Cruisin’ the Cassiar

Aug. 25-27, 2012

We set out from Whitehorse heading back eastward on the Alaskan Highway. As there really wasn’t any reason to stay in Watson Lake again, we started our journey down the Cassiar Highway. The Cassiar goes south through British Columbia on the western side of the Canadian Rockies. It’s a less travelled route but has been recommended to us multiple times on this trip.

We end up pulling in to camp at Boya Lake Provincial park about an hour south on the highway. It’s a little late, but we still manage to get in a small walk/hike from the campground to an old beaver dam.

Some scenery shots from the days drive.

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And a shot of Boya Lake. You can’t really tell from this picture, but the lake was remarkably clear.

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The next day we continued south on the Cassiar. There isn’t much in the way of civilization along the way, but one of the few places to stop is Jade City. Apparently, most of the worlds Jade comes from the mines in this area. Jade City, which is really less of a city and more like three four buildings along the highway, is there so you can can purchase your jade mine-direct.

This is “Jade City”. Most of those giant boulders are actually various forms of jade.

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On the outside there is a guy is constantly cutting up large pieces of jade into smaller pieces which you can buy by the pound in an unpolished state.

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There is also a more traditional store where you can buy just about anything you want made of jade. The most interesting thing about the jade they sell is that although it is all mined right here, they ship everything over to China to be carved into something, and they ship it back to sell in the store. Not too surprisingly, there doesn’t appear to be any real bargains on jade in the store.

After overdosing on jade we continue south for what turns out to be a very scenic ride; this part of British Columbia really is a picturesque place. Here are a few shots from one of our rest stops.

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Toward the south end of the Cassiar we took a detour west to visit the towns of Stewart and Hyder. The road in passes right by the end of bear glacier.

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Stewart and Hyder are small neighboring coastal towns which happen to be in two different countries. Stewart is in Canada while Hyder is actually in Alaska. Even though Hyder is in Alaska, you can’t drive to it from any other place but Stewart. The US doesn’t even bother to man a customs/border station here, although Canada does.

The next day we headed to Fish Creek in Hyder for a chance to see more bears. The creek is a spawning site for salmon and thus a buffet for the bears. Although we see lots of fish spawning, and lots of dead post-spawn fish, the bears are in short supply.

This is fish creek, plenty of salmon, but no bears.

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While the bears are away, the birds get to play.

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After about an hour waiting we give up and head out to the Salmon Glacier. In order to get to Salmon Glacier you must drive another 16 miles or so up a dirt/gravel road which is mainly used to service the many and various mines operating in the area. Although the ride is not the most pleasant, the viewpoint for the glacier at the end turns out to be worth the effort. Not only do we get an awesome view of the glacier but we get to meet Keith “Bear Man” Scott, who appears to be camping at the viewpoint and is somewhat of a local legend and bear photographer.

Here is Reen (and Will in the background) in front of the Salmon Glacier.

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This was, and will be again, Summit Lake. Every year a lake forms here above the edge of the glacier. And every year in late summer, the lake breaks through the ice dam and completely empties under the glacier into the Salmon river, raising the river level 4 or 5 feet for several days! Unfortunately we are a little late and the lake is already empty. It would be in the lower left of this picture, where all that collapsed glacier is.

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We didn’t do much else in Stewart other than walk around the town and eat some ice cream. The most interesting thing in town was the toaster museum, a building packed full of toasters tracing back as far as toasters go. Alas, all we got was views through the windows as we learned that the toaster museum has been closed for 3 years due to the lack of staff. Bummer.

It Gets Dark in Whitehorse

Aug. 23-24, 2012

We’re back heading for our second visit to Whitehorse. On the road in we stop at yet another place on the highway claiming to have “world famous” cinnamon rolls. I’m not sure how famous they are but they were damn big, at least 10 inches across. Unfortunately, they were not nearly fresh enough and the gentleman running the establishment was not one of the more friendly people we’ve met on this trip. I guess its getting late in the season and everyone is starting to look forward to the quieter winter season.

This time we elect to stay at a different RV park, the Hill Country RV Park. Its a little closer to town and the facilities are a little more convenient than the last park we stayed at.

They have a nice laundry room and clean showers which are much appreciated. They also have wi-fi internet access which  actually works, not a very common occurrence  With all our smart phones crippled by ridiculous out of country data rates, its our only link to the outside world.

We did most of the things we were interested in here on our last visit, so most of our time is spent shopping for supplies as this is the last significant town for a while. We do manage to have a nice dinner at a local pub called the “Dirty Northern”.

Reen and I also revisited the 4 km walking trail that goes by the fish ladder and the hydro plant. Missed out on the fish again. Its about the right time here, but they get so few fish this far up the river, you need to be pretty lucky to see one.

Tomorrow we head back down the Alaska Highway toward Watson Lake. After that the plan is head south on the Cassiar highway from there and see some more of British Columbia.

We had hoped to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis before we got too far south but its looking less and less likely. While checking the sky before bed last night I noticed something odd, it was actually dark and there were visible stars. Up until just recently, its been normal to go to bed with the skies still light. But now we’re once again south enough to realize that summer is coming to a close.

Carmacks and Carry Max

Its time to leave Dawson City and head back to Whitehorse. It would make for a really long day so we decide to take 2 days for the drive. The first day gets us most of the way to the small town of Carmacks. The town is named after George Carmacks who is partially credited with discovering the gold near Dawson City.

Since there is not much to the town we decide to stay at another Yukon government campground about 10 miles out. These campgrounds tend to be nice, inexpensive and offer free firewood. This one is no different.

Before heading to the campground we stopped at the Five Fingers Rapids overlook on the Yukon river. This is an area of the river where large rock islands divide up the river. It was a very dangerous point of passage for the riverboats back in the day.

There is a trail which leads down from the overlook to a closer view of the river. The first part of the trail requires going down about 200 wooden steps. Max was along for the trip and old, nearly blind dogs don’t do so well on wooden steps so Brian shows what a devoted dog owner he is by carrying Max down all 200 stairs. Despite his normal opposition to being carried, Max doesn’t look like he is minding this trip, does he.

This is the life!

Max had no problems on the rest of the trail, and much to Brian’s relief, even managed to climb up the stairs on his own. Way to go Max!

This is the main passage used by the riverboats. Its not as dangerous as it once was due to some blasting of the rocks. Before the blasting there were actually steel cables permanently anchored to the rock that the boats could use to control their path. There doesn’t seem to be any remaining remnants that we can see.

This shows most of the five fingers rapids.

Once you’re through its pretty smooth sailing.

Once back to camp we settle in for the tradition campground evening, dinner cooked on the grill, a big campfire, and a smores-fest before heading off to bed.

Dawson City

Aug. 19-21, 2012

We wake up to find out that much of the campground has emptied out. Apparently, after two days of drunken debauchery, most of the Yukonites, Yukonians, or whatever they are called decided to pack it in early. While they were somewhat entertaining, and remarkably friendly for being just this side of passed out, we’re not that upset to see the crowds dwindle and it’s a good sign that better (i.e. with electricity) accommodations would be available in Dawson City proper.

In order to get to Dawson City from the west, we must take a ferry over the Yukon river. The ferry is free and runs 24 hours, so the only inconvenience is waiting our turn as the ferry only holds about 10 cars. It’s a little busy this morning and they only put one RV on at a time so we spend a little less than an hour waiting and watching the ferry. Once onboard the ride is only a couple of minutes.

There has apparently been talk of a bridge for more years than anyone can remember, but nothing ever comes of it. For most of the year, the river is frozen and the locals just drive over the ice to get from side to side. So there’s no big rush to spend lots of money for the three months of tourist season.

Here’s Brian and Will loading onto the ferry.

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And here they are mid river.

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Here we are mid river, with a good shot of the overall crossing.

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Just about to come ashore.

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We end up at a campground on the other side of Dawson City which is built upon old dredge mining tailings. We come to learn that its run by a cranky old sort who doesn’t seem to be too concerned by the fact that the advertised wi-fi, cable tv, and tire repair services are in various states of “not available”. We spend a lot of time bonding with other campers over the constantly failing wi-fi. It was so bad, that at one point Brian was driven to put on his “mean face” and yell at the poor girl behind the desk until she reset the wi-fi router. You don’t want to get between Brian and the inter-webs, trust me.

Dawson City was born of the gold rush and was once the capital of the Yukon, an honor which now belongs to Whitehorse. They have tried to maintain that gold rush era feel to the town. Its somewhat successful, but we learn from a long time resident while waiting for the ferry, that many of the real old buildings have been knocked down and facsimiles built in their place.

This shot pretty much covers most of the downtown business area. The bright blue buildings are usually government buildings.

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Our first night in town we take in the show at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s, which claims to be the oldest gambling establishment in the Yukon. That’s the current Gertie on the left. She did most of the singing and was actually pretty good. She was joined by a fella for a few songs. He was pulled from the audience by Gertie, but he actually turned out to have been a plant and part of the show. There were also the required dancing girls, who come on between songs and whose act consisted mainly of pulling up their dresses and yelling Wooo! I think Reen has found her job for next summer. In the picture below some actual audience members are being made to perform in a tongue twister competition. The tall German fellow on the left won and as his prize he got to remove one of the girls garter belts anyway he wanted. You’ll have to guess how he did it. This is a PG rated blog after all.

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The next day we did the tourist thing. First stop was Dredge #4, an old gold dredge barge that was recovered and restored by Canada Parks. This dredge had a tour associated with it so we got to go inside and see some of the guts.

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The operation is really pretty simple as indicated in this helpful diagram.

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This is the giant rotating sieve in the center which separates the gold bearing sands from most everything else.

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This is what the inside of the sieve looks like. That big pipe on top is constantly spraying water on everything.

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The good stuff which passes through the sieve falls into a series of trays which act like big sluice boxes and eventually catch the gold and some black sand in burlap cloth. Periodically, some company men would show up, and they would shut down the rig so they could clean out the burlap and haul away the gold sands. The final separation of the gold would then be done manually by a few men offsite. Other than when the gold was collected, the dredge ran continuously throughout the summer and only required a handful of poorly paid men to run. The worst part was apparently the noise, as we’re told the noise could literally be heard for miles in every direction.

These are the controls for everything on the dredge. All the machinery is controlled manually by rods and levers tied to these hand levers.

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This is the giant motor that ran the dredge, I think it was about 300hp. They would generate power somewhere else and run lines to the dredge from the shore.

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This shot gives an idea of what things look like after the dredge does its business. It leaves behind huge piles of gravel that look like giant drunk moles have been tunneling all over the place. This is just a small taste, not much farther away from town it looks like this for miles.

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Later in the day we watch some movies in the visitor center and go to the Dawson City museum. The museum is better than expected and they put a little twist on their displays. Many of the displays are scenes that include people. And rather than use generic manikins, they enhance theirs by using molds of local resident’s faces and hands to make things more realistic. Another interesting exhibit they have is a glimpse into their full collection. Most museums have many times more artifacts than they can display that the public never gets to see. This exhibit showcased a large collection of items not typically seen in the manner in which they would typically be stored, basically a big closet full of shelves just packed with artifacts.

The rest of the day is spent touring the town on foot. Dawson City was once home to famous writers Jack London and Robert Service. This cabin is a replica, made with half the original logs, of Jack London’s cabin and food storage hut.

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And this is Robert Service’s cabin.

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There are other original buildings in town in various states of disrepair. These are part of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Fort Herchemer. The first was originally officer’s quarters and the second a jail.

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An old church. I was not leaning when I took this picture, the building really is leaning that far. I’m not sure they will get the money to save this one before it falls.

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More buildings that have seen better days.

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This is what most of the downtown looks like, more modern buildings with that old-tyme feeling. And all the sidewalks are still wood.

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We notice a few other interesting things while walking around the town. I was particularly struck by the craftsmanship in this woodpile.

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And apparently I wasn’t the only one, because this woodpile is so good it has won an award!

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Before calling it a day we drive up to the top of Midnight dome for some great views of the entire area. I believe that is the Yukon river.

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Our last day in town is Tuesday, the first business day after the big holiday weekend. This means we can finally get our flat tire looked at, which ends up taking all day. It seems there were a lot of people with tire problems this weekend. Turns out the tire is too damaged to repair, but luckily they have our size in stock and we wont have to travel tomorrow without a spare for the trailer.

Reen takes advantage of our down time to catch up on her quilting projects which have been falling behind schedule.

Top of the World

Aug. 18, 2012

We’re on the road from Chicken Alaska to Dawson City in the Yukon Territory of Canada via the Top of the World Highway. Well, highway might be a bit if a stretch as most of it, about 100 miles or so, are gravel and dirt. But if you want to drive from Alaska to Canada this is the only alternative to the Alaska highway. And the views are supposed to be worth it.

On the way out of Chicken, while still in Alaska, the road parallels a river for a while, and every so often you will see some people mining for gold. Brian takes this as a sign and pulls off to the side of the road at a completely inappropriate spot to try his hand.

Unfortunately, he knows nothing about panning for gold and is using the lid from a 5 gallon bucket in lieu of an actual gold pan. I guess he figured anything round would do. Not surprisingly, he comes up empty.

The drive is very picturesque, although the clouds move in as the day moves on putting a damper on the scenery. This is an early shot of the river outside Chicken.

Here are some vista shots and the US side of the border.

And here’s one from the Canada side. That’s Brian and Will driving down the road ahead.

What separates these? Not much. This is what a border crossing station looks like on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. It’s the only buildings for quite a ways in either direction.

We had more tire problems on this trip. This makes two gravel punctures on the trailer. I guess maybe I should have put new tires on before the trip. Doh!

Hoping to avoid changing the tire on the road, I try using some tire sealant, but that proves ineffective and we end up having to put on the spare a few miles further down the road. The rest of the tires hold up for the remaining trip into Dawson City.

We arrive in Dawson City on the late side and it turns out it’s a holiday weekend for the Yukon, and Dawson City is full up with revelers, but we manage to find a few spots at the Yukon government campground just over the river from Dawson City. Tomorrow is Sunday, and hopefully there will be some spots open at the commercial campgrounds in Dawson City.

Buck, Buck, Buck, B’Gawk – Chickenapalooza

Our last stop in Alaska is the lovely “town” of Chicken. As the story goes, a bunch of miners got together to form the town and wanted to name it Ptarmigan (a common bird of the area). However, turns out none of the miners knew how to spell Ptarmigan, so they settled on Chicken, since ptarmigans look a little like small chickens I guess. Well that’s the story anyway. Only about 2 dozen people actually live here.

Here is pretty much the entire town of Chicken, a gift shop, a saloon, and a café, all owned by the same woman.

There are also a couple of campgrounds, which are nicer than you would expect for such a town. Here is a shot of ours. Most of the rigs belong to wanna-be miners who come up for the summer to mine for gold. From the looks of things, I don’t think many of them are going home rich.

These are the campground outhouses, probably some of the nicest “facilities” in Chicken. There are no flush toilets in the town, seeing as all the, ahem, “waste” needs to be trucked out of town for disposal.

This is a shot of the Pedro dredge, once used to mine gold. The dredge sits in the river, scoops up gravel on one end, separates out the gold, and spits everything else out the other end.

The town of Chicken has fully embraced its name as indicated by the many varieties of chicken images that can be found around the area.

First chicken you notice in front of the town.

Look closely and there is another “bush” chicken nearby as well.

Chicken metal art.

Another metal art chicken, a pair of these flank the entrance to the dredge.

These chicks identify the towns outhouses, men’s AND women’s, tres chic!

Other chickeny images around the town buildings.

And even some honest to goodness live chickens. These are in a pen between the cafe and the saloon. The old guy eating eggs at the cafe tells me these chickens are still too small to give decent eggs, but they’ll be earning their keep pretty soon or else they’ll be dinner I suspect.

My favorite chicken is on the grounds of our campground. The owner tells us it is was made as a school welding/art project by a teacher friend of his. Its about 12 feet tall and actually made mostly from old school lockers.

Whoa! Chicken overload.

And one last picture of Brian, who probably didn’t think Reen would manage to get a picture in time. Oops!

Delta Junction, What’s Your Function

Aug. 16 2012

We’re on the road from Chena Hot Springs to Delta Junction. Our route takes us back through Fairbanks, so we take the opportunity to stop at Walmart and refill our cupboards as this will probably be the last decent shopping opportunity for a while.

Along the way we stop at Rika’s roadhouse, once a real roadhouse, now a state historic site. Reen and I remember stopping here on our previous Alaska tour. Its pretty late so we have the place pretty much to ourselves. We spend an hour or so wandering about the grounds before continuing on our way.

This is an old sod roof building.

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Reen’s favorite flower shot from the garden.

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There were also goats and chickens. Maureen was apparently in an anti-chicken mood, or perhaps she is in the pocket of Big-Goat, because she only gave me a picture of a goat to post. (Chicken lovers don’t despair, your time is coming…)

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Delta Junction is a small town that marks the official end of the Alaska Highway. On our trip into Alaska we turned south at Tok before this point, so this is our first time here. Tomorrow we will drive on the only remaining part of the Alaska Highway, the road from Delta Junction to Tok. Here is the official end marker for the Alaska Highway. Its been quite a while since we left the start marker at Dawson Creek, 1422 miles away, as shown on the sign.

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