Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Alaska RV Tour - Dawson City, Yukon Territory

Dawson City is our favorite place so far - this town has so much character and is so interesting!  We arrived on July 9th and left July 14th, one day later than originally planned.

For several days before arriving in Dawson City, Spike had been telling us that we would need to get used to about 18 hours of daylight. He was not kidding. During the time we were in Dawson City, we found ourselves walking the dogs after midnight just about every night... it was still daylight and our body clocks failed to tell us to get some sleep. By 4 AM, it was becoming light again and we were up and about by 6 or 6:30 AM almost every morning. We actually enjoyed these extended days, although if we had stayed in Dawson City much longer we may have collapsed suddenly :-)  I guess these summer daylight hours make up for the long DARK days during the winter.

After we arrived and got our RVs situated, Spike led our group around town to introduce us to the layout. This did not take long as Dawson City is pretty small! While we were there, Lynda and I ran into the hardware store to try to find some replacement hose attachments... we've been having trouble with a dripping connection at the water manifold. Anyway, no luck with that but Spike came over later and gave us some quick disconnects, which did the trick. Spike rules!

The next morning (Saturday), our group went into town to take a historic tour of the town. Parks Canada interpretive guides do an amazing job with such things, to include wearing authentic period dress. We very much enjoyed this two hour tour.

After the tour we went back to the RV park and ate lunch at the restaurant next door with Jim and Bettye Chaplin.  Then Spike gathered us all up once more and off we went to the Midnight Dome.

The Midnight Dome is a metamorphic rock that stands at slightly under 3000 feet and is just a few miles outside Dawson City. This hill is a popular sightseeing destination and is named the Midnight Dome because for decades people have been gathering on the top of the hill to watch the midnight sun and the changing colors of the night sky. The views from the Midnight Dome are beautiful - you can clearly see see the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers, Dawson City, the Klondike Valley, Bonanza Creek, Top of the World Highway and the Ogilvie Mountains.

After enjoying the view from Midnight Dome, Spike took us part way down the hill to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) cemetery, which contains graves from 1893 to 1904 and is next to the Klondike cemetery.  It was interesting and sad to visit these cemeteries.  There are several young Mounties buried in the RCMP cemetery that died when trying to save others during boating accidents at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. According to Spike, this cemetery is considered almost sacred by the RCMP even today. 

While there are many graves of interest in the other cemeteries that surround the RCMP cemetery, one in particular caught my eye: the grave of Jan Welzl (1868-1948).  Welzl was apparently an intelligent eccentric, explorer, inventor and author. He was born in Czechoslovakia and led a life of adventure and discovery across the north. Each year small delegations of followers from around the world visit this site to conduct memorial services. A black, iron cross and Czech flags mark his grave site.  As you can see from the photo, many visitors to his grave leave gifts.

After visiting these cemeteries, we went into town for a tour of Jack London's cabin.  Lynda and I are both fans of Jack London, although its been years since I read his books.  It was so interesting to see his cabin and learn more about London's life and writing.
By the way, Spike recently finished reading White Fang, which is what he calls Barley.  Sydney is known as Little Crazy Girl - I wonder why?
Just up the road from Jack London's cabin, on 8th Avenue, is the log cabin that Robert Service lived in between 1909 and 1912. I've mentioned Robert Service at least a couple times in prior postings - he is known as the Bard of the Yukon and is renowned for his writings on the Canadian North, including the poems "The Shooting of Dan McGrew", "The Law of the Yukon", and "The Cremation of Sam McGee". His writing was so expressive that his readers took him for a hard-bitten old Klondike prospector, not the later-arriving bank clerk he actually was.  Anyway, we enjoyed hearing about Robert Service from another Parks Canada Interpreter, who finished up his presentation by reading several of Service's humorous poems.

After the Robert Service readings, we headed back to the RV park to freshen up, walk the dogs and get ready for Gold Panning - oh yeah, we were just moments away from striking it rich! 

So off we went, at least most of us, up to the Klondike Visitor's Association (KVA) Claim on Bonanza creek to try our luck.  I really had fun and so did Lynda. We both found some gold flakes and I found (with Spike's coaching) a small gold nugget.

Then we headed back to the RV park and got cleaned up to go out with Roger and Teresa to Diamond Tooth Gertie's Casino, Canada’s oldest gambling hall.  This place puts on three shows a night, hosted by "Gertie" and her Cancan dancers.  You can get something to eat and drink while watching the show, and you can also try your luck at blackjack, roulette, Texas Hold'em poker, and a bunch of slot machines.  Although we did not gamble, we did enjoy some pizza and beer while watching the show.  It was a fun night but by the time we got back to the RV, I was worn out - it had been a long and eventful day! 

The next day was Sunday and Lynda went on the tour of the famous No. 4 Dredge, which is the biggest wooden hull, bucket-line gold dredge in North America. It rests on Claim No. 17 on Bonanza Creek, off Bonanza Creek Road where we panned for gold.  The No. 4 Dredge is maintained by Parks Canada.  Anyway, I skipped this tour to vacuum the RV and catch up on email.  Living with two shedding dogs in an RV requires constant cleaning!  Look on our Blog for a separate posting from Lynda about this tour.

After our visit to Dawson City, our group was scheduled to take the George Black Ferry across the Yukon River on Tuesday. This is the only practical way to reach Chicken, Alaska from Dawson City. We had been hearing stories about this "rustic" ferry from various sources, including the motorcycle rider we ate dinner with in Hyder. As it turns out, that guy was telling the truth!  The George Black Ferry really does crash-land on the opposite shore and, if needed, the ferry attendant will set down planks so you can drive your RV off without bottoming out on the mud and gravel.  Groovy!

Most of us were really looking forward to visiting Chicken, with its booming population of 17 (including children).  Chicken is the setting of the book "Tisha", the autobiography of Anne Hobbs who came to Chicken as its only teacher in the 1920s. Several of us in the group had read the book and were looking forward to seeing Anne's schoolhouse cabin.
Anyway, around midday on Sunday, Spike put the word out that the road from Dawson City to Chicken was washed out and we might not leave on Tuesday as planned. This road is actually comprised of two sections:  Yukon Highway 9, known as the Top of the World Highway, that runs from Dawson City to the Canadian-US border and the Taylor Highway on the US side that  connects Chicken, Alaska with the Canadian-US border. Above is a map from the web site that shows this interesting roadway.
From what Spike could find out, the road was washed out on the US side and several cars and RVs were caught between the damaged areas.  Anyway, the plan was to just sit tight while he checked with various contacts to get a better idea of when the road would be repaired.
After lunch on Sunday, our group went on a tour of the Commissioner's Residence in Dawson City. According to Parks Canada:

In July of 1897, the federal government appointed a commissioner to head the government of the newly declared Yukon Territory. Very quickly, Dawson City grew from a city of tents and shacks to a modern metropolis, boasting churches, hotels, a school and a hospital. Perhaps more than any other building, the Commissioner's Residence represented the confidence the government had in this new town and its prospects.  This building has gone through its share of trials and tribulations, including a fire in 1906. 

... Although occupied by several commissioners and their families, undoubtedly the most memorable were George and Martha Black, the last full time residents. The Blacks occupied the house from 1912 to 1916. During their stay, they welcomed all levels of society from humble miners to foreign dignitaries. From lavish furnishings to the formal gardens, Martha's special interest in the residence represented a cultural oasis in the wilderness. Dawsonites were proud to show visitors a level of hospitality comparable to southern centres and so much contrast with the mud, gravel and simple cabins found in the goldfields. Both the Blacks went on to play important roles in the political life of the Yukon over the next several years.

The Commissioner's Residence really is a handsome building! We enjoyed the tour and admired the wonderful restoration work that has been done on the first floor. The second floor has not yet been restored, but hopefully Parks Canada will be able to fund work on the rest of the building over the next few years. 

After the tour, Spike drove us past the George Black ferry so we could get a first-hand look at it. Seeing the ferry up close only made some of us more nervous about driving our RVs onto that little vessel. But Lynda and I, being old hands at ferry-riding, were looking forward to it!
As Sunday wore on, it grew wetter and colder.  Spike's plan to go gold panning again that evening was scrapped, except by a few hardy souls who went back up to the KVA claim on their own.  We elected to stay home and watch a movie. That night, when we were walking the dogs in the daylight of midnight, we saw a beautiful Red fox. I am sure if we did not have the dogs with us we could have gotten within 20 feet of him... he was that bold!  Unfortunately, we did not get a photo of that particular fox, but here is a photo I took of another Red fox that looks just like him. These little guys are very pretty creatures and, although they look like a dog, they move more like a cat.

Monday's weather was better. But we were all disappointed when Spike put the word out that it was beginning to look unlikely that we would be going to Chicken. He found out that the damage to the road was extensive and it might take days or even weeks to get the road repaired. In fact, he was busy making alternate plans for travel routes, RV parks, and tour schedules.  He said we would wait one more day but if the Chicken road was not re-opened within the next day, we would have to leave Dawson City on Wednesday and take the long way back down and around to Tok, Alaska stopping in Bear Creek for the night and bypassing Chicken altogether.

After taking the dogs for a walk over the bridge toward Dawson City, I rode the scooter out to the KVA claim.  I had to go veeeerrrrry slowly because the road is mostly gravel and it would not take much for that scooter to slide out from under me. Even so, it was a nice ride.  On my way back, I found myself behind Val Frye's car - she had stopped to feed beef jerky to a Red fox. That little fellow knew exactly what he was doing; he came up to her car and sniffed round for a handout. Then a second car came along and the fox ditched Val for a better handout - popcorn!  The people in the second car seemed to know this fox and what he likes to eat. 

It was sometime Monday afternoon that Irene and Snake Simpson invited us to go into town with them to "The Pit", supposedly the oldest bar in Dawson City. The Pit is very much a local watering hole and is located in a somewhat dilapidated pink building.

So off we went, and after we got there Jim and Bettye Chaplin joined us also. Well, it turned out to be one of those nights.  At one point a local guy sat down, fixed his glassy eyes on us and said, quite clearly, "pardon me for evesdripping on your conservation." Well, that was the beginning of the end for us. 

A few gallons of beer later, the others left to see the show at Diamond Tooth Gertie's (the evesdripper had also stumbled away by now) but Lynda and I remained at the bar.  We ended up hanging out with a local woman who worked for Parks Canada as an Interpretive guide for Dredge #4.  What a fun time we had !  Here is a photo of the table where we partied. 

Anyway, at some point Teresa found us and got us back to the RV park safe and sound. When I thanked her the next day, she said that Irene had run into her at Gertie's and asked her to check on us.  Good thing, or we might have ended up in a sod-roofed cabin, working for Parks Canada.

Anyway, enough about that.

The festivities of the night before certainly slowed down our day on Tuesday - we were just a tad under the weather and did not feel like doing a whole lot other than laundry. Spike announced that we would leave the next day to drive the long way to Tok, Alaska - 600 miles of backtracking! 

Well, true to form, the group decided to make the best of things and we used the radios to organize a potluck for dinner. I borrowed the Bland's jeep and went into town to the market and bought some steaks for us and some milk to make Tapioca for the potluck.  That tapioca was a big hit! 

In keeping with our weather luck so far, the potluck got rained-out half  way through the meal so we all scattered back to our RVs to finish off our food.  After a while, we emerged to gather under the overhang by the Park's office to celebrate Alma Banks' birthday and eat some cheesecake - hey, we sure know how to party!

And so we left Dawson City on Wednesday, July 14th after a fun-filled and eventful visit.  Lynda and I really liked it there and would love to go back... perhaps for a winter experience?  Probably not, considering the average low temperature in January is -31 degrees!

Click here for Dawson City photos.

Next, on to Tok, Alaska via Bear Creek - stay tuned!

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