Don's Trip to the Far North - Part One(December 17, 2010)
The main purpose of this trip was to update and extend my panoramic coverage of northern British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska. Many of my panoramas from that area were taken (on film) before 2000 and have been removed from my website.
In June I made two photography trips, one early in the month to Santa Barbara and San Diego, then another two weeks later to the redwoods. I kept telling my friends I would leave on my BIG trip July 5. But all through July I had to deal with frustrating delays, so it was well into August before I finally broke free and headed north.
A day and a half of driving straight up I-5 got me almost to the Canadian border. I always enjoy watching the landscape steadily scrolling by, seeing the gradual transition from dry California to green Northwest. I drive this thousand-mile stretch every year and I never tire of it.
When I got to Bellingham the weather was beautiful so I took a side trip east on the Mount Baker Highway into the North Casades. It was an amazing clear evening when I got there, too dark for 360° panos, but I took a couple of snapshots with my "little" camera (Olympus E-P2) and some high-res composites with my Canon 5dMkII.Picture Lake, a familiar postcard view, but still amazing.
The next day I shot some panos on Ptarmigan Ridge, with Mount Shuksan in one direction, Mount Baker in the other.
From Mount Baker I crossed into Canada and spent a couple of days with my cousins Anne and Clive.
Hundreds of wildfires were burning in the interior (the Cariboo) and the smoke was reaching the lower mainland. We took an evening walk at Blackies Point near their home in Crescent Beach and enjoyed the sunset and long colorful twilight.Mud Bay from Blackies Point
The next day I shot a few panos around White Rock, plus the fishing port of Steveston at the mouth of the Fraser River, followed by dinner with my niece Sarah and her husband Chris.
By the next day the smoke had produced Los Angeles-style orange skies and thick haze, but I headed north anyway. It wasn't too bad in the Fraser River Canyon, where I revisited the Alexandra Bridges, but by the time I got to Quesnel it was intolerable. In desperation I stayed in a motel, just for the air conditioner's smoke filtering.
Panoramas of the Grand Canyon of the Fraser River (only the last two are new)
Barkerville Historic Town features 120 authentically restored buildings from the 1863 Cariboo Gold Rush. It includes costumed interpreters and small businesses in the historic buildings. I shot panos there many years ago, on film, but never scanned and produced them, so I made the side-trip from Quesnel again. It is an interesting and photogenic place.
On the way back I stopped at Cottonwood House, a restored roadhouse from the gold rush era on the Cariboo Wagon Road. I was shown around by the lovely young women there, looking demure in their long dresses and aprons.Thanks to Kayla and Alexa for posing for me at Cottonwood.
North of Prince George and Pine Pass I left the main route and went southeast to the (once and future) coal-mining town of Tumbler Ridge and Monkman Provincial Park, featuring awesome Kinuseo Falls.
It was smoky when I got there and rained a bit that night, but I had just enough sun in the morning for a great shot of the waterfall. This was my first lengthy stretch of unpaved road - much more was to come later in the trip.Kinuseo Falls in Monkman Provincial Park
From Tumbler Ridge I went over a few mountains and out onto the prairies, to Dawson Creek and Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway.
From Dawson Creek the famous road runs 613 miles across northern BC, then 577 miles across the southern Yukon, then 200 miles in Alaska to its official end at Delta Junction. Another 96 miles takes it to Fairbanks, for a total of 1488 miles. In the course of this trip I would drive all of it.
It poured rain all the next day, but luckily this stretch of the Alcan (Alaska Highway) is the least interesting of the entire route.The Alaska Highway in the rain, near Prophet River
I very much enjoyed the funky little museum in Fort Nelson, an amazing hodge podge of donated old stuff, including a moose-hide bikini.
At Fort Nelson the Alcan turns west and enters the mountains. I saw a moose and a bear almost right away. The Alaska Highway crosses the Northern Rocky Mountains at Summit Lake, a dramatic stretch of road near timberline. I saw just a single young caribou here -- often there is a whole herd of sheep licking salt off the road shoulder along here.Barren ground caribou at Summit Lake
That night I camped at Muncho Lake, famous for its silty green colors. It was a beautiful evening followed by a night of torrential rain.Muncho Lake right next to my campsite
More wildlife the next day. Most of the Alaska Highway has been widened and straightened, with a very generous grassy strip on either side. This has been a boon to the Nordquist herd of wood bison that live along this stretch of the Liard River. I saw this small group just before the Liard River bridge.Wood bison alongside the Alaska Highway
Liard River Hot Springs is an oasis of warm water in the boreal forest, an amazing place with vegetation typical of hundreds of miles further south. The bathing pools were first developed during construction of the Alcan. This is now one of the most popular of the BC provincial parks, a favorite stop along the highway.The Alpha Pool at Liard River Hot Springs
West from here the highway crosses back and forth between BC and the Yukon. During construction of the Alaska Highway an American serviceman working at Watson Lake put up a signpost to his home town of Danville, Illinois. Other signs were added, and now it is known as the Signpost Forest, currently with 65,000 signs.
Late in the day the clouds built up again, but I camped comfortably at Continental Divide. This undramatic watershed line separates waters flowing to the Yukon River and the Bering Sea (Pacific Ocean) from those flowing to the Mackenzie River and the Beaufort Sea (Arctic Ocean).Stormy weather along the Alaska Highway near Continental Divide.
This is typical of the minimal and cryptic gps maps displayed on these remote roads - a single line for the highway, nothing else for miles. I use my gps to determine latitude/longitude for each of my panos as I shoot them.
Near Squanga Lake the next morning I met Penny and Bill, from Nottinghamshire (in England), whose travels make mine look provincial. They had just been up to the Arctic and were heading south to California.A camper van that has been everywhere
Next I took the first of my planned side trips, to Atlin in the remote almost cut-off corner of BC. The clouds lowered and it set in to rain steadily, so I took a few panos of the historic town then turned back.
There are hints of the American military who built the Alaska Highway in placenames like Snafu Lake (Situation Normal - All Fouled Up). I camped at Tarfu Lake (Things Are Really Fouled Up) in a gentle rain and enjoyed my first campfire of the trip.
Finally the Yukon River! Soon I rolled into Whitehorse, nexus of the Stampede of 1898 to the Klondike gold fields. An interesting town, with lots of history, three excellent museums, and a much needed resupply point. I bought a terabyte drive at Walmart to back up my imagery - 170 panos so far, and I was not even to Alaska yet.
This DC-3 outside the Yukon Transportation Museum is mounted on a bearing so it turns into the wind.The world's largest weathervane.
Refreshed from my civilized stop in Whitehorse, I headed across the mountains to Skagway, Alaska. This was the perilous route taken by the Stampeders of 1898, who backpacked their supplies through the snows of White Pass and Chilkoot Pass. The next spring they built rafts and scows and floated down a series of lakes and the Yukon River all the way to the Klondike.
Princess and Holland America cruise lines offer bus tours over the pass to Whitehorse, and on as far as Dawson and Eagle. I even saw them in Deadhorse a week later!Princess Cruise Line buses on the White Pass route.
Skagway is an interesting place with lots of history - much of the town is preserved as Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park.
But Skagway is totally dominated by mass tourism. There were four cruise ships there that day (sometimes there may be up to eight), each putting as many as a thousand people ashore. Most of the businesses along the historic main street are selling jewelry and trinkets to people from the cruise ships. In fact, they are the same businesses and salespeople that one will meet in the Caribbean in the opposite season. Weird.
My special thanks to "Madame Ophelia Johnson" at the Red Onion Saloon in Skagway. She was very particular that I get her stage name right - I was half a block away before I realized the double entendre.Red Onion Saloon on Broadway in Skagway
After Skagway I had a quick look at Dyea (on the Chilkoot Trail), a once busy town of which almost nothing remains.
I ended the day with an amazing evening drive back across the White Pass. The light was incredible, not good for panoramas (no time to get off the road) but I got some wonderful single shots.Stormy weather just north of White Pass
Carcross is an interesting historic town on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. One of the sights there used to be the lake steamer SS Tutshi, which burned in 1990. Construction was under way to preserve and interpret the few small remnants of the historic boat.
Camping that night near Carcross it dropped below freezing for the first time on the trip, and I really appreciated my campfire.
Back through Whitehorse again but I didn't continue west on the Alaska Highway - I turned north on the Klondike Highway, following the trail of '98 towards Dawson City. It passes near Lake Laberge, famous as the setting for Robert Service's poem "The Cremation of Sam McGee".
The highlight of this stretch of road is Five Finger Rapids on the Yukon River, a major hazard to navigation in the early years. The sun faded the instant I arrived, and by the time I got down to the cliff edge (223 steps, then a trail) it was starting to rain.Viewpoint above Five Finger Rapids on the Yukon River.
At Stewart Crossing I made an impulsive decision to take another side trip, to the Keno Mining area. Known as the Silver Trail, it is mostly gravel and leads through some seriously remote country. First the riverboat town of Mayo, then the recently abandoned mining town of Elsa, and finally Keno.
I enjoyed the excellent Keno Mining Museum, then took the road to the top of Keno Hill (it's really a mountain) with interesting geology and beautiful tundra.Don on the Butterfly Trail, tundra at the top of Keno Hill
Dawson City and the Klondike gold fields at last! It seems quite a journey even today (about 3000 miles by my route), unimaginable the challenge and hardship it must have been in 1898.
Dawson is an amazing historical town, largely restored using income from the casino. All new buildings must generally resemble the old ones. I stayed in a log cabin at Klondike Kate's - excellent food!
The highlight of my time in Dawson was a tour of Gold Dredge Number Four, a National Historic Site of Canada. Since I was the only one to show up at 1 pm, I got a custom look around - many thanks to Sue Taylor for the excellent tour. The dredge is on Bonanza Creek, site of the original discovery and still being mined today.Gold Dredge Number 4 and the Parks Canada Interpreters