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YUKON WILDERNESS - A SUMMER ESCAPE
 
(2011 - Spring/Summer Issue)

Writer: VALERIE MARSHALL AND ADAM SAUNDERS



Glaciers, pristine lakes and wilderness for hundreds of unspoiled miles shape the landscape of the Yukon. 

We had seen images of vast mauve-tinted hills and valleys however our experience came alive as we flew into Whitehorse over endless hectares of fireweed that line the roads and hillsides during the Yukon summer.

Despite a long day of travel, the extended hours of daylight offered ample opportunity to explore Whitehorse, walk along the banks of the Yukon River and check out the Waterfront Trolley and the riverboat, S.S. Klondike. Preserved as an historic site by Parks Canada, from about 1937 to 1952, this boat carried supplies downriver for miners and their families in Dawson City and returned with a cargo of ore. 

Later, we relaxed on The Deck at the High Country Inn and enjoyed a barbeque featuring wild Yukon salmon.

Dawson: Past and Present

On our 525-kilometre road trip to Dawson, we stopped for gas and refreshments at the friendly general store in Carmacks, home to the Tagé Cho Hudän Interpretive Centre, which offers insight into the heritage and culture of the Northern Tutchone people.

Originally the capital city of the Yukon, Dawson City is a preserved historical showcase honouring the Klondike Gold Rush, which followed the discovery of gold on Bonanza Creek in 1896. Then, the city was a hub of saloons, bawdy houses, dance halls and hotels and once boasted a population of more than 30,000. 

Except for Front Street, Dawson’s unpaved roads are lined with boardwalks making it easy to imagine those days of yesteryear. We joined a walking tour offered by Parks Canada, beginning at the Palace Grand Theatre where the decor is much as it was in 1897. Quaint oddities include the Harness Store, which doubles as the liquor store and the place to obtain driving licences! Our tourwas an entertaining reminder of those Klondike days when steamboats brought supplies down the Yukon River and an egg cost as much as a gun. 

The history of Dawson has been recorded by a number of well-recognized authors including American writer Jack London, who lived here in 1897, and Canadian poet Robert Service whose cabin is open for viewing and readings twice daily. The wonderful history of the Klondike Days is documented by our own Pierre Berton whose mother, Laura Berton, described the Dawson of yore in her book, I Married the Klondike. Today, the Berton legacy remains strong with the original home now maintained as a retreat for writers-in-residence.

Our evening began with cocktails at Bombay Peggy’s, a lovely historic inn which, at different times in its past, was amining company’s headquarters, a family home and a brothel. Later, at the Aurora Inn, we enjoyed an exquisite dinner and fine wine before a hilarious show at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall.

It’s All About Gold

The next morning we tried our hand at gold-panning with Goldbottom Mine Tours along with a family with two young boys who, while hurling stones at the cliffs beside the creek, learned that permafrost is as hard as rock! We harvested a pin-prick-sized piece of gold for our efforts and now have great respect for Shawn Ryan who recently revived the Yukon’s current exploration boom with his discovery of the White Gold Deposit.

A tour of Dredge No. 4 brought Dawson’s history of gold exploration to life. Of several dredges that worked around Bonanza Creek, No. 4 was the largest wooden-hull, bucket-line dredge in North America and it now rests near where it ceased operations in 1960. A leisurely evening cruise on the paddlewheeler, Klondike Spirit, rounded off another great day.

Boundless Adventures

To reach the Yukon, some drive via Alaska along the “Top of the World Highway” experiencing breathtaking geography en route to Dawson. Others travel by air, starting their journey from Whitehorse or Dawson, and many choose the freedom offered with the rental of well-equipped recreational vehicles. Roads are excellent though one is cautioned to begin a road trip with a full fuel tank. For camping enthusiasts, the Yukon government maintains more than 40 well-equipped campsites, many in magnificent lakeside locations with excellent facilities. Firewood is included with the $12 fee.

Truly an adventure destination, the Yukon River is tackled by brave canoeists and kayakers in the annual Yukon River Quest at the end of June. A number of wilderness adventure specialists, grouped under the banner of Yukon Wild, ensure wilderness travel in this vast territory is exceptional and safe.

The trip on the historic White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad provided a stunning journey to Bennett Lake, with a stop at Bennett Station for lunch and to collect backpackers and hikers who had traversed the Chilkoot Trail. Returning to Whitehorse we passed the smallest desert in the world—the Carcross Desert. This extraordinary phenomenon is probably the sandy bottom of a glacial lake left after the last ice age.

Another day began with Kruda Che Adventures and First Nations guide, Ron Chambers, on a boat tour of Kathleen Lake in Kluane National Park. Grizzly bears patrolled the surrounding hills and, while we never got close to one, it was reassuring to see them thriving in this unspoiled habitat. 

We were invited to Haines Junction to take a flight with Sifton Air into the glacial icefields in the St. Elias mountain range. Thor, our pilot, flew us in a rare Cessna 205 so close to the icefields that we could see the formation of glacial waterfalls between the ridges. This tour truly was a highlight of our trip. 

That evening at the Raven Hotel, chef Victor Bongo treated us to his superb cuisine. We’d read excellent reviews highlighting this spot and, without a word of exaggeration, it is a must when visiting the Yukon.

Whitehorse Attractions

Closer to Whitehorse we visited Caribou Crossing on the South Klondike Highway to view the lifelike taxidermy exhibits in their wildlife museum. Then, in Whitehorse, at the Beringia Interpretive Centre with its Ice Age Gallery, we were again reminded of the size of the woolly mammoths and scimitar cats that once roamed this area. An unexpected benefit of the Klondike Gold Rush was the discovery of ice-age fossils, which helped scientists piece together an understanding of life thousands of years ago.

Before leaving we enjoyed an excellent dinner in the Klondike Rib & Salmon BBQ where the queue waiting outside this fun spot alerted us to the demand for the fare inside. 

Throughout our brief trip we experienced a small taste of Yukon’s history and culture and now understand why so many who came stayed to build a great life in this wonderful part of Canada.

Travel Planner

Air North (flyairnorth.com) offers service from Vancouver, Calgary or Edmonton to Whitehorse or Dawson and Air Canada (aircanada.com) flies into Whitehorse.

For more information, visit:

Tourism Yukon: travelyukon.com

City of Whitehorse: visitwhitehorse.com

Klondike Visitors Association: dawsoncity.ca

Yukon Wild: yukonwild.com

 
 
 
 
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