Airstreaming to Alaska – Chapter 11: Yukon

Posted December 4, 2022 – Narrated by Carmen
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Airstreaming to Alaska

Chapter 11 of the “Airstreaming to Alaska” series.

“This is the Law of the Yukon,
     that only the Strong shall thrive;
That surely the Weak shall perish
     and only the Fit survive.
Dissolute, damned, despairful,
     crippled and palsied and slain.
This is the will of the Yukon –
    Lo, how she makes it plain.”

Long dusty roads.

Alaska Highway
AlCan Highway south of Watson Lake, Yukon

Midnight sun.

Teslin, Yukon
Almost midnight in Teslin, Yukon

Thick wildfire smoke.

Klondike Highway
Klondike Highway south of Dawson City, Yukon

Rivers rising to the breaking point.

Teslin, Yukon
Teslin, Yukon

Cell signal outages. Moose crash hot zones.

South of Dawson City, Yukon

Every morning we untangled our weary bones from the mosquito net

to resume the ongoing discussion, “Should we turn back?”

Klondike Highway
Fires and rough road on the Klondike between the Pelly and Stewart Crossings

For me, the question was complicated. True, this was a dangerous and uncomfortable place. But thinking of ways to die – all of us at once; me first, then him; Pico first, me second, him last; him, me, and poor, poor Pico last – this is what I do.

Imagining death by explosion, landslide, tidal wave, asphyxiation and anaphylaxis is a thing I picked up as a child while living in southern Italy on an infant volcano which occasionally burped plumes of lethal gas. I should have turned my talent into a career as a Worst-case Scenario Specialist, but instead I use it to torture myself.

Alaska Highway
AlCan Highway between Watson Lake and Teslin, Yukon

Thinking the horrible doesn’t make me risk-avoidant, it just gives me a tummy ache and annoys those around me. Over the years Jim has adapted to my hair-raising projections which may have saved our lives a few times. The occasional close shave, near miss or narrow escape inspire gratitude for every breath we can grab on this beautiful, blood-thirsty planet.

Atlin
Kayaking Atlin Lake, British Columbia

Here, on the crispy-thin Alcan my powers had purpose.

a market in Atlin B.C.

This is a place where the Circle of Life is not a song, a region where creatures readily sense the sharp edge of their existence.

Heaven and nature kill, and on the Alcan that heavy-duty thought is red-flagged at all times. Here, my quirky skillset had found purpose.

At my request, Jim would have turned the rig south at the first available opportunity whether he wanted to or not. That is a sacred Living in Beauty pact.

There were days on the Alcan when we both felt we were out of our depth. But Jim is an advance guy. For him, problems are like oxygen. We would press on, like a moving target if necessary.

In the end, The Alcan made the decision for us. Turning south was out of the question when the road closed behind us.

July 1, 2022 – Alaska Highway – rising waters triggered a flash food from a Beaver dam collapse

It was the talk among the soakers at Liard River Hot Springs. A few days earlier we crossed the very spot where a flash flood busted the road in two.

With water still rising from the Spring thaw, we pulled out of Laird onto the Alcan heading towards Watson Lake.

Alaska Highway
AlCan Highway between Laird River and Watson Lake, Yukon
Alaska Highway
Alaska Highway
AlCan Highway Yukon border

Watson Lake, Yukon

Watson Lake
Watson Lake Visitor Center parking lot – home for three nights

The Watson Lake Visitor Information Center kindly allowed us to dry camp in their parking lot. With a region-wide cell-service outage (which had nothing at all to do with flood or fire) we needed the complimentary WiFi. Though the signal was weak, we were able to connect with family, attend to the (LIB) blog, and confirm campground reservations up the road.

Meanwhile, we explored the legendary Signpost Forest.

Signpost Forest
Signpost Forest
Signpost Forest

The Visitor Center staff provided supplies and a craft area to design our personal contribution.

Signpost Forest
Abandoned Dog by Robert William Service

The next morning we continued west toward …

Teslin, Yukon

Alaska Highway
The Alcan just south of Teslin, Yukon

The constant drizzle cleared the stench of wildfire smoke from the north.

Alaska Highway

Yukon, is a great watery paradise made of a million minor paradises.

Alaska Highway

The territory is named for the river which flows nearly 2,000 miles through mostly untouched wilderness beginning at the McNeil headwaters and turns west toward the Bering Sea. The Yukon converges with the Tanana and Klondike Rivers and countless tributaries.

These waterways are glories among thousands of impressive lakes, streams and islands that go unnamed. The tease, Yukon: Larger Than Life did not prepare us for the grandeur of this vast wilderness in Canada’s smallest territory.

Alaska Highway

With river banks overflowing, it was no surprise the charming Village of Teslin was in a state of emergency …

Teslin

and our campground, under water.

teslin
Yukon Motel and RV Park under water

The local authorities allowed us to park in the rest area on the hill.

Teslin

The view of the village below, backdropped by mountains, changed constantly in the shifting light.

Teslin
Our view from the Teslin rest area

Yukon takes beauty to a whole new level.

Teslin

We stayed in Teslin for only two days. The dangerous water was not safe for the kayaking we’d planned.

Alaska Highway

Fortunately, the George Johnston Museum was open.

George Johnston Museum

We didn’t know what to expect but the film, Picturing A People made us feel as if we’d been let in on a secret.

George Johnston Museum
George Johnston Museum
reconstruction of a trapper’s cottage
George Johnston Museum

The lovingly preserved archive of art, antiques, garments, handwork and photos told the story of a visionary artist whose dedication to his work continues to influence generations of villagers.

George Johnston Museum
George Johnston, The Elvis of photography in Teslin

We pulled out of Teslin with more respect for this land, and for the resilience of the community and for the strength of stories shared.

George Johnston Museum

Following the signs …

Atlin

we detoured south about a hundred miles …

Atlin
Atlin
Atlin

to beautiful …

Atlin

Atlin, British Columbia

Atlin

There, we settled in beside the lake

Atlin

a short walk from downtown Atlin, where everyone knows your dog’s name.

Atlin

We came for kayaking …

Kayaking Atlin
Kayaking Atlin
Kayaking Atlin

but there’s more. We visited the little firetruck that didn’t save the town …

Atlin

and some cool boats.

Atlin
The Historic Atlin Lake Excursion Boat Tarahne
Atlin
Atlin Lake launch Atlinto

Neat old stuff like that.

Atlin

Atlin doesn’t take its long-lost boomtown history too seriously.

Atlin

This town is progressive.

Atlin

There’s no cell service or WiFi, but it’s not about turning back the clock.

Atlin

It’s about making room for peace …

Atlin

and quiet …

Atlin

and serenity.

Atlin

But don’t be surprised if you have a great shopping experience in paradise.

Atlin
Atlin
Atlin
Best coffee EVER! Atlin Mountain Coffee Roasters!

Atlin is probably one of the most beautiful places on earth …

Atlin

… to meditate, write a poem, draw, or just stare at the tranquil lake.

Atlin

If we ever go dark, you can find us in Atlin.

Atlin

Starting early, we followed our detour back to the Alcan.

Atlin
Atlin
Atlin

Wildlife viewing was best on the side-trips.

Atlin
Atlin

That morning we left one of the least populated hamlets in British Columbia and entered the territorial capital …

Whitehorse, Yukon

Whitehorse
Whitehorse

Big town, big stores. We were desperate for tactical gear. Herbal repellants are enough in the lower forty-eight, but not here where the mosquitos train in terrorist camps.

Our first stop in Whitehorse was to explore solutions at The Real Canadian Superstore. The locals set us up …

Whitehorse
Check, check, and check.

and invited us to attend the Canada Day parade and festivities!

Whitehorse
Whitehorse
Whitehorse
Thanks to immigration, the once declining population of Yukon is now on the rise. We met former Californians who had recently immigrated.
Whitehorse
Whitehorse
36,000 fascinating Yukoners live in 482,000 square kilometers.
Whitehorse
We found Yukoners to be cheerful, friendly and eager to have a good time.
Whitehorse
Whitehorse
Whitehorse
Whitehorse
Senior athletes. You go girls!
Whitehorse
Swift as the panther in triumph,
     fierce as the bear in defeat,
Sired of a bulldog parent, steeled in the furnace heat.
     Send me the best of your breeding,
lend me your chosen ones;
     Them will I take to my bosom,
them will I call my sons
Whitehorse
Whitehorse
Whitehorse
Whitehorse

Special events continued throughout the day.

Whitehorse
Aerialist
Whitehorse
Beadwork Classes
Whitehorse
You gotta try Grandma Treesaw’s garlic and herb Yukon Bannock
Whitehorse
Landslide performed by these wonderful musicians at Arts in the Park

To live in sub-arctic Whitehorse you must be sturdy and resourceful, but when the going gets tough, Yukoners go to…

Nordic Eclipse Hot Springs – Whitehorse, Yukon

Newly renovated and only a short walk from our campground

Nordic Eclipse Hot Springs

a paradise of relaxation awaited us.

Nordic Eclipse Hot Springs

Formerly known as Takhini Hot Springs, famous for the Deep Freeze Hairdo Competition, Eclipse Nordic Hot Springs opened the new facility to the public only two weeks before we arrived.

Nordic Eclipse Hot Springs
Nordic Eclipse Hot Springs
“The water is believed to possess medicinal properties such as will cure every ailment in the human category from gout to chamber maids knee.” 1907 Advertisement
Nordic Eclipse Hot Springs
“Cayenne Pepper” fountain
Nordic Eclipse Hot Springs

We were two lucky cheechakos.

Nordic Eclipse Hot Springs

Sometimes we had it all to ourselves.

Nordic Eclipse Hot Springs
Nordic Eclipse Hot Springs

As the region-wide cell-service outage continued, hanging out at Eclipse kept us informed. Word from other soakers was the Klondike Highway north to Dawson City was closed due to fire…

klondike highway

and the Alcan was closed to the south – the way we came.

alaska highway

The store shelves emptied.

We moved camp to the city to wait out the fires and position for a possible evacuation. The Real Canadian Superstore Parking lot provided refuge for two days.

real canadian superstore

In this stressful situation it was a comfort to be near vital services.

The delay also opened a window of opportunity for a paddle on the Yukon River at Lake Lebarge … yes, that Lake Lebarge.

kayaking Lake Lebarge
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
⁠     By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
⁠     That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
⁠     But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
     I cremated Sam McGee.
kayaking Lake Lebarge
kayaking Lake Lebarge

Dawson City, Yukon

The following morning, the Klondike Highway to Dawson City still remained closed. Jim, following a trickle of news reports, calculated that if we reached the closure point – 175 miles up the road – chances were good we’d arrive as the road opened.

For 330 miles we drove through fire …

Klondike Highway

and blinding smoke…

Klondike Highway

weaving through torturous detours …

Klondike Highway

and, we made it!

dawson city

Like a letter in a bottle, Dawson City is a fragile remnant of a passionate moment in time when these streets were overflowing with gold seekers.

dawson city
“I had thirty-five cents in my pocket when I arrived. I did not have that much when I left more than two years later. But if I could turn time back I would do it over again for less than that.”
– Stampeder Walter Russell Curtin
dawson city

On a picturesque slope overlooking the mud-flat confluence of the Klondike and Yukon rivers, the city was established in the traditional territory of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.

dawson city
dawson city

In the summer of 1895 the population held at 200 mostly Hän-speaking people.

dawson city
dawson city

The next summer over 40,000 stampeders arrived in the largest mass migration in the shortest period of time in North America.

dawson city
dawson city
Jack London‘s cabin: 1897 to 1898
dawson city
The Dawson City Visitor Centre loans gold panning equipment.
dawson city
And there I strove,
     and there I clove through the drift of icy streams;
And there I fought,

     and there I sought for the pay-streak of my dreams

One can only imagine what it was like for indigenous people to see their simple village become – literally, overnight – a cosmopolitan western city with gold-fevered white people usurping their land.

dawson city
dawson city
dawson city
dawson city
The air was quite smoky but rain was in the forecast
dawson city
dawson city
dawson city

Four years later, as the Klondike Gold Rush wound down, the surviving stampeders dispersed …

dawson city

leaving the city frozen in time, a fever cooled.

dawson city

You can’t blame ’em for packing out. Even with a piping hot red-light district it’s cold in them thar’ hills.

diamond tooth Gerties
Across the road from Diamond Tooth Gerties
diamond tooth Gerties
Diamond Tooth Gertie
diamond tooth Gerties
It’s art!
diamond tooth Gerties
It’s history!
diamond tooth Gerties
gold rush campground
Our campsite at Gold Rush Campground located in the middle of town

Bonton and Company is the best dinner in town.

bonton and company
Charcuterie plate
bonton and company
Every morsel is locally sourced
bonton and company
What a surprise to find flavors like this in such a remote region. This marvel is why Dawson City is known as the Paris of The North.

After dinner and a show we wandered over to the Sourdough Saloon.

sourdough saloon
A bunch of the boys were whooping it up
     in the Malamute saloon; 
The kid that handles the music-box
     was hitting a jag-time tune; 
Back of the bar, in a solo game,
     sat Dangerous Dan McGrew, 
And watching his luck was his light-o’-love,
     the lady that’s known as Lou.
Robert Service

This is an authentic watering hole where patrons are challenged to kiss “the nasty toe,” – an amputated appendage surrendered by some unfortunate Yukoner for this dark duty – lying in state on the bottom of a whisky tumbler.

So Clancy got into Barracks,
     and the boys made rather a scene;
And the O. C. called him a hero,

     and was nice as a man could be;
But Clancy gazed down his trousers

     at the place where his toes had been,
And then he howled like a husky,

     and sang in a shaky key:
“When I go back to the old love
     that’s true to the finger-tips,
I’ll say: ‘Here’s bushels of gold, love,’

     and I’ll kiss my girl on the lips;
‘It’s yours to have and to hold, love.’
     It’s the proud, proud boy I’ll be,
When I go back to the old love

     that’s waited so long for me.”
Robert Service

For fifty years, you think know a man, then the Spell of The Yukon, or the midnight sun, or the local appellations, or all three, most likely, do their sinister work.

Jim cozied up to the challenge, positioning himself in line, ready to throw his money on the table. Then, like magic, a parable leapt off my tongue snapping my beloved out of it: “Men who play footsies with cannibalism sleep in the dredge.”

Jim cooled his curiosity by watching from the sidelines while I lingered on the porch, my attention focused on keeping that nice supper down.

sourdough saloon
The Captain and some random drunken imbecile considering the nasty toe

Next morning we were off to board the George Black, a teenie-tiny ferry which is supposed to navigate our party of three and our 9,000 pound rig across the rapidly rising Klondike during a thunder storm while Jim nurses a hangover.

Pico, him, me. Me, Pico, him …

I have no doubts that the devil grins
     as seas of ink I spatter.
Ye Gods forgive my literary sins.
     The other kind don’t matter.
Robert Service

Chapters in the “Airstreaming to Alaska” series



If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.