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Conclusion in Whitehorse

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We began yesterday with a short but lovely walk up the North Yukon River from the campground as the sun crested over the mountains. It was cold and crisp – toque and glove weather – but the sky was cloudless and pure blue, and the landscape brown and golden. The crystal clear water of the river sparkled in the morning sun. Still water was covered in ice and we’re quickly moving towards winter.

We were sad to be leaving the Dempster. We really loved its diversity of environments, colour and wildlife. It was amazing to be driving for literally hours without seeing another car in either direction. It was fascinating to see the sun follow a low arc, leaving long shadows even at mid-day. And of course we’ll miss the people we met at the far end of our journey.

The last 70km were relatively easy. The road was in good condition and the sun shone. When we reached Klondike Junction, we had planned to powerwash the mud off our van, but the pump had frozen, so we had to live with a muck-encrusted vehicle for a while longer (so many shades of brown!)

The 500km drive down to Whitehorse was pretty uneventful. The weather was lovely, and we were treated to some great views of the Yukon River, but otherwise it was pretty much a long haul into town. It certainly wasn’t mundane – it would be a great drive anywhere else – but after the Dempster it just seemed like ordinary Yukon scenery.

We spent the night at Takhini Hot Springs again, just outside of Whitehorse. We had much-needed showers, then soaked for a long, long time in the hot spring pools as the sun went down.

Even though we were further south, it was another cold night, particularly for me as I sleep against the draughty back doors, but I turned on the heater and put on the kettle as soon as I was awake.

It was another cloudless day, and down here there are still quite a fall leaves on the cottonwoods. A short distance down the road from the hot springs is the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, a large expanse of land with a diversity of different habitats. We took a 5km stroll around the preserve and looked at elk, caribou, bison, a moose, deer, thinhorn sheep, mountain goats (hanging out high on rocky ledges), and muskox. The lynx and arctic fox eluded us. While not quite the same as spotting them in the wild, it was still an enjoyable way to spend a morning.

We finally drove into town. The first order of business was trying to get the mud off the van before returning it. By now it had hardened into a solid cake, notably on the back where it was a visible thickness. It took about $15 in loonies at the car was to spray and scrub enough of it off so that we could return it in a reasonable condition.

We strolled around downtown for the rest of the afternoon, stopping in bookshops, a cafe and gift shops. We spent a bit of time watching the fast-moving Yukon river, then drove to a campground just outside of town. Kristi whipped up a meal of most of the scraps we had left in the fridge and cupboard, and now we’re just relaxing, sad to see our vacation come to an end. We fly out tomorrow at lunchtime, and by dinner we’ll be back in warm, grey, rainy Vancouver.

Written by sockeyed

September 20, 2010 at 19:31

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We touched down in Whitehorse in the early afternoon yesterday under clear blue skies. The air was crisp as we walked into the terminal. After claiming our bags from the single carousel, we were soon at the Canadream RV rental place. A very pleasant and funny woman named Myrtle (who has trouble fathoming why someone would want to come to the Yukon for a holiday instead of sit on a beach with fruity drinks, and who told me 80% of the tourists up here are German) had us fill out all the paperwork and chatted with us about where we planned to drive, then our vehicle was revealed to us. It is a very large (21′ long) golden Ford camper van, fully furnished with a bed/eating area, bathroom, fridge, stove and other mod cons. It’s as nimble as a brick, but I must admit that it’s a lot of fun.

Once we were all familiarized with the van and had unpacked our bags into all the small and large compartments inside and outside the van, we set off of a grocery shopping spree at Superstore to stock our pantry and fridge for much of the next two weeks.

In the late afternoon we rolled about 15kms north of Whitehorse to Takhini Hotsprings. We set up the van in a lovely spot among aspens turning to fall colours and cooked a dinner of curry stirfry. In the long, light evening (still light until 9pm), we soaked in the outdoor hot springs pool, conveniently divided in two: one side a sweaty 48 degrees, and the other about 10 degrees cooler. We bobbed in the pools for a good hour before heading back for a blissful and silent sleep.

We woke naturally at about 7am and stepped outside to breathe in the coldish and fragrant air. The sky was clear blue, and we were very excited for the day. We rolled out soon after and headed into town to run a few errands, like buy a knife that could actually cut carrots, and find Kristi some polarized sunglasses so she could eat up the fall colours.

Our first day on the road has brought us south towards Skagway, AK. It was an absolutely gorgeous drive past enormous lakes, bare and rugged mountains, and forests of trees turning the most vivid shades of amber, mustards and pumpkin orange. We stopped at Carcross, an important junction on during the Klondike gold rush. We walked across its “desert” (glacial dunes), and wandered its few short streets looking at ancient cabins from the town and from others around it that were abandoned.

As we progressed south towards the coast, the clouds thickened and eventually the rain started to fall. The climb up to White Pass held the most spectacular terrain – a high alpine-like environment of stunted trees, jagged rocks and pale green water. We climbed up to meet the clouds, and the last miles to the summit, past Fraser BC and into Alaska were in thick clouds, with the sensation of a precipitous drop next to us. Downhill towards Skagway, we stopped (joined by a sodden cyclist) to peer down into the infamous Dead Horse Canyon on the White Pass trail. At the American customs, the officers politely relieved us of a green pepper, a grapefruit and an orange. We were given an itemized receipt for our produce (each item carefully weighed).

We arrived in dreary and wet Skagway with the intention of catching a ferry to Haines, AK. I hadn’t consulted the schedule, however, and unfortunately we missed the ferry by 20 minutes, so we are temporarily marooned in Skagway.

We were not alone, however. Four massive cruise ships were in port for the day and the streets were inundated with waddling jaywalking shoppers and snapshotters. It was an exercise in prudent driving not to leave several of them flat on the road behind our golden van.

Being stuck in Skagway didn’t thrill us; it’s not the most pleasant place and seems only to exist to serve the hoards of passengers who disembark then embark like the tides. As mentioned, it’s dark and wet and just feels different than the Yukon. Having read Pierre Burton’s Klondike before leaving, however, did make me a bit excited to be here at the start of the White Pass route to the gold fields and in a place with a history as a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

We parked in the dampish Mountain View RV park not far from the narrow gauge railroad tracks (tourist trains run up the history White Pass route multiple times a day). With the help of an internet connection we researched our next few day’s goals and confirmed to folks at home that we were still extant.

Heading away from the water for about 25 minutes on foot took us past the rail yards (spotted the remains of a rusting old steam engine on its side) and to the historic graveyard. Most of the gravestones are recent wooden replacements, meant to mimic the originals, but the place still had an eery feel. Again, it was interesting to see remnants of the history I’d read about.

Back “home” we cooked up a dinner of fish fillets, quinoa and salad, showered, wrote this, and prepared for bed.

Written by sockeyed

September 8, 2010 at 22:54

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