Trekking Tales: North to Alaska, part four

In Whitehorse, rooms were available for that night only; all were full the following night because of the prime minister and his retinue

In rainy Whitehorse, rooms were available for that night only; all were full the following night because the prime minister and his retinue would be in town. We consoled ourselves watching “Frantic Follies” with its classic comedic skits and high-kicking dancers that evening.

We went north next, driving the Klondike Highway towards Dawson City – and into sunshine. The historical background of this area with its gold now came to the fore, including John’s descriptions of his geological explorations into the hinterland, signs at pull-outs, and numerous pamphlets. Past Carmacks we crossed the Yukon River, and at the junction with Dempster Highway which angles off to Inuvik, we saw the Klondike River. Those two rivers become one in Dawson City where we were greeted by row after row of piles of smooth rocks, so placed by huge dredges. We drove to Dredge #4, towering above the road, in use from 1905 – 1955. Later, mud left by a flood filled about one-third of its stationary form until Parks Canada emptied it, floated it for half a turn to its present position, and opened it for people capable of climbing three sets of steep, metal stairs to tour.

The city itself is a picturesque mix of newly painted buildings, some original, others replicated, and oldies with peeling or bare, gray walls. One such had a sign drawing attention to its lopsided appearance caused by the action of permafrost over changing seasons and the passing of 100+ years.

“They were almost all like that in the 1960s,” John mentioned.

Parks Canada now opens a restored “classic” to the public each day, attendants describing features of a saloon and the Old British Bank of North America to us.

Open every day of the summer with tours and/or lectures were the log cabins of poet Robert Service and writer Jack London. Nearby, but not open to the general public, is the small home where celebrated Canadian author and TV personality Pierre Burton grew up; it can be booked by published authors for use as a writers’ retreat.

Spreading visits to prevent brain fatigue, we went to Dawson City Museum and later, the First Nations Cultural Centre. Here, I became engrossed in discussing the effects of residential schools, so meaningful after seeing Meeka and the sharing of our diverse experiences as teacher and Inuit student at Fort Churchill Vocational School from 1964 – 1966.

Dragging ourselves away from this historical city after our third night there, we crossed the Yukon River on a free ferry in pea-soup-thick fog.

“Oh no! We are going to drive the Top of the World Highway in this?” The fog gods took pity and stayed in the valleys while we drove along ridges with 360° views above tree-line, autumn colours beginning, under a clear blue sky.

This brought us to the Alaskan border once more – an oft-repeated circumstance. So now it is time to confess: when asked, “Do you have fruit?” we fibbed. To counterbalance, we were totally honest re alcohol. Telling one border guard we had three bottles of cider and a couple of their irresistible Alaskan Amber, he asked, “Are you sure you have enough to last the trip?”

A 13-mile stretch of wide, brand-new, marble-smooth pavement took us from that international border to the turn-off to tiny Eagle Landing, of note during the Klondike Gold Rush. Downhill from that junction, our road was narrow, bumpy, and unpredictable. Placer-mining equipment operated in the creeks.

Then we were in Chicken, Alaska.

“How come such a name?” you ask. It seems some prospectors wanted to call the place Ptarmigan, but couldn’t agree on the spelling!

 

Easier to confirm, a gal named Anne Hobbs spent 10 years of her early teaching career there and told about it in a popular book called Tisha.