Travelogue August 16 thru August 22

We began this week in Whitehorse, the Capital City of the Yukon, where we lingered for a few days. From there, back on the Alaska Highway, the Alcan, through Carcross and down to the junction with the Cassiar Highway. As we dropped south on the Cassiar, we took a side trip to Stewart/Hyder.

This old DC-3 found a new life as a wind sock.
Sunday, August 16 - Whitehorse Local (day 71)
Wolf Creek CG

The campground is max'd out this weekend. Discovered the reason why: it's a three day weekend here in the Yukon called Discovery Day. Has to do with remembering the day they found gold on Bonanza Creek, a tributary of the Klondike near Dawson City. So, like folks anywhere, they're taking advantage of a summer three day weekend... one of the last, if not the last, of the warm season this far north.

We ran into town for a much needed internet fix and a laundromat. Managed to get a bunch of photos uploaded as well as my post for last week. Another reason we're lingering here another day was to exchange some money at a bank. Our Canadian funds are getting low. However, with Monday being a Holiday, that's going to have to wait until Tuesday.

Back at camp Dar prepared a sausage and vegetable hobo dinner that I cooked on the campfire. After an hour it was cooked to perfection. A great team effort.

Monday, August 17 - Whitehorse Local (day 72)
Discovery Day Holiday in the Yukon
Wolf Creek CG

Campsite at Wolf Creek CG near Whitehorse.
On the way into town this morning we visited a few RV parks and campgrounds for future reference. Had a few more supplies to pick up and had a light lunch at Tim Hortons (including absolutely no donuts despite Dar's plea to the contrary).

I've written in the past about food prices here in Canada (they're high), but I've also had trouble finding some specific items at any price. No-stir peanut butter made without hydrogenated oil is one. Haven't been able to find it outside of the US. Wonder why it's not sold in Canada.

Just like yesterday, the day started out sunny but quickly changed to all clouds. This afternoon, on our way back to camp, a light rain began. Kinda puts a damper on my outdoor cooking plans. Been thinking we need to begin tarping our campsite when staying for more than a day or two. Would expand our living space to include a little of the outdoors as well as some dry space for outdoor cooking.

Tuesday, August 18 - Whitehorse to near Teslin (day 73)
Wolf Creek CG

Broke camp and headed for town. Got a couple more items for the supply bin, stopped at the bank for a little plastic Canadian money, and we bid Whitehorse a fond farewell. Time to move on.

Dar wanted to run down to Carcross, a short side trip off the Alcan. She'd read about some first nation woodcarvers and really wanted to stop by to see what was being worked on these days. So we went to Carcross.

Originally known as Caribou Crossing, the name was changed... contraction-ated... to Carcross because the Canadian Postal Service often confused it with other communities with similar names. On the way into town we stopped at a sandy area known as the worlds smallest desert. It's not really a desert, just an ancient lake bottom that local weather conditions seem to keep around, but when you're mining for tourist dollars you'll try anything to keep 'em coming.

Carcross isn't much. The central attraction is the train station... it's the northern terminus of the famed White Pass and Yukon Railroad that runs between Skagway and here through some pretty rugged geography. The NPYR used to run all the way to Whitehorse and the narrow gauge tracks are still in place where they cross the Alcan just south of town. Any way you look at it, the narrow gauge railroad is kept afloat by tourism, principally tourist from the many cruise ships that stop in Skagway.

For you railroad enthusiasts out there, the YPYR track gauge is 914mm… or just a hair or two shy of 3 feet. Compare that to the standard gauge all other regular railroads us in North America of 1435mm or 4 feet 8-½ inches.

Besides the railroad station, there's the oldest general store in Alaska, a mini-mall of gift and craft shops, a restaurant, and the skeletal remains of a stern-wheeler riverboat that used to ply the waters of the area lakes. The old girl was set afire by vandals some years ago and the State of Alaska kicked in a million bucks to turn what was left into a museum of sorts.

We stopped in the restaurant, The Bistro, to have lunch, being famished from the 40 mile drive down here from Whitehorse. And, as often do in joints like this, we had a great time chatting with the staff and some of the few customers they had that day. It's late August and business has already dropped way off from the peak. I think they're kinda punch-drunk from a busy tourist season.

Keith Wolfe Smarch, famed Tlingit Carver
Right across the tracks from The Bistro, was the carving studio of Keith Wolfe Smarch... the place Dar really wanted to see. He's native Tlingit and has made a real name for himself in the carving world. His current project is a 70 foot high totem pole that will be a permanent part of the new heritage center being built on the edge of town. Made of red cedar, as are most totem poles in this part of the world, it's a massive job just to get the huge log made ready for carving... and then the year or more of detailed carving to finish the project. Very impressive indeed. He also shared with us some of his secrets and smaller masks and hats he's done recently. An enjoyable and informative stop.

About that time the train made an appearance. That's right... the narrow gauge White Pass and Yukon tourist train from Skagway. It kept me entertained as I watched it perform a turn around maneuver on the Y track maintained for that purpose. They like to keep the locomotive at the front of the train regardless which way it's going. Gives the passengers a more authentic experience and the engineer a better view of the track ahead. Would hate to bump into a bear or moose (or squirrel).

When we left, the wind was picking up briskly. It blew us all the way down the shortcut to Jakes Corners... back on the Alcan. From there we droned to Teslin Lake, and to a very nice government campground of the same name where we called it a day.

Campsite at Teslin Lake CG

Wednesday, August 19 - Teslin (on Alcan) to Cassiar Jct. near Watson Lake (day 74)
Teslin Lake CG

Cloudy this morning, with intermittent dribbles of rain. Left our lakeside campsite a little after 10am and the truck was barely warm when we stopped just a couple miles up the road at the Tlingit Heritage Center in Teslin. On the way north a couple months ago (when we were in more of a hurry) she noted in The Milepost book that she wanted to stop on the return drive. So we did. It's an excellent resource for the last 200 years of history of the Tlingit people native to this area. The noted wood carver we saw yesterday, Keith Wolfe Smarch, has many of his pieces here and used to work from Teslin up until a few years ago when he moved to Carcross.

A real mixed bag today weather-wise. Rain and a heavy low cloud deck kept mountain views limited. At higher elevations the temp dipped into the upper 40s and we even thought we could see hardened precipitation mixed in with raindrops… in another word, ice. Not sure about this as the evidence quickly dissipated.

Otherwise, it was an uneventful drive. After 150 miles or so, we were near the junction with the Cassiar and we decided to pull into “Nugget City” to consider our options for the rest of the day. Lunch in the Nugget City restaurant, Wolf It Down, can be described as meager portions for a high price. But it filled a void and gave us a place to pause. While Dar checked out the gift shop I wandered over to the RV park/campground to see what they had. We decided to toss out the anchor and spend the night. That way we’d be fresh and ready for our first leg on the Cassiar. Perhaps the weather will improve too.

Sign near start of Cassiar...  yes, you can drive south
to Alaska from the Cassiar Hwy.
Thursday, August 20 - Cassiar Jct (Nugget City) near Watson Lake to Boya Lake (day 75)
Baby Nugget RV Park

We're clearly in a rainy spell. Check of the weather last night indicated mostly rain the next few days. Past experience has taught us the weather forecasts up here are notoriously unreliable. But a multi-day trend (like a general propensity for precipitation) is often fairly accurate. I'm sure there'll be sun-breaks, but we'll have to deal with more rain than we'd prefer.

We're staged just a mile or two from the junction with the Cassiar Highway. Since we don't know how far we'll go today, we let the showers come and go this morning while enjoying coffee in our snug little camper. Finally got on the road about 11am during a weather break.

Just about the nicest campsite we've had all trip.
The Cassiar Highway is about 450 miles long, aligned north-south between here and the town of Kitwanga, on Hwy 16… The Yellowhead Highway, that runs from Prince Rupert on the coast and Prince George. Reports indicate it's a decent paved road, but clearly below the standards of the Alcan. The northern end in particular is narrow and has no shoulders or center-line stripes. I found a pace of around 45 to 50 mph to be about right most of the time. There's a fair amount of traffic and some large trucks that use it to shave off some miles between southern BC and the Alcan. Generally, it was a relaxing and very enjoyable drive.

But we didn't get far today. Stopped to check out Boya Lake CG. Once Dar saw the emerald green clear lake illuminated under a brief sunbreak together with an open campsite right on the shoreline, she "called an audible" and we stopped right then and there after just 56 miles. It is probably the most scenic campsite we've had during this trip. A real gem.

Friday, August 21 - Boya Lake to Kinaskan Lake (day 76)
Boya Lake CG

Woke to blue sky and broken clouds. Looks like a good driving day. On the road about 10am. First stop was at Jade City, a tourist-trap but of some notable interest when one learns that about 90% of the world's jade comes from the immediately surrounding Cassiar Mountains. Jade is almost literally everywhere. I’m sure I saw raw chunks of jade mixed in the gravel covering the parking lot. Dar picked up a few gift items for people back home.

It seems everyone driving by Jade City stops in. We observed a wide range of campers during our visit… from van conversions, to an Earthroamer, to a very interesting little 5th wheel made by Escape Campers. We met the folks with the Escape and they volunteered to show us the interior layout. Hmmm. There’s a lot to like about the little unit, but we’re not in a trailer mode right now. File the info away for future reference.

Through the Cassiar Mountains on a southward bearing, we wandered through Dease Lake, 40 Mile Flats, Iskut, and Tatogga. At some point along the way, the painted centerline appeared again… an indication we’re making progress toward civilization. Decided to make camp for the night at Kinaskan Lake CG.

The human condition causes us to seek out similarities and like-mindedness in others in order to combine into groups… probably for safety, survival, and sanity purposes. During our trip we’d often run into people multiple times as there’s only a limited number of routes to take and many of us are going the same places at the same rate of travel. And a bond of common purpose and destination would occur, sparking a personal contact that made life on the road a little more fun. At Kinaskan Lake we ran into an adventurous and interesting couple from Whitehorse that we had first met in Inuvik… almost two months ago. The common bond here is the 4 Wheel Camper each of us have. We do find we have a soft spot in our hearts for others that like and use these little rigs. In this case, direction and rate of travel had nothing to do with this serendipitous meeting. They recognized our rig as they happened into the campground on their way back to Whitehorse after visiting friends near the Smithers area. We had a long and rich conversation with them and hope for more path-crossings with them in the future.

Saturday, August 22 - Kinaskan Lake to Meziadin Lake CG (both along the Cassiar) (day 77)
Kinaskan Lake CG

Started raining about 4am, and continued light and steady until much later in the day. We've had our battles with the rain gods the last couple months, but not many all day rains. Today was nearly a total washout, as you'll see below.

We got the show on the road at our usual time... about 10am. Started the wipers when I started the truck and didn't shut them off until later in the day in Stewart. Back on the Cassiar, I'm sure the drive through the middle portion of it is gorgeous... but we couldn't testify to it. At times a bright spot would raise our hopes, only to be dashed on the rocky shoals of low ceilings and renewed rain. Just another sucker hole.

On the slow drive south, we did see a total of 5 black bear today. A couple of them were little more than fleeting glances... too fast for Dar's camera trigger finger. But the best sighting was of a sow and her little cub eating god knows what right at the edge of the road. They were totally unconcerned about us despite our stopped truck, in the lane of traffic, and the two of us snapping pics as fast as we could. They were literally just 15 or 20 feet away.

At the junction with Hwy 37A, we took it toward Stewart and Hyder. Glad we did too. The biggest tourist attraction here is bear watching along Fish Creek just outside Hyder. And being the good little tourists, we headed directly to the creek in the midst of yet another downpour. We found a few visitors, mostly huddled around shelters and peering longingly, hopefully, into the surrounding hills... trying their darnedest to will a bear into the open for that perfect iphone bear wildlife portrait.

We found a forlorn ranger on patrol, complete with umbrella and faint look of sadness on his boyish face, who said they had one bear early that morning, and another late the night before. But other than that, it's been pretty quiet. A local I talked to later said they're hopeful more fish and more bears show up next month.

Hyder bills itself as the friendliest ghost town in Alaska. I can't say much about the friendliest part, but the ghost town part is spot on. What a sad place that time left way back there in the dust. I can't help but think they're just missing some vision, some creativity, and some energetic people to clean things up and turn it around. I hope they do.

When a traveler goes from Stewart, which is in Canada, to Hyder, Alaska, one can do so without going through a border checkpoint. They probably figure that most people who go into Hyder are going to come right back out again, quickly. And since there are no roads that lead anywhere except back to Canada on the exact same road you went in on, there is little functional reason to maintain a staffed border presence. But good old Canada has their border check point right there under the Canadian Maple Leaf Flag, ever ready to snag folks who bought liquor in Hyder... or bought a gun... or picked up a terrorist to smuggle back into Canada. Never mind that there is no place to buy liquor or firearms that I could see in Hyder... they're ready in case one opens. I had to chuckle to myself at how serious this young border guard was taking his job. I'm sure in his mind the good folks of Canada are sleeping better tonight because he's on the job.

Here's a few more pics from our side-trip to Stewart and Hyder.


Slightly Better than Most