Our Alaska RV Tour – The Yukon

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The road from Boya Lake to Junction 37, rain & more rain
My continuing accounting of our groups RV tour to Alaska. If you would like to read about our trip rom the beginning please click this link.
Day 11 – Drive to Whitehorse
The last  morning  at Boya Lake brought rain showers, again, as we prepared for another driving day. The rain is becoming a drag, we did expect some poor weather, but it has been 5 days since we’ve seen the sun.
The drive north from Boya Lake to the Yukon border and the intersection of highway 37 and the Alaska highway is about an hour.
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A modern gold mine on the Cassiar hwy.
Soon after leaving Boya Lake the Cassiar mountains gave way to rolling hills brightened under cloudy skies by emerging fall colors. Our travel speed was kept in check by poorer road conditions, although it is still pavement, I guess we shouldn’t complain it’s much better than the gravel we drove over a couple of days previous.
The road is like a roller coaster in some stretches and deeper and wider without guard rails, these conditions kept our speed to about 80 kph., 50 mph.
Soon we were in the midst of a devastated burnt out forest, the fire happened in 2010.  Hundreds of square kilometers of forest were laid to waste with only black lifeless hulks left as a stark reminder. Stunted autumn colored underbrush was the only sign of life.
Traffic was the same as it had been on the entire Cassiar highway, almost none existent, save for the occasional southbound RV or other vehicles. The hour drive to Intersection 37 was quick.

Welcome to the Yukon

 A historic day for our group, after months of anticipation we are finally here, the Yukon.  We crossed from BC into the Yukon around 10 am arriving at Junction 37  the intersection of highway 37 and the Alaska highway.
Funny, I thought to myself, another obscure place on the map with very little in the way of buildings or people for that matter, the only person we saw was an old toothless hippie gas station attendant.
Allyson updated her emails while we refueled at $128.9 per liter about $ 5. per gallon  the most expensive fuel yet.
Higher fuel prices we knew were going to be unavoidable, we had all traveled enough to know that fuel prices are always higher outside major centers and on this trip outside a major center is an understatement, this is the wilderness.
We turned  northwest onto the Alaska highway from Junction 37. The road is much-improved from what we had experienced on the northern section of the Cassiar highway. The wide smooth surface and straighter road allowed us to increase our speed to 100 kph, 60 mph.
Chatter on the walkie talkies was light and humorous as the six of us enjoyed the accomplishment of our first goal, traveling 2000 kilometers (1200 miles) almost the entire length of British Columbia to the Yukon.
The weather improved a degree with intermittent showers. A stop for lunch at the continental divide rest area. Plaques provided interesting reading explaining the geological history of the continental divide phenomenon.
After lunch, a brief discussion about our designated overnight  stop, Teslin lake, which we should reach by early afternoon. Henry and Allyson suggested if the showers persist we should continue to White Horse (not sure which is the proper spelling of Whitehorse, one word or two?). Henry’s reason, “why spend the afternoon sitting in the rain? We may as well continue to White Horse probably arriving by happy hour, maybe the weather will improve. All agreed.
Henry suggested earlier in the trip taking an alternate route to Whitehorse, highway 6, Canol Road through Ross River and Faro. Faro is a company town built to house workers for a new mine.  Some 50 years prior Henry drove a vehicle north to Faro from the Vancouver, BC area for a relative who obtained the plumbing contract for the new town. Company towns are common in the sparsely populated northern BC.
The group voted against the idea,  I think we were nervous of the gravel road possibly poorly maintained which would make for slow traveling and possibly tire problems or worse. Tire and mechanical issues are difficult enough to deal with traveling  major highways, but a remote road with no cell service compounds problems.
Rain showers obliged us to continued on to Whitehorse arriving as planned in time for happy hour. I guess by now you’re thinking our travel days revolve entirely around happy hour……..there may be some truth to that. After a day’s traveling wind down time is essential………right?

The Yukon

Yukon Territory of Canada flag

Yukon or “The Yukon” is the westernmost and smallest of Canada’s three federal territories. The other two territories are the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The Yukon was named after the Yukon River and the word Yukon means “Great River” in Gwich’in, a native language of some sort I suspect.
Yukon borders the State of Alaska to the west, Northwest Territories to the east, British Columbia to the south and the Beaufort Sea to the north.
The territory was created from a part of the Hudson Bay Company’s Northwest Territory in 1898 as “The Yukon”.
The largest group in the territory is English speaking, followed by First Nations.
Some quick facts.
  • Total land area – 482,443km²
  • Population – 36,246
  • Coastline – 343km
  • Capital – Whitehorse
  • Language – English and French
Yukon landscape in fall colour
Yukon is 12 times larger than Switzerland, twice as large as Great Britain, the State of Texas is 1.5 times larger than Yukon.
Yukon has a  sparse population, almost three quarters  centered around Whitehorse. Switzerland has 227 times more people, Great Britain 18,060 times more and Texas 734 times more.

Yukon History

The Ice Age history of Yukon is unique. The massive Cordilleran ice sheet advanced over southern Yukon at least six times during the last 2.5 million years.
Yukon’s Ice Age was distinct in that west-central and northern Yukon remained ice-free. This ice-free refuge was a vast cold and arid grassland home to wooly mammoths, horses, and lions.
Man gold panning
Jumping ahead in history, in 1887 a trading post is erected at the Forty Mile River mouth and becomes the first gold rush town. In 1896 Skookum Jim, George Carmack and Dawson Charlie strike gold on Bonanza Creek near the Klondike River. Word spreads creating the world-famous Klondike Gold Rush of 1898.
An interesting fact mentioned by one of the campground operators, many northern dwellers return for the winter after visiting family in the south while others who operate summer businesses leave for the winter.

White Horse

A town rich in history dating back to the late 1800’s and the Klondike gold rush. Building the railroad between White Horse and Skagway, tram ways around Yukon river rapids and many other difficult feats are testaments to the perseverance of the men and women of that era. Most of the construction was done with a pick and shovel.
Traveling during the gold rush was mainly on foot or river paddle wheelers.

 

Today White Horse is a modern center with a population approaching 30,000 people and a major international airport, with many familiar retail outlets even Walmart. The largest town in the Yukon by far and the largest town within a thousand kilometers in any direction.
White Horse, an essential stop for supplies, repairs or a place to enjoy fine dining and deluxe accommodations. Something I know our group is missing after two weeks of camping, but not happening on this trip.
Our first choice for our scheduled two-night stay was Pioneer RV park. After pulling into the rundown park with RV spots bordering on the Alaska highway we immediately decided something more modern and quieter would suit us. Continuing a kilometer or two towards Whitehorse another RV park came into view, we pulled in, again this one was not showing much curb appeal either.
We parked for a moment while Allyson and Lois searched the internet for RV parks, a luxury we were all missing over the past week, their result was High Country RV park, a full-service park with free wifi and free SHOWERS.
The group’s RVs ARE equipped with showers, Lynda and my camper, in particular, is most convenient, you can use the toilet and shower at the same time, in fact, it may be easier to sit and shower than stand. So you can imagine our delight at free showers, unlimited hot water and room enough to wash those delicate areas and even get dressed without stepping out of the warmth into the living area.
A bonus, this is a Good Sam RV park, providing a 10% discount for members. $21 for dry camping, $10 more for power and water.
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Dry camping at High country RV Park in Whitehorse
Lynda and I opted for dry camping, it’s not that we are cheap our electric system is not working, no point in paying for something you cannot use. I’m not sure what the problem is, the system worked fine at home while loading for the trip. Our first stop at Dragon lake I plugged into shore power and the breaker tripped. I didn’t have the patience to do more than remove the electrical control. No signs of anything easily repaired, I replaced the control and haven’t looked at it since, a project for home.
One of the niceties of hookups especially in the fall or winter is dry heat. Propane is a damp heat, running the furnace in your RV in a damp climate seems to create more dampness. Plugging into shore power and running your electric heater provides an opportunity for dry heat. As Allyson mentioned with a huge grin, our wet stuff is finally drying.
By the time we registered and settled in it’s happy hour time and our usual campfire. This happy hour was our first encounter with annoying bugs, these were weird pests, resembling no-see-ums but much larger, the size of flies, but didn’t bite. They hover around you or land on your person sometimes in your nose, mouth, and ears, very irritating.
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Enjoying the campfire at High Country RV Park Whitehorse, Yukon
Out came many defensive products, coils, sprays, lotions, lights and zappers. Nothing helped much, it seemed these frustrating pests were attracted to the heat of the fire. Fortunately, the bugs disappeared after sundown, go figure?  Like someone hollered “bedtime”? Just in time for us to salvage a pleasant evening.
Day 12 – Exploring Whitehorse
Legend says Whitehorse got it’s name from the Yukon river rapids. Apparently, the rapids cause water to spray into the air in the shape of a great white horse. I didn’t think wacky tobaccy was around back then?
The next morning brought filtered sunshine that increased as the day wore on. Everyone was a bit happier after enduring 5 days of rain, the sunshine was a welcome improvement. The day’s plan was to check out the town including shopping and tourist attractions.
We wandered between Mark’s outdoor clothing, Canadian Tire and Walmart stocking up on warmer clothes and shoes, as Ralph said, “when packing in temperatures near 30 C who thinks about wet and cold.
Next off to see the sights, Henry suggested the riverside trolley running on a downtown two-kilometer track. A 90+-year-old rickety contraption traveling along the Yukon River. At $5 per person a bit over-priced. We were expecting a little more professionalism from the driver and guide with more information about the history of the town.  Not much missed if you skip this one.
The highlight of our time in White Horse was the SS Klondike, a paddle wheeler restored by Parks Canada, grounded on the banks of the Yukon River. The free, self-guided tour was fun and interesting. Well-worth the time especially the film produced in the 50’s describing the importance of the paddle wheeler to the gold rush.
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The SS Klondike paddle wheeler on the banks of the Yukon River in Whitehorse
Next the salmon (called chinook, spring, or king salmon) fish ladder providing returning  spawning salmon a way around the hydro-electric dam on the south side of the town. The longest fish ladder in the world. Interesting stop although not much happening, the salmon run had ended by the time we arrived, labour day weekend, even so worth a look. Entrance by donation.
Another highlight was the Dirty Northern Bastard Public House, an interesting establishment with a taste of the north. The price of a pitcher of Yukon Gold Amber beer $24, a bit pricey. The pub is located in the small downtown core not difficult to find, half a block off front street next to the river. Instead of the overpriced pub food we opted for pizza delivery to the RV park a decent deal at $10 a head with leftovers for next day’s lunch.
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Enjoying an overpriced beer in the Dirty Northern Bastards pub downtown Whitehorse.
All in all, White Horse was disappointing, with very few indications of the gold rush remaining. It’s too bad the capital and largest city in the Yukon didn’t keep or restore some artifacts left from the Yukon’s most famous era.

Next article, on our way to Dawson City.

If you would like to read about our tour from the beginning click on categories in the right column and scroll to OUR ALASKA RV TOUR and click.

Thanks for visiting.

Gord B.

 

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