June 5 – 8 The Yukon to Skagway along the Klondike Highway

After leaving Tok (the Tok RV Park is great and we were nestled amongst the pines) We made it across the border but not before spotting a juvenile caribou on the side of the road.  He was freaked and froze in front of us before sprinting off to find his mother.

Little dude!

The RV traffic had picked up dramatically and we kept seeing the same caravan of three RV rentals being driven by Germans.  We seem to encounter a fair amount of Dutch and Germans. 

The frost heaves started not long after we left Tok – we were anticipating them this time. The “perma” in perma frost isn’t so permanent as the pavement gives way as the ground softens.  There are times on the Alaska Highway that you would expect the oxygen masks to fall if you were on an airplane.  Being in a higher profile vehicle only exacerbates the rumpy-bumpy ride.  

The wildflowers were in bloom and we even drove through a “pollen storm” – like a dust storm but it was orange-yellow pollen coming off the deciduous trees; the road was layered in it.  

We were curious to see how much had changed since we went through this area two weeks ago.  The Yukon Discovery Lodge was busy though they ran a generator all night as they had no other source of power.  Such is life in this part of the world.  

We left the next morning as the sun was rising over the nearby ridges.  Fog emerged from the valley and we had a clear view of the Kluane Range that had been socked in on our way up.  We witnessed massive icefields running vertically from the sides of peaks – amazing stuff.

We passed marshes and ponds with migratory birds including Trumpeter Swans;  one pond had two swans surrounded by ducks as if they were gathered to admire their magnificence. Unfortunately there wasn’t room to stop and enjoy the scene.  

We swung by Pickhandle Lake as the mist rose and the loons were making their way across the water.  

Pickhandle Lake and the Kluane Range

We then settled at Lakeview Campground for breakfast; the forest was rich with the scent of pine mixed with the heady essence of spring.  

As we made our way back down to Destruction Bay, we rounded corners with endless the endless mountain range welcoming us with open arms.  The bay was still partially frozen, quiet and still save for the distant cry of what sounded like a fox.  

Destruction Bay

After a peaceful overnight at the Caribou RV Park south of Whitehorse we headed to Skagway, AK via Highway #2 – known as the famous Klondike Highway that leads to the Inside Passage.  We essentially drove from the Yukon, through a spit of British Columbia and back into Alaska – all 100 miles from Whitehorse.  

As we headed west the terrain turned into granite outcroppings, more steep cliffs with cascading waterfalls, surrounded by partially frozen ponds.  Granite islands emerged from the waterways, covered in lichen with a smattering of boreal pine creating a very unique ecosystem.   The temperature dropped to the 40’s as we crossed from Canada back into the U.S.  It was an extraordinary site as we headed down the steep slopes into the bay.  

Along the Klondike Highway

The weather cleared as we parked up in Skagway at the Pullen Creek RV Park; there were four cruise ships up from Glacier Bay in the dock carrying some 12,000 people.  We encountered many of the ice-cream-consuming tourists as we explored Skagway; which turned out to be quite the destination with the Klondike Gold Rush mystique permeating the town, its old buildings giving off an aura of the Wild West.  The Gold Rush was brutal – when you consider that the prospectors had to endure such a savage environment in the hopes of striking it rich.  The museums along with the active, retro train station gave us a good feel of what it must have been like. 

They had an obscene amount of jewelry stores – I suppose because the whole idea is this is where gold is mined?  We did find a few nice art galleries amongst the interminable kitsch and discovered these gems (I go ape for art!).  The mother of the artist was there and said in the original painting of the Laughton Glacier her daughter painted in one of her boots that she had lost during a hike!

Whimsical Watercolors of the Inside Passage

Skagway reminded me a bit of Sisters, Oregon with the traditional facades and galleries and in the summer it is also teaming with tourists.

It’s now 6:00 a.m. and there is a loud hooting of a train then several crash-bangs!  The train has pulled into the harbor to greet the three cruise ships that had arrived – the fourth must be on its way. Either this is normal or they are making up with a post-Covid frenzy. Skagway must make a killing on tourism during this short window.  Come October the bay will start freezing over and the 300 some odd residents of Skagway will be encased in snow and ice until May.  I don’t know how they manage!  

We departed on a stellar warm day and headed out to Carcross, but were diverted several times to take in the scenery. 

We even spotted a pair of brown bears munching on dandelions on the side of the road.  

Brown Bear – ignoring us

Carcross is a charming town – the name is derived from Caribou Crossing.  The town was built to promote the indigenous tribes with lovely totems and buildings painted in the Tagish First Nations tradition.  The center was designed to represent local artists, but sadly there were only a few shops open.  Otherwise it is a lovely stop along the Klondike Highway.  

Carcross – Tagish First Nations

May 25 – Yukon Territory

We arrived at Watson Lake, the official switch-over to the Yukon Territory.  The Watson Lake RV Park is in a parking lot and was good for an overnight; it was quite crowded as the large caravans of RVs we had been warned about were starting to hit the road.  The showers were warm and clean and included in the price.  You get an hour of Wi-Fi but at least there was Verizon!  Verizon only allows 0.5 gb a day in Canada so it can get used up pretty fast before the data slows down considerably.  

We stopped by the famous “Sign Post Park” and found a few gems from Oregon.  

Watson Lake Signpost Park

We headed North along the Alaska Highway 1 which wasn’t too much different than the Stewart Cassiar but with a bit more traffic and there was some gravel along the way.  Otherwise the scenery was fantastic and we saw a bear and a caribou.

We played around trying to match the videos we were taking with the music we had playing on the stereo.  We had some success – adding music to the landscape brought tears to my eyes – it puts you in a place of awe.  

We reached the Yukon Motel and RV Park in Teslin which again was a bit of a parking lot, though it wasn’t crowded and had decent wi-fi just so long as you got close to the lodge itself.   They also had showers and bathrooms.  

We hiked around the marine park and hammed it up with the local wildlife.  

When I opened the skylight to the rig, I saw large muddy paw marks and realized that it wasn’t a squirrel that was fooling around on the roof at midnight when we were boondocking at the Clements Lake Recreation area; the Fisher Cat had come back and apparently partied for a while on top of our rig, muddying up the roof and solar panels. He then slid down the back (thankfully not scratching anything) onto our cargo carrier.  Bob cleaned up the mud and we can only guess this feline was marking its territory somehow.  

As it was Saturday night we decided to eat at the local restaurant – I had Yukon Elk sausage with perogies – quite the diverse combo and it was really good.  

We headed out to Whitehorse that we knew was more of a hub as it is also the capital.  The Caribou RV park turned out to be great; they had private bathrooms and showers and you got a voucher for Wi-Fi for the day.  Downtown Whitehorse was a bit of a ghost town as it was Sunday and also a holiday weekend for the Canadians so a lot of the shops were closed up.  

As we were there for a few days we decided to hike the Miles Canyon trail along the Yukon River.  We were told there were otter sightings but we didn’t see them – darn! They classify the hike as moderate but there were some seriously steep sections of the hill and one part that went straight up and you had to climb over large rocks to get up!  Thankfully I survived without incident as loose gravel is not my friend.  

Lower Canyon Trail

We stumbled upon Canyon City, that is an abandoned village in the woods that harks back to the gold rush days – the history of people coming to this wilderness in hopes of striking it rich are fascinating.  This part of the Yukon has been reclaimed by the wilderness – as unforgiving as the gold rush itself. 

Yukon River

We stopped by downtown Whitehorse again on our way out and one of the galleries was open so I took a gander and found a few cards but not a lot of First Nations artwork.  Mammoth fossils have apparently been found in this area and they had jewelry and figurines made from their bones which was interesting though I couldn’t find a piece that I had to have though.  

Polar Bear Reverie – Nathalie Parenteau

Our next stop was Destruction Bay through the Kluane mountain range.  We ran into inclement weather but we were heading into some more spectacular scenery.  The clouds clung to the mountain tops but the ice and snow fields were apparent along our drive.   The Kluane boasts several massive glaciers that are only accessible via plane – hence all the advertisements for air tours. 

We saw moose and elk along the road and though it had more traffic than Stewart Cassiar it still wasn’t overly busy.  

Not the best view – but still….

We reached Kluane Lake that was still frozen and stretched for miles – we saw our first caution sign for bighorn so kept an eye out but didn’t see any.  When we reached Destruction Bay Lodge there was only one other RV there.  The other RVs we saw along the way were boondocked in the day use pull outs.  The proprietor wasn’t there but had a sign on the office door that the 30 amp was working, but no water due to frozen pipes (similar to the Red Goat Lodge) and no available dump station and just go ahead and park up and then leave cash in an envelope.  Glad we decided to get cash in Vancouver!  We were thankful we had carried enough water to hold us over to the next RV Park near Beaver Creek.  The funny thing is we have great cell coverage – there is a gas station and a few homes but otherwise we haven’t seen much in the way of civilization.  

Canada has turned out to be full of contradictions for sure.  

Permafrost Parking – Destruction Bay

“In Destruction Bay it’s raining hard.  It’s a place where civilization shouldn’t be, had been blown from the face of the earth in decades past, but somehow remains, where nature keeps pushing its boundaries with unforgiving ice and wind that only abates for a few months in the summer.  The sun breaks through, a passing wave at the sky and mountains though it does less to warm than it does to illuminate.  The clouds clutch at the blue and then descend into gray, unable to completely smother the majesty of the Kluane snow fields and endless glaciers. The days grow long, the sun resting near midnight then awake again at dawn.  Casting shadows but little warmth as if the tilt of the earth is an annoyance to be toyed with.”

After a leisurely morning watching the sun spray across the mist between the splendor of the endless peaks, we headed north.  The road got pretty rough with some nasty swells and frost heaves then it dissipated as we approached the Lake Creek Campground where we stopped for tea.  It was devoid of campers and the smell of boreal pine was intense.  The creek flowed quietly along with the accompanying woodpeckers and ravens in chorus throughout the forest.  

Tea time at Lake Creek

It’s a bit of a haul to get from anywhere to these campgrounds and we wondered who actually comes here.  Unlike in the U.S. where there are substantial towns within a few hours of most campgrounds.  We were in no rush to get to Koidern just south of Beaver Creek.  I was glad for these shorter stops as spending all day on a potentially rough road didn’t seem too inviting.  

The frost heaves continued along with spots of simply gravel; when people talk about this stretch of road it actually starts above Destruction Bay and you will occasionally get a respite but not for long.  We traveled at a leisurely pace to keep the rig from being bunged up too much.  

We arrived at Discovery Yukon Lodge outside of Koidern; they had just switched on the water so we were lucky there and had full hookups.  The permafrost this time of year has made the water supplies a bit of a touch and go.  They didn’t have Wi-Fi in the lodge as advertised claiming they had no phone service (there was no cell service) and I had to pay in cash even though there was clearly a credit card machine on the counter.  I’m not sure how they function the rest of the year or if they wind up paying for a line via satellite during the high season.

We decided to stretch our legs and hiked along a game trail then to the river and got a good few miles in.  We ran across abandoned moose skulls – not sure why they were just deposited there but kinda cool just the same. The lodge has a bunch on its roof and quite a collection of taxidermy in the office.  

These are kinda heavy

The upside to traveling this time of year is the drama of the landscape that wouldn’t be the same without the snow.  

The Yukon evokes images of vast forests and tundras filled with caribou and wandering moose.  A place romanticized more by the gold rush than by its beauty that threatens to swallow you whole.  And on this trip we only scratched the surface.  

Pickax Lake