First Time in the Yukon

There was something momentous about crossing into the Yukon for me.  This was a place I had heard so much about, and it conjured images of snowy tundra, vast space, gold rush fever, and of course Yukon Cornelius from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I mean seriously, the Yukon!!

Yukon Jack

 

It turns out that in the summer the section of the Alaska Highway that rolls through the Yukon is long, sometimes boring, and has tons of amazing mountain scenery.  The roads were also the worst we have seen (in places), and because the road is usually farther away from water, we didn’t have many animal sightings.  Still, it was majestic, and now I always get to say I drove in the Yukon, because the roads finally leveled out on the second day  to the point where I felt like I could take a turn driving.  Not as much as in Alberta, but I managed a couple hours each day, which did a lot for my confidence.  I tried to choose the sections where they were mostly “go slow for animals or construction”.  I can go slow!!

Anyway, let me go back a bit.  The Downtown RV Park in Watson Lake  was by far the worst we stayed in on the entire route.  At $52 for a gravel parking lot where the Wifi absolutely did not work even at the office, I felt gouged.  The prices were on the high side everywhere, but that was ridiculous.  It was especially depressing because we had passed up that beautiful government campground in Muncho Lake.  Despite the crappy setting though, I slept great, and we got out around 8am.  Since we aren’t unhitching the outside jobs are much reduced and without me asking Lee has started helping with inside stuff.  And something good about moving this much is our packing up routine is getting pretty seamless. If we get distracted things can still go a little wonky, but we are really starting to feel comfortable.

I had looked at the Milepost book the night before and decided to take a little side trip off the Alaskan Highway.  The route only added an additional 26 miles and according to Milepost was well paved.  I will give Milepost credit for doing a good job documenting side trips.  The mile marker indicators get a little weird since you are off the main road, but they do tell you where and where not to try taking a big rig, which I appreciated.  The main reason I wanted to try it, was I picked up this great pamphlet at a visitors center that talked about the Caribou Crossing Trading Post that had a Wildlife Museum.

Initially the quality of the Yukon road was very good,  well marked, patched and no major issues.  We were traveling about 55 mph and enjoying the sights.  Plus about 45 minutes into the trip we saw our best to date bear sighting.  It was a brown and a black bear, relatively close to the road and we sat for quite some time and watched them.  I am really glad we took the time to enjoy that animal encounter, because we didn’t have another one the rest of the drive to Glemnallen.  It was very special though.

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Even though we didn’t see animals the views were pretty spectacular.  I do want to mention at this point to keep your windows as clean as possible.  There are many sections in the Yukon with great views but nowhere to pull over for a picture.  A clean windshield really makes a huge difference in the experience.

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Picture with slightly dirty windshield

 

Picture with clean windshield

Picture with clean windshield

We stopped at a rest area after a couple of hours and I took a turn driving.  I drove for the next 70 miles (Lee said it was a boring stretch of highway…perfect!!)  and aside from a steep downgrade that was pretty easy I drove fine the whole way. I planned on stopping at MM 775 for a rest area and scenic view and there was one last steep downgrade right before.  This one was not so easy because it had a curve on the end and I let the speed get a little to high going into that curve and Lee had to pretty sharply tell me to slow down.  I didn’t mind what he said, but it did scare me a little and immediately at the bottom I stopped at the rest area and walked away from the truck.  The scenery helped calm me and Lee wisely gave me my space, but I was a little shaken.  I ended up not driving again for the rest of that day.  The rest area was a great place to take pictures and have lunch though.   (On a side note all the Milepost book said about this hill was it descends northbound and drops to 30mph at the end for a bridge.  No mention of the grade on the descent which was around 8% and no mention of the curve…shame on them).

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After Lee drove across the bridge, we stopped at the Nisutlin Trading Post ( don’t let the name fool you, it’s a convenience store) and got gas since we were at half a tank.  The price was $1.12 per liter and they took American Express and that is the best exchange rate for us.  They also have a nice heritage center but unfortunately it doesn’t open until June.   The roads definitely got rougher from that point.  Lots of patched and rough areas which were well marked and a long section of gravel starting at MM 797.  Again, well marked, but if you are going much above 50mph it’s tough to slow down in time for them.  In many places we were going 40-45mph.  At MM 835 we turned off onto onto Tagish road. At this point you should reset your trip odometer because the distances are from that junction.  The road was paved, but a little on the rough side, and totally OK for our big rig. Plus it was exciting getting off the main road, we felt like adventurers.  OK that is definitely an overstatement because the road was well populated and totally paved, but still a little brave getting off the main highway lol.

The first thing was saw was Tagish, which is a tiny little town set on the huge Tagish River.  We saw a big boat launch for the first time and lots of people live along this river.  They  also have a small school there, and it’s definitely more residential than the main highway.  Next up was Caribou Crossing.  This was confusing because there is the highway town and historic town.  To get to the historic section you make a right off the highway at a big metal sculpture of a Caribou and then you are in a small little village.  This was a major cross point during the Gold Rush era and is a cruise ship and train destination today.  It’s a little touristy, but kind of fun and I was glad we stumbled across it.

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We asked at a couple of the shops if they knew where Caribou Crossing Trading Post was, and no one had heard of it.    I have seen this phenomenon several times though and find it odd.  These towns are super tiny, but people don’t know stuff about the businesses right down the street.  I don’t know if they are just playing dumb or truly don’t know, but you would think if you lived in that small of an area everyone would know everything. Or maybe the workers were like us and only here for the summer?  Anyway, the visitors centers are definitely the places to find things out. They know stuff, and if they don’t know they will help you find out.  So by talking to them we learned Caribou Crossing was back on the main highway.  The directions are always fun though.  Go back to the main highway, make a left, drive past “the smallest desert in the world” (I thought that was in Maine, but OK, there are also sand dunes in Caribou Crossing) and it’s on your right.  Normally I find directions like this fun, but when you are pulling a big trailer not so much.  Keep in mind big trailers up here are still not the norm like in the lower 48.  You are seeing more of them, but most people have older rigs, travel trailers, or truck campers, so always ask the question if your rig will fit into where you are going. Anyway, we made it and the parking lot was big enough, because this was another cruise ship destination.  Caribou Crossing offers dog sled rides from an Iditarod team so people come in the summer to see the facility.  I guess these are a very popular attraction if you are a fan of the sport, and some people tour several facilities as they make their way across Alaska.  I was interested in the museum though, and for $8.50 we got tickets to the museum and the animal area which includes a small petting zoo, a sled dog viewing area, and best of all. a place you can pet husky puppies.  Score!!  I thought it was totally worth the price, but Lee not so much.  Really depends on where your interests lie, but here’s the pictures so judge for yourself.

Historic Caribou Crossing sculpter

Historic Caribou Crossing sculpture

Entrance sign

Entrance sign

Sort of a rambling facility

Multiple building facility

Nice gift shop

Nice gift shop

And they sold Moose poo!!

And they sold Moose poo!!

Got our pic in a Caribou sleigh and a very nice staff member took several for us

Got our pic in a Caribou sleigh and a very nice staff member took several for us.  Lee humored me 🙂

The Wildlife Museum started with a giant stuff grizzly

The Wildlife Museum started with a giant stuff grizzly

Check out the paws on this guy

Check out the paws on this guy

Then a display about the gold prospectors who flocked to the area

Then a display about the gold prospectors who flocked to the area

Real bear skin rug in the tent

Real bear skin rug in the tent

HEee's a list of the supplies for a 4 man team they were encouraged to take

Here’s a list of the supplies for a 4 man team they were encouraged to take

What I was excited about was the animals though.  I have been to the Natural History Museum in Washington D.C and New York City and have to say the quality of the taxidermy in these animals was on par with what I saw there. It started as a private collection that was donated to the museum and it was wonderful to see the animals from the area, both current and prehistoric.  Yes the placement of the displays was a bit of a hodge-podge, but I didn’t care. I loved it.

The building

The building

Bears and wolverines

Bears and wolverines

Gigantic polar bear!

Gigantic polar bear!

Lee put his hand next to this paw ...crazy big

Lee put his hand next to this paw …crazy big

Polar bear vesrus Alaskan Brown Bear

A baby polar bear versus an adult Alaskan Brown Bear

I liked the little animals as well which you rarely see. This is an Albino Red Squirrel

I liked the little animals as well which you rarely see. This is an Albino Red Squirrel

And a short tailed weasal

And a short tailed weasel

Mountain Goats

Mountain Goats

Berengia Lions used to roam this area. They found this bison carcass frozen and well preserved in the tundra

Berengia Lions used to roam this area. They found this bison carcass frozen and well preserved (and partially eaten) in the tundra

I think these were musk oxen

I think these were musk oxen

My two favorites were the Wooly Mammoth

My two favorites were the Wooly Mammoth

And the Saiga Antelope which is extinct here but still exists in Katzakstan, They believe the unusual nose helps them filter the cold air

And the Saiga Antelope which is extinct here but still exists in Katzakstan, They believe the unusual nose helps them filter the cold air

After seeing the animals, we went and wandered through the small petting zoo.  Nothing too special but they sled dog area was interesting and the puppies were the best!!

Spirit the horse

Spirit the horse

The sled dogs didn't look anything like I expected

The sled dogs didn’t look anything like I expected

Very lean and rangy

Very lean and rangy

This sign explained why

This sign explained why

Puppies!!

Puppies!!  They were very snuggly

Goats

Goats

Ponies which Lee does NOT like. He had a very mean one when he was a kid

Ponies which Lee does NOT like. He had a very mean one when he was a kid

He did enjoy the alpaca though

He did enjoy the alpaca though

They were called Thelma and Louise and looked very funny shaved

They were called Thelma and Louise and looked very funny shaved

 

So for us it was a fun little side trip and allowed us some time out of the car.  You can just keep driving and not stop at places, but your body starts to get a little tired from the road after awhile.  I think it’s important that you stop for awhile somewhere every day if you can, and every other day if you can’t.  If you are driving shorter days it’s not such a big deal, but our days were running around 8-9 hours and we just weren’t used to spending that much time in the car.  We saw many more beautiful vistas after that and eventually pulled into Hi Country RV Park outside of Whitehorse.  This was the nicest park we had stayed at yet, with a beautiful gift store and decent sites.  They also offered free internet for 30 minutes and then a pay service for $7.95 a day.  I paid the money and gladly did as the internet was very strong and by far the best signal we had along the way.  Since the sites ran $37 with our discount it was still cheaper than the previous night with paying for internet and more importantly it worked.  I really liked this place.

 

 

 

Lessons Learned

  • Keep your windshields clean
  • Just because a park says they have wifi, it does NOT mean it will work.
  • It might be worth it to pay for internet if the signal is strong.
  • Try to stop at least once a day to see a local attraction and stretch your legs.

 

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7 thoughts on “First Time in the Yukon

  1. It sounds like you have to be on your toes all the time…and, it sounds like it is not for the faint of heart. “A nice leisurely drive up to Alaska” said no one, ever.

  2. Aren’t those bears huge? You don’t really get a sense of how big they are until you see them up close like that and put your and next to their paw. You would not want to run into one of those in the wild! As of right now it looks like we will be in Glenallen on 6/1 or 6/2 for a couple of days. See you then!

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