At the Watson Lake Visitor Centre we picked up Yukon Tourist Passports (similar to the Explore the Bruce Passports) where you go to certain tourist destinations and get a stamp and if you collect 10 or more stamps you can submit it for a chance to win a 1 oz. gold nugget. Since we’re very goal oriented, we started collecting the stamps. One of the stops was the Watson Lake Airport that was built in 1942 and is now a heritage building. The airport was a bit out of our way up the Robert Campbell Highway but it was well worth the visit as they had lots of photos and display boards with the history of the airport and the Alaska Highway construction. We learned about the North West Staging Route which was to get planes for WWII to Alaska and even to “Lend” to Russia through the Lend-Lease program, Russia still hasn’t paid back their money owing. Several of the planes crashed enroute due to poor weather and airport conditions (short runways, no lights). They also had info on the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) that did a lot of the plane transports.
That evening we stayed at the Watson Lake Government Campground. Only a few of the sites had direct views of the lake but all the sites were quite large. We could see the ski hill across the lake and a pretty butterfly joined us on our picnic table for our BBQ dinner. On the drive the next day we saw lots of rock messages on the side of the road. In 1990 a Fort Nelson swim team put the first rock sign that said “P-Break” and now there are rock messages all along this section of road. As we continued, we went through a valley with snow capped peaks on both sides. We stopped for a little hike on the boardwalk through the boreal forest at Rancheria Falls Recreation Site to see the two waterfalls. Even though there were lots of people driving by, we were the only ones to stop and enjoy the hike to the falls.
Next we crossed the Continental Divide which divides two of North America’s largest drainage systems, the Yukon River and the Mackenzie River watersheds. Its amazing to think how far the water travels! As we drove we noticed a lot of the businesses along the highway were closed and for sale. I guess with such a short season it’s hard to make a go of it. We stopped at a view point to see the Nisutlin Bay Bridge, the second largest water span bridge on the Alaska Highway (1,917 ft/584m). We went over the longest, the Peace River bridge earlier in our travels. There were some interesting boards on the life of a Chinook Salmon, what a long journey they make and with no food!!
For a small town (800+ people), Teslin has a very good museum, the George Johnston Museum. George was a fascinating guy, trapper, photographer, and entrepreneur. The photos he took from 1920s-1940s have created a lasting archive of Tlingit life in Teslin. The museum features the Tlingit culture, trapping and some of George’s personal purchases. In 1929, he bought a car, got a quick driving lesson at the dealership in Whitehorse, had the car shipped to Teslin on a steamer where he had to get friends to help him build roads!! Once the roads were built people paid him for rides – Teslin Taxi at your service. After 34 years of ownership in 1962 he returned the car to Taylor and Drury Motors Ltd. without a single dent in it and traded it for a pickup truck! The car has been restored and is in the Museum.
In Teslin they had a fake RCMP car to try to slow traffic down. The Tlingit Heritage Centre was also in Teslin but we just walked around the outside and didn’t tour the museum. Two museums back to back might be a bit much even for us 😊. They had some nice totem poles out-front and a display on dugout canoes that was informative. We ended the day at the Teslin Lake Government Campground, a popular spot for fishing. We were in the RV up on the hill when we heard the birds going “crazy”. We could hear the thud of wings and when we looked, there was a HUGE golden eagle who wanted what the seagulls had. We couldn’t get a picture but later saw an exhibit that had a bald eagle and a golden eagle side by side. Someone said a golden eagle can have a wing span of 6 feet, I swear the one we saw was at least 2 1/2 feet high when it was standing on the shore!!
It seemed like we were in an RV convoy when we left the campground the next morning. However, we were the only ones to stop at the Canol Road Junction. Canol is short for Canadian Oil, a project to build a pipeline during WWII to get oil from Norman Wells in the NWT to Whitehorse and then Fairbanks. The project was funded by the US army and they left all the vehicles along the road once it was finished. A few of the old trucks are displayed. Next, we had to make a Cinnamon Bun Tour stop, time for a sugar high at Johnson’s Crossing!!! Usually when you arrive somewhere, they roll out the red carpet, well for us as we entered the Whitehorse area they put newly painted lines on the road to usher us into town.
More on Whitehorse in the next blog.