Mark and Nadine's Arctic Expedition travel blog

Not a Grizzly

A small section of the Watson Lake Signpost Forest

Our sign

George Johnston's Chevy

We again arose early and hit the road. We were rewarded with the sight of a black bear lumbering along the side of the road (no mistaking this one for a grizzly). By 9:00 A.M. we entered the Yukon Territory and arrived at Watson Lake, the home of the famous signboard forest.

Back in 1942, during the construction of the Alaska Highway by U.S. Corp of Engineers troops, a homesick soldier put up a sign showing the mileage back to his hometown. Since then over 55,000 people have added their signs to what is now a forest of signposts. It’s a monument to human folly, and a lot of fun.

We got some nails from the nearby Visitor’s Centre and added our sign to the collection. It reads, “Christ The King Lutheran Church, Vestal NY, 3,299 miles.” That’s the official road mileage, according to Google Maps. But with all our detours, it’s taken us 6,728 miles - more than twice as far!

We got more bad road reports from the people at the Visitor’s Centre: the Campbell Highway, our planned route from here, has several bad stretches in it, due to rough conditions this spring. The road is officially open, but those stretches of muck apparently make it pretty unpleasant to drive. This assessment was confirmed by a woman at the coffee shop where we stopped.

Accordingly, we decided to stay on the Alaska Highway to Whitehorse, then take the Klondike Highway to Carmacks and northward. Once again, this will be a longer, less remote route than we originally planned, but we don’t want to take any uncecessary chances with Rosie.

After leaving Watson Lake, we paused for lunch and a walk down to Rancheria Falls, where the Rancheria River meets an island, producing two separate falls as the river drops. It was a beautiful spot.

Further on, we stopped in the Tlingit village of Teslin, to visit the George Johnston Museum. George was a member of the Tlingit tribe, which migrated inland from the Alaska coast in the late 1800s. The Tlingits controlled the major passes into the Yukon interior, and thus were fairly prosperous (especially when the Klondike gold rush began in the 1890s). Early in the 1900s, George bought a camera and learned to develop photographs. His photos of early twentieth century Tlingit life are remarkable, and he was a pretty remarkable guy in his own right. Before there were roads to Teslin, George bought a Chevrolet and had it shipped to Teslin by barge; then he built a three-mile road and gave taxi rides to his neighbors. Eventually, George used his car for hunting, painting it white in the winter, then dark again each summer. Although it dropped through the ice on Teslin Lake on one of his winter hunting expeditions, it was recovered. It’s now been completely restored, and is a highlight of the museum.

Around 6:00 P.M., the Alaska Highway finally delivered us to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territory. We were surprised to learn that the population of the Yukon is actually smaller than the Northwest Territories (32,000 vs. 40,000); what’s more, two-thirds of the Yukon’s population resides in Whitehorse.

We’ve decided to spend the weekend in here Whitehorse, catching up on our sleep and planning the next phase of our trip. So we’ve booked into the Hi Country RV Park, just outside of town.

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