9.00 pm - broad daylight .....
10.00 pm - broad daylight ......
11.00 pm - broad daylight .........
11.30 pm - broad daylight .............
Whatever made me think around the clock daylight would be a good thing. It sounds like so much fun. Spend all day sightseeing and then party on through the night. No sunset, no evening, no need to go to bed. Hang on, this is me talking. Anything less than eight hours sleep and I'm a total wreck. Round the clock daytime was never going to work for me.
For a couple of weeks in late June, the city of Whitehorse in The Yukon, Canada has 24 hours of daylight. It is about as far south as you can get and still manage a taste of the 'midnight sun'. Take my advice - don't bother! The only thing all that daylight does is make it difficult to sleep. After several nights spent chasing down every crack in our hotel room curtains and still tossing around fitfully I finally resorted to a sleeping mask. That helped a bit, but frankly I have decided this midnight sun thing is seriously overrated.
|We were having dinner one night looking across at this aeroplane fixed on a stone cairn. David announced it was moving. I thought the midnight sun had got to him but it turned out that the plane is a weathervane and does indeed move in the wind.|
Whitehorse is our first stop on the Alaska highway. We are in a world populated by RV's, pick-up trucks and laundromats. The tourists are in the RV's, the locals are in the trucks and just about everybody is in the laundromats.
The term 'RV' is short for 'recreational vehicle'. In Australia we call them campers. In Australia they are about the size of a 4WD (SUV), sleep between two and four people in basic comfort and are sufficiently manoeuvrable to navigate almost any road. Sometimes they might have a couple of bicycles on the back.
In Nth America an RV is as big as a tour bus, sleeps the entire population of Tasmania in total luxury, can't negotiate anything trickier than an inter-state freeway and tows a car. Yes, you read that right, 'tows a car' - often, not even a small car. Occasionally a boat or disability scooter will also be tacked on the back.
|I am sure it is just the camera angle, but the car being towed here looks bigger than the RV doing the towing.|
|This guy has transport for every occasion - RV at the front and mobility scooter at the back.|
|You never know when a golf cart might come in handy?|
|I couldn't resist one more photo - you can't really see it but this RV is also towing a car.|
We left the Alaska Marine Highway and joined the mainland road system at Haines. For my posts on the Alaska Marine Highway and our journey so far click - here.
From Haines we drove north to Whitehorse where we joined the Alaska Highway. The highway starts at Dawson Creek in British Columbia and ends 155 km south of Fairbanks in Alaska. Strangely, for a road with the word 'Alaska' in its name much of the highway's 2,000 km length runs through Canada. The name Alaska Highway is more a product of history than geography. The road was constructed in 1942 by the US army to connect Alaska with the lower 48 states in the face of Japanese threats of invasion in the Aleutian Islands. Canada agreed to the construction, provided the highway became Canadian property once the war ended.
|When the US army was finished building the Alaska Highway they simply abandoned many of the trucks and other road building equipment they used. The machinery is still there, beside the road, like permanent time capsules.|
Whitehorse is the northern most point on our road trip. Canada's northern Yukon Territory and the vast interior of Alaska will have to wait until another time. At Whitehorse we turn right and head south, back toward Seattle.
The Alaska Highway is populated almost exclusively by RVs. For every other vehicle on the highway there must be twenty RV behemouths, all headed north, in some lemming-like right of passage for North American baby boomers. We feel very much as if we are swimming against the tide.
|With motels like these it is hardly surprising all the tourists are in RVs.|
Whitehorse has been a lot of fun, which is good, because we don't know it yet but we have several days and many thousands of kilometres of nothing but pine trees before we again hit anything which might remotely be described as civilisation. If I were to sum up the most disappointing thing about south-east Alaska and the Alaska Highway I would unhesitatingly say the scenery. I imagined snow-capped mountains, glaciers and wild animals. While we saw these occasionally, mostly we got pine trees - mile upon mile of pine trees.
Whitehorse however far exceeds our expectations. A modern day frontier town, it has a lawless, free-spirited atmosphere. It is easy to imagine living by your wits, hoping to strike it rich in the Yukon gold rushes. Fans of the Discovery Channel show Gold Rush will know that the gold rushes are still going on today - David says Tony Beats would not have spent a million dollars on a gold dredge if there wasn't good money still to be made.
|The Whitehorse Waterfront Trolley heritage streetcar carrying tourists along the banks of the Yukon River|
On one of our three nights in the city we immerse ourselves in the spirit of the Great Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 by attending a performance of the Frantic Follies; a turn of the century vaudeville revue. The night begins badly. We find ourselves queueing, or crowding, it's hard to tell which, in a hallway outside a rather ordinary looking function room at the Whitehorse Hotel. Everyone except David and I appear to be well over 70. There are several large bus tour groups, seating is first come first served and we are a long way from the front of the line.
We consider abandoning the whole idea but the young man who sells the tickets assures us there is not a bad seat in the house. He turns out to be wrong, there are plenty of bad seats but it doesn't matter, somehow we get lucky and score a couple of seats in the second front row. The chairs are those fold down vinyl covered seats connected together in rows so that it is impossible to alter the distance they are apart. They are far too narrow and close together for the substantial frames seated on most of them. I lose half mine to overflow from the man seated next to me when I duck out to the loo just before the show begins. Fortunately by the time I get back David has re-claimed enough territory for me to be comfortable.
From the moment the curtain rises, too narrow seats, chaotic queueing and trespassing neighbours are all forgotten in a fabulous hour and a half of fun and laughter. The chorus girls perform impossibly high can-can kicks, the pianist plays honky-tonk, the master of ceremonies delivers hilarious lines in a deadpan monotone and when the curtain finally falls we are sorry to leave.
|The Frantic Follies vaudeville review|
|Can-can dancers at the Frantic Follies|
|A symphony concert Yukon style - notice the 'instruments'! They are playing saws as if they were violins.|
Muskoxen and moose at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve
At Whitehorse I finally see a moose. We have to cheat a bit and visit a nature reserve but it is still exciting. The Yukon Wildlife Preserve, half an hour from the city, has photos of moose with magnificent antlers highlighted in its brochures and website. While the preserve also has eagles, mountain goats, caribou, bison, muskoxen, bighorn sheep and others, it is clear that the moose are a drawcard.
When we first arrive I ask the lady behind the ticket counter where the best spot to see the preserve's moose is. She groans audibly, and shrugs before pointing to the moose enclosure on a walking map.
"We only have two moose, a female and a young male. Look toward the trees at the far end of the enclosure. They will probably be seeking shelter from the heat. It will help if you have binoculars. You may be able to spot part of an antler?"
Why do I have the impression she has delivered this same disappointing news to countless visitors before us. At least I have had the forethought to bring binoculars.
Predictably, at the moose enclosure there is not a quadruped in sight. David waits with good humour while I scan every tree and blade of grass for one of these elusive animals. He passes the time by chatting to an American couple who are also there to see the moose. They give up and wander off in the general direction of the caribou enclosure. We finally follow them.
The caribou are lots of fun, as are the lynxes and arctic foxes. Many of the animals are almost as difficult to spot as the moose. We agree that the wildlife preserve has gone a bit too far in its efforts to create natural surroundings. However we get lucky and hit feeding time at more than one enclosure. The best animal by far is the muskoxen - a prehistoric looking creature resembling a cross between a bison and a wooly mammoth. If I hadn't seen them with my own eyes I would not have believed they could have survived the last ice-age.
|Muskoxen - Are these guys prehistoric looking or what?|
We are walking back to the car, past the near corner of the moose enclosure when I think I spot a moose in the distance. It is a long way away with its head down munching on some plants. We approach slowly and quietly, trying not to scare it. Disappointingly, it does not have antlers. It must be the female. For a few precious moments we watch her before she looks up to see us and then retreats toward the cover of the trees. It is not quite the 'later to be bragged about' encounter with one of these magnificent creatures which I had imagined, but it is still pretty good and at least I can finally say I have seen a moose on this trip.
The SS Klondike
The SS Klondike was the largest of the sternwheelers to carry goods and passengers on the upper Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City in the first half of the 20th Century. A sternwheeler is a paddlewheeler with a single wheel at the stern rather than on each side. Today the SS Klondike is a National Historic Site sitting high and dry beside the river in downtown Whitehorse. Entry is free and enough of the interior of the ship is open to visitors that you get a good idea of what it must have been like to travel in the days of the river boats.
|The SS Klondike|
|The stern wheel of the SS Klondike|
We were a bit pressed for time when we visited Miles Canyon. The canyon is only half an hour from Whitehorse but we didn't discover it until late on our last day. I'm only mentioning it now because I want an excuse to show my photos. If you do go to Whitehorse make sure you don't make the same mistake we did and leave it until last. It is a stunning area for walking and cycling.
For our Alaska/Canada road trip from the beginning click - here
13 Aug 2015