I really thought today’s blog was going to be a short one……NOPE!
Well, if I didn't ride in the cold or rain, I'd still be in Vancouver! Waited until 10:00 a.m. to see if the temperature would rise a few degrees from the 3 degrees it was at 8:00 when I got up. It rose to 5......so I set out anyway. There was very little rain today and I took advantage of having a “home base” to leave a bunch of gear behind and explore a little closer to Whitehorse. It was sure nice to scoot around on the bike without the gear all loaded up.
When I finally got on the road, I took it to Carcross. It is a good road with lovely scenery. Clouds were low again, but it didn’t rain on me very much. My first little surprise was coming around a curve to see Emerald Lake. It’s a beautiful lake, its dramatic colour provided by the layer of marl on the lake bed. The surrounding mountains give the lake an extra boost of beauty – not that it needs it.
My second surprise was a couple of kilometers shy of Carcross itself – the Carcross Desert! What?!?! Though it is labelled as such, the story boards are quick to tell us that it is not a desert, since it is lacking the hot, dry climate. “Ya think?!”, says I, recalling my chilly ride beside snow-capped mountains to get there. The Carcross Desert is actually the result of glacial lake Watson depositing sediments as the glacier melted and the lake retreated. It’s an unexpected and incongruous thing to see in the Yukon.
On to the actual village of Carcross. “Caribou Crossing”, shortened down to Carcross, is a small community that has almost nothing going on in the winter but comes alive in the summer. "Skookum Jim" is a prominent figure in Carcross as a local who got rich in the gold fields, and more notably, remembered where he came from.
Artful buildings are gathered in a central area, housing the Visitor Centre, crafts of local artisans, coffee and foodstuffs. A little further up the road is the Matthew Watson General Store, which claims to be the oldest operating general store in the Yukon. Neat little place conveniently located directly across the street from the Carcross Station where all the tourists get off the White Pass train. The Carcross Station is a prominent structure that has a gift shop, information room and waiting area for folks boarding the train. Also in this location is the recovered “Duchess” steam engine, one of a pair of engines used for hauling coal for the railway. Eventually the Duchess was used to move tourists around before being retired to Carcross as an attraction in 1950.
The White Pass train takes passengers from Carcross through the pass to Skagway, Alaska. It is a 4.5 hour trip through what I’m sure is breathtaking mountain passes.
While I was exploring Carcross, the sun came out, bringing some welcome heat with it. Recalling the beach down the road from my winter excursion, I went to see what it looked like in “summer”. Wow. Just Wow!
On the return journey, I stopped at the little history pullout called Robinson Roadhouse. An abandoned log structure along the railroad marks the location of what was once a regular stop for people travelling to the gold fields. Many such roadhouses exist in the Yukon and were used by all manner of travellers – suppliers, fortune-seekers, entrepreneurs – you name it.
Back in Whitehorse, I did an “historical tour”, starting with the SS Klondike. This is the large paddlewheeler parked prominently at the edge of downtown Whitehorse. One of two boats of this name, the SS Klondike hauled passengers and cargo from Whitehorse to Dawson City from 1929-1950. It was a lot of fun to explore the lower deck where the cargo was stored. The huge stacks of Pacific milk boxes reminded me of Grandma Curtis using it in her tea. Observing the tiny spaces shared by 3-4 seaman would give any parent fodder for a child who complains about sharing a room!
From the SS Klondike, I made my way to the Old Log Church Museum. Another curious structure, with beautifully displayed stories of the influential missionaries and priests that travelled the Yukon and made the north their home.
Next was the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Wow again. Lots of displays of Yukon wildlife and culture, as well as a small sternwheeler and the original log cabin of Sam McGhee. I was interested to see that the poem The Cremation of Sam McGhee” had nothing to do with the real person. Robert Service, the author of the poem, just met Sam McGhee and liked his name and asked if he could use it in his story. Sam McGhee was amused on a later visit to the Yukon by a creative entrepreneur claiming to have his ashes for sale.
Wanting to cram in the last two museums of interest to me, I made a beeline for the Yukon Museum of Transportation. This is an exceptional display of the different modes of transportation used in the Yukon territory since the beginning of time. The collection includes everything from snowshoes to aircraft to military vehicles to dog sleds. They have also recreated some historical facades to give you the feel of Whitehorse in days gone by. Truly worth the stop.
Last, but certainly not least, is the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, located right beside the transportation museum. I almost gave this a miss, feeling a bit “museumed and historied out”. But it was a combo-pass for $12 with the transportation museum, so told myself “suck it up buttercup” and went over to it. Absolutely fascinating! Beringia is believed to be a land bridge between Siberia and northern Yukon/Alaska. This allowed for the migration of animals and homosapiens between the continents. The melting glaciers raised sea levels and Beringia has since been submerged. Left behind is fossil evidence of the animals and humans that crossed the land bridge. These fossils of animal and human remains date back tens of thousands of years. The Centre has reconstructed models from the paleontological remains and created displays of animals and their likely habitats. They have also created displays of the tools, clothing, shelter and lifestyle of the humans during this time. The oral histories passed down through generations of these people lend validity to many theories about Beringia.
When you see the number of museums and interpretive centres in the Yukon, you wonder how they can all exist. The answer is that they all have something different to offer. While there are common threads of wildlife, history and culture, they are all unique. No matter which one you choose - or if you choose all of them - you will not be disappointed!