We had a quick stop in Haines Junction to see their Village Monument which depicts the relationship between the mountains and the wildlife before heading East towards Whitehorse. Along the way we stopped to see the Canyon Creek historic bridge. It was originally built in 1903 to help the wagons get through the area during the gold rush. It was rebuilt in the 1920’s and then moved aside when the Alaska Highway came through and they built a new bridge in 1942. However, they continue to preserve and restore the bridge as a historic site.
We decided to take a side trip to the town called Champagne (who doesn’t like Champagne) so we could get our photo by the town sign but of course they didn’t have one😉 All we were able to see were some old trucks left from 1942 when the Alaska Highway construction came through the area. No bubbly to be found but they did have a big hub cap collection.
In Whitehorse we stocked up on groceries, diesel, and money at the bank and then headed to Carcross. Along the way we stopped to see the Emerald Lake. It gets its colour from white calcium carbonate that has settled to the bottom and then the sunlight reflects off the bottom giving the colour.
Once in Carcross we stopped in at the visitor centre to hand in our complete Yukon Passports, here’s hoping we win the 2oz of placer gold!! The lady at the visitor centre mentioned a community campground so we tried to get in there but since it was Friday it was full so we headed about 20 kms south to Conrad PP, a relatively new park and we were able to get a spot on the water (Windy Arm of Tagish Lake) so we stayed for two nights. Beside the campground was the historic site of Conrad City which was a mining town. You could walk around and see remnants of a couple of log buildings, a mine shaft, some of the tram towers used to bring the rocks down from Montana Mountain to process. They are currently working on a management plan for this historic site so they didn’t have any display boards up yet so you just wandered around to see what you could find.
We drove past Bove Island as we headed back to Carcross to post the blog (free wifi at visitor centre) and book our trip on the White Pass Train. The community campground is very popular for mountain bikers who come down from Whitehorse for the weekend. Since it was Sunday the weekenders were heading back so we got a site. Even though you start forgetting what day it is, you have to be aware of weekends, especially as you get to populated areas. We got the bikes ready and headed over to Montana Mountain to check out the MTB trails. This is real “Mountain Biking”, the trails are marked just like ski trails, green, blue and black. We decided to check out the green ones first to determine if we could even attempt to do the others. Luckily, we met a guy at the trail map who gave us lots of good advise on what route we should take. Remember we are on the mountain!! Unfortunately, no lift to take you to the top (some people drive up if they have two cars) we had to bike up!! Sharon admits there was some b-hiking (aka walking with your bike) in the steep sections. Joel will say the ride down was a thrilling ride, Sharon would say thank goodness for good brakes! I (Joel here) also tried one of the blue trails and some sections I could manage but others needed some walking😉
Once back in Carcross we looked around town a bit and grabbed a beer at the bistro. We saw the old historic general store which is listed as the oldest store in the Yukon. Inside the store they even had an RCMP red serge jacket for sale, although we’re not sure if that’s legal, the RCMP were just down the road so I guess it’s ok. We also went to see the SS Tutshi sternwheeler which unfortunately had burned down after being restored and before they got the fire suppression system installed. The few remaining sternwheelers (which we’ve seen several on this trip) all have sprinkler systems now to protect them from fire. The SS Tutshi was built in 1917 and in 1925 was converted from wood to oil so it was quieter for the people in the staterooms on overnight stops. It was pulled out of service in 1955 as road access was available. They had restored it starting in 1988 but then it caught fire in 1990. They did a good job building a framing structure around the remains so you could still see part of the ship and get an idea of the size of the original ship.
Carcross has also done a good job with the commons area near the visitor centre and Chilkoot NP office by decorating the buildings with the symbols from the Carcross/Tagish First Nations Clan System. There are coffee shops, art galleries, bike rental, and gift shops. On our way back to the campground we also saw the totem poles at the community centre.
The next day we were booked on the White Pass Train. The White Pass is a unique narrow gauge railway, the rails are three feet apart on a 10 foot rail bed. The track starts at sea level in Skagway Alaska and climbs up 2888 ft to the White Pass Summit in just 20 miles. There are several bridges and two tunnels. Building of the tracks started in 1898 and it was completed in July 1900. They used 450 tons of dynamite during the build, as a joke, current day workers have placed funny dynamite holding creatures along the route. The White Pass and Yukon rail route is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark along with the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.
We were picked up by a bus in Carcross YK and driven to Fraser BC to board the train to Skagway AK. The views along the route are breathtaking. You realize how hard it must have been for those working on the tracks and for the gold rush prospectors that went up the White Pass Trail and the Chilkoot Trail in a neighbouring valley. We were glad we sat on the right hand side of the train as 99% of what the tour guide described was on that side of the train. We stopped at one point to pickup a couple of backpackers who had completed their hike. We were lucky because we got to see the one steam driven train they have in operation with engine number 73 going up the tracks as we pulled onto a siding. They had just started it again 3 weeks prior after it was being serviced. There is a Canada customs station in Fraser but the US customs was actually where the train ended in Skagway. The bus picked us up at the train depot and dropped us at the downtown train station so we could wander around for 1.5 hours.
When we bought our train tickets the young woman told us she always goes to the Fish Co. in Skagway since they have the best halibut. We certainly wouldn’t have happened upon the place, so it was a good thing she told us about it. We were lucky to get a table as it was busy with 2 cruise ships in town. She was right, great food! After lunch we went to the National Park Visitor Centre and then wandered around the town before catching the bus back to Carcross. We got some great reflections on the bus ride back as there was zero wind. Once the bus dropped us off we checked out the Duchess train engine (built in 1878 and used until 1919) which was used to haul a tram up and over a pass so tourists could go to Atlin.
They had fast free internet at the Carcoss VC so the next morning we got the blog posted. Sharon did some window shopping and then we went to the Parks Canada VC to watch the movie “The Meanest 33 miles”. It gave the history of the prospectors going over the Chilcott Trail heading to the Yukon Gold Rush. It was interesting as they showed the history and then current day hikers actually hiking the sections of the trail. It definitely was a rough journey, and the worse part, after everything they did to get over the pass and to the Yukon, all the gold claims had already been staked!! We made a stop at the Sourdough Bakery for a treat. Does anyone remember having sourdough starter in your fridge. Sharon remembers in the mid 70’s they had some called “Herman”, you had to feed “Herman” regularly, in return you could use “Herman” to make some good cinnamon buns! Our last stop in Carcross area was the desert. Yes, a desert in Canada, ok not really a desert because technically the climate isn’t dry enough but it sure seemed like it. We walked up the sand dunes and were rewarded with some great views. Before leaving we got to watch some skydivers land on the sand.
We finally headed out from the area around 2pm to our next stop in Atlin BC, no Duchess train any longer, you just drive there. It was a nice drive to Atlin and when we checked into the Norseman RV Park we went all out and spent $10 extra to get the penthouse spot since it was our wedding anniversary 😊 It was a spot on a small spit, water on 3 sides and a small umbrella table. There was an active fire over the mountains, so we watched the helicopters coming and going. We watched our neighbour land and unload his float plane. He must have been hauling stuff from a fish camp as he took out big bins and then about 30 red fuel containers. That night we were treated to a gorgeous sunset, something we hadn’t seen in a couple of months since the sun was never setting, so it was a real treat.
The next morning we went into the downtown area to walk around to the historic buildings. Atlin was a boom town during the gold rush (1898) and when the tourists were coming to travel by ship but then the town died off. Once the road in from the Yukon was completed in 1949 the town was reborn and now has a population of 350 people. In our walkabout we saw: the old jewellery store (it burnt down once but the big safe survived, they rebuilt around the safe), Kershaw’s hardware store now a private residence, the Globe Theatre, a Telus phone booth that was working😉, the courthouse and library, a unique pyramid house the old schoolhouse which is now a museum, the MV Tarahne on the shore of the lake, and the first fire hall.
We took a trip down Surprise Lake Road to the free dump station. Well, it was a surprise alright, an experience I’m sure we’ll never have again. Our rule has been, if there’s water fill our tank, if there is a dump station, dump our grey and black tanks. This dump station (if you can call it that) was an 8 “ PVC pipe onto wooden boards leading to a sewage lagoon. Needless to say we held our breath for a few minutes, but sometimes the dirty jobs just have to be done! Next stop was Pine Creek waterfall and then to the remains of the town of Discovery that had over 7,000 people during the goldrush. We wandered around the old cemetery and found some interesting old headstones.
We drove down Warm Bay Road to view the Llewellyn glacier, but it was too cloudy to see anything. A backtrack along the highway with a stop to see White Mountain before hitting the Alaska Highway again. At this point we are really “heading home” since we are now repeating part of the journey we already did. So much so we ended up at the same campground, Teslin Lake, we’d stayed at a couple months earlier. It felt very strange being there again. We did get the camping spot we had been eyeing last time 😊.
Our plan is to head south on the Cassiar Highway in BC with several stops planned.