Klondike Gold Rush
You can click on "photos"
directly to the first photo page, which has a connector to the second
page (if there is one).
(August 14, 2006 to September 5, 2006)
August 14 Tok (255 miles)
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
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
with long delays. After getting input from folks who had recently
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
We did not experience any long delays.
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.
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
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
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
When Lorraine mentioned that she had five kids and 10 grandchildren
seven year old great-greatgrandchild, at which point I nearly fell
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
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
August 15 - August 16
Dawson City, Yukon Territory (187 miles)
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
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.
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.
"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
Stay tuned for
part 2 in the next section.
left the motorhome in Tok and stayed two nights in the Downtown Hotel,
a vintage appearing hotel. It was okay.
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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.
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,
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.
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
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.
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
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
exchange for the free breakfast and asked each participant if they
to trade or to keep the breakfast. Very clever. He needed an assistant,
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)
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
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.
night in Wal-Mart parking lot. Then two nights in Pioneer RV Park where
we stayed on the way up.
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
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)
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.
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
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
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.
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
a place named Northern Lights Pizzeria. They had entrees and
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
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
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)
conditions: The road to
Watson Lake was good all the way.
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.
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
August 26 Muncho Lake,
British Columbia (168 miles)
conditions: The road was
pretty good with a few sections of loose gravel.
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
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
August 27 Fort St.
John, British Columbia (390 miles)
conditions: There were many
sections of loose gravel. Other than that the road was pretty good.
filled up in Fort Nelson at 1.087 per liter, which was about 3.872 per
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
Alberta (118 miles)
conditions: The road was
pretty good all the way to Grand Prairie.
filled up in Demmill, Alberta at .94 per liter, which was about 3.281
This was just an overnight stop.
August 29 - September
Alberta (283 miles)
conditions: It was mostly
four lanes to Edmonton with some short stretches where it narrowed to
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
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
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.
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.....
Copyright © 2006,
Roaming America with Rich &
Diane Emond -
All Rights Reserved