About Me

"Setting the world to rights"...one blog at a time! Plus anything else that comes to mind

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Mon 19th May to Thursday 22nd May 2003, Dawson City

Dawson city was at the centre of the Klondike Gold Rush.  A man called Carmacks and his Indian brothers-in-law (I think that's right), Skookum Jim and another one, found gold on what came to be called Bonanza Creek.  Skookum is an Indian word meaning strong, amongst other things - (don't know which language Carole, sorry but I have got a chart I can show you when we meet later in the year showing the language split and population numbers speaking the various languages).

The city has tried to keep itself very much as it would have been during the Gold Rush.  Old buildings have been preserved as far as possible in this climate and new buildings are in keeping with the old.  The only paved road is the Klondike Highway which skirts the City following the Yukon River.  The rest are dirt roads for the most part.  Because of this and the mud when the weather's bad most of the buildings have boardwalks outside and we are asked to remove our shoes before entering the hotel.

The result is a wonderful feeling of arriving back in the past, without being over-commercialised.  Of course, the lack of tourists at this time of year helps!  With my dusty clothes, jeans and heeled boots sounding on the boardwalks I fit right in and feel like Annie Oakley with a backpack.  Or perhaps Calamity Jane would be more appropriate?!?

The hotel is wonderful.  I had been disappointed that I was not booked into the Bunkhouse as originally planned, it looks wonderful from the outside but it is still boarded up for the winter.  As it happens I am happier to be in the Hotel Aurora.

Outside is in keeping with the rest of the town but inside it is modern and furnished throughout with pine.  They also provide a big welcome to go with the big airy rooms.  I was always greeted with a warm smile as I came and went.  Betty is Dutch and as well as cleaning the 18 rooms she 'minds the store', welcoming people and taking telephone calls.  She's worked here for the 6 years it's been going.  Bruno, a Swiss, is one of the owners and also greets people as well as overseeing the serving staff in the excellent restaurant.  Between them and Rene, the chef who I think is German, in the kitchen they have about 7 or 9 European languages between them, useful in this sort of business.

From time to time I would sit comfortably in the rocker in front of the TV in the reception, writing cards or chatting with Betty.  I call it a reception but more a big comfortable living room.  My room is also big, airy and beautifully appointed.

After the first day an invitation for a complimentary Kir 'Aurora' with dinner was left in my room each day.  An incentive to eat there, not that I needed one after the first night's meal.  I'm a big fan of French onion soup (minus the crouton & cheese of course), and Rene's is very, very good; I went straight for it again the next night.  To my shame I've forgotten one of the meals (but that's my duff memory for you, and the reason for this diary!) but they included - scallop and shrimp kebab; green pea soup; halibut & panacotta.  Most had to be adjusted for my diet and each and every one was superb.  Rene came out of the kitchen on the last night when he heard I was there and suggested the halibut, which wasn't on the menu, and he created a special dish for me.  I've no way of knowing if this is their usual service, or if they, or indeed anyone, could provide such a service at the height of the season, but I didn't care.  I was being treated like royalty and I loved it.  The only time I've had food as good was on the Orient Express travelling from London to Venice, except there wasn't as much as Rene provided!

Oh, just remembered, the other meal was baby back ribs with homemade BBQ sauce.  Everything served here is made from scratch on the premises including someone dedicated to the bakery-the produce of which is sold on a take out basis too.  (Are you drooling yet Mum?)

The day I arrived I rushed down to the theatre booking office to be sure I didn't miss out.  Silly me!  Start of the season and all that; there were only about 20 of us and 10 of those were locals using their complimentary tickets; they get them so they can tell tourists (or visitors as we are know in Canada) about the shows if they are asked).

After getting the tickets I wandered off around the city to get my bearings.  It would only take about 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other but with lots to see and take in it was quite a while before I got back to the hotel for dinner.

After dinner I went to the theatre for the Gaslight Follies.  The theatre is an old-fashioned dream of a place, small but full of history.  It's been used as dance hall, music hall, cabaret, variety and even opera during its history.  There was singing and sketches but basically told the story of Dawson during the Goldrush, including such characters as Klondike Kate and Arizona Charlie.  It was a good production and most enjoyable.  I've tried, unsuccessfully, to get more information on the characters of the time.

Basically Carmacks, Skookum Jim and the Other One found gold on what came to be known as Bonanza Creek.  They were joined by all the other Sourdoughs (old-time Yukoners) in the area at the time.  By the time the Cheechakos (new-comers) arrived in their hordes the gold rush was well underway and all the land had been staked.  All they could do was work for the existing claimholders, most of which were already very rich.  A lot had previous skills to draw on such as smithying or banking and eventually they brought up their families, gradually changing Dawson City into a civilised place.  Not that it was as lawless as the Wild West as the Northwest Mounted Police had arrived right at the beginning to enforce law and order.
I used the Old Post Office to send my latest batch of cards, imposing with its dark wood and ranks of polished post boxes and ate breakfast in Klondike Kate's cafe each morning - apparently she was the proprietor for a lot of years.  Wood panels throughout with cream net curtains at the bottom and tops of the windows, leaving the middle clear. 

One day I went gold-panning on Bonanza Creek.  You are provided with a gold-pan and pay-dirt; shown the technique for separating the gold from the dirt and off you go.  (Dirt is dirt until it bears gold, then it's pay-dirt).  You can't actually go and get the pay-dirt, unless you want to go down a mine and thaw the permafrost first!  Once the free gold in the rivers had been panned out the miners had to go digging for it.  They would spend the winter tending fires to thaw out the permafrost, putting it in piles ready for the spring thaws and the running water necessary to separate the gold from the pay-dirt.  Their only advantage was that they didn't have to shore up the sides of the mineshafts of galleries as the permafrost prevented collapses.  I had great fun panning the gold and now wear what I found in a locket round my neck!  Panning is good for the waistline girls, but bad on the back; the old-timer miners have my wholehearted admiration and respect.  They moved onto more efficient methods of extracting the ore as time went on but my interest doesn't extend that far.

I had walked a few miles out of town to go gold-panning on Bonanza Creek.  Bad idea to walk - I was VERY hot and VERY dusty by the time I got there; even worse on the way back.  While Dawson City is lovely, and set in wonderful wilderness, the immediate surroundings are a series of dirt heaps left after dredging for gold.  As I said, Very dusty!
I had thought of going to Diamond Tooth Gertie's Dance Hall and Gambling Parlour, but didn't.  I'd probably have enjoyed it with a group of friends but not really my cup of tea - either gambling or dancehall-girls!!  Someone had tried to tempt me by saying you never knew who you were sat next to, it could be a millionaire in those dirty clothes, I could find a husband.  I treated that with the same scepticism as when I was told there was a rumour more gold had been found.  Or perhaps I was wrong...perhaps...

I spent a lot of time inventing reasons to go to the drug store, of the general store, or any store that would give me the excuse for walking the boardwalks.  There is a lovely feeling and air to the place of a frontier town that would possibly disappear as the season progresses and the tourists descend.  Some places may be closed now but I'm glad I'm here to see it as it is now.  Even the loos in the Visitors Centre are worth a visit with wood panelling and gleaming plumbing.  They were extremely helpful in the Visitors Centre, even to offering to get a copy of the theatre programme I had forgotten to get while I was there and didn't have time to go back for, and to post it free of charge.

I was very sorry to leave both Dawson and the hotel, I'd felt very much at ease there.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Monday 19th May 2003, Carmacks to Dawson City

The cafe attached to the hotel was not the best so I decided to get breakfast on the road, not such a good idea as it turned out.  Places were few and far between and I didn't like the look of any of them so I was pretty hungry when I got to Dawson City.

There was more road damage between Carmacks and Dawson City, which was not always flagged here so I had to be pretty vigilant.  Nevertheless, even I couldn't miss what looked to me like a wolf as it loped out of the trees and turned down the road, heading straight for me.  It was a whimsical, meandering sort of lope, unhurried and seemingly without a care in the world.  As I braked he veered off to the other side of the road where he stopped and turned to look at me.  It was as though he was sizing me up, decided I was nothing to worry about and loped away into the trees.  I could have sworn he was laughing at me, it was so funny.  THEN I remembered my camera!!!

The guy in the car behind me saw me in a café further up the road and we discussed it.  He told me it was a coyote, not a wolf;  I bow to his superior knowledge but as I hadn't seen either in the wild before I was thrilled either way.

About an hour or so later I came across a car with it's bonnet up and a woman was flagging me down.

Ok, let's get this over with.  Yes, I KNOW, everyone (apart from George) told me not to stop for anyone, and I HAVE ignored the hitch-hikers; but there was this man working hard at the wheel, two women looking worried and a little boy about 4 years old looking confused, right in the middle of nowhere.  What would YOU have done?  I stopped.

I wasn't much help as I didn't understand which tool they needed but we rooted around in my car anyway.  By the time we decided I didn't have one, two more cars had stopped and one had the necessary.  This was the Klondike in the rush hour - I'd only seen half a dozen cars in the last four hours up 'til then.  No-one passed by - as one lady said, this is the Yukon way!

I didn't stop to make sure they got safely underway, I'm a little ashamed of that but I wasn't comfortable, I suppose ingrained suspicion of strangers is hard to overcome.  However, I did stop, against all advice and there were others there when I left.  I like to think if I'd been the only one around I would have stayed and made sure they were underway or plucked up the courage to offer a lift but I guess I'll never know now.  I was so flustered I automatically drove off on the left hand side of the road and it was about half a mile before I realised and moved over.  Oh well, let's hope that gave them a laugh over the soppy Englishwoman.

The rest of the journey was uneventful until I got near Dawson City.  I saw what I thought was roadkill until it moved.  It was a porcupine - I hadn't realised they were so large!  He didn't care for the look of me, so off he lumbered with a sort of rolling gait and disappeared round a hummock.  I may have just managed to get him on film but I'm not sure.  I could hear him rustling around but couldn't see him so I started off again.  As I did I spotted his sweet little face poking out at me from the other side of the hummock but it quickly disappeared once more when I slowed down.

Sunday 18th May 2003, Whitehorse to Carmacks

The Klondike Highway is in pretty good condition so I made good time.  The landscape is subtly different; rounder contours, less craggy, less evergreens and more deciduous trees.  It changes more though, the deciduous gave way to more evergreens then - devastation!

Mile after mile of blackened tree trunks pointing at the sky, branches mostly burned away; or felled, criss-crossed on the ground like a child's jackstraws and large areas of scorched earth.  The occasional stand of green trees where the fire that had caused this desolation had miraculously spared them for some reason.  I've seen smaller areas like this over here but the sheer scale of the disaster here is overwhelming.  I know it's necessary to the ecology, following a cycle of burning and renewal, but it is desperately sad to see and must have been terrifying to witness.

Marilyn, in Burwash Landing, had told me about the fire they had at the end of the 1990's, long before she got there.  It had swept down on the township taking three houses and the logs Horace had prepared for building his cabin.  The owners of the Resort were determined to save it and had been dousing the building with water.  But the fire was beyond their efforts and before they realised it, was roaring down at them where they cowered, laid flat on the roof.  Suddenly the wind, which ALWAYS comes from the same direction, miraculously changed and took the fire elsewhere.  You can stand overlooking Burwash Landing and see the path the fire took and how narrow their escape was.

This fire in the Klondike must have been a hundred times worse and is the sort of threat Yukoners live with every year.  Nothing is permanent here it seems and you have to learn to roll with the punches to survive.  Small wonder they are a hardy breed.

I arrived early in Carmacks and as it was Sunday there was nothing to do - not that there is much to do in Carmacks anyway.  I walked 2.5 kilometers down the length of Carmacks (there is very little width as the hills come so close to the waters edge) and got caught first in hail and then rain.  I actually rather enjoyed it although I looked like a drowned rat by the time I got back to the hotel.

The only thing left was TV and there were only 2 channels, one with some rather strange costume dramas and the other with obscure Indian and Australian programmes.  Suddenly I felt very tired!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Saturday 17th May 2003, Beaver Creek to Whitehorse

Beaver Creek is about six miles from the Canadian border crossing (now we know Dad - it's too small to show on the map).  I got a shock at first because there were big signs outside the hotel saying it was closed.  I weaved past them and found I was expected although they were not due to open officially for the summer for another week.  Whew!  A very nice room and a very nice place, looking past the fact they are still getting it up together after winter.  No problem with noisy neighbours tonight, I'm the only one here - and that included staff - only the manager was on the property that night, in a cabin somewhere 'over there' if I needed him.

I was recommended to Buckshot Betty's for dinner, which was fine by me, I'd been there for lunch on the way up a few weeks earlier.  There were 2 sets of Americans there who chatted to each other but not much inclined to include me.  No problem, the waitress was very chatty and friendly.
Had an early night, and really needed it after those kids got me up at 5:30 for the past 2 mornings.  Slept like a log.
Back to Buckshot Betty's for coffee in the morning; one of the couples from last night were there but more friendly and actually smiled at me.
The roads were pretty awful again and I was eating dust for a long way.  I wanted to breakfast at Burwash Landing but my plans went awry as usual (I don't learn, do I?) and arrive lunchtime.  Marilyn recognised me, which was really nice, and the couple from Beaver Creek were there and in the mood to chat.  They had overtaken me while I was being so careful of my car at the roadworks.  We all had a jolly time chatting; the couple were doing a tour up from Michegan, 'spending their kids inheritance'.
The place is done up nicely now and I could sit in the part that had just been unboarded for the summer when I stayed here a few weeks earlier.  Marilyn and the cook chatted with me for a while after the American couple left.  They asked about our chocolate, it has a good reputation over here.
I was off again and not planning to stop until Haines Junction.  No dice; what with all the tea at Burwash landing and the very bumpy road I gave up six miles short!  At Haines Junction I 'hung a right' for Whitehorse.  I saw a dust devil in the road ahead, a small whirlwind that caught the road dust up in a spout and danced it round from one side of the road to the other.  It was about 4-5 feet tall so I could see it from quite a way away and chuckled at its antics.  I'd slowed right down to watch it but it collapsed just as I passed, I suppose the wind of my passing disrupted it.
I stopped at Kluane (clue-ah-knee with a slight stress on the ah) Lake this time and hopefully got some good pictures for you to paint Mum.  There's a lot less snow than a few weeks ago; now the country is a picture of muted reds, yellows, greens and blues weaving a glorious tapestry of colour that you see in paintings but can't quite believe could exist.
Being the driver and navigator rolled into one, means I don't have any attention left for active wildlife spotting.  However, at one point I saw some movement at the side of the road.  It was bison so I slammed on the brakes; too craven to get out I just wound down the window and took photos of them from the safety of the car.
I had no trouble with the Whitehorse traffic when I got there, straight to the hotel without any fuss.  I've got the hang of traffic now.  Ever since I realised it wasn't my driving abilities I had any doubt of, it was my navigating skills - getting lost - I stopped being silly and I've been just fine.
There was no time for doing anything much in Whitehorse as I arrived early evening so just caught up with the laundry and went to bed.  I met a nice lady in the laundry though, driving up from  South Carolina with her husband and two young children, she had the most delicious drawl.  He's in the US Armed Forces and being relocated to Anchorage for four years.  They've been on the road with their belongings for nine days!  Imagine that with two children under three years!!!  She's a saint.
PS Hope this all makes sense, I’m sitting in an Internet café cum pizza place with a load of teenagers making a racket over some bloomin’ awful music, can hardly think!!

Friday 16th May 2003, Glenallen to Beaver Creek

I had another long drive ahead of me so I was on the road by 9 o'clock.  It was flat country and I was surrounded by forest.  I was fascinated at first, then..."well, ok, yes, they're trees!", then bored and finally completely awed by the scale of it all.

I gradually worked my way up into the mountains, still surrounded by forest; the road occasionally rising above the tree line to view the valley I'd just left, trees carpeting the valley floor and creeping up the mountainside, gradually giving way to a little scrubland before the mountains rise steeply to the sky.  Maybe a river or mudflats worming through the valley from one end to the other.  Sometimes the road winding so much I'd lose sight of it among the trees and have the illusion that I am completely surrounded by mountains, there's no way out, and the world has shrunk to this one small valley. 

I had planned to lunch in Tok but numerous road works held me up.  I really must learn that this country doesn't care about my plans and schedules.  So I just sat back, enjoyed the ride and stopped at the first place that appealed.  It was about 40 miles short of Tok and in one of those valleys.  It was filled (not hard considering it only took about a dozen people anyway) with locals including four gents who were exactly my idea of old coots, and who took great delight in 'chatting up the young lady'.

I've been travelling steadily north and climbing into the mountains since leaving Seward.  At some stage spring had withdrawn and the trees had been again in an uneasy doze.  Moving down out of the mountains onto the plains surrounding Tok, spring came again and I feel privileged to have seen it twice this year.

After coffee in Tok I drove straight through to the US/Canada border.  I was travelling under the Visa exemption scheme for UK nationals and was supposed to hand in the form, that was clipped to my passport, when leaving.  I explained I was going back into Alaska at Skagway so they marked the form for multiple entries and I've just got to remember to hand it in the last time I exit the US.  It's valid to July and they impressed on me the importance of not taking it back to the UK with me.  Must stick a reminder note somewhere!

And so it was goodbye to Alaska, for now; it's been wonderful!

A 'brief' interlude

Well, it's been a while, too long in fact.  Life interrupted my travels down memory lane but I've some time now.  I'm with friends in Egypt with time on my hands between having fun, so I shall pick up my mental meanderings again.  Not much point in posting my emails in 'real time' since in reality, ten years ago, I had already returned to the UK.  So the posts will come as and when I get round to them from now on.  Now, where was I?...oh yes, ...

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Thursday 15th May 2003, Seward to Glenallen

I was up early again this morning but not from choice. Both nights a party of school kids was deposited at the hotel just before 10 o'clock with attendant yells, bangs and running around. Both mornings I was wakened around 5:30 as they got up and banged, crashed, chatted, shrieked and generally made as much noise as school kids can. Fine for them but I had a very long drive to Glenallen that day.

The internet was free again so having taken advantage of the email I looked up the ferry times.  I had hoped to get the ferry from Whittier to Valdez, then drive to Glenallen through the Chugach Mountains but found out that the next ferry wouldn't get in until 9:30pm leaving me with a 2-3 hour drive to follow.  I decided to go back towards Anchorage, turning off on the Glenn Highway just south of the city and I have no regrets at the choice.  Lunch was enjoyed while chatting with a lady from Surrey who moved to Alaska 8 years ago, and an Indian lady with her daughter.  She recommended the Indian Hospital in Anchorage if I wanted to buy authentic souvenirs.  The patients make them.  She was there in November having her stomach stapled and has lost 190lbs since.  The waitress (Surrey lady) advised me to just order extras for breakfast, not the set meals excluding this, that or the other.  Works out cheaper usually.  I love these times, chatting with new, friendly people - I'm changing!

I enjoyed viewing the Seward Highway from the opposite direction and I think I got some photos this time.  The Glenn Highway has varied scenery, breathtaking in fact.  I drove through many canyons, saw a glacier, caribou at the side of the road and - often - ‘slide area ends' signs.  Somehow I never saw the 'begins' signs.  (Slides = rock falls).  In these places you'd see great scars in the canyons or hillsides where vast areas have just dropped away.  I saw rocks on the road and rocks actually falling nearby but nothing ever fell near the road or me while I was on it.  Phew!
Road works were fun.  At one point I waited 20 mins to play 'follow-my-leader'.  This involves waiting for a queue of traffic to form then a Pilot Vehicle guides the traffic through the works.  It will be nice when I have the RV with my own facilities, it can be a long time between stops!  It snowed again before I got to Glenallen, much to my delight, and the chagrin of the inhabitants of the cafe I was in at the time; it had snowed there every day for the past week and they were sick to the back teeth of it.  However, they were highly amused when I briefly abandoned my meal to run out into the snow in excitement so I could say it had actually snowed on me in Alaska!  In fact today I started in warm sun and ran the gamut of rain, snow, sleet and hail before the day finished.
The New Caribou Inn in Glenallen was a very comfy, cosy place with decent food and I slept well.

Wednesday 14th May 2003, Seward

The next morning I walked a couple of miles along the waterfront to the harbour.  At one point a couple of ladies stopped and pointed out some seals to me.  Tried for a photo but couldn't get the camera out quick enough, I suspect they will just be black smudges in the sea as they had followed the current further down the coast by the time I got my act together.
The walk was lovely, a crisp sea smell and pungent seaweed; I love the smell of seaweed.  It got fishier as I neared the harbour.  I treated myself to a banana split and sat on a bench for a while watching the birds and boats.  A couple of ladies with prams wandered past chatting and gave me a friendly but curious nod.  They didn’t seem inclined to stop and chat so I wandered back to the hotel again.  Unfortunately I hadn't given my knee enough of a rest and hobbled the last stretch.
Just across the road from the hotel is a sea-aquarium place and I spent some time wandering around, really very enjoyable and informative.  There were a lot of children in school parties.
I had a nap before a dinner of tasteless shrimp, bottled horseradish and tomato sauce mixed together to start followed by a main course that wasn’t up to much either – very disappointing.

Tuesday 13th May 2003, Anchorage to Seward

I found my way across Anchorage reasonable well, only getting confused twice.  The Seward Highway is easily the most consistently beautiful that I've seen so far.  The Alaska Highway is marvellous but is so long it couldn't possibly carry the beauty the whole way.  The Seward however, manages it.  I stopped many times but didn't take many photos as my camera didn't like the light.  I will just have to carry the images in my memory.  It snowed a bit at one stage and I let out a loud whoop, even though it only lasted all of two minutes.  Never mind - it snowed in Alaska while I was here!
I stopped for a bowl of chilli for lunch and though he swore there was no flour in it one of the other ingredients must have included a bit because things were getting a bit anxious towards the end of the road there!
It's a lovely hotel built around an inner atrium.  There's complimentary Internet access for residents, so I'm making sure I keep up to date as Whitehorse is likely to be the next time I get a chance to email.  Sadly, I don't have a bay view but I suppose the parking lot has its own charm!  That's par for the course for singles; we get a raw deal.  I made up for it at Ray's Waterfront Restaurant, sat next to one of the panoramic windows, right on the harbour front looking out at the boats coming and going and watching the birds diving for fish.  My fish came in a more civilised manner - on a plate. I wrapped myself round oysters followed by crab with lemon and cilantro butter, rice and broccoli.  Absolutely excellent.
Seward has been my food Mecca since I left England and I'd been looking forward to this.  No thinking of the cost for forty eight hours, even if I have to starve for a week.  (OK - so there's no real chance of that happening!)
Just time for a short walk before bed.
Nighty nighty

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Monday 12th May 2003, Anchorage

I put a film in for developing and went looking for breakfast while I waited.  Two hours and one Snickers bar later I finally found something I could eat, so I made it brunch.  A rather nice, if salty, salmon chowder.  After collecting the photos I headed for the Museum, which is supposed to be very good, but it was closed.  No idea why.  However I twisted my bad knee very painfully so the rest of the day was spent alternating walking until I hobbled too badly, and getting my emails up together.  This hotel offers free Internet access to guests so I made the most of it – it was a good call not sending them from Talkeetna.  Hence the mass of emails you all received over a short period.
The hotel is lovely and the service is spot on but I've been spoilt by the friendliness of people in the smaller places; I find the service here excellent but impersonal.  People generally are not so friendly and tend to avoid looking you in the eye as you walk around, but that's the same for any major town or city worldwide.
Not much else to say for Anchorage, George - you were right; nice to see for a day but that's about it, thanks for ignoring me and not booking me in longer.