The sunny Yukon

There was a rough relic sign I saw somewhere in the hamlet (village? collective?) of Carcross that called the area “The Switzerland of North America” and it could be true if we are talking topography only. Get some new trains up here, ski resorts, cows with bells, and, uh, people, and it could be like Switzerland. 

Carcross is really just a crossroads town with a bunch of old wooden or tin built buildings with faux fronts.  The new road goes around it, which I’m sure was a decision to keep it quaint, but I can’t help but think it maybe went a bit too far round. It used to be called Cariboo Crossing – a pit stop for folks heading to the Yukon for gold digging.  After the original “hike up the pass” rush, the Yukon railroad was put in to bring people from the docks at Skagway (where they got off steamers from any number of west coast cities).  In Carcross they could board a big paddle wheel boat to take them further north… Dawson City being the end destination.  Eventually, the train was built past Carcross to Whitehorse, so they have experience with being passed up.

The local Tlingit First Nations make up a big number of the citizens, and, really, before it was even affiliated with the gold rush it was theirs. A large cultural center is being expanded; it is wisely on the main road!

I guess most guests arrive for a couple hours on the cruise-boat tourist trains a few times a week, but when we arrived at 4pm it was pretty slow and comfy.  The town is surrounded by high dramatically chiseled rocky peaks; it sits in a wide valley carved by the wide river which snakes around town.  The waterfront area is a massive gold sandy beach.  It was cool and overcast so we didn’t try the water, but one family with dogs were out enjoying themselves.  A pedestrian bridge crosses the river parallel to the scenic metal railroad bridge, connecting a collection of homes on the opposite side of the river. Just before the bridge is a large old depot-turned-shop/museum/tickets counter and up the tracks from that is a newly built small shopping area. It is well done, keeping with local First Nations style, with small brightly painted buildings centered around a wooden deck.  There is the visitor center, local art shops, ice cream, and a coffee shop. The town also has a large bike rental store; they are really pushing themselves as a mountain biking haven with lots of super scenic trails. I think it’s a great idea and I hope to see Carcross benefit, maybe grow a bit, and stay a little slow.

Up the road we visited the smallest desert in the world. Carcross Desert.  Wind blows. It makes dunes against mountains it can’t get past. Rivers erode and loosen sand to be blown. Voile! Desert. Cute.

Next up was Cariboo Crossing Outpost – a bit of an “attraction” that turned worth while with a two for one ticket from the info center. The big draw for us (Zoe) were husky puppies, and they were so adorable!  Two pups were in their own pen available for guests (we were the only ones) to play with and pet.  Zoe couldn’t get enough!  Beside them was a covered open air pen holding a mama dog called Legs and her 6 day old puppies.  We lucked out on seeing nursing time. Lastly, there was a retired mushing dog in the large open pen who wasn’t so sure about the kids.

Behind the petting area were rows and rows of wooden boxes – each with a sled dog tide to it.  At 5pm a howl went up and the 160 dogs went nuts with howling and yelping and jumping on top of their kennels. The employee who was minding the puppies told us that Cariboo Crossing is a summer camp for sled dogs! Many local mushers  bring their dogs here for a month or two in the summer so they can socialize but also get some excercise.  The place runs the teams to pull trolleys with wheels over the summer – a setup local mushers really can’t invest in separately. They get a good bit of cruise boat business.  It was too late in the day for us to ride, sadly, but we were pleased with puppies.

The place also has a nice museum about the Canadian Mounted Police; the Mounties enforced the border-crossing rule for gold-seekers to bring a full year of provisions with them.

Then, there was the taxidermy.  We were impressed. I’ve seen crappy taxidermy,  and even museum-quality mediocre taxidermy, but this was so well done.  Whomever does the taxidermy at Cariboo Crossing has an amazing talent, of all the random things to blog about.  Really!  It was great… lifelike and thoughtfully laid out.  There were all kinds of Yukon animals first, like bears, mountain lions, mountain goats, and wolves.  Then came the Beringia animals – the extinct creatures that lived here during the last ice age  when the beringia land bridge connected North America to Russia.  A very life like berignia bison was being attacked by lions, while a huge mammoth trumpeted.  Again, raving about taxidermy isn’t usually my bag, but this was impressive.

Outside were more animals to pet. A couple donkeys milled about eating and pushing us from the back.  A few goats enjoyed Avi’s offering of the grass which was greener from the other side of the fence. A few tiny horses and an alpaca seemed vaguely interested in us, too.

The long summer sun is keeping us up later in the day, and it’s a bit motivating to move on. Our goal for the evening was Whitehorse, and we did stop there to gas up and visit a Walmart that welcomes tons of campers.  But I was motivated to keep driving and the kids were into our final book of the Gods of Olympus series, so we drove another couple hours to Kluane lake.  Actually, we stopped on the side of the road for a half hour at one point when all our books expired from the library loan and I had a a panicky moment using the one dot of cell service to re-borrow and download final chapters.  Thank the gods it didn’t have a waitlist, or the kids would’ve gone Ares on me.

The drive from Whitehorse just got more and more beautiful! At Kluane lake we parked at a nice flat pull out right along the lake.  The kids played in the mud; there was a nice sandy gravelly beach, but they chose the mud bank of the incoming stream. I made some dinner and realized it was 11:30pm. Off to bed around midnight again. We can’t seem to break this late habit, but I’m not fighting it.

In the morning we slept til 9ish again and then hit the road. We saw our first bear!  A big old brown bear lomping across the street.  Turned out to be one of many we’ve seen among the way, and almost always we pull over to watch.

Our only real stop today was the Kluane Provincial Park visitor center just up the road from our overnight parking spot.  It is at the base of a massive mountain, which mountain goats frequent. We lucked out seeing a few ewes with lambs high on the peak!  Of course, they just looked like specks, but the park service has some high powered scopes to look through.  Zoe did the Explore activities and earned some swag, and we got our first Red Chair picture!! Then we moved on for a long day of driving.

We didn’t really stop again except for gas and a picture at the famous Alaska highway sign in Delta Junction.  Our turnaround point, and a nice break with friends is up near Fairbanks.

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