Monday, June 2, 2014

Day Four Alaska Highway -- Watson Lake to Whitehorse

We left Watson Lake and drove 268 miles to Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon.  The drive started with more beautiful scenery, but less wildlife than we had seen the previous days.  The road was a bit rougher and there were even a few potholes, something that, surprisingly, we have not found a lot of on the highway to this point.  I thought that with the extreme weather here there would be many more. Maybe Pennsylvania could take a road building lesson from the people who built and maintain this highway.  In the afternoon we began to notice that the sky was not quite as blue as it had been and the longer we drove the worse it became.  When we checked into the RV park we learned that wildfires in Alaska, over 200 miles away, were the cause.  Sure hope the smoke clears, though the fire threat level is very high at this point. 

Whitehorse, with a population of 27,750 (of the 36,440 total for the Yukon), is the largest city on the highway.  It has all the services and stores and there were several attractions we wanted to see so we ended up staying three nights.  It is really different being in a city after driving so many miles through the wilderness. 
The road, mountains and beautiful blue sky.  The vegetation along the road was higher here in many places than it was in BC.  You can also see some loose gravel.  Later in the day we picked up a windshield chip from an oncoming truck.  When we got to Whitehorse I was talking to a guy who has done this trip seven times and he told me to go to Walmart, buy a chip repair kit, and he would show me how to do the repair myself.  I took his advice and it is not prefect, but hopefully it will not spread.  I'm sure it will not be the last ding to the windshield.
Our first wildlife viewing of the day was a couple of caribou.
And then we saw a coyote.  That was pretty much it for the animals on this leg of the trip.
Typical of the highway in the Yukon so far.  There were very few straight stretches and a lot of short hills.  In many places you can see were the original road had been replaced.  It looks like they did very few cuts or fills on the original highway, they just followed the contour of the land.  The trip is 35 miles shorter today because of these improvements.
A new tradition along this part of the road is to spell out messages with rocks.
By afternoon the scenery was still beautiful, but the sky was now smoky.  There have been several fires in Alaska and the forest is very dry.  We will have to keep an eye on the conditions and may have to change plans.  If the fire gets to close to the roads they close them.  In some cases there are no possible detours, this is the only road to Alaska or a detour can be hundreds of miles.
The longest bridge on the highway with seven spans is at Teslin.  Almost no traffic and, lucky us, look what we meet on that bridge.  I slowed way down and let him pass.

A few of the sights in Whitehorse.  You rarely see a three story log home.  This building passes for a skyscraper in the Yukon.
Nanc checking out the desk and chair that honor famous poet Robert Service, who worked as a bank teller here before heading to the Klondike during the gold rush.
Whitehorse has its own brewery.  We never pass up the chance to do a tour and tasting and I did make a  purchase.  One big difference at Yukon Brewing, they have a huge bottle washer to clean recycled bottles so they can reuse them.  I remember as a kid that all pop and beer bottles were reused.  Maybe they will restart this old practice for other small breweries.  They also can their beer because there are so many outdoor types living in Whitehorse who like to take cans rather than bottles into the wilderness.  Their Yukon Gold is the largest selling beer in the territory and all their beers are made with natural ingredients and no preservatives.
This is not just an old DC-3 mounted on a pole.  It is the largest weather vane in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records.  It rotates and points into the wind.  Very Cool!!! 

It has been in the 60's and the days are long so Whitehorse has a lot of summer activities.  There is music everyday at noon and on Wednesday evenings.  We sure enjoyed this group who sang some great rock and roll.  This seems to be a city with a lot of active people trying to do it all in a few months while the sun shines.
We toured the S.S. Klondike, a 1930's paddle wheel riverboat that has been restored and is a National Historical Site.  The boat made the run from Whitehorse to Dawson City on the Yukon River until 1955. These types of boats ran the length of the Yukon River with supplies and passengers.  Their season was very short because the river is frozen over for 7 1/2 months a year. 
Top is a winch that was used to help pull the boat through shallow water and the wood fired boiler.  The other pictures are some of the cargo she carried.  The trip downstream to Dawson City took 36 hours while the return against the current took five to seven days. 
Top is the first class observation lounge and dining room.  These passengers who paid $35 to travel to Dawson City had very nice accommodations, while those in second class who paid $25 slept with the freight.  Bottom is the pantry and the kitchen.  This lady was scrubbing the oven.  As you can see from the photos, the riverboat is very well maintained.
We visited the Beringia Interpretive Center, a museum dedicated to the history of the Yukon during the last ice age.  Beringia, which included parts of Siberia, Alaska and Yukon, was a grassy area that was not covered with ice because of the surrounding mountains.  It was the land bridge that connected Asia and North America allowing migration of people and animals.  Giant woolly mammoths, huge beavers and cats roamed the land.  They have several skeletons, including this mammoth on display.
The museum also explores the history of the people who lived in Beringia under very harsh conditions.  This is a good stop to learn about Yukon's ancient past. 
Miles Canyon is a neat local area with a lot of hiking trails.  The Yukon River flows through the canyon and a rapid that looked like several white horses with manes flying, is where the city got its name.  The canyon was one of the most treacherous for river boats to pass through.  The rapid was covered when a downstream hydro dam was built, but the flow of water is still impressive. 
Looking into Miles Canyon.  It would have been a tight and dangerous passage for river boats.  The suspension bridge gives access to both sides of the river.
We were told by several people not to miss the Frantic Follies and were disappointed to learn the show did not open for the season until June 1.  Fortunately for us the were doing a special for a convention group that was in town so we extended our stay another day to take it in.  The show is a vaudeville revue of lively music and corny jokes set in the time of the gold rush.  It is a fun evening that should not be missed.

Thanks to our readers who are more informed about wildlife than I am.  The animal I identified as our first elk was actually a caribou and the bear I thought might be a grizzly was not.  I learned that black bears can be brown and cinnamon in color.  Keep those comments coming and thanks for reading the blog:-)


ladynomad said...

Bringing back great memories of my trip to Alaska.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to leave a quick comment to tell you how much we enjoy your blog. My wife and I check for updates daily and love to hear about the adventure you are on. Thanks for letting the rest of us share in your experiences.