Walking into a Harrison Painting – Day Trip from Whitehorse, YT

Here is a nice day trip from Whitehorse, Yukon.

On a clear day, it is fun to do this 200 KM round trip. We took the trip in early September when the hill sides were just turning brilliant yellow. But even on a sunny winter day, this is a nice drive. carcross map

We drove to Carcross first because of the views if you drive it counter clockwise. Carcross may be a speck on the map but it is steeped in history. Short for ‘caribou crossing’ this is where prospectors came of the famed Chilkoot Trail, and many hikers still do. The Caribou Hotel was built in 1898 and still remains, although I hope it will soon be restored and protected. The hotel and other buildings were painted by famous Yukon artist Ted Harrison. Walking into this tiny town is like walking into one of his paintings. I chuckled to think that people who see his paintings might comment that “buildings don’t lean that way,” or ‘the sky isn’t really like that.” In Yukon, and in Carcross, they are!

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Carcross has a bakery and coffee shop. It also has a new area with First Nations crafts, artists, coffeeshop and tourist information centre. Tagish is pretty but doesn’t have many services. We brought a picnic along to eat at the Marsh Lake Campground. Jake’s Corner has a gas station and restaurant.

Northern Exposure – Whitehorse, Yukon

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Yukon River in Whitehorse

A long, long time ago we had two little boys, aged 1 and 3, when Kees was offered the position of director of Parks & Recreation for the city of Whitehorse, Yukon. We packed up our belongings and left the Kananaskis region of the Rocky Mountains where he had been a park ranger, and where we had lived in the wilderness at the foot of the Continental Divide.

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Log ‘skyscraper’

Many people must have thought we were crazy to go to the Yukon. We drove north in our blue camper van along the Alaska Highway. We drove and drove… the trees got more and more spindly, the terrain turned to rolling hills, the mosquitoes got bigger and the bears and moose more frequent.

When we finally reached Whitehorse we could have easily missed the city of, then, 15,000 people. It lay tucked into the Yukon River valley, well below the highway escarpment. But we did take the Two Mile Hill turn-off and started a whole new life. People in Whitehorse were friendly and outgoing. Most had come from far away and it was easy to make friends. We chopped firewood, went tobagganing and fishing. We watched native dances and ate bannock. Yukoners celebrate everything! They have to because without celebrations, life is dark and cold and dull. So we celebrated the ice break up, the midnight sun and especially the winter carnival that heralded the end of winter. We celebrated the Gold Rush, the poems of Robert Service, we watched tubing races down the Yukon River and outhouse races down Mainstreet. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In all the years since we moved south again, I went back three times but Kees never did. We decided that this was our year to go north and visit Whitehorse. Fast forward 27 years!

Whitehorse now is a city of 30,000 people. It has a McDonalds and a Walmart. It has 3 (three!) Starbucks. I’m not sure that this is progress but it certainly is change. We fondly remembered the little supermarket from way back when, as we shopped at the Great Canadian Superstore that made me shake my head in disbelief. Groceries here now are cheaper than on Salt Spring Island. This did not feel like Whitehorse!

There are many restaurants, sushi places and trendy shops now. But some things haven’t changed. There are still shacks with stovepipes sticking out of the roof, leaning helter/skelter against each other. There are still husky pups waiting for snow. And there are still unique, friendly people walking the sidewalks near the Yukon and White Pass railway station. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Whitehorse chosen subtitle is ‘The Wilderness City’ and that is an apt description. We hiked the beautiful Millennium Trail along the fast flowing Yukon River. Watching the water rush by it is amazing to realize that this force will soon be overtaken by the even stronger force of the cold. All the rushing water will be frozen and immobile in winter. Once you have seen the Yukon River freeze, been here during the winter months and watched it thaw and flow again in Spring, you are declared a Sourdough. If you’ve never spend a winter here, you remain a Cheechako.

We watched in fascination the many dozens of trees along the river bank felled by beavers. Leaves and wood chips were everywhere. We followed the drag marks where entire trees had been hauled to the water and saw how these amazing engineers had maneuvered the trees, using the river’s force, to their dam that blocked off a good part of the river. So glad the city does not blast these dams apart of trap those busy beavers! Upriver of the bridge is the Yukon River fish ladder where you can watch salmon jumping up the ladders, in Fall.

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Canada Games Centre

Yukon is a federal territory and receives federal funding for many projects, ensuring quality programs and facilities for the residents of this remote corner of Canada. The Canada Games Centre, for instance, has an aquatic centre with a leisure pool, lane pool, NHL rink, leisure skating rink, hot tubs, running track and many other facilities and services. All for $7.80 per day.

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The SS Klondike

If you spend time in Whitehorse be sure to visit landmarks like The S.S. Klondike, one of the last remaining paddlewheelers of a bygone era. You can tour the old wooden boat to get a sense of what it was like to travel up the river. Reading Pierre Berton’s book Drifting Home, and his mother Laura Berton’s book I Married The Klondike is also a wonderful way to learn more about this unique history. The McBride Museum preserves many artifacts important to Yukon’s history. We stopped into The Chocolate Claim, a great local coffee shop, because of many memories tied to this place and also because I was Miss Chocolate Claim! There are strange things done in the midnight sun, which is why many moons ago I was involved in running for Miss Yukon and Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous and was crowned Miss Congeniality! Being here brought back many fond memories. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The house we designed ourselves and built here, some 30 years ago – yikes – is still gorgeous. It overlooks the Yukon River and is now a B & B! I found the website and it was fun to see this gorgeous photo of “our” house and the Northern Lights!Gallery_Exterior006-300x200

Another must if you visit Whitehorse, is the Takhini Hot Springs. Not cheap ($11.- for seniors) but a fabulous soak in hot, natural water. One side is large enough for slow swimming in comfy, warm water. The other side is HOT. It was weird to visit it now, without snow and ice. In winter your hair freezes with the steam coming off the water and you can have wild, white hairdo’s! They also have a fantastic créperie now where we enjoyed gigantic fresh fruit and chocolate crepes!10945814_314972205362986_2535773757389503556_o

Special thanks to our Whitehorse friends who lend us their condo during our time up north.

Sights to visit:

http://takhinihotpools.com

http://www.macbridemuseum.com

https://www.yukoninfo.com/whitehorse-yukon/ss-klondike/

http://www.yukonwildlife.ca

http://www.whitehorse.ca/departments/canada-games-centre

 

Alaska Adventure: driving 700 miles

The Drive from Anchorage to Whitehorse, Yukon (700 miles/
1,100 KM)

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Once you get off a cruise ship in Seward, Alaska, you need to shake off the remnants of relaxation and being pampered… It is a rude awakening to having to make your own decisions again. The first one: how to get anywhere from here?

Hopefully, you’ve planned ahead.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we planned this trip, the cruise itinerary listed Anchorage as the last port of call. But it doesn’t get anywhere near this city. Seward is a good 2 hours on a bus from Anchorage. It can also be reached by train. Being the thrifty, budget travellers that we are, I spent time searching for the most economical way to get from the port of Seward to the Anchorage airport where we would pick up a rental car. It turned out to be Alaska Cruise Transfer (https://alaskacruisetransfer.com) The one way ride was $50 per person, considerably cheaper than the transport offered by the cruise line or other companies. The bus was very comfortable, we had a good driver and the best part was the informative, and humorous, commentary audio track. It gave us stories of the area’s history, colourful characters, politics, events, wildlife and more.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Kenai Peninsula is absolutely gorgeous and you could easily spend a whole holiday here, exploring, hiking, fishing and seeing beautiful scenery. The highlight for me was learning about Turnagain Arm – a wide arm of the Gulf of Alaska reaching inland from Cook Inlet. The arm got its name from British explorer James Cook, who was forced to “turn again” when the waterway didn’t hold the fabled Northwest Passage during his 1778 voyage.

The bore tide here, a wave of water that rushes down the arm, can top six feet tall and is an unusual, awe-inspiring sight. Formed by the area’s huge tidal range and focused in the narrow channel of Turnagain Arm, the bore tide tops speeds of 20 mph. We heard stories of near drownings because the bottom here is quick sand and when the water comes in at that speed, it is very dangerous.

You can see the tidal bore coming in here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VY-qekro1dI

The best thing was seeing many Beluga whales who hang out in this Arm. Beluga Point, a rocky outpost jutting into the waters of Turnagain Arm, is just south of Anchorage along the Seward Highway. Belugas are often seen from mid-July through August when salmon are running in Cook Inlet where their numbers have hovered between 300 to 375 whales since 2000. Belugas use sonar to find their way and catch fish in the silty waters of the inlet. Beluga whales are relatively small, often measuring less than 16 feet. Younger whales look blue-gray in color and then turn white by age five or six. Belugas are the only all-white whale and have no dorsal fin.

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We reached the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, and were dropped off at the airport where we picked up a rental car. What can you expect when driving across the vast expanse of Alaska? The highway was flanked with many, many signs warning us of moose and cariboo. But for all of the 700 miles (1,100 KM) from Anchorage to Whitehorse, the only wildlife we saw was a handful of chipmunks and a few ravens.

There is still very much a ‘last frontier’ feeling here. Towns have few services and buildings still have the gold rush type fronts. There are about as many saloons as there are churches. The main streets are often paved but side streets are full of potholes. Our rental car was not allowed on dirt roads so we had to change our plan of driving the Top of the World highway to Dawson City, Yukon. Gas prices are the same as down south but gas stations are far and few between.

The most beautiful view was overlooking the Matanuska Glacier, lower than the highway, as it creeps out of a southern valley on blue icy toes. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We spent the night in Tok, Alaska. There are several motels and RV Parks with cabins along both the Alaska Highway and the Richardson Highway (it is interesting to note that highways in Alaska are referred to by name in addition to the number). It costs at least 100.- for a room. The place most recommended for meals is Fast Eddy’s. We had fun sitting in this bustling truck-stop atmosphere and watching big burly hunters, truck drivers with long bears and pony tails, and an odd mix of tourists from all over the world. The great food was reasonably priced: https://www.fasteddysrestaurant.com

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe highway got noticeably worse once we crossed the border into Canada. But we were very lucky with blue skies and sunshine that set the golden trees ablaze. Early September is definitely one of the most gorgeous times to see this area as aspen and other deciduous trees turn bright yellow, orange and red, dotting the evergreen hills like a fluffy quilt, framed here and there with the first white powder on mountain tops. Especially the drive along Kluane Lake is gorgeous. It inspired me to write a poem:

Fall’s soldiers
In their golden uniforms
Stand guard
Between summer and winter,
Marching south
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the return trip from Yukon back to Anchorage, we were lucky enough to see a large flock of snow white Dall sheep in the Kluane Range. Then two curious coyotes walked across the road and peeked at us from the brown grass. The sun was out part of the time, turning the hillside brilliantly yellow for most of the way. In fact, it was so gorgeous that we kept on driving. Instead of spending the night half way, in Tok again, we drove all 12 hours back to Palmer. We saw a large moose up close and even saw our very first caribou.

Hunting season is now in full swing. I’d hate to hike or camp in the bush. We see huge numbers to trucks parked along the road where hunters have taken off into the bush. At a remote outpost, we stopped at the log cabin country store to buy native crafts, when a truck drove with the large rack of a moose in the back. I could see an enormous cooler and bulging garbage bags of meat. So I walked over and had an interesting conversation:

Me: “Hi! How are you? Nice moose! Can I take a picture?”

Guy: “sure.”

Me: “Wow. It’s huge. Bet that will be all your meat for the winter, eh?”

Guy: “yup. you canadian?”

Me: “Yeah! How’d you guess?”

Guy: ‘eh.

Me: “Ah. I said eh! I guess so. So how much did it weigh, like how much meat did you get? Like 500 pounds?”

Guy: “more.”

I guess by then he had really warmed up to me because he added “maybe double. gonna use it all, bones, sinew, organs”.

Me: “Wow, that’s great. Well thanks a lot. Have a good winter.”

Guy: ” ‘kay.”

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We were still just in time but wouldn’t to go a week later: the US/Canadian Border closes on September 15 on the Top of the World Highway; many hotels and lodges shut down as of September 15 and the first snow was sprinkled on the surrounding mountain tops.

A tool that helps with planning is the downloadable app: http://www.thealaskaapp.com

In our next blog we will take you around Whitehorse, Yukon.

Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous: Canada’s Warm North

What to pack for -30 to +30?

To prepare for our trip to the Middle East, I bought a new backpack very similar to this one. I know we are going to do a lot of hiking so this will come in handy. It is quite light. The front pouch zips off to become a smaller daypack that I can also take as cabin luggage. It has a nice computer compartment and strap. The main pack zips open like a suitcase and hold the clothes with straps, so I don’t need to stuff clothes in. In the bottom pouch I can easily fit shoes since I don’t need to carry a sleepingbag.

This turned into a kind of crazy trip. It started out as a commitment with a dear friend to go back to the Yukon for Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous. Then an invitation to speak at a major literacy conference in Toronto got added to the trip. Followed by library reading in Ottawa.
Since I was then half way to Europe, I decided to just keep going east: Amsterdam, Tel Aviv and more.

Rendezvous is the Yukon’s winter festival. It celebrates the Gold Rush and is intended to drive away the winter blues. But it can well be 20, 30 or 40 below zero! Yikes. After this, in Israel, it might be in the mid 20’s C. So what do I pack in the way of clothing? I also know that I will be hiking, trudging through snow and a speaker at a conference and in libraries. Yikes again!

The solution: I selected a tattered suitcase on wheels. It still works perfectly well but I have nicer ones so that I can leave this one behind after my first two weeks of cold climate and speaking engagements. I packed it with a wool sweater, a fleece jacket, Rendezvous clothing (even a big old hat with roses on it!), wool socks, and more. All stuff that is still presentable but with which I am ready to part. I will take it all to a Toronto thrift shop when the time comes. I also went to a local thrift store and found a perfect pair of black boots, fur lined. They were 2.- and will be warm enough in the Yukon and then I will re-donate them.

A ziplock bag with first aid things and toiletries is in the backpack. Some small gifts for hosts along the way. I downloaded several new books on our iPad and am taking 3 novels that I can part with when I finish them.

Other than that there are 2 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of capris and some lightweight, wrinkle free tops. A cardigan, a blouse that can be worn as jacket and a tiny fold-up hairdryer. One pair sandals, one pair dressier shoes. A feather-light silk jacket which I can wear even on jeans and will look dressy. Two scarves. A rainjacket which I will wear over the fleecy in the Yukon and by itself in Israel. Oh, and a bathing suit.
And that’s about it. After all, I will need to carry it all along our long distance hiking trails.

Yukon. The name alone evokes images of vast, frozen wilderness. Of cloud shrouded peaks, wolves hauling at the Northern Lights and ribbons of frozen river. But there is much more to this northern land that borders Alaska, the North West Territories and the Beaufort Sea. 4fedb-64280-004-b5cb2313

When my family and I moved here, in 1983, it was an isolated land of resilient people. We drove several days north of Edmonton. The trees became thinner, sparser. When we finally spotted Whitehorse on the east of the Alaska Highway, we could have easily missed it entirely and ended up in Alaska. But we drove down toward the Yukon River and embraced the town that was to be our home for 9 years. It has been the easiest place I’ve ever lived (and I’ve moved 27 times!) to make friends. Because most people came from somewhere else.

Back then, Whitehorse did not have much to offer in the way of modern conveniences. There was a supermarket but bulk items were expensive because they were flown up or trucked up the Alaska Highway. There weren’t many restaurants, leave alone many coffeeshops. Now Whitehorse has two Starbucks, McDonalds and a plethora of box stores, including Walmart. It also has four airlines servicing the town, including a direct flight to Germany.

More than a hundred years ago, in 1897, gold was discovered in this sparsely populated, northern land. The ensuing Gold Rush brought people and awareness. It was the rugged ones that came. And stayed. It was the tough men and women who left the south to carve out a living in the north. They built log houses, hunted and trapped. They interacted with, and learned from, the First Nations people who lived here and knew how to survive in this harsh environment.

And, slowly, more came. A service industry sprang up. Mining. Logging. A school here, a hospital there. A store, a service station, an airport. Slowly, towns were born and grew up. Paddlewheelers connected towns via rivers. The First Nations people’s lives changed as they came into contact with the new settlers. Much of their culture was threatened, and then revived. Costumes, dancing, fur and beadwork mingled with French trappers, saloons, and dog sledding to form an intriguing, northern flavour.

Now, Yukon has its very own, distinct culture. It is a land like no other. A haunting land that gets under your skin and never leaves. Currently, the territory’s population is roughly 35,000 people. Some 27,000 of these live in Whitehorse, the capital city. That leaves 8,000 people spread out across 482,443 km² (186,272.28 ml²). Some towns boast 52 inhabitants. Whitehorse has all the modern conveniences of a southern city. Some better, like the incredible Canada Games Center, hosting an Aquatic Centre comprised of a 25 meter pool with 8 lanes, a leisure pool with water features and lazy river, an indoor waterslide, a hot tub, a steam room and a sauna. It has an NHL sized arena  as well as an Olympic sized arena and leisure ice for recreational skating. There is a Fieldhouse with artificial turf flooring, a Flexihall with sprung hardwood flooring, which accommodate a wide variety of indoor sports, a Wellness Centre and Studio. A 215m Indoor walking and running track circumnavigates the entire centre while parents can drop off kids at a Child Play Area with indoor playground. There are Meeting rooms to accommodate both business and social gatherings, Food services, Physiotherapy services and a Yukon Family Literacy Centre. Adult admission for all this? $7.50.

Combine this with northern allowances, seniors’ and other special services, and Yukon has morfed into an attractive place for families to live. And in this climate, they deserve all the facilities they can get.

Being back in Whitehorse for a visit, I rekindled old friendships, saw the house we built, the school my kids attended, and many other familiar places. I walked down the street in -30 weather with a howling wind that made it much colder and was reminded of why we moved south. I stayed in a wonderful B & B called Historic House B & B: http://www.yukongold.com/
The house is in downtown Whitehorse and allowed us to walk to many places. But the best part if that we have the entire house to ourselves. My friend Gwyn and I feel like two spinster teachers, coming home to make a roaring fire in the woodstove. We huddle by the fire in our pj’s at night and watch the starry skies from our window. We were delighted to discover that this 2 storey clapboard house was built in 1907 as home for the real Sam McGee and his family. How cool is that?

I visited to the Takhini Hot Spring for a soak in hot, natural water while my hair froze. I watched the last mushers of the famous Yukon Quest come in. The Yukon Quest is known as one of the toughest dogsled races in the world. It runs more than one thousand miles between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon and mushers and dogs spend some eight days on the trail.

But the real reason I came was to participate, once more, in Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous.

Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous: a warm festival in a cold land!

Winter in Yukon. The first snow might have come in September. The snow and cold definitely stayed after October. The sun barely makes an appearance. You’ve been living in a dark, frozen land for several months now.

In December you had Christmas get-togethers and it wasn’t so bad. But January was long, dark and cold. You know that Spring will be on its way but it will be at least two, perhaps three more months of winter. You need to lift your spirits. But how?
Let’s party! February is time for a winter carnival: Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous! Reenacting the colorful Klondike history of gold miners, this a period for everyone to come out of hibernation, to celebrate the present, the past and the future.  Starting in 1945, Yukoners have embraced their unique winter celebration. Local businesses and banks began to decorate their premises and the streets in the style of 1898 to “give visitors a hearty welcome and assure them a rollicking good time”. A parade was organized, contests and even a Queen of the Carnival. In 1947 the Whitehorse Winter Carnival saw the introduction of the beard contest with these rules:
 Beards must appear below the mouth from January 1 to February 23, 1947. 
• Age limit: All men under 50 years of age must grow a beard, but we except (sic) all contestants over this age limit and welcome them into the contest. 
All personnel in uniform, such as the Canadian Army, the R.C.A.F, R.C.M.P., Customs, are exempt due to regulations beyond our control.  All ministers are exempt.  All individuals directly handling food products, such as cooks, waiters, butchers, etc., are exempt.
The Keystone Kops started patrolling the city and “fining” citizens, the money used for a good cause. In 1962 things really heated up. The Carnival was named the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival:
“It is a gathering of Northern people to let off steam generated during the long, dark days of winter. It is a preamble to the busy days of spring and summer. It is a time for remembering this territory’s history and the strength of its pioneer people. It is a salute to the past and a bright eye on the future. The Sourdough Rendezvous is a gathering of the community’s talent and skill. An assembly of the area’s high spirits.”

Dogsled races were added and Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous became a major component. It might be -40 outside but an Ice Fishing Contest, Ice Sculpture Contest and Ice Car Speed Races drew lots of participants. A popular event was flour packing. This reenacted the weight gold rushers had to carry across the Chilkoot Pass. They packed flour sacks on their backs, hung from a large metal contraption on Main Street and tried to stagger under its weight.  500 pounds in a tie, in 1964, between Jim MacCormick and Danny Jackson. Mukluk races, snowshoe races, pulling a train, even chucking chainsaws expand the array of wild and weird contests. My favorite: a hairy leg contest – for women only. Can-can dancers liven up the evenings in local pubs and the temperatures rise.
As Rendezvous’ popularity increased, more winter visitors came to Whitehorse. When I lived here, the Queen Contest was expanded from ‘young gorgeous girls only’ to include married women and anyone who wanted to have fun while supporting the community spirit. I joined, with several friends, as Miss Chocolate Claim.
What fun we had wearing ’98 outfits, hats with roses – attending teas and holding a period fashion show. Prominent older couples were named as Mr & Mrs Yukon.

Coming back this year it is fun to see even more new events. Where else but in the Yukon do they have a frozen turkey bowling contest. Can you just picture it?
Right on Main Street!
We watched snowshoe dancers, an ice sculpting contest and listening to the ever popular Gillian Campbell, grand dame of the Gold Rush. This truly is a warm festival in a cold land. Long may Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous live!

Check out: http://www.yukonrendezvous.com/