Sunday, 30 August 2015

To Whitehorse- the first time

One more night at Muncho Lake.  Another couple from Nova Scotia travelling with her sister came in. The next morning, the lake was crystal clear, but the smoke from the wildfires was so thick, the sun was orange!

Muncho Lake sky just before we left

You could look right at the sun

It turned out that bacon was not good bait, as our friends didn’t catch anything.

We left Muncho Lake,

Muncho Lake

after talking to our new friends from Nova Scotia for half an hour or so, and began the drive to Watson Lake, Yukon. Our last two days of driving were short, but this was a longer day for us, 274km. Just outside the campground, we saw the Stone sheep on the road, the ewes and lambs by the side of the road
Ewes and lambs in same place as yesterday!

and wandering across. We stopped and put 4-way flashers on to warn other drivers of wildlife. As we rounded the next corner, there were the rams, wandering beside and across the road.
Rams checking us out!

This was to be a wildlife day for us- we saw moose beside the road was we came down the hill into the valley.

More construction meant a slow ride over gravel and mud. There is evidence in many places of previous forest fires.
Forest fire devastation, with fireweed one of the first plants to grow.

The devastation is immense. Today, again, the smoke was thick, like fog,

Smoke just hung in the valley

We could see the haze ahead
except that the sky above was blue.  As we passed Liard Hot Springs road, we saw two bison, having a dust bath just above the highway.
The bison paid no attention to traffic

 A little further on, at the first ‘Welcome to the Yukon’ sign,

as John was reading a signpost, he looked up and saw a grizzly about 100 yards away in a field.
This was to be the only grizzly we were to see on the whole trip!

Then we saw another bison lying on a ridge surveying his territory.

And into the Yukon!! Watson Lake, the first Yukon Community, has a Sign Post Forest.  

It was started in 1942 by a homesick US Army G.I., Carl Lindley of Danville, Il. While working on the Alaska Highway, he erected a sign, pointing the way, and stating the mileage to his home town. Others followed his lead. Today, there is an acre or two beside the Visitors’ Centre with rows and rows of posts with signs from cities all over the world.

Some are street signs, or town signs, some are licence plates, some are homemade from a variety of materials- plastic plates, cookie sheets, pie plates or wood with names and dates on them.
One of the licence plates was still valid!

...some are carefully handmade from wood,

or even the pizza tin from the oven!

The 10,000 sign was erected in 1990, and by Sept 1013, there were 78,336. Unfortunately, we had no materials, so no sign. We stayed at the Downtown RV Park, a private campground with an entertaining and friendly owner, in a level, but not so private site,

for a couple of days to do laundry, and to check email at the Alaska Highway Interpretive Centre. Here not only did we get information on the territory, but photo murals,
Public Roads Administration working on the road

A hint of the work undertaken to build this highway
realistic displays, dioramas

Building a bridge

and an audio-visual display interpret the remarkable history of the Alcan highway and the territory.

Across from the Visitors’ Centre is the Northern Lights Centre

with an interesting array of exhibits from Canadian’s in space to a direct link to the Space Telescope Science Institute. It has an amazing multimedia show in a domed Electric Sky theatre of the theories of the Black Holes and one of the Aurora Borealis, using time delay photography set in the northern Scandinavian.
We took this opportunity to stock up on food, as there are not too many places to shop in the Yukon, and there are long distances in between communities. John talked to a couple in a large Class A motorhome, from Alaska across from us. He had hit a moose which just ran up from the ditch beside the road in front of his motorhome. Luckily there was only minor damage to the grill.

We packed up and were on the road by 10:30 – not bad for us! One of the first things we noticed was that the grass and bushes on the sides of the highway were not cut back as they were in BC.

We could see how it would be difficult to see an animal in the ditch. Along some stretches of the highway on bare hills, travellers have made their names in stones.

This idea too was started by those who originally built the highway.

The highway follows the Rancherio River, winding as the river does through hilly tree covered mountains.

winding road by the river

and between the hills...

The sides of the highway are carpeted in beautiful pink fireweed.

It is easy to see why this is Yukon's flower. It is everywhere.

The highway crosses in and out of BC up to Jake’s Corner. Our next stop was in Teslin. We drove into the Teslin Lake Territorial Campground and chose a site back from the road. It wasn’t long before the two Nova Scotian RV’s came in. Passing us, they went down to the lower level. There are a lot of trees between the campsites and the lake. We walked down and talked to them for a while, then sat around the campfire and talked with the four of them. I glanced at my watch, and realized it was 12:30am and it was still light out! This was the first of many late night campfires in a Yukon Territorial Park with free firewood!

Teslin is a small village with a population of about 450, on the banks of Teslin Lake
Teslin Lake
and the Nisutlin Bay, across the beautiful Nisutlin Bridge.

“Teslin” is from the Tlingit word ‘Teslintoo’ meaning ‘long narrow waters’. The Tlingit people are descendants of the Taku Quan from Alaska. The construction of the Alaska Highway and Canol Road prompted the semi-nomadic Tlingit to move permanently to Teslin. We toured the beautiful Teslin Tlingit Heritage Centre,

The entrance to the Heritage Centre
on the shore of Lake Teslin 

learning about the Tlingit culture

Beautiful masks

Octopus purses- 8 fingers, 4 on top, 4 under, beautiful beadwork

and how to tan a hide. 

Margaret gave us a fascinating demonstration

A beautiful Tlingit canoe on the shore
A Tlingit dugout canoe

Then we drove to the George Johnston Museum.

This is an amazing collection of photographs and historical memorabilia. One of the characters of the Yukon, he was a Tlingit elder trapper, fur trader photographer and entrepreneur. Before the Alaska Highway was built, Teslin was a remote paddle wheeler outpost. He had announced that he wanted a car.

Meanwhile he ordered an Eaton’s catalogue camera, and documented daily events in Inland Tlingit life, developing the film himself in his little cabin.

A reconstruction of his cabin, in the Museum

What it might have looked like outside...
In 1928, he began to have a road built and in 1929, after a good trapping season, he took a 15 minute driving lesson at the Whitehorse airport, and had a 1928 Chevrolet shipped by barge to Teslin.

In winter he painted it white for hunting.

White for winter hunting

Then he’d restore it to its original colour for his taxi service.

Original colour for his taxi service

He drove it on 80 miles of ice and 3 miles of his road, charging 25 cents per mile, and adding uniformed attendants for special holidays.

Before we left Teslin, we paid a quick visit to the Wildlife Gallery just inside the village.

and a last look at the bridge

Leaving Teslin, we continued north to Whitehorse. We had limited visibility part of the way - more smoke!

We stopped at Canol Road to see the trucks and cars abandoned when the Alaska Highway was finished.

The story of Canol Road
We knew we were getting close to Whitehorse, when we came to the unique Yukon River Bridge at 1393km [Mile 867.3] from Dawson Creek.
The beginning of the Yukon River

One of the few blue bridges, and a unique shape

Whitehorse, the Capital of the Yukon since 1953, is a city of almost 26,500 people, and the transportation and communications centre of the Yukon.

On the banks of the Yukon River 
It got its name from the rapids in the Yukon River, where the frothing water looked like the manes of white horses.

An artist's impression of the rapids
The business downtown district lies on the west bank of the Yukon River. As you drive into the downtown on Robert Service Way, you can see Grey Mountain across the river and you have a beautiful view of the city by the river, with the SS Klondike in the foreground.

Our first view of Whitehorse
Since we needed the trailer jack post toggle checked, [it would raise the trailer, but not lower it, without jiggling the toggle], we went first to the Visitor Centre

to find a recommended RV Service. The first one we called couldn’t do anything for 3 days, but the second said bring it in and they’d look at it. Meanwhile we had a call from our Nova Scotia friends from the Annapolis Valley. They were at Wolf Creek Campground, so once we had checked in with Philmar RV Service and determined it could only be a loose wire, and they’d do it at 8 in the morning, we headed for a visit with Cris and Paul. We camped at the Philmar RV for the night, plugged in, with wifi, and a water hose to fill up!

Sunset at Philmar- no smoke!
The next morning, once the problem was fixed in the rain, [It turned out to be only a loose wire, twisted around a safety disk.], we drove to Wolf Creek, and found a beautiful site right by the creek.

Once we’d parked, and unhitched, the first order of the day was to get a new 2-step ladder (nicked by someone in Watsin Lake) and an axe, then shop at the Superstore and find the Yukon Brewery. It had stopped raining by then, so we enjoyed our free firewood and campfire.

The wood...

The fire...

and dinner outside.

 We chose to start our tour by walking around downtown Whitehorse. It is an interesting small city, and an easy walk around the downtown.

Main Street

There are stores for everyone, small boutiques, a wonderful book store, Mac’s Fireweed”, and good outfitting stores. On the edge of the downtown, are Superstore, Walmart, Canadian Tire and assorted larger stores, car dealers and gas stations, and the Yukon Brewery. There is a yellow trolley which runs along the waterfront from one end of town to the other,

The yellow waterfront trolley

and through its historical roundhouse.

On each of our trips there, we counted the number of RV’s in Walmart. It is advertised welcoming RV’s overnight. I am sure some were there each time we visited in the weeks we were in the Yukon. The numbers ranged from 50 the first time to the low 20’s! There are quite a few log cabins

scattered around, some still in use, like the “Log skyscraper”, a three-storey log cabin.

Since we knew we would be back in Whitehorse again, we chose to explore only some of its five museums and attractions on our first visit. We tried a latte at a café up on 4th street, and stopped in and explored the McBride Museum.

It is fascinating.

Right inside the door- a neat story...

and the picture to go with it!

Divided into sections, it tells the fascinating stories of pioneers who built the Yukon from the gold rush fever

The climb up the Chillcoot Pass during the Gold Rush

to the birth of Whitehorse.  The Natural World Gallery has animals and wildlife in natural settings, from grizzlies to Ptarmigans.

Albino Moose
The Gold to Government Gallery tells the history of the Yukon. In the mining section, we learned the real story behind Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee”,

The real story...

and saw the real Sam McGee’s cabin.

The real Sam McGee's cabin
The Special Exhibit in the Lower Gallery was of artist, photographer and raconteur, Jim Robb’s’ The Colourful 5%”. He claims that only 5% of the people you meet are truly unique, “colourful” he calls them, because they have something which sets them apart from the other 95%.

He illustrates and tells the stories of the characters of the Yukon, some historical and some he has met since he came to the Yukon in 1955. I couldn’t resist buying two of his scrapbooks with the stories, photos and drawings. Latterly, he has expanded his definition to include buildings, and ships. He is at work on his fourth book now, at 80 years old.

The next day day, we were set to go to visit the S.S.Klondike, but were delayed by a leak under the bathroom sink. The water had been running out slowly, and we had tried several things to fix it, but without success. Now, everything had to come out, and John took off the trap. YUK! It was filled with gunk, including the earring that went down the sink just after we left in 2013. We cleaned it out, poured hot water down, and some drain enzyme cleaner we had got at Philmar, still slow, but better, so we used the plunger. It Worked. Now off to the SS Klondike.  What a fabulous old sternwheeler.

The sternwheel

She was 210ft long and 42ft wide, with no keel, and a very shallow draft, of 4ft when loaded.

S.S. Klondike- note the two red chairs, a symbol of a National Parks site
The bow was designed to channel water under the hull and help support the hull. Launched in 1937, this is a replica of the first SS Klondike, who ran aground on a reef in1936. The original was launched in 1929 to carry ore to Whitehouse. This SS Klondike was used as a cargo vessel and secondly from 1952 to ‘55 as a tourist cruise boat. The bottom deck was for cargo of all kinds from Reindeer Milk to canned vegetables, wood, zinc concentrate for the smelters and liquor of all kinds.

An important cargo

The passenger dining room [closed off when we were there though]

Like many of the towns we saw on this trip, Whitehorse has murals scattered throughout the town, telling stories of its past and memorable people.

CBC building

The backs of a row of buildings, as it might have looked...

Trek up the Chillcoot Pass

The Visitor Information Centre

The Visitor Information Centre
 We toured the Old Log Church Museum, telling the stories of early pioneers and missionaries.

a log church

The Beringia Interpretive Centre tells the ancient story of the Yukon’s iconic Ice Age animals, including the Woolly Mammoth

and the Scimitar Cat through life –sized exhibits and films.

This tells of the land bridge from Asia, how and why it formed, then disappeared.

Beringia- in green

The Transportation Museum

has trains, trucks, monsters, mules, dogsleds and more.

How would you like to travel in this airplane seat!

on the ground...

and in the air.
Out front is a DC3 airplane on a pivoting pedestal,

acting as a wind vane. This is the historic airplane that started Canadian Pacific Airlines after WWII. It was fascinating, each time we passed, to check the wind direction!

We discovered the Café “Baked”, which made the best lattes ever! We didn’t go to Starbucks at all! Each trip into town from the campsite, meant a visit here for a coffee.

We loved this friendly city. The folks we met were outgoing, glad to give us help, advice and suggestions of things to see and places to visit. It was the welcoming atmosphere we have found in smaller towns, in a city. Everyone had time to chat.

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