Monthly Archives: July 2012

Skagway AK, gateway to Klondike Gold Rush

Our WBCCI Airstream caravan to Alaska includes a one-day side trip to Skagway. While in Whitehorse YT, we rode a bus to Fraser B.C. to catch the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad to Skagway Alaska. The rail was built in 1898, too late to serve the 100,000 stampeders determined to make their way to Dawson City.

Most of the stampeders took passage on ships from all over the world to Skagway to begin their hike up either the Chilkoot or the White Pass trail to the Yukon River where they would build a boat to travel downriver to Dawson City.

We had a gorgeous day for the train ride from Fraser to Skagway and could not comprehend how the gold rush stampeders were able to hike from Skagway up into and through these rugged mountains. The Mounted Police were waiting at the top of Chilkoot Pass to assure the stampeders carried sufficient gear and food for one year’s stay. This amount of gear weighed 2,000 pounds and required the stampeders to make the punishing 1,500 foot Chilkoot Pass ascent twenty to thirty times.

Had the rail been completed in time then the stampeders might have looked much like this group, riding comfortably if a little crowded. They would have been traveling the opposite direction from us. They would have been incredibly excited about the possibilities, very apprehensive about the difficulties, and anxious to arrive in time to stake a good claim and start digging for gold.

The rail wasn’t completed in time, though, for the successful stampeders. The most successful stampeders had already been in the Yukon for up to twenty years before the 1896 discovery at Bonanza Creek. Claims quickly were filed there and all about Dawson City. The 110-mile rail line required two years, ten million dollars and tens of thousands workers to complete. This picture is one small example of why this rail line was tough to build.

The Yukon and White Pass Route Railroad was completed and served many years until it was shuttered for six years, from 1982 to 1988. But the Brackett Tram Road was sold in 1897 after just one year operation between Skagway and White Pass City. He would never have been able to compete and sold it to the railroad.

Skagway today is picturesque with nicely preserved and brightly colored buildings, boardwalks, and many places to shop. You can tell, walking into most of the stores, Skagway is a cruise ship port town. The selection and the prices marked on stuff in the stores is not for frugal travelers.

McCabe College, built in 1899 of native granite, served as a school then a number of municipal functions before becoming a museum in 1961. The building is attractive and houses an interesting and varied collection of historical items from Skagway. Another interesting display in one of the National Park’s restored downtown buildings describes the stampeders trials and triumphs in 1898-1899.

Skagway Alaska is a nice town to visit for four or five hours. Everything in Skagway is walking distance to the cruise ships and railroad depot, suiting us perfectly. We enjoyed ice cream, fudge, and a great cup of coffee at Glacial Smoothies downtown.

We’re glad we could make the afternoon visit.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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Why Caravan to Dawson City?

It occurs to me as I revisit our previous blog, City of Gold, I failed to introduce the topic. Just started in as if you and I had been talking together all evening about the topic. And why would we visit Dawson City, anyway? Partly this abruptness is borne of scarce connectivity over the past couple of weeks. I succumbed to a sense of urgency to get a blog posted, even if I couldn’t review and edit it.

Here are a few very short paragraphs to explain the back story for our post, City of Gold.

We are on a 63-day caravan in Yukon Territory, Alaska, and British Columbia with 76 people in 38 Airstream rv trailers and motorhomes. The people range in age from 60 years to more than 80 years, and represent most of the states, including Hawaii. Two couples are full-timers, living in their trailers year-round. Several of the couples have never been on a caravan, a few have been on as many as ten caravans. Their Airstreams were built between 1961 and 2011 and represent all sizes and configurations from 23′ trailers to 40′ motorhomes.

The caravan started in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada on July 12 and will disband in Prince George, British Columbia, Sep 12. We followed the historic Alaska Highway from the starting point in Dawson Creek, until we diverted to Dawson City YT. There we learned about the 1896 Yukon Gold Rush, crossed the Yukon River and followed the Taylor Highway to its starting point at the terminus of the Alaska Highway in Delta Junction, Alaska.

We are in day twenty (20) of this 63-day caravan. We have posted eight times in July about this caravan. You can easily scroll through all the caravan posts to-date by clicking here.

Our next post will briefly detail our day-trip to Skagway AK from Whitehorse YT. It was a wonderful train trip to Skagway and we returned to Whitehorse via tour bus.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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City of Gold on the Yukon River

Our leader puts up with a lot of aggravation and trial from his 75 wards on this caravan. A bunch of over-grown adolescents sometimes, we expect him to keep us happy, let us sleep in, and prevent flat tires and windshield dings. It takes a lot to endure us. We peeked into his Airstream trailer on one driving day’s brief stop and were only mildly surprised to see medication bottles arranged close to his sofa/office.

They call it Dredge #4, not the Debra Ann or Mary Louise or Klondike Spirit. This megaton behemoth dredged the Bonanza Creek concession below Discovery for over forty years. It worked all hours every day non-stop until flood waters from a dam release sunk it in 1957.

Everything about this dredge is huge scale. The machinery behind Deb is a small sample of some of the many large gears and sheaves in this electrically-driven machine.

The post office represents the excellent condition of many of the old buildings in Dawson City. Our group’s walking tour provided guided entry into and narrative about the history and significance of this early extension of the federal government into Yukon Territory’s first capital.

We had an evening dinner cruise on this side-wheeler. The stern-wheeled boats ruled the Yukon River until 1950s when bridges were built locking the big boats in. The boats were beached and abandoned. This side-wheeler is modern, built in the last ten years.

How do you catch a bunch of Airstreamers? Lure them with ice cream cones! Joan and Bill Weber, Sandy and JJ Johnjulio, unidentified, Shelly Randall and Jim Moser sit in front of the ice cream store.

The Commissioner’s house was magnificent in its day and still is. Prominently situated for visibility from arriving boats, the house served to welcome visitors and convey a sense of orderliness and stability for this restless mining town in the early 1900s.

A highlight (should I say “high point”?) of our visit to Dawson City was the trip up Dome Road. We drove 1,800 feet upward above Dawson City for this wonderful view. Paved road all the way up with plenty of room at the top for turnaround, it was easy for us. Not so easy for the hikers.

The hilltop allows this vista of Dawson City

And this one of our silver airstreams filling the campground far below

The idyllic wandering life has its special moments, some more memorable than others. Fortunately for Randy, his two flat tires occurred after he was parked overnight in the campground. He had plenty of time and room to remove and replace them.

Jack London spent a tough year in Dawson City. Poor health and lack of fortune panning for gold drove him south, where he began recounting the many stories he lived and learned here. His cabin was not originally in Dawson City. Dick North moved it here along with a replica food stash.

Dawson City Museum houses curated displays, archive displays, a courtroom, and a theater. The building is over 110 years old, served as territorial government building. We spent enjoyable hours poring through the exhibits and watching Pierre Berton’s 1957 documentary movie, City of Gold.

The only crossing of the Yukon River, this free ferry operates all day on approximately twenty-minute cycles. We rode the ferry across to start our trek from Dawson City to Chicken Alaska. We waited over 4.5 hours in a long line-up for the short trip across the river.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

Leave Something for Next Time in Whitehorse YT

Our driving days are usually pretty interesting. We have guidebooks and experienced caravan leaders to provide us sightseeing ideas to break up the drive. On one stop between Watson Lake and Whitehorse we visited Rancheria Falls — very nice boardwalk leading from the ample parking area to viewing platforms for both sets of falls. Someone went to a great amount of effort to get us to walk there. Although the falls aren’t overly dramatic, nor so tall, they are pretty and we enjoyed the walk as a break from driving.

Our group chartered this boat for a three-hour tour of Schwatka Lake and the Yukon River above Whitehorse. The lake was named for a US Army Lt who reportedly surveyed the entire length of the Yukon River by raft in 1883. The boat is nice, has seats on the upper deck and in the enclosed lower deck, and room to walk around.

The lake, dammed in 1958, was calm and mostly very wide. There are very few houses visible at lakeside but it seemed a beautiful spot to have. They showed us the ruins site of the US Army’s 1940s tremendous laundry, built at water’s edge to manage laundering for thousands of troops. Only some low foundations remain — an innocuous reminder of a dominating industry along these shores.


You might remember two years ago we posted a picture of Deb and Jim by one of the Gllette coal mines tremendous dump trucks. We didn’t nearly come up to the wheel hubs on those. This is a behemoth of an entirely different nature. The wheels are just over ten feet tall, and this very strange critter didn’t make sense to us at all until we went inside and found schematics describing it a little.




Once we read the name for it, we understood — this is an LCC-1 Land Train, and the lead machine is a Power Car. This was made by LG Tourneau from Longview TX, and is housed at the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse YT. Some of the wheels are missing from several cars and a couple of new-looking tires are stacked alongside a nearby hangar. Some of this museum appears under development, including this exhibit, so we were left wondering about the role and reign of this giant “land train”.

The Beringia Interpretive Center is adjacent to the Transportation Museum but couldn’t be more different in presentation. This neat natural history museum introduced us to the vast non-glaciated region stretching from Nunavit across parts of Yukon Territory and Alaska into Siberia. The centerpiece of the museum is a reconstruction of the 24,000 year-old Bluefish Caves archaeological site, the oldest evidence of human habitation in North America. The most interesting and favorite part for us is the interactive map and a movie describing the geographical extent and significance of Beringia to paleontology and archaeological studies.


We spent all afternoon zooming around Whitehorse in quest of all the historic and cultural sites. We saw the Yukon Visitor Information Center, Yukon Arts Centre and Yukon Archives, MacBride Museum of Yukon History, Copperbelt Railway and Mining Museum, SS Klondike, Tim Horton’s, and this Old Log Church Museum. This museum is in the more than 100 year-old church, one of the oldest buildings in Whitehorse. The former diocesan cathedral houses very nicely arranged exhibits about some of the incumbents who served here and the missions they developed across Yukon Territory. A new cathedral opened on the same grounds in 1960 and in 1978 the Old Log Church was declared a Territorial Historic Site.

Whitehorse YT deserves more than the day of touring we gave it. We didn’t have enough time to catch Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, or to do justice to MacBride Museum and Copperbelt Museum. We spent just one cup’s and donut’s time in Tim Horton’s downtown and completely missed the larger location on the west end of town. We rushed a little through the Transportation Museum, and could have enjoyed at least another hour there. Two days wouldn’t be too much to give to this neat Provincial capital. Caravans seem, to us, pretty long at up to 63 days duration. Yet there sometimes isn’t time to spend on all the very cool things we might like at our stops.

We thoroughly enjoyed Whitehorse. There is much more to see and some we will enjoy seeing at a more leisurely pace on our own another time. For now, the caravan pushes us forward toward Alaska. We’re not complaining — this is a great way to learn our way around places we’ve never thought of seeing. We do what we can at each stop and we’ll leave something for next time in Whitehorse YT.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

Where Are All The Missing Signs?

It started in 1942, during the construction of the Alaska Highway. A smart guy erected a sign post with the distance to his or his sweetie’s hometown. And another fellow added his, then a dozen more did the same. The idea seemed to catch on and additional posts went up.

This was the simple beginning of the Sign Post Forest. It is today a monument with hundreds of posts and a few pieces of road-building machinery in the center. There are over 75,000 signs from all over the world, and more added every year.

We visited the Sign Post Forest on our walking tour of Watson Lake a few days ago and thought, “We can add a good sign”. That evening Debbie free-handed a sketch of our trailer’s profile and Jim cut it from a sheet of aluminum he’s been toting for years. He engraved and inked the text and date, and sprayed three coats of urethane sealant on the sign.

Our sign turned out really great. It is the size of an American license plate but thicker. The sign faces north so shouldn’t be subjected to much fade from UV. It looks nice. We jotted down the gps coordinates so we can visit it again — otherwise, signs seem pretty tough to find in this dense sign post forest.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

How Cold Are the Northern British Columbia Lakes?

We’re cruising along on our airstream Alyeska caravan, seeing beautiful sections of the Alaska Highway and learning about both the immense project creating this highway and also about life before, during, and after for the First Nations peoples and the soldiers and contractors associated with the project.

Summit Lake is at the highest point on Alaska Highway. At its edge is a quiet sunny provincial park in the best setting ever, overlooking this pretty lake. Alas, our camp is miles beyond, in Watson Lake YT. This made for a really nice stop although we didn’t get down to water’s edge to try the water.

We aren’t driving this close together, this is how we look on good pavement when we’re waiting for the flag person to send us through to a section of unfinished roadway. Most of our miles have been on very good and smooth two-lane asphalt pavement. We maintain over 100 yards between rvs when we’re driving but unexpected stops like a construction delay will temporarily bunch us up.

The worst stretch of over 500 miles of Alaska Highway was this seven mile piece. They have taken the road down completely and are rebuilding it from the base. It was smooth, slow, and in sections was extremely dusty. We felt sorry for the motorcyclist in front of us. His wheels kicked up almost no dust and the truck and rvs in front of him were billowing huge clouds of dust.

Muncho Lake is host to Strawberry Flats Provincial Park with fifteen camping sites all on water’s edge. Again we would love to camp here but our caravan requires 38 camp sites with reservations – won’t fit in these really pretty little provincial parks. Too bad – maybe we can return on our own and stay in these wonderful small campgrounds.

Jim’s standing in Muncho Lake, inviting the others to join him. He says the water is fine, come on in. You might not be able to tell, but the water is super cold. Jim wasn’t telling, but another in our group checked behind him and told the cold truth. This water is very very cold. We haven’t encountered any swimming holes fit for southerners, except the hot springs.

Our four driving days have been very different – we’ve had wildly different road conditions, views, and wildlife sitings. Two days we’ve seen no wildlife at all. This day we saw a herd of over 100 bison, and black bears, and several grizzlies. This grizzly we saw on our drive to Watson Lake.

From Poplars Campground in Toad River we took a day trip to Liard Hot Springs. These hot springs are the real McCoy – no concrete pools and artificially-heated water here. The mosquitoes were so aggressive we stayed deeper in the water except for this quick picture. The sulphur smell was mild and the temperatures ranged from very hot at one end to tepid at the other. We’re in the in-between temperature section here, but we tried them all.

Our reward for the day’s hard work of driving and hot-tubbing is a campfire and live music. This is a great way to have a campfire, in a great setting like this one at Poplars Campground in Toad River B.C.

Days have been nice, with mild temperatures and mostly sunny skies and occasional rains. Driving conditions have been surprisingly good, with asphalt pavement on ninety percent of the highway so far. We will keep seeing sunsets like this, having the pleasant weather and road conditions with a few nice wildlife sightings, and we have a great group traveling with us. Everything, for us, has been smooth sailing on this caravan.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

AK Caravan Day 2 — Ft Nelson Heritage Museum

We spent the morning walking through Ft Nelson Heritage Museum, a tremendous collection of partially curated junk, some of which I think is pretty cool. The museum is organized into five or six buildings including the main building housing most of the curated displays, a large garage housing fifteen or twenty trucks and cars, an old story and half house, a trappers cabin, a post office, and a memorial to Northern Telecom and other old communications.

Perhaps the oddest think we saw is the double-steered bicycle. No, it isn’t steered by two people. It seems to be steered by the pedal crank as well as the handlebars. I had a tough time keeping the front and rear wheels aimed the same direction. This would take a day or several to get the hang of.

Old Marl, the museum owner, hopped on and skillfully steered around people and equipment obstacles. Fun to watch, difficult to copy. Not just difficult, perhaps dangerous to attempt copying. I was very glad I tried it before he showed how easy it is — when I did it I couldn’t steer or drive straight.

We spent the most time in the main building looking at more than 20 display cases full of stuff from the 1940s through 1970s, all considered old for this part of the world. The next most time we spent in the auto and truck garage looking over his many vintage vehicles including a pair of Studebakers, a few English Fords, a pair of Packards, several old trucks, and a bunch of Model Ts and Model As.

Overall the museum provides an interesting peak at parts of life in the 1940s when thousands of US Army soldiers and Canadian contractors invaded the area to build the Alaska Highway. We were able to wander at our leisure and get very close to and even touch many objects. It was interesting and helped us understand a little more what was going on during that extremely busy wartime project in Northern British Columbia.

We had our first of the caravan’s six get-acquainted meetings this evening followed by ice cream and driving instruction for tomorrow. The next two driving days, according to our driving manual, are the most scenic sections of the Alaska Highway. We’ll try to get a picture to share.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr