On Monday, June 12, we hit the road about 7:30 AM, still headed northwest on the Alaska Highway. It was cool and brisk, and promised to be a good day for a drive. Plus, I LOVE a good cinnamon roll, and Mr. Wonderful (MW) said there would be not one, but two sweet and spicy stops. A couple of weeks ago I had an amazing one from the Tetsa Lodge, better known as the “Cinnamon Bun Centre of the Galactic Cluster”. Using that as our first contender, today we would have an impromptu Alaska Highway cinnamon bun bakeoff of sorts. Yum! So, our first stop was at Johnson’s Crossing just a half-hour or so up the road. There we had a pretty darned good breakfast sandwich and took their “famous giant cinnamon bun” to go.

The next leg took us up to the outskirts of Whitehorse, Yukon, where we stopped at an overlook to see Miles Canyon. During the Klondike gold rush in 1898, this canyon and the White Horse Rapids were the most dangerous obstacles on the Yukon River. Many boats and lives were lost to bad navigation, giving rise to Norman Macaulay’s tramway. Built along the east bank of the river, he could haul freight in mule-drawn carts along peeled log rails for 5 miles for a fee, of course. The venture was very successful and was eventually sold to the White Pass & Yukon Route for $185,000, a princely sum in those days. Today this is a beautiful stretch of river with a suspension footbridge in the distance and the occasional sea plane flying past. We could not park the rig in the suspension bridge parking area, and I wasn’t quite up to walking that far in the cold wind, so we enjoyed the view, then headed on into town. Along the way we passed the source of the sea planes, the Whitehorse Water Aerodrome aka the Erik Nelsen Whitehorse International Airport on Schwatka Lake.

Since Whitehorse is the first larger town we’ve been in for a while, we’d planned a couple of supply stops at the Real Canadian Superstore and a hardware store. I wanted to check out the downtown area, but traffic was just crazy with few parking options for our rig. Since we will have another opportunity on the way back through, we opted to get out of that madness after making an important birthday call to my favorite uncle, Russell Houser!

SIDE NOTE: While at the Real Canadian Superstore, we saw a display of the latest potato chip flavors from Lays. Have you seen these?? Cream & Onion – Did someone object to the “sour”? Cucumber – Giving it a healthy vegetable name isn’t going to change anything. Chicken and Tomato – OMGosh…just NO! Magic Masala – Wait…I might able to get behind that. I’ll let you know.

Further north, our next stop was for a hike at the Fox Lake Burn rest area. When you are in scouts, lessons include how to build a fire and how to extinguish it. Kids are REALLY excited to get it going, but not as much about putting it out. Sometimes adults can be the same way, and this area shows just how important the end step is. In 1998, some campers enjoying the long July weekend, failed the test, and with the help of strong winds and high temperatures, a small fire turned into a monster. Whipped up into the crown/canopy, the flames ended up devouring almost 24,000 acres and was not completely extinguished until the following Spring at a cost of over $2.2 million dollars. But fire isn’t all bad. Did you know that, dating back at least to indigenous tribes in both North America and Australia, fire has been used as a tool to control and prevent the spread of wildfires? Did you also know that some plants REQUIRE fire to seed? The cones of both Lodgepole Pine and Black Spruce are sealed shut with resins, or serotinous. It isn’t until the resin is melted by a hot fire that the cones open and seeds are scattered. Interesting. At this site, there is a short walk out to an overlook, where you can see how the forest is regenerating itself. FUNNY NOTE: At the beginning of the trail, there is a sign saying that it is 650′ (200 meters) long and will take 20 minutes to walk ONE WAY. Wow! Who walks THAT SLOW??!!

A few minutes further down the road and we made it to our lunch stop, the Braeburn Lodge. This place advertises amazing cinnamon rolls, and has a little airstrip across the street in case there is a sweet bun emergency requiring a fly in! That’s some serious stuff! (Full disclosure, that might be there for the annual dog race, but I’m sticking with my story. Otherwise, why would they name it that way?!) As we were pulling up, a guy was throwing popcorn to a seagull and a raven. I wish I could have gotten a pic of the latter. Its beak was stuffed completely full and overflowing, but he kept picking up more. It kind of reminded me of a little kid shoveling in the last of the cake before Mom takes the plate away. LOL When we made it inside, I was BLOWN AWAY!! Not only did that roll look de-lish, but it was GIANT!!! We ordered sandwiches for lunch, not realizing that ALL of their food is made for Goliath. Both made two meals, and really could have done three. While we waited, we checked out the information on the Yukon Quest, a 1,000 mile dog sled race between Fairbanks, Alaska, and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory that has been running since 1984. It follows historic Klondike Gold Rush transportation routes and is considered the toughest dog sled race in the world. Sadly, thanks to Covid border restrictions, 2020 was the last 1,000-mile race. Now that the international border is re-opened, the race boards of the Yukon Territory and Alaska cannot get on the same page about requirements…a bit like children fighting over game rules and digging their heels in. The result is that, for 2023, each held a separate, but shorter version of the contest. Braeburn Lodge has been one of the checkpoints on the trail for years, and they have a lot of memorabilia about the races. Incidentally, the Dawson Overland Trail is a part of the race path, and the original route is closest to the Alaska Highway from here up to Minto. About 4 PM we finally made it to our destination in Carmacks, Yukon Territory, and kicked back for the evening. I even got in a good convo with son Ryan and his boogers. Yay!

Tuesday I spent quite a bit of time on tax work in the morning, then got on the phone with my Mom. A good ways into the conversation, MW decided to take a walk and disappeared for over an hour. When he walked back in, I was still talking to my Mom, and he was flabbergasted. When we were dating and first married, he was stationed in California and I was stationed in Atlanta. We would get on the phone (even when we had to PAY for long distance back then), lay on our respective couches and talk about nothing for hours. We even watched movies together on the phone! Now he says, “how can one person have that much to say to another person that they talk to all the time??!!” Puhshaw. Later in the day, he and I took a walk around the little community of Carmacks, and stopped in at the Visitor Center. Just a crossroads, really, this area is surrounded by much of the territory of the Northern Tutchone people of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, also called Tagé Cho Hudän (Big River People) and most of the members live in Carmacks along the Yukon and Nordenskiold rivers. The area is historic for them as it was the location of the Annual Trade Gathering, where the Northern Tutchone tribes and the Tlingit we met down in Teslin, Yukon, came together to trade, socialize, and catch up with family and friends. The other big tribal activity in this area was fishing during the annual chinook salmon run. Enough fish were caught, preserved, and stored so the tribe could survive the long winters. The other thing the area is known for is coal mining. In the 1890s, George Washington Carmack found coal near Tantalus Butte (more on him later), and the area was mined by many over the next 80 years. In 1978, the Tantalus Butte mine caught fire and was permanently sealed. The locals say it is still burning, and on some days, you can see smoke rising from the mountain. There have also been mines for zinc, copper, and gold in the area.

Later we went over to the Gold Dust Lounge, where I worked on this blog a bit, then walked over to the Goldpanner Restaurant, for supper. While there, the General Manager of the facility (hotel, bar, restaurant, RV park, store) checked in to see if we were okay. He then launched into telling us he has been asked to play basketball on a Canadian seniors team and that he played professionally in Turkey as a young man. I didn’t even know they had professional basketball teams in Turkey! He was REALLY excited about the new venture, though, and was whipping himself into shape. I’ll have to Google it in a few months and see if he shows up in the pics.

Wednesday we decided to drive east a ways on the Robert Campbell Highway towards Faro to see what we could see. The road follows the Yukon River for a while, and the views were amazing. We were mostly alone, too. Bonus! It always surprises me how you can be in the middle of nowhere and not see another car, but suddenly, when you would prefer to be alone, people show up. (You might remember the Border Patrol incident in New Mexico.) That happened to me when we stopped at a rest area to use the vault toilet. There were no cars there, and we hadn’t seen any traffic, but no sooner had I closed the door than 3 people hop out of another car and rush me along. No one else around FOR MILES!! Good grief!! We drove out about an hour, then turned around, driving down to check out Frenchman Lake Campground on the way back. As we got closer to Carmacks, we were surprised to see that a large portion of the road that we had just driven out on was all torn up. The construction crew had this crazy piece of equipment that was just ripping it right out. Too cool! The rest of our day was pretty laid back.

Hotel Carmacks is a “something for everyone” kind of facility just as you come into Carmacks heading north on the Klondike Highway. Amenities include a bar, restaurant, bit-of-everything store, and gas and propane sales. Lodging options include a hotel, several cabins, and the campground. Pull-through and back-in sites are available with 30-amp, full-hookup sites. Wifi was available, but the cell signals were fine. It was not particularly quiet, especially when the bar closed. There was a boardwalk down the river for quite a ways, and a local, ridge trail for hiking, too. For a stopover place along the Klondike Highway, this was not bad. For this stay in June 2023, we paid $116.02 for 3 nights.

On Thursday morning we headed out about 8:30 AM north on the Klondike Highway, with a stop or two planned along the way. The first was just a few miles up the road at the Five Finger Rapids Recreation Site. The hike out to see the rapids took about an hour, round-trip, and included a 219-step staircase and a trail with lots of mud. I didn’t know about the latter when we got dressed earlier, so my Chuck Taylor style sneakers didn’t help. It was worth it for the view at the end, though. The rapids are so named because there are four rock pillars across the Yukon River here, creating five separate channels. This section was particularly treacherous for the thousands of overloaded, handmade boats and rafts that travelled the river during the Klondike Gold Rush. From 1898 to 1955, sternwheelers also travelled the river regularly. During low water, they could make it up the rapids with no problem, but a 1-2′ drop created during high water picked the wheel up out of the water. Their solution was to basically wench the boat up using long ropes attached up river. Someone finally got the bright idea to blast out the rock causing the rise, which solved the problem altogether. One thing I never gave any thought to was the amount of wood a trip up the Yukon in one of those riverboats would take…90-100 CORDS! Men like Happy LePage created camps and hired workers to cut and stack wood all along the river for the boats. His largest wood pile was 400 cords stacked neatly along the river awaiting pickup. That’s 51,200 cubic feet of wood!! Wow! On the hike back, we passed a woman who said to keep an eye out for her dog…”he misbehaves” and had run off into the woods. She didn’t have him leashed, but it was the dog’s fault. We heard her hollerin’ for him all the way back up, but we never saw the dog. We did catch sight of several arctic ground squirrels, though, which look a lot like prairie dogs.

Back on the road, we drove for a couple of hours enjoying the views. Several varieties of wild flowers are in bloom along the highway, which makes it very colorful. For lunch we stopped at Moose Creek Lodge. There was a sign out front saying that it was takeout only, but then we were served to stay in. Nice! The lady working there, we believe the owner, was very nice and sat right down to visit a bit. She told us about the big wildfire in 2022 that got very close, what it’s like to live in the Yukon in the winter, and how Covid affected the businesses. She was very nice, and the food was terrific. I had what was honestly the best grilled chicken sandwich I’ve ever eaten. MW’s roast beast was very good, too. She had a little gift shop where we found a couple of interesting gifts, too. Did you know that they make syrup out of birch?

The road since the hike at Five Finger Rapids had been progressively getting worse, but after lunch, it descended into the truly ridiculous. It was paved, but there were lots of heaves and potholes that could swallow tires. It was a slow go. At one point we reached a construction zone where we had to follow a pilot car for miles. They had dug out the road and created a ditch, then watered it down to reduce dust. The result was us dragging Petunia through a giant mud pond that we aren’t sure we could have gotten out of without the four-wheel drive. It was just about the dumbest construction setup I’ve ever seen. As we were approaching Dawson City, there were piles of rocks everywhere. From the aerial view, it looks like the town is surrounded by giant worms. Turns out that they are the tailings left from the mining dredges. After dodging holes we were both happy to reach our destination, Bonanza Gold Motel & RV Park. As we were setting up, our neighbors were packing up to leave. They were going opposite direction and said the route through Chicken was miserable…narrow, steep drop-offs, awful roads. Uh-oh. It didn’t sound good, but we’re committed now! Something to look forward to for Monday, huh?!

Friday was, once again, laundry day. I planned to do it at our RV park, but it would have cost about $9 PER LOAD! That’s just ridiculous! So, I went to the Gold Rush RV park laundromat downtown, which worked out to about $6 per load…a little better, at least. (For comparison, $5 is about average nationwide, and $3.50 is awesome.) It was crowded, when I arrived, but everyone was on the back end, thankfully. While I did that, MW vacuumed and then took a nice walk. Then we headed out to lunch when I returned. The first couple of places we picked out were closed, so we ended up at the restaurant in the El Dorado Hotel. Everything was pretty good, but my smoked salmon Benedict won the prize. After that we walked around downtown and along the riverfront, checking out the Visitor Center and a couple of shops. Next we drove up to Dome Overlook where you can see the Yukon River valley and Dawson City. Back at Petunia I worked on a little writing, and we had a relaxing evening. When our new neighbors pulled in, it was two couples together, and they set up their visiting area right under our bedroom window. The lack of darkness here takes some getting used to, and one of the issues is that people don’t naturally wrap up the loud outdoor stuff like they usually would. I overheard someone on this trip say he had no idea whether it was 8 PM or midnight without checking the time. I can certainly sympathize. I hate to turn on the air to drown out noise…when it’s nice out and everyone has their windows open, no one wants to listen to my blower all night, either. After 10 PM, I was preparing to turn it on when one of the guys realized we were right beside them trying to sleep. They moved their sitting area to the front of their rig away from everyone and quieted down. Nice!

So remember back in Carmacks when I talked about George Washington Carmack, who found the coal vein? Let’s get back to him. In 1896, George, his wife Kate (a Tagish), her brother Skookum Jim, and their nephew Dawson Charlie were headed south on the Klondike River. A Canadian prospector named Robert Henderson had suggested they check out Rabbit Creek, a tributary of the Klondike, for gold, so they headed that way. What they found on August 16 was a LOT of the shiny stuff along the creek. Carmack immediately filed 4 claims and word spread. Before the month was out, every claim on what would be renamed Bonanza Creek was taken and more gold sources were found on Eldorado Creek, a feeder into the first one. Things were moving fast in the Yukon, but the outside world was still relatively unaware. By the end of the year, news had reached Circle City and prospectors there headed out by dog-sled. Boat traffic was at a standstill in the winter, so it wasn’t until spring of 1897 that the first ones left with mined gold and the story. By mid-July, early prospectors were returning to Seattle with news reports of $1,139,000 in gold on the first three ships. (That would have been about $1 billion in 2010.) For a country in the midst of financial recession and bank failures, that was a big deal! Thus, the rush began. It is estimated that 100,000 people left their homes and families to head for the goldfields of the Klondike and seek their fortune. With no experience in mining or life in the remote north, most turned back. The Canadian government would only allow you into the Yukon if you had a year’s provisions…that’s about 2,000 pounds of stuff. At the Pass, that meant carrying all of that up the 1,000′ climb, about 50-60 pounds at a time. Others came in by river on handmade boats, most of which sank along with their goods. Route options were plentiful, but none were easy. In the end, only around 30,000 hopefuls actually made it. Sadly, before the stampeders even left home, the best claims had been sold. In all there were 68 Bonanza Creek claims below the initial discovery and 78 above it. There were also 49 claims on Eldorado Creek. Eventually about half of the stampeders did some prospecting, but only a few hundred of those got rich at it. Everyone else that stayed worked for other people mining or in support roles. Many of those who got rich never intended to look for gold…people like Joseph Ladue who opened a sawmill, trading post, and saloon; Belinda Mulroney who came to town with hot water bottles and bolts of cloth and ended up with a cafe, construction company, and the Grand Forks Hotel and became the Klondike’s first female millionaire along the way; and Kathleen “Klondike Kate” Rockwell, who made up to $750 per night as a dance hall star. Most of those poor mining suckers spent every little bit of gold dust they found as fast as they made it. Claims still exist and gold is still found in Dawson City today. In fact, over $100 million in gold is mined annually. If you visit and want to try your luck, ask for a gold pan and directions to their claim at the Visitor Center. It’s free, and you might get lucky.

You ever just wake up grumpy? Saturday started that way, and it seemed like every little thing added more grump, none of it really important. My head was hurting, and I tried to get a little writing done, but could not get focused. Ugh! MW suggested we head to the Riverwest Bistro for a little lunch. It’s a counter order place, and we made it to the front of the line at 10:45 AM. There were three chalkboard menus on the wall, one of which said “breakfast” at the top. MW ordered a tuna sandwich, and I went for the salmon burger. The other cashier leaned over and said something to our person, who then said, “I’m sorry. We are not serving lunch now.” That was not noted anywhere on the menu or the door coming in. We were left with four options. MW switched to a breakfast wrap, and I ordered an egg and cheese bagel with bacon (saying that last part AT LEAST TWICE). She read back our order…tuna sandwich, breakfast wrap, breakfast bagel. Wait. We don’t want three sandwiches. You said we couldn’t order the tuna sandwich. “No, you just can’t order stuff that has to be cooked on the grill.” MW changed his order back. Finally, we finished up. When the food came a few minutes later, we did, indeed have a tuna sandwich. We also had an egg and cheese bagel. Note that missing bacon? Did I mention that I was grouchy? That didn’t help. Locals were selling crafts along the river, so we checked that out next. Then we walked back over to the Visitor Center to see their movie about Dawson City’s history. Finally we checked out the Dawson City Museum. Since we had plans for the evening, we headed back to Petunia so I could get in a little nap and maybe lose my bad attitude. I really thought it worked.

Later in the afternoon we headed over to check out Bombay Peggy’s Pub, which was on MW’s list of places to see. It was less old pub and more just bar than we expected from the website, but not bad. Then we walked over to Diamond Tooth Gertie’s for the evening’s entertainment. This is a casino with a show, and we arrived at 7 PM to have dinner before the 8:30 show. After finding a seat in the crowd, MW picked up our drinks from the bar. (There was a waitress, but the first time we actually saw her was about 8:45 PM.) It was clear that the food was a counter-order situation, so I headed down to stand in line. About 50 minutes later, I was still in line and only half way to the counter from where I started. At this rate, the show would start before I got the food back to the table. Plus, thanks to noise and a lack of food, my headache was becoming an issue, and I needed to sit. I headed back to the table, doing my level best to control the grouch, and MW took my place. He was just making it back to the table with food when the show started, a full 1-1/2 hours after we arrived. Thankfully, my headache meds kicked in and we were able to enjoy to show. It wasn’t what either of us expected, though. It was supposed to be a Klondike-themed “cancan”, although the cancan wasn’t invented until well after the gold rush. We expected a raucous, song and dance show like they might have had back in that time. There were wonderful dance girls and the main character, Diamond Tooth Gertie, but she was joined for most of the show by a male vocalist. While everyone was great, it just didn’t feel like anything “Klondikey”. By he time we made it back to Petunia, I was exhausted. Being a grump is hard work!

Sunday morning my headache was, thankfully, gone. I eased into the day with a nice conversation with Dad2 for Father’s Day, and MW hiked the 9th Avenue Trail and back, about 3 miles total. Later we headed over to St. Paul’s Anglican Church for a lovely service by Reverend Jeffrey Mackie. Serving this community since 1896, the current building was built in 1902. The congregants were very welcoming, and lay minister Natasha Henderson gave us a nice tour and information about the church and its priests. Afterwards we went to the restaurant at the Triple J Hotel for brunch, arriving about 11:45 AM. It was busy, but not overly crowded, and we were seated right away. About 10 minutes later, they took our order, and that is pretty much where the decent service ended. After 30 minutes or so, we asked about our food. “They are working on it.” A few minutes later, I noticed people coming in, sitting down, and being served meals without ordering. I asked again about our food. The guy actually said the kitchen had to stop preparing everyone else’s order at 12:15 in order to make 17 meals that had been called in at 10:30 AM. That was a good 20 minutes AFTER our order was sent to the kitchen, I pointed out. Well, they had to get the other orders out, but ours was on its way. Ten minutes later, still nothing. We prepared to leave and let the waitress know. She said “Ask anyone, we have the best food in town, and you are going to have to wait anywhere else you go.” Really. I stood up just as the other waitress put our plates in front of us. Honestly, we should have continued walking out. My only excuse is that my headache had returned, and I really needed to eat. When we were paying, the bitchy waitress asked how the food was. I told her there wasn’t really any food worth waiting an hour to receive. She just mumbled. Should I go back to Dawson City, you can bet I will NOT eat there again. My grump was back. Can you tell? (MW said later that my grump lasted for several days, but I think that was just him being one.)

After heading back to Petunia, changing clothes, and relaxing for a little bit, we went on our final look around Dawson City…a 1-1/2 hour guided walking tour. A couple of interesting points: 1) The town sits above a layer of permafrost, which as the name implies, is permanently frozen ground. There is a top layer of dirt from 1-3′ deep above that. Building directly on the ground causes melting problems with the permafrost that can cause foundations to sink and roads to heave. You can see many of the original Dawson buildings slowly sinking. The only road through town that is paved is the Klondike Highway, which is done with a special pavement ordered from France that does not heat up the lower layers. 2) Dawson City is the base of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation. Traditional hunter/gatherers, they inhabited the area prior to the gold rush. Chief Isaac, their forward-thinking leader at the time, foresaw many problems after gold was found and the stampede began. He moved his people from the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers in Dawson downriver to Moosehide to provide tribal continuity. There they stayed until the 1950s, when they moved the tribal headquarters back to Dawson. The tribe owns quite a few buildings in town and is the single largest employer. 3) The famous drink in Dawson is the Sourtoe Cocktail at the Sourdough Saloon. According to legend, the original toe was found in an old miner’s cabin preserved in a jar of alcohol. It was brought to the saloon and plunked into the drinks of the brave. There have now been EIGHT toes from various donors over the years, several of which were accidentally swallowed, and one purposefully so. There is currently a $2,500 fine if you actually swallow the toe…guess it is really hard to get another one. The drink rule: “You can drink it fast. You can drink it slow. But your lips must touch that gnarly toe.” Do you have the nerve? 4) Amazingly, during the Klondike Gold Rush, there was almost no crime in town. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police maintained a strong presence, and only minor infractions occurred. So all those movies that show people being killed over their poke and such are just fabrications, at least in Dawson City.

The Bonanza Gold Motel & RV Park sits just south of Dawson City on the Klondike Highway and is very busy. Amenities include a laundromat, RV/car wash, multiple bathhouses, wifi, and cable tv. Lodging options are a motel and the RV park. The latter has a lot of people living there for the work season plus busy tourist traffic. RV sites are pull-through or back-in, and include 50-amp or 30-amp, full-hookup. They also have 15- and 30-amp electric only sites and some primitive tent areas. Sites are close together, although some have wood walls between them. Ours was an odd setup with an A and B end to a pull-through. If someone else was already there, you would be parked end to end and would have to back in. They seemed to only book those for people traveling together, though. Cell signal was fine for both Verizon and AT&T. There was a walking/biking trail that would take you all the way to town just out front, too. For a visit in a touristy area, this place was not bad, although the laundromat was VERY expensive. For this stay in June 2023 we paid $173.33 for 4 nights. Sadly, I lost my mind and did not get pictures. They have a pretty good overhead on their website, though.

Well, that’s another week in the books. Look for several posts in a row now that we are over the creeping crud. (You’ll read about that in the next one.) Next up…into ALASKA!!! See you on the path!


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