Sunday, June 25, 2017

There's GOLD in them THAR HILLS


There's GOLD in them THAR HILLS

From August 12, 2016 

We were up at 5 AM to get an early start on the long drive to Dawson City. 

About halfway there, an overlook provided a nice view of the Five Fingered Rapids, a set of rocks/small islands that divides the Yukon River into 5 passages. This challenged the sternwheelers and rafts trying pass downriver, in the 1800s.

One uncertainty in traveling through Dawson City, was that our stay coincided with the annual "Discovery Days" celebration; marking the first significant discovery of gold up the Klondike River on Bonanza Creek, 120 years ago. The ONLY way to cross the Yukon River at Dawson City, is aboard the small "George Black" free government ferry. Walk-ons can ride any available ferry, but automobile, RV and trucks often have to wait for quite a while to be taken aboard. Fortunately, it's a short 5 minute trip and is quite charming, however the landings on either side are not yet paved. 

Soon we were driving to
Bonanza Creek to see National Historic Site Dredge No. 4. After all of the easily found gold had been extracted from the Klondike River, hand and low tech mining took over.  Then, when corporations became involved, larger more mechanized means were developed to continue efficient, profitable mining. Hence, dredges were built to scrape out huge quantities of gravel from the creeks and rivers. This, the world's largest wooden hulled, bucket line gold dredge was built in 1912, and worked until its sinking in 1960. Thirty years later later, it was rescued and restored. A nearby hill yielded an expansive view of the Yukon River above and below the city, the town itself and vast numbers of rippled waste gravel tailings pile up the Klondike River tributary, and Bonanza Creek. 

Long the site of a Han- speaking Tr'ondek Hwech'in tribal fishing village, the current city was founded about 1897, by early prospectors in anticipation of the Klondike Gold Rush. With the start of the Stampede, the region's population exploded from several hundred to almost 30,000. It ultimately required 100 years of negotiations with the Canadian government for the tribe to regain their right to independent self-governance. 
Unfortunately for the late coming miners, almost all of the land had already been claimed. Thus, their only choice was to toil for basic wages in the employ of the "Sourdough" men, who had been there from the start, and had already extracted great fortunes. Many latecomers returned home sick & penniless or raced on to Nome, Alaska following rumor of another gold rush. At the current price of  $1350 US per oz., many still make a living at it.

Dawson City now has a year-round population of about 2000, but numbered only a few hundred at its post-Gold Rush nadir. 

It was fortuitous that our visit coincided with "Klondike Discovery Days", an annual festival to commemorate and celebrate the area's historic mining roots.

We enjoyed the homestyle parade, complete with Mounties, hockey team, kids on bicycles and young musicians. The firetrucks' sirens and Mud-boggers' unmuffled engines were quite deafening! Afterwards, there were speeches in the town park from various dignitaries, with free watermelon and cake for all attendees. We met Mr. & Mrs. Yukon (local native elders in traditional clothing, as well as the local representative member to the Canadian Parliament.

Just a few blocks up hill we visited the cabin once occupied by poet Robert Service, as well as a reconstructed cabin made from logs taken from the mining shack once home to  a young Jack London, around 1897. 

Alaskan "Houseboat" tethered on the Yukon River

Going "Green" Yukon-Style.

Local Color

        Drinking our 

Next, on to the Great State of Alaska!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Discovering the Historic Yukon

Discovering the Historic Yukon

On the 16th day of our journey, we're  on our drive toward Whitehorse, the Yukon capital. The entirety of the Yukon has a population of 36,000, with the majority of 26,000 living in Whitehorse. Whitehorse became the capital in the 1950s taking the title from Dawson City which has never quite forgiven them. It is quite a bustling place with many attractions and a lively commercial and tourism base.
One of the main attractions and the first we took in was the SS Klondike, a permanently retired sternwheeler that has been restored and rests alongside the Yukon River on the south side of town. Built in 1929, she was the largest on the river and had a cargo capacity half again larger than previous boats. 

 Notable Whitehorse citizen, Robert Service, the "Bard of the North", who who wrote so eloquently about the hardships of life & work during the Gold Rush.

Old Log Church


Whitehorse  has a large First Nations population. Their centerpiece is the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Center adjacent to the library. They had they had a number of artifacts on display along with current art works focus on the long - neglected issue of approx. 30 Murdered and Missing Native Women who disappeared from the highways traveling between towns.  Prime Minister Trudeau has pledged to devote resources to investigate this issue. The center also had a ceremonial healing room and artist in residencies.

Mock up of ceremonial room.
Local native artisan, weaving and beading.

On the plateau above the city near the airport, we visited the Yukon Transportation Museum and the Beringia Center which  describes the many fossils and preserved pre- historic animal bones and human artifacts from the area where the glaciers absorbed much of the surface water, allowing a large mass of land to emerge, facilitating migration of people and animals between the areas of Russia and present day Alaska.  This region was not glaciated, so most of these remains have been discovered when excavating the mud and muck of permafrost. Once the glaciers melted most of the land area was submerged once again.

 Outside the airport we enjoyed seeing the world's largest weathervane, a Douglas DC-3 perched on a pivot that allows it to rotate in the wind.
 Urban Fox

 Late in the day we crossed the river to see the Whitehorse Rapids Fishway, a wooden fish ladder (longest in the world) that was built in 1959, to allow salmon and other fish to bypass the hydroelectric dam. We were able to see a number of large red Chinook salmon that are currently running, negotiate their way into the fish ladder.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Returning from AWOL, since the Best is Yet to Come

Returning from AWOL, since the Best is Yet to Come!

The BEST is Yet to Come!

Family and friends, 

Sorry to have been missing from this blog for several months now. But as you know, sometimes life gets in the way. We'd like to resume the blog on our travels to Canada and Alaska with this post, for your viewing and reading pleasure. We'll also pledge to try to be more timely in completing it. 

Let's pick up where we left off; around August 10, 2016. The first thing in the morning we drove back-and-forth across the Yukon-British Columbia border, paralleling the Liard River most of the way. Along the road was a place called "Contact Creek" which marked where the U.S. Army highway building teams, having started from the north and south, met up at this point in September, 1942 to complete the southern sector of the AL-CAN highway. These soldiers endured months of vehicle-swallowing mud, choking swarms of mosquitoes, and wild fluctuations in temperature and precipitation. They worked almost 7 days a week, partly due to the urgency and partly because there there was absolutely no where to go and nothing to do (other than sleep) during time off!

Nowadays, the Yukon Territory is 2/3 the size of the state of Texas, with a population of only 39,000 hardy residents!

The Liard River Hot Springs and campground are known far and wide in this region as a special place to visit. The Springs are open year-round. The hot water flows down through a series of pools; from skin-peelingly HOT at the top pool to pleasantly tepid three or four links down the chain of pools. We stayed at the campsite there and strolled back and forth through the evening, along the boardwalk enjoying > 250 boreal forest species, 14 types of orchids and a doze other unusual plants growing at this latitude due to the warmth of the Springs. We did our best to sight a moose in the wetlands. We had no luck on the moose, but really enjoyed floating around in the hot springs and chatting with fellow travelers. There is also a garden above the hot springs, however it was closed due to a bothersome bear in the area.

The town of Watson what is known as the Gateway to the Yukon, and it's claim to fame is the "Signpost Forest". The collection was started in 1942, by a home-sick GI from Danville, IL. He posted a sign on the side of the road pointing toward his hometown. This caught on with other servicemen and  travelers. Many have posted similar signs, now totally 75,000. We even found one sign from Corrales, New Mexico (near Albuq.) as well as a New Mexico license plate attached to a pole.


Proceeding in a north-westerly direction we passed the Continental Divide which serves to divide the two largest (gargantuan) river systems in North America; the YukonRiver and the Mackenzie River watersheds.

Nisutlin River Bridge

In the Yukon town of Teslin, which boasts 450 mostly First Nations Inland Tlingit natives, we found a number of interesting sites. First stop was the George Johnston Museum with a wonderful display of ceremonial robes and trade goods, along with his personal photo gallery of early Tlingit village life. George was a "character" in more ways than one, and was the first to own an automobile in the area, despite the total absence of roads in and around the town. He had his 1926 Model A sedan transported to the village by river steamboat, and primarily used it to drive around on the frozen Teslin Lake in the winter for hunting. Reportedly, when animals got wise to the threat of his black car, he had it painted all white to blend in with the ice and snow!

The Teslin Tlingit native Heritage Center also has some amazing bead work samples and five immense totem poles at the entrance. These portray the animal symbols for the family clans living in the area (Raven, Wolf, Frog, Eagle, Beaver). Hand-hewn canoes wait at the lake's edge. The tribal government uses the Center for Council meetings.

As sunset approached, we made it to the lake side campground just in time to snag a nice spot overlooking the water. We enjoyed the sunset with some wine in our beach chairs on the stoney shore below. In the Yukon, the nightly camping fee is only $12 and includes free firewood!

Next, on to "Discovery Days" in Dawson City and the Klondike.