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Tombstone Again

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It was grey and drizzly in Eagle Plains when we gassed up and headed out. The journey across the plains again felt somewhat bleak and overwhelming, with endless boreal forest rolling in every direction, largely devoid of animal life. It began to open up about an hour or so into the journey, at the same time as the sun began to shine through the clouds.

Dropping down towards the Oglivie River, the scenery and weather improved, and we were again among the interesting rock formations of the Oglivie Mountains, then the less-exotic Taiga Mountains. We stopped for lunch in the Oglivies near a outcrop known for fossils, but didn’t find any.

The mountains gave way to the Blackstone Highlands – the wider tundra plateau – then we climbed gently into the Tombstones again. At around 4pm we crossed the Continental Divide for the final time, and just a couple of kilometres short of the Tombstone campground, we pulled off the highway and drove a short distance to a microwave tower.

We got on our hiking gear and set out for a stellar hike up Goldensides Mountain. It was a steep grunt straight up a steep slope of scrub, then lose barren rock. Stopping to catch our breath, we turned to take in great views west towards Tombstone Mountain and the North Klondike River valley. Cresting the ridge, we were treated to spectacular 360 views, particularly when we hiked the short distance on the open heather ridge to the summit. To the north and south was the Dempster running along the valley. To the west was Tombstone and Monolith, and east were numerous other peaks and valleys. The sun was low and gorgeous, and there was the tiniest hint of snow on the north faces.

We soaked in the view for a while, taking pictures of the scenery and each other, then began the steep descent down about 300m to the van. Once there, it was a short drive to the campground where we snagged the same spot from a few days ago, and I whipped up a fajita dinner to be proud of at home. Now we’re just sitting under blankets and hoping for more northern lights.


Written by sockeyed

September 18, 2010 at 18:16

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The morning was mostly about addressing logistical issues. A thin layer of low clouds settled above Dawson, so we felt less pressure to get out and about. We did a load of laundry at the RV park, then drove into town to stock up on groceries at a couple of decent local stores, then picked up two wool blankets at an outfitters. Despite having two fleece blankets and a synthetic duvet, we’ve been cold at night in the van; it’s not very well insulated and the propane heater is very loud (we do turn it on first thing in the morning).

After our errands the sun began to burn through, so we strolled around the town. Like everywhere in the Yukon, there are excellent interpretive plaques everywhere. We took in the old and old-timey architecture, dirt roads and wooden sidewalks. A fair number of the buildings are wonky due to the permafrost, just like many of the telephone poles along the side of the highways. We looked at the old saloons, post office, stores and the cabins of Robert Service and Jack London. We chatted about the Dempster Highway to a very nice and helpful woman in the Northwest Territories info centre, and had a tasty lunch (grilled cheese, yam fries, soup and cappuccino) in a more local restaurant on Front Street.

Our final stop in Dawson were the claim sites up Bonanza Creek, about 15kms from town. The weather had turned warm and clear as we walked around this area rich with so much history (thanks again to Pierre Berton for his book on the Klondike which I read before leaving). We visited the site of Robert Carmack and Skookum Jim’s original claims which started the Klondike gold rush. Bonanza Creeks was ripped to pieces by dredges in the 50 years following the rush, but enough time has passed that it probably is starting to look a bit more like it did when they found the original nuggets. There was 1km walk along the creek with a series of very good plaques talking about the area before the rush, the find, and the mining techniques used to extract gold. Downstream these is also a restored dredge (which was closed to touring).

By the mid-afternoon we were on the road again. 40kms west brought us to the junction with the Dempster, and we made a turn north. The road is gravel all of the way to Inuvik, but by now we are getting used to it. We climbed gently until we were among quite jagged and open peaks. Fall colours are further along here. There are still trees – spruce and some cottonwood – and rusty orange bushes. After about 50kms (at 60-70km/h), we came to Tombstone Territorial Park, which was created as part of the land claims settlement with the Tr’ondek Hwech’in. It’s a gorgeous place of rugged peaks and vast open spaces. It’s cold and dry, with the summits free of snow at this time of year. Ochre vegetation lines the valleys – home to caribou, moose and bears – and up gulleys towards the rocky peaks.

We drove a short ways past where we are staying to take in a view towards Tombstone Mountain 24kms away. It was early evening with the warm sun in our eyes, cottonwood fluff floating by, and no sound but the rivers and creeks below.

The campground is beautifully situated in the North Klondike River valley, just shy of the Continental Divide. Peaks surround us on all sides, and the air has an incredible freshness. The skies are clear, and with luck there will be excellent stars and perhaps even northern lights tonight.

Written by sockeyed

September 13, 2010 at 18:08

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