As the heart of the Klondike, Dawson City has numerous attractions which relate to its history as an Indigenous centre and as the site of the l898-1899 gold rush. The town itself is a national park and well worth a visit. I have discussed these in two earlier posts: Life in Dawson City, and Greetings From Dawson City, Yukon.
Apart from its history, Dawson City is the jumping-off spot for at least two excursions which can be most memorable day trips. Both trips take the visitor to some of the most fabulous vistas in the Yukon and suggest the need for more time to explore further.
The first trip we did was over the “top of the world” highway to the Alaska border, 105 kilometres west of Dawson. After crossing the Yukon River on the free ferry (which runs 24/7 during the summer months), the road mounts to the tops of the mountains south and west of Dawson. In 2004, when we visited Dawson during a major forest fire, we saw nothing on the highway but smoke. This time, we had dramatic views of the Yukon River, lush valleys, and what seem like endless mountains beyond. As we mounted above the tree line, the vistas became even more breath-taking. To say we were “on top of the world” is no exaggeration.
After the border crossing, we continued to the tiny hamlet of Chicken, famous for its “public gold panning areas” and as the locale where 19-year-old schoolteacher Anne Hobbs, in 1927, came to find adventure in a one-room schoolhouse. Tisha: The Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaskan Wilderness (published originally in l976 and still available) recounts her classic memoir of love, rejection, and ultimate acceptance in the wilderness. It is a marvellous story which sticks with you. Like so many such stories, it is hard to imagine the life she must have led. Beyond Chicken, the visitor can drive another 78 kilometres to Tok, Alaska, the first major Alaskan community on the well-travelled Alaska Highway, and, from there, south to Haines Junction, Yukon or west to Fairbanks, Alaska.
Another excursion we did was up the Dempster Highway to Tombstone Park, which, in l972, was named a UNESCO heritage site of “exceptional biological importance.” The Dempster Highway stretches 735 kilometres from near Dawson City, Yukon to Inuvik in the Mackenzie River Delta of the Northwest Territories. It is the only Canadian road that crosses the Arctic Circle. Completed in 1979, It passes through six distinct geographic regions, each very different, all equally interesting and breathtakingly beautiful.
Much of the Dempster lies within Beringia, a broad stretch of land from Siberia to the Northwest Territories which was unglaciated during the last North American glacial period and was the home of many exotic animals which have since become extinct. It has also been the home of Indigenous peoples who have hunted and traded in the area ever since. Although the Canadian government built the highway expecting it to be a “road to resources,” it is used now primarily for transportation to the Northwest Territories, for Indigenous hunting, and for tourism.
Tombstone Territorial Park is called Ddhäl Ch’él Cha Nän (or “ragged mountain land”) by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in who agreed in their land claims to this part of their traditional territory becoming a park. The rugged mountain tops looming above the forest and tundra of the valleys below are spectacularly dramatic. Hikers and climbers must be experienced and well-equipped to climb into these mountains successfully.
The Tombstone Interpretive Centre, located at kilometre 71.5 of the highway, provides information and activities about the cultural and natural history of the park and the highway, mid-May to mid-September. Nearby, the Tombstone Mountain Campground offers car camping with fire pits, picnic tables, outhouses, water, and a picnic shelter. Several back-country campgrounds on lakes are also available. Visitors have a choice of six hiking trails from 0.5 kilometre to up to 19 kilometres in length, and ranging in difficulty.
Driving the Dempster is an exhilarating experience, especially in good weather when the mountains and tundra stand stark against the horizon and the vistas go on forever. The diversity of habitats along the highway encourages a tremendous variety of plants so that wildflowers are rich and vibrant throughout the growing season. When we were there, the fireweed was rampant as was the Arctic cotton, which my friend harvests for her art projects. My bucket list now includes a trip up the Dempster in late August-early September when the flowers are in greatest profusion.
Seeing animals in the wild is a matter of luck, which is a rare and exciting experience. In the spring and fall, one of the world’s largest herds of barren-ground caribou (197,000 as of 2013) travels through the Ogilvie and the Richardson Mountains (at the north of the Dempster) on their annual migration to and from their calving grounds on the Arctic coastal plain. The caribou of the smaller Fortymile herd and the mountain caribou of the Hart River Herd (some 2,600 animals) sometimes winter further south. Bears may be seen, and moose, Dall’s sheep, wolves, and numerous smaller mammals. To spot the animals takes time, knowledge of where they might be, and luck to be in the right place at the right time.
For a comprehensive, beautifully-illustrated description of the Dempster Highway, its geography, history, flora, fauna, and climate, see The Dempster, published in 2017 for the Friends of the Dempster Country Society, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Squawking gulls and cranky crows are a sure sign of trouble. Moving briskly west on the seawalk below my Vancouver cottage, I was focused on using my Nordic poles to pick up the pace of my early morning walk. The idea was to extend the stride of my step and the length of my arm pull to enhance the benefits of the walk. But the noise of the seagulls and the crows diverted all my good intentions and I stopped to see what was the matter.
Sure enough, at the water’s edge where the tide was retreating from the rocks coated with kelp and rich green algae, a bald-headed eagle was standing on the biggest stone around. Not as large as others I’ve seen, his shiny black feathers and snow-white head still stood as a beacon to the eyes. He stood there as if glaring at the hoards of smaller birds advancing towards him.
At least three large well-fed gulls and three more black crows took up positions around him, all squawking madly as if in a fit of frenzy. A couple of gulls approached, flapped their wings and swooped just above him. Then two cocky crows dive-bombed him from two different directions at the same time. They repeated these actions over and over. It all appeared as a well-choreographed attack, perhaps to protect the favoured feeding grounds of the smaller birds. Eventually, the eagle lifted his large wings and flew away across the bay and high in the sky, the crows and one seagull in hot pursuit.
It occurred to me that this may be an example of allied interspecies coöperation against a common enemy. I would have to ask a naturalist about that. As a friend and I had seen a similar incident about the same time yesterday morning, it probably is a daily ritual at a particularly rich feeding site on the shore.
Still later on the seawall, I narrowly avoided being hit by a snail-shell dropped by a crow descending over the sidewalk onto the rocks. As there was a live snail inside, we threw the snail onto the seashore for the crow to recover. Alas he was two slow. Another crow which I had not seen must have been watching and waiting. Just as soon as the snail hit the sand, the second crow was on it for his breakfast.
Later on this same walk, I spied a tall heron fishing in a shallow pool between the rocks. He was standing silently and stately, moving slowly and stealthily in search of his food. A bevy of gulls and Canada geese grazed nearby, and a squadron of crows sat on a log watching over the scene. Obviously, these birds coexist peacefully. I guess only the bald-headed eagle is considered a threat.
Update on the litigation between CN Rail and the District of West Vancouver.
In February 2017, I published a post describing CN Rail’s efforts to have the public using the seawalk declared “trespassers.” Their aim is to monetize to the maximum whatever leasehold interest they can enforce against the District. Diane Powers, spokesperson for the District, advised me last week that the Canadian Transportation Agency held a two-day oral hearing in October 2017 on the District’s application for a declaration that it has a “right of way” on whatever the interest held by the railroad. The CTA agreed that they had jurisdiction to deal with the issue but adjourned their decision until the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled on the earlier lawsuit started by CN alleging that the public were “trespassers.”
Ms. Powers told me that it may take another three to five years for the matter to be concluded. In the meantime, the District has refreshed notices to the public indicating that so long as the litigation is ongoing, the District can only do maintenance on the seawalk that affects health and safety. They can change lightbulbs that affect lighting, remove trip hazards, and engage in any storm cleanup. “Cosmetic maintenance” is suspended for the duration. The gardens at 19th Street and 24th Street that mark the boundaries of the seawalk, and the narrow green areas at 21st and 22nd streets, are designated park areas at the foot of District streets. The District will still tend to them. Like most North Shore residents, I have a visceral personal interest in this dispute, and will monitor what happens.
I spent several weeks in Vancouver this January. Average rainfall at YVR in January is 168 millimetres. This year, there were 249 millimetres, making it the fourth wettest January since records were first kept in 1937.
I can handle the light rain, what my mother called “the Scottish mist,” intermittent showers, and the fog. I can even deal with the occasional tropical deluge or pineapple express which blows the rain horizontally. In these circumstances, locals generally don a Gore-Tex, grab a handy umbrella and carry on doing whatever they planned anyway. I can do that, too. We all know the local secret. So long as it rains for any period of time at any time of the day, the news will report “rain in Vancouver,” and easterners who hear the weather reports will chortle and stay away.
But when the rainfall becomes relentless, so that it goes on for forty days and forty nights of soaking rain, even locals become depressed. So I learned in January. I never thought I would ever say that, but I found it to be true.
The challenge was that we had a visitor from Toronto coming for several days. Originally from Colombia, he came west to help a friend move to Victoria. Since he was coming anyway, we encouraged him to come to Vancouver and stay in our Vancouver cottage. Why not? He had never been to the west coast before and nothing gives me greater pleasure than to show the sights of Vancouver to a newcomer. But what sights do you show a newcomer when you can’t see the sea or the mountains, and walking outside leaves you drenched and miserable?
The first day, he came from Victoria by ferry through the Gulf Islands, and by public transit on the bus and Canada Line to our apartment. That’s an adventure in itself. On his arrival, he joined a small dinner party which my husband had prepared for a few guests. That’s easy, and fun, and a warm welcome to the local scene. The next day, two mutual friends en route to New Zealand had a long stopover in Vancouver. They had rented a car and, as the sun actually came out for a few hours, we toured the North Shore to see the beaches at Whytecliff Park, the fresh snow on the mountains above Horseshoe Bay, and the view of the city and beyond from the lookout up the Cypress Mountain Parkway. But the clouds were coming in, the winds were blowing, and the view was so unsharp that I failed to identify the new Port Mann bridge on the horizon.
The next day, the dreaded deluge returned. That’s okay. We drove through the west end, around Kitsilano and along the shoreline out to the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. There, in addition to the usual treasures, we saw a special exhibit of indigenous woven carpets from the 19th Century. Our tour around UBC by car was a washout, but we headed to Granville Island for lunch. Parking was easy and we had no problem finding a comfortable table beside the windows in the Farmers Market food court. Protected from the rain, we could watch the birds and the boats on False Creek and enjoy the buskers while we ate. The ambiance gave the illusion of a bright day and we loved it. We then drove back over the Burrard Street Bridge, along English Bay and home. A good first day.
The second day, we took the bus very early and got off at the first stop after Lost Lagoon on Georgia Street. In a light rain, we set out to walk the Vancouver harbour to the Convention Centre and Canada Place. Before we even reached Jack Poole Plaza, the rain was pelting down, and we took to looking for any kind of shelter along the way; an occasional glass overhang, an inset doorway, a glassed-in staircase, an outdoor café (closed of course) beneath a building above, anything to protect us. Ultimately, near the Convention Centre, we spied a waterfall leading down into a food court in an underground plaza. Over a hot cocoa, we considered our course of action. What to do?
We learned that underground tunnels connected the food court to the SkyTrain at the downtown Waterfront Station. The reconstructed historical concourse of that station is worth a visit. I then decided that I wanted to see the new Evergreen extension of the Vancouver’s SkyTrain system which goes all the way out to Lafarge Lake in Coquitlam. If I can ride the new extension of the Toronto subway, I can ride the Vancouver addition as well. And I thought that our friend could get a view of my old stomping grounds in Burnaby, New Westminster, and along the Fraser River. So we got on the original Expo Line and did the circuit, transferred to the extension that passes through a long tunnel to the new stations in Port Moody and Coquitlam, and then took the newly configured Millennium Line back downtown. The views were disappointing, but I was impressed by the potential of the new extension. It took us one hour to travel the entire route and cost me only $2.80.
The highlight of our trip was meeting the falcon. As we transferred onto the Expo Line at Commercial Drive and found a seat in a crowded car (thank goodness we are seniors), we noticed that we were surrounded by a crew of young people carrying fancy cameras and a big box which they carefully put down on the floor beside me. When I asked what was in the box, they said that it was a falcon. A falcon? Yes, they had a six-week contract with the city to document how the mere presence of their falcon on the SkyTrain platforms would scare away the pesky pigeons. They told us that in the six station span of their project, it worked every time, except for one station where the pigeons roosted too far away to pick up on the falcon’s presence. We were amused and wished them well.
By the time we returned to Waterfront, the rain had abated enough to allow us to visit the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and to walk the streets of Gastown. We then took the SeaBus to the Lonsdale Quay and a bus back to West Vancouver. Altogether, not a bad day.
Day three was a challenge. I decided that, depending on the state of the weather once we got outside, we would take the Skyride up Grouse Mountain, or drive the Sea to Sky Highway to Squamish. Since the local mountain was invisible, we took to Highway 99 up the east side of Howe Sound, past Lions Bay, Porteau Cove Provincial Park, Britannia with its Mine Museum, Shannon Falls, and the world-famous mountain face known as the Stawamus Chief. The new Sea to Sky Gondola nearby was open, but who wants to hike trails at the top of a mountain in the rain? At Squamish, there was no rain. We proceeded up the highway to Brackendale where the signs advertise “bald-headed eagles.” Oh yes. That’s right. I suddenly recalled that, every January, volunteer naturalists come to Brackendale to count the eagles feeding at local rivers. I’d heard of that before but never been there.
So, we turned west and drove the streets of tiny Brackendale until we came upon Eagle Run Park on Government Road. There we found numerous interpretive displays, an Eagle Watch Interpreter Program, and a well-maintained dyke viewing area which is accessible via a ramp at the south end. We learned that the spawning of chum salmon runs in the Squamish, Cheakamus and Mamquam rivers provides an ideal habitat for feeding bald eagles. In 1994, the Brackendale-Squamish area set the world record count with 3,769 eagles counted in a single day. We saw our share of eagles: big adult birds, black with white heads, and the motley brown youngsters, sitting on the logs and rocks at the river’s edge, roosting in the trees, and sweeping across the skies. We were ecstatic. It was the totally serendipitous highlight of our week.
If any readers have suggestions for rainy day activities in Vancouver, please use the Comment section below to enlighten the rest of us. My cousin suggested we could have hiked in Lighthouse Park where we would have experienced an old growth forest as it really is. Or we could have hiked in Pacific Spirit Regional Park on the UBC campus as I described in an earlier post. Good suggestions. Are there any more?
It’s amazing what a late afternoon walk will bring. Although it is getting close to Christmas, the leaves of some trees are still autumnal scarlet and have not yet fallen to the ground. Even as a muted sunset settles over Kitsilano, there is enough light to see wildlife that inhabit the local area.
There are many people on the Seawalk, even so late in the afternoon. Most seem determined to get their constitutional finished before it gets dark. When a group is stopped on the sidewalk peering into the water, I know that there is something to be seen. Sure enough. Three seals or otters are swimming back and forth off shore. Then they disappear. The head of one pops up out in the deep water, first in one place; then in another. It then stops, turns, and heads back to shore, squeaking with a strange peeping sound over and over as if calling to the others. Eventually, all three of them are cavorting near the rocks only yards from where we are watching. One eats a fish, two slither ashore and climb onto the rocks, totally oblivious to the curious onlookers. Who would have guessed that they are so big? That their legs are so long? And that white markings are on their coat? A woman who seems knowledgeable tells us that these are river otters who are known to steal salmon from the fisherman on the nearby Capilano River. Now that would be something to see.
When I got home, I decided to play with the otters on my new photography program. In the past, I’ve taken courses from several very skilled photographers who have recommended using Adobe’s Lightroom for post-production. I’ve finally taken the plunge. A couple of weeks ago, Peter Levey, at the Advanced Digital Training School in North Vancouver, helped me download Lightroom and gave me a couple of lessons on how to use it. I can see the advantages that Lightroom offers over the Apple Photos program that I have used for years but which seems increasingly inflexible and of decreasing quality. But Lightroom, among other things, presupposes that my picture files are properly organized and readily findable. Organization of my digital files (for documents and for photographs) has not been my strong suit. Clearly that must change. Equally obviously, to learn the full extent of Lightroom’s capabilities and how to export the improved photos to other platforms correctly will require much practice. That’s the point. I want to learn new publishing programs (such as Blurb or Shutterfly) to make the photography books that my grand-kids love. And it wouldn’t hurt to upgrade the photos on my blog, as well. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.