My thoughts go out to the Goodwin family and all the other wonderful staff at my secondary Yukon home.
There are two kinds of travelers to Yukon, Alaska, and the Northwest Territories.
The first type are those like myself who consider the northern roads like the Dempster and Top of the World as being part of the adventure. Sure, it can suck to drive in thick mud or have a rock ding your windshield, but you at worst accept it and at best consider the experience the adventure of a lifetime. Those folks are prepared for the worst, respectful of the roads, and flexible. If the road is bad today, they will go tomorrow. If the roads are in good condition, they know that means they still cannot drive like they were on a highway in the south. These folks come off these roads with mud an inch thick on their rigs and a huge smile on their face, accepting any vehicle damage as a badge of honour.
The second type are those who become angry that they have to be inconvenienced by such road conditions in order to visit the north. They resent the mud, the dust, the slow pace. They have many more damaging incidents than the first group; broken hitches, flat tires, and other issues because they refuse to slow down and drive for the conditions. They are on a schedule and the road is in their way. They will go today even if locals tell them to wait, and they will curse every rutty mile.
That’s it. The only distinction between northern travelers is how they handle the road conditions up here. The size, age, or shape of their rig has no bearing. I saw two people pull into today in huge several hundred thousand dollar motorhomes. The first guy’s rig had about an inch of mud on it and he was so proud that he’d ‘conquered’ the Top of the World Highway. And he had the cracked windshield to prove it! The second guy’s rig also had an inch of mud on it and he was so angry that his beautiful rig was so sullied and that he’d have to waste an hour washing it. He was only staying in Dawson a night because he was ‘sick of the roads’ and scowled when I told him there are a few gravel patches and frost heaves on the way to Whitehorse.
To the first group I say “Welcome!” To the second “Why did you bother coming?”
Tuesday night in Whitehorse, I had dinner at Sam ‘N’ Andy’s, a Tex-Mex restaurant. The food and service were ho-hum, but much, much better than at the ‘authentic’ Sanchez Cantina.
My chicken enchilada was flavourful, but the sides of rice with vegetables and a boring garden salad were uninspired, which was a shame. Why bother with a good main course and neglect the sides?
The server was brusque, but attentive. I didn’t have to wait long for service even though the place was busy, and my drink and food came promptly.
If I’m ever desperate for Mexican or Tex-Mex in Whitehorse, I’d definitely go back to Sam ‘N’ Andy’s… if only for their giant delicious two-ounce mojitos!
I touched a real honest to goodness fossilized mammoth bone on Tuesday. It was about 25,000 years old. And that was after seeing a mostly real honest to goodness, fully reconstructed, mammoth skeleton. I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but have you ever seen a mammoth skeleton???
So, ahem, one of the biggest and most visible attractions in Whitehorse, because it’s right off the Alaska Highway, is the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre. I had no idea what Beringia is/was and thought the place was a tourist trap, so I never really thought about visiting it. But after so much time in the Yukon I’d begun to hear things about the place and it started to work at me. So, after I got in from my Kluane Country jaunt, I decided to go find out just what was this thing called Beringia.
Beringia is a lost continent, a landmass that joined Siberia and present-day Alaska during the last ice age. It was a fertile grassland known as the ‘Mammoth Steppe’ in which giant animals roamed the land.
Stories of those days have been passed down through the ages to the present native peoples of the Yukon. One archaeologist studied those legends to see if there was any realistic basis to them and was lead to the confluence of the Old Crow and Porcupine rivers where there had been a legend of a giant monster slain on those banks. That legend is now a true story, as the skeleton of the ‘giant monster’ was found thanks to this orally passed down story–it was a woolly mammoth! Talk about myth coming to life!
After watching a fifteen minute movie about Beringia we were invited to step outside to try our hand using an atlatl, commonly known as a spear thrower. I’m quite good with a bow and arrow, so I was eager to try this other ancient weapon. I did three throws and the teacher informed me that I was one of the best he’d ever seen! While the others aimed to throw their spears as far as they could, with their first throw failing miserably, I focused on my technique and struck the same target three times, each time with more force. If I’d been hunting for the first time, I would have probably made a kill with at least one of those throws. It’s no wonder I didn’t last as a vegetarian–I’m a natural born hunter! 😀
My tour of Beringia filled me with such awe and wonder. Until yesterday afternoon, the Yukon was the Klondike. Anytime that happened before was of no interest. It was like discovering that an old friend has been hiding a wonderful secret from me.
The centre isn’t very big; there are a couple of exhibits outside and in, but it’s an excellent way to spend an hour or two. You can get a combo pass for the Transportation Museum next door for $9. That’s right, $9 can get you at least two hours of entertainment in excellent museums in Whitehorse. That’s less than the cost of a movie ticket!
The transportation museum was very good; with interesting displays. My favourites were those devoted to the Chilkoot Trail and to the Helen Klaben plane crash. She and a pilot crashed in the frigid Yukon wilderness in the 1960s and though badly wounded, lived to tell the tale. She wrote a book about the ordeal called Hey, I’m Alive, which was made into a movie.
Kluane National Park is one of those regions that, like Kananaskis Country in Alberta, has inflamed my imagination for years. While I would love to explore the region in depth and camp there, just a brief day trip into those fabled peaks was enough to satisfy the itch.
After the car repairs, I headed west on the Alaska Highway and, for the first time, pushed past the turnoff to the North Klondike Highway. The landscape became arid, with soft round peaks rippling through, grey and weathered, reminding me of elephant skin. The road imitated the mountains, with one frost heave after another threatening my suspension. I would not have enjoyed this ride with Miranda!
And then, just like that, they were before me, the Kluane Ice Ranges, just as I had always envisioned them. Pointy, slate grey, and snow covered. Beautiful.
I only went as far as Haines Junction, heart of Kluane Country, and turned back. And it was enough for this current incarnation of my traveling life. I would love to come back that way again, in another version of this life where I have more time to explore the territory, but it was enough.
Haines Junction, by the way, is tiny, little more than a swell on the highway, and should not be confused with Haines, Alaska. Alaska Highway travelers headed for Fairbanks should note that they should turn right at Haines Junction for Fairbanks rather than going straight to Haines. I think that someone was trying to confuse the tourists. 😀