The Klondike Gold Rush
(August 14, 2006 to September 5, 2006)

You can click on "photos" to get directly to the first photo page, which has a connector to the second page (if there is one).

August 14 Tok (255 miles)

Road conditions: In the spring we learned that the Tok Cutoff to Glenallen was very bad and the suggestion was to do the loop around Alaska counter-clockwise and do Fairbanks first, which was always our plan. We thought the road from Valdez to Tok would be better late in the season. From Valdez we would have to go over the Tok Cutoff or take the long way around through Delta Junction. The word was that construction was still being done on the cutoff with long delays. After getting input from folks who had recently driven the cutoff to Tok and said it wasn't that bad, I decided I would take that route. It wasn't as bad as we had heard. There were a few areas where they were fixing the road, but smooth gravel is better than frost heaves. The warning we got about construction to widen the road from about 15 miles out of Tok was correct and it was a little rough for a few miles until we got to a smoother part that was ready for paving.
We did not experience any long delays.

Gateway Salmon Bake RV Park. Given that we opted to leave our motorhome in Tok and drive the car to Dawson City, we didn't want to put it in a campground for $30 per night. Bill Joyce was ahead of us and suggested the Gateway Salmon Bake RV Park next to the restaurant. The park had long pullthrus with water and electric sites for $21.60 per night, so that's were we decided to stay and to leave the motorhome while we went to Dawson City.

Fuel: We probably had enough fuel to get to Tok and Border City before filling up, but Diane doesn't like to see that red low fuel warning light come on, so we stopped in Valdez to put some fuel in the tank. Diesel was $3.369 in Valdez. We put a little more in the tank in Tok and that fuel was $3.239.

We left Valdez this morning after five straight days of rain and headed for Tok.  It took us 65 miles before we saw some breaks in the clouds and 100 miles before there was occasional sun. 

After getting set up and hosing down the car and motorhome, both of which were filthy due to the construction, I noticed a RoadTrek Class B van come into a site behind us and noticed it had an Escapees sticker on the window and the lady seemed to be alone. Diane and I went over to chat with her to see if she wanted to join us for dinner. Her name was Lorraine and she was from California. She and her husband did a lot of camping, but
he died not long ago. She decided to get the camper and hit the road.

As we talked we became fascinated with this lady. Lorraine not only traveled alone, but she preferred to travel alone. We were amazed when she told us that she spent most of her nights on the road in roadside pullouts and was usually the only vehicle in the pullout. She had no concerns about doing that. I asked her about the Escapees "Solo" sticker she also had on the back of her camper. She said friends told her that wasn't a good idea because it advertised that she was traveling alone. Her response was "hec, give me the biggest sticker you have and I'll put my telephone number on it". Great sense of humor. We got a chuckle out of that.

When Lorraine mentioned that she had five kids and 10 grandchildren and a seven year old great-greatgrandchild, at which point I nearly fell over. She yielded that she was about to turn 78 years old, had good health, and she loved to travel.

We thought that Lorraine was an amazing woman to be doing what she wants to do on her own terms. She opted not to go to dinner with us as she had already been to the salmon bake. We found her a delightful and interesting person. She planned to drive to Haines and then put the RoadTrek on a ferry back to Washington, but not before she gets off at Juneau and Ketchican for a few days in each.

Diane and I ate at the salmon bake on the way up in June and wanted to enjoy one more salmon bake before leaving Alaska. We walked over to the restaurant and had a great meal and then got packed for our trip to Dawson City.

August 15 - August 16 Dawson City, Yukon Territory (187 miles)

Road conditions: The route from Tok to Dawson City is done via two highways: the Taylor Highway (AK 5) and the Top of the World Highway. The Taylor Highway goes from the Alaska Highway (AK 2) to Eagle. The road splits and it's the Top of the World (TOTW) Highway that goes to Dawson City. There always seems to be a lot of chatter about the condition of the Top of the World Highway, both amongst RVers who have already traveled that road and those who are about to, or are considering, traveling that road. We stuck to our guns and left the motorhome in Tok and drove the car over for two nights. Now it's my turn to give my opinion of the TOTW. This will be a two parter. I'll give my impressions of the drive to Dawson City here and then give my impressions about the road on the drive back to Tok in the following section.

The statements we've heard about the road were mostly along the lines of "it was okay" or "it wasn't that bad" or "it was the road from hell". So which was it? Well, I'm convinced it depends on one's tolerance for driving on rough roads and the distance one is willing to drive on rough roads. First, let me say that we drove to Dawson City on a rainy day. The road from the Alaska Highway to just short of Chicken was very good. Patched up areas were smooth and speed wasn't an issue. From Chicken to the Canadian border the road was bad. It was very narrow in spots with an abrupt edge. It's the kind of road you don't want to make a mistake on. For an idea of what can happen if you make a mistake, click here. Scan down the page a bit to see a few photos of the motorhome that tipped over. The road surface had lots of potholes and some washboard and was generally not a fun road to be on.

We had always been told how nice the Canadian side of the TOTW was compared to the U.S. side. We crossed the border and, sure enough, the road became a very good paved road making me wonder why the U.S. couldn't do a better job with it's portion of the road. However, the euphoria was short lived when about 20 miles out we saw a sign that said "loose gravel". From that point on the road was full of potholes and some washboard and generally very rough. Unfortunately, a pickup truck coming around a curve spit up some stones and chipped the driver side windshield on the Honda. This part of the road was also not fun to drive.

People say "drive slow". That's not the issue. The issue is that it wasn't a fun road to drive regardless of the speed. Driving at 15-20 mph doesn't make it any more enjoyable. It just may lessen the shaking and rattling of the motorhome. Based on the drive to Dawson City, I was positive we made the right decision to drive the car over rather than the motorhome.

Stay tuned for part 2 in the next section.

Campground: We left the motorhome in Tok and stayed two nights in the Downtown Hotel, a vintage appearing hotel. It was okay.

Fuel: I neglected to fill up the car before we left Tok, so I needed to put some gas in the CR-V when we stopped in Chicken. It was $3.409 per gallon rather than the $2.979 it would have been in Tok.

On the way to Dawson City we stopped in Chicken because everyone has to stop in a town named Chicken. Gold rush stampeders were always in need of food which was sometimes scarce. However, there was an area near the South Fork of the 40-Mile River that had many ptarmigan. The ptarmigan is the Alaska state bird and it bears a resemblance to a chicken. When the town became incorporated in 1902 it was suggested the town be named "Ptarmigan" and many people liked the name. Unfortunately, people could not agree on the correct spelling and did not want their town name to be the source of ridicule. So they decided to call the town "Chicken". The current population of Chicken is between 17 and 37 depending on who you ask. There were a couple of campgrounds, cafes, shops. Definitely a tourist stop.

Before the gold rush, there was only a small island at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike rivers inhabited by a few Han First Nations people. That all changed in 1896 with the start of the Klondike Gold Rush thought to be started by three Yukon sourdoughs: George Carmack, Kaa Goox (Dawson Charlie), and Keish "Skookum Jim" Mason. They discovered the gold one sunny August afternoon while walking along Rabbit Creek, which was later renamed Bonanza Creek. However, another version of the story is that Mrs. Carmack discovered gold while washing George's clothes in the creek. In any case, they filed claims in Fortymile, which was the nearest town 50 miles down river. Word got around to others who were prospecting in the area and the rush began.

Mining for gold in those days of rudimentary equipment was hard and strenuous work, especially in winter. The choice was to work the streams or to go underground by sinking a shaft to the gravel that would yield gold. The miners had to first thaw the permafrost with wood fires to be able to then lift the dirt out with hand operated hoists. All that gravel had to be stored until spring when the melting snows provided water for sluicing to find the gold in the gravel deposits. In 1902, better equipment allowed for steam thawing rather than the wood fires. By 1905 the mining was done by dredging the stream valley floors. Dredging for gold was a primary means of sustaining the economy in the Yukon for many years.

A trader and grubstaker shrewdly platted Dawson City and made a fortune selling lots. The gold rush resulted in the arrival of thousands of cheechakos (newcomers) looking to strike it rich. In the summer of 1898, Dawson City became almost overnight the largest city west of Winnipeg and north of Seattle. By 1900, Dawson City had become refined and had such amenities as running water, electricity, and telephones. Many people referred to it as the "Queen City of the North" with a population of 30,000 to 40,000.  It took most of the people almost two years to reach Dawson City. By then the most prosperous areas were already staked out. The stampeders who arrived late ended up having to sell their supplies and gear to get steamboat fare back to the outside. Many of them were so disillusioned that they just wandered around Dawson City totally disoriented and not doing an prospecting at all. Dawson City was the capitol of the Yukon when it became a separate territory in 1898. The capitol was moved to Whitehorse in 1953 with its railroad, road system and airport.

There is so much history surrounding the Klondike Gold Rush. There will be more on the gold rush from the Skagway point of view after we visit that area.

We had one full day to spend in Dawson City, so we picked the things to do where we could maximize our time. Two of the things we knew we wanted to do was to visit the Jack London cabin and the Robert Service cabin. We found out there was a talk at the Jack London cabin at noon and a talk at the Robert Service cabin at 1:30. They were just down the street from each other so we figured we would have time to visit both of them.

Dick North is an expert on Jack London and runs the interpretive center. We got there early to look at the photos and stories on the wall about Jack London. He was 21 years old when he entered the Yukon in 1897 in search of gold along with thousands of other gold seekers. He never struck it rich during his stay in the Klondike, but he became wealthy with his short stories and books. His cabin was built on the North Fork of Henderson Creek, about 80 miles south of Dawson City. It was abandoned after the gold rush and rediscovered by trappers in 1936. In 1965, Dick North organized a search and then had the cabin dismantled and shipped out. Two replicas were made from the original logs. One is in Dawson City, the other one is in Jack London Square in Oakland, California. We enjoyed the talk given by Mr. North about London and his life and writings.
I had read two of his more famous books when I was a kid, "Call of the Wild" and "White Fang". Diane remembered also reading those books. We found a copy of both books bound together as one. I read them both in a week and forgot how much I loved them. They were real page turners for me. Diane plans to read them and then we'll pass the books on to grandkids.

Our next stop was the Robert Service cabin where a speaker dressed in period garb talked about Robert Service's life and writings. A guy named "Johnny" was quite good and funny while telling stories about Robert Service and reciting a few of his poems, especially the two that are probably the most famous: "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee". We enjoyed his presentation very much. 

Robert Service lived from
January 16, 1874 to September 11, 1958. He was born to a Scottish bank clerk and the daughter of an English factory owner. He followed his father into the banking business at age 15, but left when he was 25 and emigrated to Canada to join his younger brother in an experiment in ranching. That didn't meet his expectations and he left after 18 months and went to California. For six years he moved up and down the Pacific coast until, in 1903, he was broke and in Vancouver. Having spent time in the banking business he got a job in Whitehorse. It was there that Robert Service seemed to find what he was looking for.

A friend of his suggested he write something about the Yukon. He decided to give it a try and looked for a quiet place to work. He had keys to the bank, so he went there thinking it would be quiet in the off hours. When Service entered the bank, the guard was startled and fired a shot at him. From that incident came "The Shooting of Dan McGrew". He became a prolific writer and decided to publish.

In 1908, Service moved to Dawson and resigned from the bank in 1909 to write full time. He set himself up in a log cabin to write a novel about the gold rush. He interviewed people who settled in the area during 1898 and he read everything he could about the gold rush. The novel was titled The Trail of 98.

He left the Yukon and traveled in Europe where he married a woman from Paris. They eventually settled in Brittany. During World War I he was a volunteer ambulance driver for the Americans and then a war correspondent. He never returned to the Yukon.

The final stop for the afternoon was the Danoja Zho Cultural Centre where we looked at the exhibits and watched a dance program put on by the Raven Spirit Dance Society. It was two dancers telling the story of a little girl sitting by the river trying to piece together memories of her grandmother and her stories. She can't seem to make the connection in this world. She can only make the connection in a dream world. So she falls asleep and connects with her grandmother to learn the stories. I believe the type of dance we saw was interpretive dance and neither Diane nor I are really much into that kind of dance. I'm sure it was well done, but it wasn't our cup of tea. The exhibits in the center were interesting.

Our last stop of the day was to take in the 8:30 p.m. show at Diamond Tooth Gertie's Gambling Hall. It was a 30 minute show with Diamond Tooth Gertie singing a few songs and some gals doing can-can type dances. We had a coupon in the Tour Saver book for a two for one admission. We thought it was worth the two for one price.

August 17 Tok (187 miles)

Road conditions: Now for part 2 of the TOTW highway. Last night we were in Diamond Tooth Gertie's for the show and happened to see Pete and Ceil Seabury who we met on the glacier cruise in Valdez. They had come across the TOTW in their motorhome and we asked them what they thought of the drive. It was a beautiful day for a drive and the road was not muddy as it was the day we drove it. It was drying out and I thought that would be better than either mud or dust. Pete said it took them five and a half hours to drive from Chicken to Dawson City, which is about 100 miles. Speeds were between 15-20 mph.

We made the drive back to Tok on a cloudy, but mostly dry day. We only encountered some light showers along the way. I would have to say it was a totally different road on the way back. It helped that the graders were out. We saw three graders and a roller on the Canadian side, but just one grader on the U.S. side. I really couldn't believe the difference in the road surface from just two days earlier. There were still some stretches with potholes, but very little washboard. A lot of the road was hard packed dirt or gravel. There was a section about 15 miles out from Chicken that was pretty rough and, of course, the road on the U.S. side is very narrow in some places.

I often wondered why people would drive the TOTW. Was it because it was a challenge? I never thought of it as a challenge, but rather a choice. I never had a doubt that I could drive the motorhome on that road. It had much more to do with enjoying the drive. I would not have enjoyed the drive in the rain and mud. The dirt can get slippery when it's wet. However, given what I saw on the return trip, I would have to say I am now probably in the "it wasn't that bad" category, at least on THAT DAY. A lot of our decision making was based on input from folks who made the trip six years ago. I suggest that anyone reading this should not just use the above impressions of the road to make a decision as to whether you should drive the road. We had heard things like "potholes big enough to swallow a Volkswagon" and "it was all one could do to handle the car". Neither of those was the case for us on our trip over the road. The point is that the road changes from year to year, month to month, week to week, day to day, and probably even hour to hour depending on the weather.

The net of this review of the TOTW is that we could have driven the motorhome over to Dawson City on a dry day or, preferably, a day or two after it rains. I don't think it would be very enjoyable, but it would not have been a stress inducer. However, regardless of the type of conditions, it would require 100% of the driver's focus on the road.

So for those of you who have told me "it isn't that bad", I'll save you the trouble and say "YOU TOLD ME SO"!   :-)   However, I would have to counter with it isn't so bad depending on the weather, the time of year, and the condition of the road at the time you are driving on it. I still believe that for every "it isn't so bad" story there is an "it was the road from hell" story. Whether you drive the TOTW depends on your tolerance for rough and narrow roads and your tolerance for risk of damage to your rig.

Campground: Gateway Salmon Bake & RV Park.

We knew we had to go to the Sourdough Campground to partake in the sourdough pancake toss. This is an event put on by the owners of the campground, Ken and Ann Albright that seems to be catching on more every season as people talk about it a lot. We also knew that Charles and Lynne Rupp, the folks we met in Valdez that had the horrible accident with their rig in Skagway, were at the Sourdough Campground. We missed out on staying there in the spring. It was a toss up as to which campground to stay at and we stayed at the Tok RV Village. We did, however, go for breakfast at the Sourdough Campground, which was very good, and we could tell that Ken was quite a character. So this time through Tok we went over to have dinner (chile in a sourdough bowl) and do the pancake toss.

Ken spent 16 years in the hotel business working for a major hotel chain. But he got to not liking the job at all and wasn't happy there. Then, as he related the story, Ann suggested he quit and they move to Tok, which is where she was from. They did that and stayed at the Sourdough Campground, which has been around for about 40 years. They made an offer to the owners and bought the campground three years ago and have been working at making it a success. They are well on there way as more and more folks learn about the campground. The only negative thing I've heard about the campground is that some folks have said some of the sites are a bit tight for big rigs, and that the WiFi doesn't reach out into the park.

As for the pancake toss, we had one of the most enjoyable evenings during our tour of Alaska. Ken runs the show and he is a riot.It was laugh out loud, tears streaming down the cheeks funny. The pancake toss is done with leftover sourdough pancakes. Everyone gets to take two pancakes and toss them some distance to a bucket. If you get one in the bucket your breakfast the next morning is free (a $7 value for the all you can eat pancakes).

Ken started the show by singing three songs as he played the guitar. The songs were words he had written to well known tunes and they were very funny. He then spent several minutes telling everyone the rules of the game, which are always evolving as people try to find ways to beat the system to get the pancake into the bucket (i.e., cheat). He was hilarious as he described the rules. Diane and I don't watch reality shows on TV, but we have watched "Last Comic Standing" because we like comedy and some of the comedians that compete on that show are very funny. We both think Ken would have no problem getting through the audition cycle to be selected to participate on "Last Comic Standing". He could take what he does for the pancake toss and work it into a comedy routine. He is that funny and his "shtick" (i.e., the pancake toss) is unique. Diane and I are positive he would have an audience rolling with laughter. Of course, he would have to keep coming up with new stuff, but Ken seems to be extremely creative. Think of Jeff Foxworthy and you can get a sort of image of Ken Albright. I mentioned this to Ken after the show, but he wasn't aware of the show "Last Comic Standing".

Once the rules were understood the competition began and that was also funny as Ken bantered with the people. He had props that served to enhance the fun. My first toss had the pancake break up so only part of it went in the basket. The rule was all of the pancake had to make it into the basket, so no luck for me. I totally missed my second attempt. Diane missed her two throws, but Ken decided to pick on Diane, as he did with some other folks. He gave her a pancake and told her he would give her one more chance. But first, she would have to go off and "bond" with her pancake. Every now and then during the competition he would ask her if she was bonding with her pancake. When everyone was done, he asked her if she had bonded with her pancake. She said she had and he told her she could try and get it in the bucket. She missed.

Finally, Ken asked the winners to come up to play "Let's Toss Your Meal", a take off on "Let's Make a Deal". He offered an unknown prize in exchange for the free breakfast and asked each participant if they wanted to trade or to keep the breakfast. Very clever. He needed an assistant, a Vanna White type he said, to point to the places where the prizes were located on the stage. He picked on Diane to come up and play the roll. He showed her how to pose to indicate where the prizes were located and then proceeded to have her running back and forth to show where the prizes were located. It was great fun and we would definitely plan to stay there if we ever go back to Alaska.

We got to visit with Charles and Lynne and then said good bye to them. I'm sure we'll cross paths with them again down the road.

August 18 - August 20 Whitehorse, Yukon Territory (387 miles)

Road conditions:
We had high hopes that the Alaska Highway would be much better than when we came up, but the road was still pretty bad from the border to Burwash Landing just as it was on the way up. Lots of sections were repaired, but there were still a lot of frost heaves, most of which, but not all, were marked. The construction around Kluane that we encountered on the way north, including some very bad washboard sections, was finished but there was a new stretch of construction with rough and dusty conditions. But no washboard surfaces to traverse.

Campground: First night in Wal-Mart parking lot. Then two nights in Pioneer RV Park where we stayed on the way up.

Fuel: We got our last U.S. fillup in Border City at $3.229 per gallon. Filled the tank upon arrival in Whitehorse at $1.103 per liter or roughly $3.824 per gallon.

There were two reasons to stay in Whitehorse for a few days. One was the timing was right for me to park it in a campground that had cable TV so I could watch the last two rounds of the PGA Tournament, the last major golf tournament of the year. I was lucky enough to be able to watch some of all three golf majors that aired over the summer and that made me a happier camper.

The other reason to stay in Whitehorse was to go see the Frantic Follies Vaudeville Review at the Westmark Hotel. We passed on that on the way up thinking that possibly we would hook up with the Winckels and Hirths while up in Alaska and then tour together the rest of the summer. That never happened as all we were able to do was to visit with them a few times when we happened to be in the same place at the same time, and we always had a good time on those occasions. We were very glad we did go see the show as it was very funny and entertaining. We very much enjoyed watching the multi talented people singing, dancing, and playing multiple instruments. Frantic Follies is a definite "do not miss" attraction in Whitehorse.

Pioneer RV Park has one of the best RV wash setups on the highway, and our motorhome and car really needed to be washed. There were two sprayers that offered rinse and wash options so you didn't need your own soap. The cost was one loon for four minutes. It took eight loons to wash the motorhome.

August 21 - August 24 Skagway (104 miles)

Road conditions: The South Klondike Highway connects Skagway to the Alaska Highway south of Whitehorse. The road was very good all the way to Skagway. There is a very steep and long  11% descent into Skagway.

Campground: Garden City RV Park. This park offered full hookups with 30-amp service. WiFi was available. The first hour was free and then it was $5 per hour which, of course, is outrageous and I wouldn't pay for that. However, the free hour is "connect time", not "clock time" so it's possible to stretch that hour out over four days, which is what I did to just do email.

The views along the South Klondike Highway were beautiful as we drove along several lakes and drove through the Carcross Desert, the world's smallest desert. We stopped to take a few photos of colorful Emerald Lake. Blue green light waves reflect off the white sediment of the lake bottom. This sediment, called marl, consists of fragments of decomposed shell mixed with clay. It is usually found in shallow, freshwater lakes that have low oxygen levels during the summer months.

When we arrived we were surprised to see that the Winckels and Hirths were in the park as we had no idea they would be in Skagway while we were there. We got to visit and do a few things together during our stay in Skagway.

One of the first things that happened when we arrived at the campground was a small world experience. When we pulled into the campground I spotted a big rig that looked awful familiar and I was sure I knew that motorhome.  Then I noticed it had Florida plates from Marion County. After we got set up, Diane and I walked over to say hi to the folks. It turned out to be a motorhome that we see when we are in Ocala visiting with my mom. It's always parked next to a beautiful house on a beautiful piece of property that we pass when we go out to the main road. We chatted for a while and joked about meeting in a place that was more than 4,000 miles from their home.

The name Skagway is said to mean "stiffly wind rippled water" in the local Tlingit dialect. It is the oldest incorporated city in Alaska (1900). The first white residents were Captain William Moore and his son, J. Bernard, who settled in 1887 on the east side of the Skagway River Valley. But it was the Klondike Gold Rush to which Skagway owes its growth and reputation. The Skagway and Dawson City areas are steeped in the history of that gold rush.

In 1893, the U.S. was in a depression when gold reserves plummeted and the stock market crashed. Then came the word from the northwest - GOLD!!! It was the promise of quick wealth that drove more than 100,000 people in search of the yellow metal. On July 14, 1897, the steamship Excelsior docked in San Francisco with word that it was carrying more than a ton of solid gold on board. It was actually carrying two tons. Former YMCA secretary Tom Lippy and his wife Salome went north in 1896 on a hunch Tom had and struck it rich. They eventually brought back nearly $2 million from the richest Klondike claim. Within days the stampede was on and every possible means of transportation to the north was booked.

The first port used was in Dyea (pronounced "die-ee) where it was possible to cross over the 33 mile Chilkoot Trail to the headwaters of the Yukon River which was a navigable route to the Klondike gold fields. The problem with this route was the final quarter mile climb that rose 1,000 feet that was known as the Golden Stairs. Some 30,000 gold seekers tried this route with varying degrees of success. One of the requirements for being allowed to use the trail was proof that each person had at least a ton of goods and supplies with them. That resulted in people having to make 30 to 40 round trip climbs up the Golden Stairs to get their supplies to the top, or pay dearly to have someone do it for them. Most of the people making the journey did not have the money to hire help and had to make the climbs themselves. Many men and animals died along that route.

A better port than Dyea was Skagway, which soon became the gateway to the Klondike. It was a modern city with electric lights and telephones, plus 80 saloons, three breweries, many brothels, and service and supply businesses. But it was a wild and lawless city crowded with con artists and thieves who preyed on the people trying to get through to the Klondike. From Skagway, the White Pass route was longer by 10 miles, but less steep by 600 feet, than the Chilkoot Trail. However, within two months, overuse destroyed the trail through the White Pass. British investors started building the White Pass and Yukon Railroad in May 1898 and reached the White Pass summit in February 1899 and Whitehorse in July 1900. Unfortunately, the gold rush was over by then.

It took three months to cross the mountains. Some 30,000 stampeders sat out the winter of 1897-1898 in tents along the frozen lakes and were still 550 miles away from the gold fields. When the snows melted the men built more than 7,000 small boats for the trip to the Yukon River and up to Dawson.

The Winckels, Hirths, and Diane and I took a round trip ride on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad to the summit. Along the way we could see the "Trail of 1898" where men and animals tried to scale the pass with their supplies. Rusted shovels, axes, barrels, and other supplies were still laying on the trail where they were abandoned in 1898. So much history in the White Pass. We enjoyed the train ride. Diane and I didn't think it was as scenic as the Durango-Silverton train ride, but there was much more history on the White Pass and Yukon ride.


1). When we got back to Skagway we all decided to go out to eat and picked a place named Northern Lights Pizzeria. They had entrees and sandwiches. I don't write about all the restaurants we eat in, but I try to write up some of them, and will always write up those that require a warning. All of us have been burned by restaurants that either don't take credit cards or won't split checks, so we have learned to ask those questions on the way in. We were told by our server that Northern Lights Pizzeria did accept credit cards and did separate checks. She pointed to a sign that said a 15% gratuity would be added for parties of six or more. We didn't have a problem with that. When we got our bills the gratuity that was added on was more like 17%. I asked our server if she had made a mistake and she curtly said that they added on an extra 2% for separate checks and walked off. We were all kind of astonished at the brazenness of that act and I muttered that I really didn't like that. Our server was walking by and heard that comment and turned around to say "well, I hate doing separate checks". Even if she heard the comment, she had absolutely no business replying to it. There was some talk about talking to her about it or talking to a manager, but we just dropped it. So she got her extra 2% and we would never go back there. I post it here as a warning to anyone who reads this and finds themselves in Skagway. There were other pizza places in town.

2). What is the deal with the customer unfriendly atmosphere with some of the restaurants in Alaska? They seem to have an aversion for splitting checks. We all went to the Skagway Pizza Station for dinner one evening and found out that they, too, did not like to split checks. Whereas the Northern Lights Pizzeria surprises you with an extra 2% to split checks, at least the Pizza Station had it on their menu that they charge an extra 5% to split checks. Five percent!!! That's ridiculous and not at all customer friendly. We did end up staying and putting the bill on one card with the others paying cash. If Diane and I were alone and saw an extra charge listed to split checks we would get up and leave just on principle and tell them why we were leaving, not that they would care.

We would not recommend either of these restaurants.

Whenever there is money to be had at the expense of others there will be people to take advantage of the situation. Such was the case during the Klondike Gold Rush and Soapy Smith was the con man who held reign over Skagway. He was born Jefferson Randolph Smith in 1861 in Georgia and headed west as a young man. He learned his trade during the silver and gold rushes in Colorado and made it to Skagway in the fall of 1897. He and his cohort, "Rev." John Bowers, put together what was thought to be the largest band of thieves in North America. For nine months, Smith and his gang ruled Skagway. Although he had a wife and children in St. Louis, he became friendly with Miss Belle Davenport and her "soiled doves", Alice and Molly.

Soapy left the dirty work mostly to his gang as he tried to appear as a reputable person in the town. The City Surveyor, Frank Reid, and others, saw through Soapy's supposed good deeds and tried to run him out of town. Being a good con man, Soapy was able to get the towns people to support him. When his gang robbed a stampeder from British Columbia, J.D. Stewart, Soapy stood by his men and refused to return the gold dust to Stewart. Four days later Soapy was shot by Frank Reid and his reign in Skagway was over.

The story of Soapy Smith and the events that led up to his demise are presented in the "Days of '98 Show". We got tickets to see the show. We chose the evening show because it was preceded by an hour of "gambling" with the $1,000 we were given when we bought the tickets. The games being played were roulette, blackjack, and 4-5-6. We played blackjack at a table where the dealer was none other than Soapy Smith. It was great fun and the show was very good.

Haines is a town of some 2,500 full time residents situated on the Lynn Canal. It was home to the first fort in Alaska, Fort William H. Seward. It was built as a result of an ongoing border dispute between the U.S. and Canada. Whereas Skagway is more of a tourist town with cruise ships docking daily, Haines is more laid back and quiet. It is home to many artisans. Lots of folks told us that Haines was a nicer place to visit, but I'd have to say it depends on what you are after and how you visit. The distance from Haines to Skagway is about 360 miles by land, but just 15 miles by the fast ferry. It was also possible to drive to one and then put the RV and car on a ferry, but that would add several hundred dollars to the trip and we opted to not do that. We would take the fast ferry over for a day trip.

Everything I read about Haines seemed to indicate that it would not take very long to walk around the few shops in the small town and to look at the ruins and buildings of Fort William H. Seward. Diane was intent on seeing Haines, as were the Winckels and Hirths, so we all went over together. The decision was to take the 9 a.m. ferry over and the 7 p.m. ferry back to Skagway. That seemed to be a lot of time, but I went along with the crowd. I shared some information I got from Bill Joyce who sent me a couple of notes saying that there really wasn't much to do in Haines without a car. Many of the things to see, such as the state park and the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve were out of town several miles. We got off the ferry and walked around the town and were pretty much finished by noon. We stopped for a great lunch at the Mountain Market and then walked over to see the fort on the way back towards the dock. Along the way we stopped in a shop where a guy was working on a totem pole. It was very interesting. With everything done, Diane and I opted to return to Skagway on the 4 p.m. ferry. Karl, Fran, and John also chose to return on the 4 p.m. ferry as Roberta wanted to take in the bald eagle museum before returning. She came back on the 5 p.m. ferry. We all enjoyed the ride through the fjord back to Skagway and saw some eagles and sea lions on the way.

August 25 Watson Lake, Yukon Territory (314 miles)

Road conditions:
The road to Watson Lake was good all the way.

Campground: We stayed at the Downtown RV Park. As documented in the Church's book, it's just a gravel lot. However, it is walking distance to just about anything you'd want to do in town. They have full hookup sites, as well as water/electric sites, and some space for dry camping. Free WiFi was available but only in and around the building.

Fuel: We filled up at a Fas Gas at $1.141 per liter, which was about $3.981 per gallon, the highest price we paid all summer.

It is said there are two indications that it's time to leave Alaska and head south. One is when the fireweed goes to seed. That means the first snow is about six weeks away. We did see some fireweed had gone to seed as we drove. The other indication that it's time to leave is when you see the "termination dust". That would be the first light covering of new snow. It means that it's time to terminate one's activities and head south. We didn't see any termination dust, but Sally Stribling told us they had seen it in Eagle River. So it seemed like a good time to leave and start making our way down to the lower 48.

There was the long steep climb out of Skagway to contend with and we had to decide whether or not to hook up the Honda for the drive over White Pass. It was windy and wet, but we opted to hook up. We saw Terry Klein before we left and got to say good bye to her and wished her safe travels for the rest of their trip. Once we climbed out of Skagway and over White Pass the weather changed and we left the rain behind.

The weather was great and I wasn't tired, so I just kept on driving. I guess the adrenaline was flowing and I was anxious to get to warm weather. We made it all the way to Watson Lake and I had more in me if I needed to go further. We filled up the fuel tank and settled in for the night.

August 26 Muncho Lake, British Columbia (168 miles)

Road conditions:
The road was pretty good with a few sections of loose gravel.

Campground: Strawberry Flats Campground in Muncho Lake Provincial Park. Campsites right along the lake, some of which were large enough for big rigs. No hookups. The choice was between the J&H Wilderness RV Park at $30 or Strawberry Flats Campground for $14. It was a no brainer for a one night stop.

Shortly after we left Watson Lake we saw vehicles pulled over to both sides of the highway. We figured there was something there, so we stopped. It was a young grizzly down in the drop off to the side of the road. That was probably the closest we came to a bear all summer.

On the way to Muncho Lake we stopped for a dip in the Liard Hot Springs. The sun was out and the air was a bit cool, so it felt really good to be in the hot water.

The Muncho Lake area was the first of the beautiful sights we saw on the way to Alaska in June. We wanted to spend a night at the Liard Hot Springs, so we only stopped to take a few photos of Muncho Lake when we came through in June. On the way back we thought we would spend a night in the area. Muncho means "big lake" in the Kaska language. It is 7.5 miles long and is one of the largest natural lakes in the Canadian Rockies. The lake is a beautiful jade green in color created by tiny rock fragments scraped from the valley walls by glaciers and carried by meltwater down to the lake. Most of the silt sinks to the bottom of the icy water. Fine particles ground to the texture of flour remain suspended in the lake water giving it a milky appearance. The "rock flour" reflects and scatters the sunlight, returning mainly the blue green spectrum to our eyes.

One of the things we learned from a roadside sign was that the mountains in the area were a terminal range of the Canadian Rockies. "Terminal" refers to the geographic position of the mountain range and is the northernmost section of the Rocky Mountains. People think that the Rockies extend north into the Yukon and into Alaska, but that is a misconception. The Mackenzie Mountains continue north and are a different mountain range. The total length of the Rockies is about 1,850 miles. In Canada, the Rockies go from their northern tip to the international boundary between Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta and Glacier National Park, Montana. They then stretch into the U.S. through Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and into New Mexico ending near Santa Fe.

August 27 Fort St. John, British Columbia (390 miles)

Road conditions:
There were many sections of loose gravel. Other than that the road was pretty good.

Campground: Wal-Mart parking lot.

Fuel: We filled up in Fort Nelson at 1.087 per liter, which was about 3.872 per gallon.

This was kind of a funny evening for us. We thought we would just continue on to Dawson Creek, but Diane spotted a Wal-Mart and we pulled in there for the night. As we pulled into the Wal-Mart we saw an Eastside Mario's Restaurant within walking distance and decided to go there for dinner. We both enjoy the award shows and had given up on seeing the Emmys. Much to our delight, one of the TVs in Mario's had the Emmy pre-show on so we were able to watch it, but not hear it. After we finished dinner, I suggested to Diane that we stop in the Super 8 Motel lobby just for the off chance that there may be a TV tuned to the Emmys. Bingo. The TV in the breakfast area was on and no one was there, so I tuned the TV to the Emmys and we watched the rest of the show. Just another tale of life on the road. We were very happy to see one of our absolute shows, "24", win for best drama and for best actor for Keifer Sutherland.

August 28 Grand Prairie, Alberta (118 miles)

Road conditions:
The road was pretty good all the way to Grand Prairie.

Campground: Wal-Mart parking lot.

Fuel: We filled up in Demmill, Alberta at .94 per liter, which was about 3.281 per gallon.

This was just an overnight stop.

August 29 - September 05 Edmonton, Alberta (283 miles)

Road conditions:
It was mostly four lanes to Edmonton with some short stretches where it narrowed to two lanes.

Campground:  Glowing Embers RV Park and one night in a Wal-Mart parking lot. The park bills itself as an "ultra-modern" RV park, but it really isn't. An ultra-modern RV park would have both 30 and 50 amp service at the sites. It would have cable or satellite TV at each site. The sewer hookups would be mid site not at the rear of the site. However, it was a nice park with about 270 sites. What we didn't know was that Canada also celebrates "Labour" Day Weekend and we were lucky to get a site. There were many sites that were very wide and deep enough for big rigs. The campground had a restaurant on sight. The best thing about the campground was the free WiFi that worked very good.

All we did for the week was to lounge around, shop, eat, go to the movies, and do nothing special. It was a total hang around week and we needed the break.

At one point during our stay in Alaska I received a note from our friends, Ron & Barb Hofmeister to tell me about some folks she knew who were also in Alaska. One couple was Bill Joyce and Diane Melde who we already knew and saw while we were in Alaska. The other couple lives the same area where the Hofmeisters live in Arizona. They were Bob and Karen Carnahan. I kept track of where they were via their website, but we never did meet them while in Alaska. One evening while we were in the Glowing Embers RV Park there was a knock on the door. It was the Carnahans who were in the same park and realized we were also there. We enjoyed a nice visit talking about our Alaska adventures.

This brings us to the end of our Alaska trip.
We had a great time, even with all the rain and cold towards the end. From here we will head east across Canada to Winnipeg and then down into the U.S. in Minnesota. We'll take US 2 across Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and then go over the Mighty Mac (Mackinaw Bridge). Then we'll go south through the center of the state to the Spartan factory in Charlotte for some well deserved annual maintenance on our motorhome.

I'm working on an epilog that I will eventually put up on our website. It will contain highlights, lowlights, disappointments, trip statistics, and some final thoughts.


Until next time, safe travels.....

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