Canada 4 – Returning to Canada from Alaska and north to Dawson City in the Yukon where we prepare for the Dempster Highway.

8th – 14th August – Leaving Alaska, we are back in Canada, continuing north from Meziadin Junction on the Cassiar Highway.   Bell 2 Lodge (so named because it’s the second bridge across the Bell Irving River) has  colourful cottage gardens and a little restaurant that serves a very good bowl of homemade soup at lunchtimes.  In the winter months it also caters for Heli-skiing and Heli-hiking, where you can ski or snow board your way down the mountains, having been taken up by helicopter!

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We continue to Kinaskan Lake, known for its excellent rainbow trout fishing and camp at the Provincial Park there.  Richard Klocker our camp host, is very interested  in our Land Rover and our Kelly Kettle that we use for boiling water.  He brings us two trout caught from the lake, cleaned and ready to cook, we’ll have them tomorrow, so must be somewhere where we can have an open fire.  He also invites us to his ranch tomorrow morning, to see his home-made, hydro-electric set up, which supplies his remote home with electricity…..will look forward to that also.  The lake looks beautiful in the evening light as the sun sets behind the hills but once it’s disappeared it quickly gets very cold.

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Early morning light over Kinaskan Lake.

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Evening light.

7 miles north of the lake and Richard and Margaret’s Todagin Ranch is at the end of a long, gravel drive.   We are greeted by their dogs and cats but they also have Scottish Highland cattle, goats and hens amongst their 206 acres.  His hydo-electric set up is quite amazing, as are the panoramic views from their upstairs windows, of rolling meadows, mountains and pine forests…….the winters may be harsh but their views must be a winter wonderland!  Cosy, log cabins can be rented, and it’s great hiking country.  Nearby Mt. Edziza Provincial Park, which protects Canada’s most spectacular volcanic landscape, looks very interesting, but can only be reached by a 3 day hike and back country camping……sadly no way to drive there which is disappointing and we don’t have a ground tent.

We continue further north to Dease Lake, a former Hudson’s Bay Trading Post but today known as ‘ The Jade Capital of the World ‘ because of its proximity to significant jade reserves.  Jade City has a very small population but has a gift shop featuring locally mined, jade-based jewellery, sculptures and carvings, plus huge, very ordinary looking rocks at the side of the road but which have been split to reveal the jade…….worth a look.  We meet up with Ecki and his daughter Eva from Germany, also driving a white, 110 Land Rover but heading south.  We exchange news  and it’s good to see the two very similar landies together!

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British Columbia’s lakes just get more beautiful, as we stop next at Boya Lake to camp at the Provincial Park and buy a bundle of firewood to cook our trout which is delicious….many thanks Richard!

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Arriving at Watson Lake we have now entered Southern Yukon Territory and at the junction here as we turn west, the Cassiar Highway meets the Alaska Highway which will eventually take us to  Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital city.

Built in 1942 as a military access road, the Alaska Highway stands as a tribute to the determination and resourcefulness of the tens of thousands of men and women who have worked on it, not only during its construction but through the constant upgrading and maintenance of the highway, that has kept  it open year-round since it was built……often against enormous odds.

The Yukon is Canada’s 8th largest province.  Within its territory, 20 mountain peaks exceed 3,000 metres, Mount Logan being the tallest at 5,959 metres and it’s where you can find the world’s largest non-polar ice fields.  The Yukon’s official bird is the Raven, one of the few birds that live there year round, the floral emblem is the Fireweed, its pink flowers blooming everywhere at the moment and the Yukon also has its own flag and Coat of Arms.

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Real wilderness is becoming rare, yet more than 80% of the Yukon is a wonderful, remote wilderness of endless peaks, clear mountain rivers and uninhabited valleys.  Home to huge numbers of caribou, moose, mountain sheep, grizzly and black bears and many birds……but only home to 36,000 humans, who celebrate a varied history and a talented arts culture, inspired by the Yukon’s vast landscapes.

It’s a few hundred km yet to Whitehorse however, so we make a stop at Teslin, its lakeside approached via the seven-arched Nisutlin Bay Bridge, the longest bridge on the Alaska Highway.  Home to the Teslin Tlingit people, it has a small community of under 500 people but it has a good campsite with a small, adjoining museum, displaying many species of Yukon wildlife in their natural habitat.  It is extremely well done and most of the stuffed animals died from natural causes, such as the caribou, who sadly succumbed to exhaustion and dehydration when their huge antlers became entwined during a fight.

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A visit to the S.S. Klondike is a must once we arrive at Whitehorse.  This city is framed by mountains and named after the White Horse Rapids which resembled the mane of a white horse before the mighty Yukon River was dammed.

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For almost 100 years, a great fleet of sternwheelers plied the Yukon River and were the lifeline of the growing Yukon Territory.  Launched in 1937, the Klondike was the largest vessel ever to ply the Canadian part of this river.  Designed for the movement of freight, it could make the downstream journey from Whitehorse to Dawson in 36 hours, although the the return trip upstream against the current, could take 4 to 5 days.  The Klondike had a short spell as a tourist cruise ship before retirement in 1955, bringing to an end the era of commercial steamboat navigation in the Yukon.  Today it is an interesting National Historic Site.

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The Yukon is rated as having some of the world’s best road trips….but without all the traffic!  We have decided to attempt the famous Dempster Highway, of which we have heard many differing reports.  A 736 km unpaved road that will take us to Inuvik and the Arctic Circle.   This will mean a change of route, as instead of continuing on the Alaska Highway once we leave Whitehorse, we will need to head for Dawson City via the Klondike Highway.

From Whitehorse we are following the Klondike Gold Rush Trail after gold was found in Bonanza Creek near Dawson City in 1896.  Once the outside world learned of this strike, it triggered a stampede of miners who carried their loads, struggling over the snow-choked Chilkoot Mountains through blizzards and sub-zero conditions, inspired by tales of riches and golden dreams.  Following this icy journey, they then floated down the Yukon River, the main route to Dawson City and the Klondike Gold Fields.  A major obstacle and formidable danger along this route however, was the Five Finger Rapid……five huge, irregular shaped rocks across the Yukon River that created strong currents and swift flowing water and two, narrow channels.  Many ended up in the water in their handmade boats and rafts after choosing the wrong channel and not all survived this gruelling journey to stake their claim to fortune on creeks with names like Eldorado, Bonanza, Last Chance and Too Much Gold!   Only one channel was deep enough for the sternwheelers and many of these vessels were damaged when striking the rocks.  Eventually, the final solution was to get rid of the rapid, by blasting the rock away and widening the channel another 6 metres.

We visit the Five Finger Rapid whilst camping at the nearby Tatchun Campground.

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An old photo showing a sternwheeler making its way through the channel.

We continue through the small communities of Pelly Crossing and Stewart Crossing and cross both their rivers.  At Km 622 we stop at Gravel Lake, a huge wetland and major travel corridor for migratory birds in the spring and fall.  Yellow Pond Lilies are like a carpet over the surface of the lake in July but we have just missed them at their best.  However, distant storm clouds and rain  bring an amazing rainbow, its colours also reflected in the lake.

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At Km 655 the rain reaches us too but we manage a quick stop at the Tintina Trench Viewpoint, a major geological fault that forms a 450km long corridor across much of the Yukon and which is even visible from space!  In May and September it is also an important migration corridor for Sandhill Cranes, Tundra Swans, Peregrine Falcons and numerous other birds.  The sight of the Sandhill Cranes must be very spectacular, as over 200,000 of these birds pass through on their way to and from their tundra nesting grounds.

Only 40km more to Dawson City.  We actually drive by the turning for the Dempster Highway but the extra 80km is essential to stock up on fuel, water and food before we begin and we understand that Dawson is an interesting city to visit.

Situated at the foothills of the Ogilvie Mountains and at the the junction of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers, Dawson City quickly became the centre of the Klondike Gold Rush, a rollicking frontier town full of saloons, churches, gambling houses and theatrical shows to entertain the desperate prospectors.   Wharves and warehouses once lined the river’s shore and the majestic sternwheelers plied the Yukon waters from1896 to the mid 50s.

Today, Dawson’s boom days are still evident in the numerous false-fronted buildings that line the street, many of which have been well restored and the wooden boardwalks that serve as sidewalks. In fact there are many attractions to immerse visitors back to the Gold Rush Days.

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Old photo of Dawson City in the Gold Rush days.

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Dawson City today.

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The very well stocked General Store.

After checking out the campsites here, we decide on Bonanza Gold RV Park, far less crowded, with a relaxed atmosphere and about a mile into town. By far the cheapest also at $25 for a site with electricity and water plus very clean washrooms with hot water everywhere.  We get our tyres changed around ready for the Dempster and meet up with our friend Renee again before she sets off towards Fairbanks and Denali in Alaska.  Hopefully our paths will cross again later.

The weather forecast at the Dempster Visitor Centre on Front Street in Dawson, looks promising for the next few days before rain.  We are told the sharp gravel and mud road gets very slippery when wet and that two spare tyres are preferable to our one.  No doubt Moby won’t be staying white for very long!  We are also told that the wilderness will be beginning to show its autumn colours.  After a few days in Dawson and we’ll be on our way!

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