiful Downtown Chicken, Alaska

We met a truck camper coming toward us down the middle of the road. Stephen moved as far to the right as he could, but the approaching camper wasn’t giving an inch. We stopped as he moved past us, with less than an inch to spare between the vehicles. “Jerk!” we said. As we drove along, an ambulance came up behind us, identified as a Tok EMU (eighty miles from our then position). About two miles further along a large motor home coach towing a car had fallen off the road and lay upside down with the wheels about eight feet below the roadway surface. There was an elderly woman with a badly bruised face sitting in a camp chair in the middle of the highway with an EMT in attendance. We didn’t see her supposed traveling companion, so we hoped he also survived. We expect this scene had motivated the Jerk to stay away from the edge, but as the highway is a two-way road, and as large RV’s must pass one another, he was a menace. When we stopped at an overlook, another Arctic Fox owner told us that the Jerk had scraped his trailer. In Dawson we learned that the husband of the woman injured in the motor home crash had been taken from an earlier stop to a hospital for emergency surgery, and the wife was bringing the RV over the highway by herself.

Two Arctic Foxes on Top of the World
Two Arctic Foxes on Top of the World
George Black Ferry across the Yukon River
George Black Ferry across the Yukon River

Without any additional trauma, we arrived at the George Black Ferry, the only way to get into Dawson City from the Top of the World Highway.   It isn’t a large ferry, but it chugged us right across the Yukon River into Dawson City.  It can carry eight cars or our RV and four small cars.  It also takes big rig trucks, one at a time.

Okay, and now for a long story. As we were setting up the trailer, a woman on her way to the laundry stopped to ask Stephen how he liked the Arctic Fox. He told her we love it, and she told him she used to have one. He asked her what happened to her trailer, and she said that it had unhooked from their car on the highway and crashed on the roadside. Stephen said, “I know you!” He had met her friends at Tolsona Wilderness and been told the friends were waiting for her and her husband to replace the trailer they had lost on the trip west. Shirley and Dennis Dingle came in to see our trailer and have a glass of wine.   Our trailer is exactly what Shirley wants, although they had bought another unit in haste to allow the continuation of their trip, so I expect they will be shopping again. Strangely, Tolsona introduced us to both the Murphys, friends of the Mike Andresens, and to the Dingles. They live in Baker City, Oregon, near the site of the Arctic Fox rally, so we expect to see them again.

Dawson City was celebrating Discovery Days when we arrived, so we decided to join into all the activities. On Thursday night we participated in a Gallery Hop that took us to all sorts of artistic facilities. We had a good time, saw some interesting items and bought nothing.

Recycle Center and Art Studio
Recycle Center and Art Studio

As usual, we finished the evening in a saloon, described as the oldest saloon in Yukon Territory. It is in the Westminster Hotel, and the locals call it The Pit.

The Pit: Oldest Pub in Yukon Territory, 1898
The Pit: Oldest Pub in Yukon Territory, 1898

Walking around Dawson it reminded us of Cicely, Alaska, where Northern Exposure was set. We kept waiting for the moose to stroll around the corner.

Downtown Dawson, or, possibly Cicely?
Downtown Dawson, or, possibly Cicely?

On Friday we wandered around, watching some of the Discovery Days events such as a fiddling performance by some young local musicians.

Young fiddlers, playing their hearts out!
Young fiddlers, playing their hearts out!
Dawson from Midnight Dome
Dawson from Midnight Dome

Then we took a drive up to Midnight Dome, from which we could see Dawson City and the confluence of the Klondike (the dark, clear one) and the Yukon (the brown, cloudy one) Rivers. Bonanza Creek, location of the first gold find in the area, is just south of this river junction.

In the evening we went to Diamond Tooth Gertie’s to see the cancan dancers. The place was SRO, and the show was as fun and campy as we anticipated. We met people from Houston, B.C., Terrace, B.C. and Ontario, and we had fun chatting with them.

Dancehall Girls at Diamond Tooth Gertie's
Dancehall Girls at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s

Saturday was the big day of Discovery Days. We started with a pancake breakfast at the Dawson City Curling Club and then went on to view the parade. Although there was no marching band, the fiddle players had a float, there was more fire-fighting equipment than we could imagine in an area as small as this, and many of the folks who would participate in the Mud Bog races on Sunday participated, causing enough noise to drown out any marching bands that had the poor judgment to attend.

Discovery Days Parade
Discovery Days Parade
Mud Bog Participant
Mud Bog Participant
One of twelve firetrucks in the parade
One of twelve firetrucks in the parade
Changing a tire on the Dempster Highway
Changing a tire on the Dempster Highway

After lunch we decided to drive up the Dempster Highway to Tombstone Mountain and the Interpretive Center located near there. The distance from our campsite was about seventy miles, mostly over gravel roads, but we set out with enthusiasm. We stopped at fifty miles with a nail in a tire. Stephen learned to change a tire on a Ram truck and we headed back to Dawson to find a service station that could repair the punctured tire. It was about 4:00 when we got back to town, and the first place we stopped (one of two in town) couldn’t do the work that day and were then closed until Tuesday, Monday being Discovery Day, a government holiday in Yukon. For the very reasonable price of $50 (plus tax), the second station repaired the tire.

On Sunday morning we walked up Front Street, past the ferry ramp and the church, to the mud bog pits. As we waited, we began chatting with a young man standing near us and learned that he grew up in Dawson but now lives in Whitehorse where he and his wife organize the mud bog races there and are building a truck that will race next year. He was very knowledgeable about the sport, from rules to best sort of equipment to strategies and tactics. He made the race much more interesting for us, but, once again people in an area with few sources of entertainment invent their own. It reminded us a bit of the punkin chunkin’ competitions in rural Connecticut.

Klondyke Valley Mud Bog race started by Rendezvous Queen
Klondyke Valley Mud Bog race started by Rendezvous Queen

One of the funniest scenes at these races was the Rendezvous Queen (selected at the spring festival) starting one heat. She knew what was coming, but she was a good sport.

Monday dawned cold and foggy. We had planned to drive up to the Discovery Mine, where gold was first discovered on Bonanza Creek in 1896. The fog caused a pause in our plans, but in the end we decided to go forward, as this would be our only opportunity. The weather improved as we drove up the mountain, and the displays in the area were very interesting. One thing we notice from by-gone eras is the complete lack of concern our earlier citizens and their government had for the environment. There are huge piles of mine tailings everywhere, and, even after many years, they are sterile.

Tailings from gold mining via dredge
Tailings from gold mining via dredge

We visited the Dawson City Museum and the Locomotive Shelter where some of the locomotives involved in gold rush times are maintained. As always, Stephen was fascinated with the locomotives.

Wood-burning locomotive
Wood-burning locomotive

For our last night in Dawson we joined a walking tour in the rain with a National Park Ranger who told funny stories about happenings in Dawson over the years and took us into a number of historic buildings. We finished the evening in the brothel, now bar, once owned by Bombay Peggy, one of the more successful madams of the gold rush era.

On Tuesday we would begin the long drive, with a number of stops, to Bozeman, Montana, to meet Jean and Vicky Burton, friends from England. At least, other than highway construction, we should be finished with unpaved roads. So, on we go to Whitehorse, capital of Yukon Territory.


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