Along the North Klondike Highway
May 30th, 2015
Breakfast at the Baked Café outside on the terrace – blueberry scones and macchiato coffee. We picked up a couple of scones and croissant for the trip ahead. Then a quick stop at the grocery store to buy bread and barbecued chicken and finally we topped up the gas tank. This was a constant on the whole trip. There are so few gas stations that the gas stations are actually indicated on the map and we always checked ahead on the map to plan where we would stop to buy gas. This was especially important since we were not familiar with the gas consumption of the RV.
The day was overcast as we headed up the North Klondike Highway. We were planning to stop for the day somewhere around Carmacks about 180km from Whitehorse.
The road was paved and it had a narrow paved shoulder so the driving started out well. We decided to take a side road to Lake Laberge of “The Cremation of Sam McGee” fame. It was a gravel road with a not un-expected number of potholes and was fine for our first off – highway sortie! There are a number of houses along the lake and a campground when you reach the lake itself. It was still raining and so we did not get a good look at the lake. But to compensate for that we did get to see a mule deer peeking out at us from behind some shrubs.
By then it was around noon so we stopped to make ourselves some coffee.
When we reached Fox Lake the road was under construction and so we were driving on newly laid gravel. At one point we had to stop and a pick-up truck from the road crew “piloted” us by the heavy equipment doing the road work.
Then back to paved road and we reached Braeburn Lodge. Like all the stops along this trip, it consisted of a main log house, a number of small buildings, a gas pump, and assortment of old cars and pick-up trucks, a small restaurant-souvenir store surrounded by a sandy parking area. The guide-book suggested a stop there to taste their giant cinnamon rolls. And they were big – the size of a dinner plate. Having just consumed some blueberry scones we passed on the cinnamon rolls. Braeburn Lodge is a checkpoint for the Yukon Quest. The Yukon Quest is a 1000 mile sled dog race that begins in Whitehorse and ends in Fairbanks, Alaska. The event takes place every winter in February and typically runs from 10-16 days, until the last team crosses the line. There was a white board there that still had the names of the mushers and their arrival-departure times etc posted.
The landscape was quite sandy and we started to see one of the animals that would be our constant companions during the road trip – gophers! They pop-up from the sides of the highway, stand up on their hind legs and then run back and forth across the road.
We passed Twin Lakes enjoying the green-blue colors of the lake. We passed the Montague Roadhouse, which is now in ruins, but the log cabins were once an important stop along the Overland Trail before the highway was built. They were actually in use until 1950 which gives you a sense of the remoteness of the area and not that long ago (at least not that long ago for some of us!).
Then we pulled off the highway at Carmacks and bought some gas. It was still raining so we parked along the lakefront and ate in the RV – Croissant, cheese and a fruit salad with yogurt for lunch. We had picked up a brochure to do a walk there but with the rain we decided against it. Carmacks had a location that was both along the summer sternwheeler route and the winter Overland Trail to Dawson so it also suffered from the building of the highway which took away its raison d’etre.
We then made another side trip up the Robert Campbell Highway to check-out the campgrounds. Then we realized that to get to the campgrounds was a long and dusty gravel road so we decided to head back to the Klondike Highway.
The next stop was the Five Finger Rapids with a long staircase down to the river. The view of the river with the gravel banks rising high above them was splendid. During the mad rush to the Klondike, the rapids caused many navigational problems for both the stampeders in their flimsy boats and the stern wheelers too.
We came across some more road construction and so decided to call it a day at the Tatchun Creek Campground. We pulled in around 5:30 and there was no one else at the small campground. The camping spots are along the small creek. An interpretive panel there explains that the creek is a spawning area for Chinook Salmon. You pick a spot where you want to camp. We picked spot 7 with the creek gurgling behind the RV. At the entrance to the campgrounds is a covered sign board. You take an envelope, put $12.00 in it, tear off the top part of the envelope, put the envelope in a slot in a box and the part that is torn off is clipped to the number 7 post of your camp site. This is a Yukon Government site and like all the others is has outhouses, firewood available and a covered area with some picnic tables. As we were preparing dinner another Candream camper pulled in and took the space right beside us. I think like us, they were happy to not be there completely alone. We had the barbecued chicken for supper with hummus and a big salad, accompanied nicely by some Prosecco!
We summed up the day – 331 km of driving, 40 km of gravel road, with stunning views of rivers, lakes, islands, the effects of forest fires on the landscape.
By now it was about 9:45p.m. and the sun had come out. We walked down the road enjoying the sounds of the silence. No cars, no man-made noise, just the sound of the breeze in the poplars, the sweet smell of the coniferous needles, and fresh, fresh, air. This is what we came to the Yukon to experience.