The day the tires went flat

On our way to the Yukon, we made a quick stop at the information centre at Dawson Creek, BC to take the obligatory tourist photo.

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I was about to step back into the vehicle when I heard a distinct PFFFT! Something was definitely wrong! A tire on the trailer had blown. This was no simple puncture. The tire was shredded! Thankfully we were sitting still when it happened and we were in a community large enough to have three tire shops! Within an hour, we’d found a replacement and we were on our way again. That wasn’t the case a couple of weeks later!

Shortly after leaving the remote community of Stewart, BC, while slowly following a pilot vehicle through a long construction zone, we began to hear a rhythmic FWUP, FWUP, FWUP! Pulling over as soon as we were able to, we discovered that another trailer tire had blown! Thankful that we weren’t travelling at highway speed when it happened and that we’d replaced the spare in Dawson Creek, Richard changed the tire and we moved on again, this time without a spare. There was nowhere within a couple of hundred kilometres to get another tire!

At the same time, we knew that we were also travelling with a slow leak in one of the vehicle tires. Richard had added air in Stewart that morning and we carry a mini air compressor for emergency purposes, so we were hoping that it would get us to a larger centre where we could get it fixed. No such luck! Less than an hour after losing the trailer tire, the dashboard sensor told us that the right rear tire was rapidly losing air. Stopping to check, we immediately heard that familiar PFFFT sound again! My poor hubby had another tire to change!

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Now we were 116 km from the nearest community with no spare tire for the trailer AND no spare for the vehicle! Yikes! On we went with a prayer that nothing else would go wrong. Pulling into Hazelton, BC our first stop after the visitor information centre was the only tire shop in the area. At the very least, we’d be able to get the vehicle tire fixed there. Amazingly, not only were they able to serve us immediately, but they also had a trailer tire that was almost a perfect match for the one we’d bought back in Dawson Creek!

Now we’re just hoping that we get home without any more tire woes! Though we’ve already put on the majority of the miles that we plan to travel, we’re less than three weeks into our six week odyssey.

Stewart, Hyder and a river of ice!

As we travelled south on northwestern BC’s Cassiar Highway, a 65 km (40 mile) side trip took us into the tiny town of Stewart located at the head of the Portland Canal, a narrow salt water fjord approximately 145 km (90 miles) long. The fjord, the fourth longest in the world, forms a natural boundary between Canada and Alaska. Stewart boasts that its deep harbour is Canada’s northernmost ice-free port.

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I had to visit this picturesque spot if for no other reason than I was born a Stewart!

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Most tourists come for other reasons though including the Salmon Glacier, the fifth largest glacier in Canada. A self-guided auto tour brochure, available at the Stewart visitor information centre, explains the history and natural surroundings of the area as you drive the 37 km (22.9 miles) to the Summit Viewpoint overlooking the glacier.

Although the Salmon Glacier is located in Canada, accessing it requires crossing the border into Alaska at Hyder, just 3 km (2 miles) from Stewart. If you go, make sure you have your passport with you so you can re-enter Canada after your drive!

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Once a booming mining town, Hyder, with its population of “100 happy Americans” is almost a ghost town. Though there are still a post office, 2 motels and couple of stores, most of its main street is boarded up. This building, a gorgeous reminder of days gone by, was definitely my favourite.

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About 6 km (3.7 miles) after leaving Hyder, we stopped at the Fish Creek Wildlife Viewing Area hoping we might be lucky enough to see some of the bears that come to feed at the creek during the annual salmon run from July to September. Though salmon had been spotted further downstream, they hadn’t made it that far yet and there were no bears to be seen. Further up the road, however, we did see several of these little creatures.

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We weren’t sure what they were until we checked with a wildlife officer at the viewing site on our way back down and learned that they are hoary marmots. They seemed completely oblivious to or unconcerned about human traffic. In fact, at one point, three of them engaged in a playful wrestling match in the middle of the road while we and other motorists waited for them to tire and move on! I was able to walk right up to one of them to take pictures!

The drive to the glacier, some 4300 feet (1300 metres) above sea level, was almost like climbing a mountain by car! The narrow, bumpy road, unpaved after the Wildlife Viewing Area, clung to the mountainside as we climbed higher and higher. Soon we were passing expanses of snow!

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A little further along, the toe or snout of the glacier came into view.

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Continuing onward and upward, we enjoyed many views of the enormous river of ice.

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I was still awe struck when we reached the Summit Viewpoint and realized that there was so much more to the glacier than we had been able to see before that.

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It was chilly, but we ate our lunch overlooking the vast expanse of ice.

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Turning around and noticing the bluff overlooking the parking lot, I realized that it begged to be climbed, so off we went!

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I’m so glad we did. It was an easy scramble and the sights that greeted us were amazing!

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I think the views of the glacier were even better from the top of the bluff. Looking down on the parking lot and our vehicle on the far left (with our bright red kayak on top) helped put the vastness of the glacier into perspective.

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Miles Canyon

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We didn’t spend much time at Whitehorse on our recent trip to the Yukon, but there was one site we’d been to on a previous trip that I wanted to revisit. Miles Canyon, where the Yukon River has cut its way through a flow of basaltic lava, is probably the most picturesque and dramatic natural feature close to Whitehorse. The narrow channel through the canyon was a serious challenge for miners and gold seekers on their way up the Yukon River to the Klondike gold fields. Hundreds of boats loaded with precious supplies as well as several lives were lost trying to navigate this treacherous stretch of river. Though the hydroelectric dam built in 1959 to supply Whitehorse with power somewhat tamed Miles Canyon, it is still a spectacular spot.

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My main reason for wanting to revisit the canyon is the fact that since our previous visit in the early 1990s, I’ve conquered my fear of heights. This time I was able to cross the sturdy 85-foot-long suspension bridge over the gorge with confidence and I even managed to walk the narrow trail along the canyon’s rim. Of course, it probably helped that I didn’t have three young children in tow this time and didn’t have to worry about them plunging over the edge into the tumultuous water 50 feet below!

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Kayaking northern Canada’s lakes

I’m so glad we bought our kayak before embarking on this trip! Northern Canada has thousands of gorgeous lakes, many of them easily accessible by road.

Twin Lakes, Yukon

As we drove the Klondike Highway from Whitehorse to Dawson City, we followed the shoreline of Fox Lake for several kilometres. Noting that there was a government campground near the northern end of the lake, we determined to stop there on our way back. When we mentioned that plan to our brother-in-law, Grant, who has spent most of his life living in the Yukon, he suggested that we try the smaller Twin Lakes instead. It was excellent advice!

Smaller than Fox Lake, the western Twin, where we camped and paddled until I thought my arms were going to fall off, was so much fun to explore. As you can see in the view from the campground, there were many little islands to paddle around and hidden bays to discover.

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As we approached one of the little bays, I heard an enormous splash. We stopped and listened. A second splash followed, much too big to be a fish jumping. It had to be a beaver. Paddling ever so slowly and quietly toward the rippled water, we soon spotted a furry brown head just above the surface. Following at a distance, we watched the beaver until he used his flat tail to signal yet another warning and then slipped out of sight. Just around the next bend, we spotted his home.

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Boya Lake, BC

A few days later as we made our way down the Cassiar Highway in northern BC, we stopped to camp at Boya Lake Provincial Park. We lucked out, snagging the most beautiful site in the campground right on the lake front.

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Again, paddling this lake was every bit as interesting as Twin Lakes had been. Though we didn’t hear any loud splashes this time, we did spot another beaver. The colours of the crystal clear water, quite shallow in places, was absolutely beautiful!

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It was the ever changing view from our campsite that was most mesmerizing though. As evening settled in, the water became dead calm and the reflections amazing! I was constantly jumping up to take another photo! Here are just a couple of my favourites.

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If you decide to travel to the Yukon or northern BC and don’t mind camping without any services, I highly recommend government campgrounds. Located in beautiful spots like Twin Lakes and Boya Lake, they offer spacious treed sites and are meticulously maintained. At just $12/night, the Yukon campgrounds are a steal of a deal. BC parks aren’t far behind at only $20/night.

Don’t get eaten by a bear!

We have never seen as many bears in the wild as on this trip… 18 so far! We’ve even hesitated to go hiking in some areas due to the risk of meeting a bear on the trail. In spite of the sign, we did do the 9th Avenue Trail at Dawson City though.

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The only wildlife we saw was this curious fellow who stopped munching long enough to watch us go by.

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Well, that’s not entirely true. There were also mosquitoes! Lot’s of mosquitoes! We made two errors that a hiker should never make. First, I forgot my water bottle. I filled it and left it sitting on the counter in the trailer. Fortunately, I’d packed some pop for our lunch, so we were able to stay hydrated. Second, we forgot bug spray, a big mistake, especially in the north! The mosquitoes hadn’t been bad in town, so we didn’t didn’t even think about them until we were out in the bush getting bitten. Luckily, it was a cool day and we were wearing long pants and sleeves, so we didn’t get eaten alive.

Back to the bear sign though. Notice that it says, “BE ALERT MAKE NOISE”. I’ve been giving Richard a hard time lately over the fact that throughout our many years of marriage, he hasn’t been a very open communicator. I know that some of you who know him will find that difficult to believe, but it’s true. I also read that talking works better than carrying bear bells as a way to avoid an encounter with the furry beasts. When we read the sign, I told Richard, “Today you’d better talk to me or you might get eaten by a bear!” In fact, I think a new code phrase has been born. From now on, if I think he’s being particularly uncommunicative, all I’ll have to say is, “Don’t get eaten by a bear!” and he should know what I mean!

Anyway, I digress. Back to the hike…

Beginning in 1898 when the population of Dawson City swelled with thousands of people hungry for gold, tents and then log homes were built up the steep hillside behind the present day town. Today, the uppermost avenue is 8th, hence the name of the 9th Avenue Trail that follows the perimeter of the town, but further up the hill. As the gold rush came to an end and the population dwindled, the hillside homes were eventually abandoned, but there are glimpses all along the trail that there were once people living there. The homes were often built on flat platforms with stone retaining walls. Most of these wooden structures are long gone, but a few signs of them can still be seen.

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There was no garbage collection in Dawson’s early days. Broken and discarded items were often piled up outside the buildings. Rusty remnants can still be seen along the trail offering archaeologists plenty of information about life in early Dawson.

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I’m not even sure what that was, but the bed springs were obvious. I wonder who slept on them and what their story was?

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The hike was not a long or strenuous one. The 9th Avenue Trail itself is only about 2.5 km in length. We made it a little longer by adding the connecting Crocus Bluff Nature Trail which leads out to a viewing platform perched on a rocky bluff overlooking the highway entering Dawson and the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers.

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Dawson City, heart of the Klondike

On August 16, 1896 gold was discovered on Rabbit Creek (later called Bonanza), a tributary of the Klondike River. When news of the strike reached the outside world the following summer, the Klondike gold rush was on! 100 000 people set off for the Klondike and approximately 30 000 of them made it. By the summer of 1898, Dawson City, at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers, had become the biggest city north of Seattle and west of Winnipeg!

We thoroughly explored Dawson’s gold rush history on previous visits, but this time we were there for our nephew’s wedding. Richard and his five siblings were all together for the first time since 2012, so much of our time was spent visiting with family.

With a present population of less than 2000 people, however, the town is small and easy to see. Come take a look around with me.

Built by Arizona Charlie Meadows in 1899, in its heyday The Palace Grand Theatre saw everything from vaudeville to silent movies. Eventually, however, it fell into disrepair. In 1992, the then condemned structure was given to Parks Canada by the Klondike Visitors Association and underwent complete renovation. For many years, it was home to the Gaslight Follies, a high energy musical comedy that played nightly from May to September. Sadly, once more in need of refurbishing, the theatre is presently closed again. Plans to have it reopen in time for Canada’s 150th birthday and the 75 anniversary of the building of the Alaska Highway this summer fell through when asbestos was discovered and progress on the project slowed significantly.

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From 1896 to the mid 1950s, more than 250 sternwheelers plied the waters of the Yukon River. At one time, as many as 70 of these majestic riverboats carried passengers and supplies from Whitehorse to Dawson City. Now the stately SS Keno sits on Dawson’s riverbank welcoming visitors to come aboard for a step back in time.

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The streets of Dawson offer a mix of old and new, often side by side.

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Many buildings remain from Dawson’s early days, some still in use and others reminders of days gone by.

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Even modern structures retain the look and character of historic Dawson.

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Permafrost, a thick layer of permanently frozen soil below the surface of the ground, underlies this northern community and requires special building techniques to keep it from melting. Old buildings like these ones, hastily constructed during the gold rush, show what happens when the frozen sublayer softens.

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No visit to Dawson would be complete without at least strolling by Robert Service’s cabin. It was here that the poet who penned The Cremation of Sam McGee and numerous other northern tales lived from 1909 to 1912.  A costumed actor playing the role of Robert Service offers readings there every afternoon during the summer months.

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The Cremation of Sam McGee begins with the words “There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold”. The midnight sun is one of the things that I love best about northern Canada in the summertime. Here’s a photo taken at 11:30 PM. As you can see, the sun has dipped behind the hill overlooking Dawson, but it never gets any darker than this!

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The final stop on our virtual tour of Dawson City, the Commissioner’s Residence, built 1901 as to house the government leader of the newly formed Yukon territory, now has a permanent place in our family history. It was on those steps that our nephew and his beautiful bride were married on Saturday, July 8th!

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Liard River Hotsprings

Finally, internet that works well enough to download photos (albeit slowly) and share some of our past week’s travels with you!

Last week I travelled the Alaska Highway as far as Dawson City, Yukon for the fourth time. The first time was 50 years ago when I was a young teen. The second and third times were in the early 1990s when our own children were young and now we’ve made the trek again, this time to attend our nephew’s wedding.

Every time I’ve travelled this route, Liard River Hotsprings, Canada’s second largest hot springs, located in northeastern BC, has been a highlight of the trip. After a long day’s drive, we arrived at the hot springs around supper time, too late to secure a site in the provincial park campground. Instead, we set up in the overflow area across the highway, had a quick dinner and set off for a soak in the warm water.

From the campground, a short (0.4 mile/0.6 km) walk leads to the hot pools. The boardwalk trail crosses over a warm water swamp and through a forested area that support a variety of plant life that survives at this latitude only because of the hot springs. The area, where we saw a mother moose and her calf feeding on one of our previous visits, has not changed since I was there the first time.

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Ostrich fern and cow-parsnip are two plants that flourish in this warm, rich environment.

Relaxation seeped into my body as I eased into the water which ranges from 42ºC toward the lower end and 52ºC at the upper end where hot water bubbles out of the ground (108ºF to 126ºF). Though facilities including change rooms, benches, and composting toilets have been added since my first visit, the gravel bottomed hot springs, nestled in the boreal forest, are still very much a part of their natural surroundings.

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If you ever travel the Alaska Highway, don’t miss Liard River Hotsprings. You don’t have to stay if that doesn’t fit into your plans. For those who camp, soaking in the springs is included in their campground fees, but day use passes are available for just $5/person.

*If you do go, make sure you remove any silver jewelry before you enter the water! I found out the hard way that it oxidizes it. My pewter pendant was unaffected, but the chain is black!

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