We were on the road early, rejoining the Klondike Highway, toward Dawson City. On the way, we had good views of the Tintina Trench, the largest geological fault in North America and one of two major migratory “flyways” in the Yukon. In May and October, this vast valley is the route that over 200,000 sandhill cranes take on their way south and north.
I (Mark) visited Dawson City in 1967 with my parents, and I remember it as mostly abandoned and in disrepair, with only a few buildings still in use. But the paving of the Alaska Highway and the Klondike Highway seems to have brought new life to Dawson. This city which, at the height of the gold rush, was home to 30,000 people, now has a population of about 1,500. Parks Canada owns 30 of the buildings and has at least braced them internally and fixed up their exteriors; what’s more, there are now actual businesses where there used to just be derelict buildings. (The Dawson Hardware Co., for example, which was just an empty building, leaning precariously to one side, when I photographed it in 1967, now occupies several old buildings, and it’s the Canadian equivalent of a TruValu hardware store.)
There’s a Northwest Territories Information Centre here in Dawson, for people (like us) who are planning to drive the Dempster Highway north from Dawson into the Territories. We stopped there to get current road conditions, and the staff was reassuring about the chances of tire damage: the highway is a lot better than it used to be, they said. Although we had been warned to take a minimum of two spare tires, one staff member here said she had driven the Dempster 20 times without a single flat. (It seems that our one spare tire should be enough.)
After visiting the Dawson City tourist info facility, we found a campground right in town, then walked over to the Palace Theatre (beautifully restored by Parks Canada) to watch a film about women in the Klondike (during the gold rush, mostly dance hall girls and prostitutes) and to get tickets for other Dawson attractions.
After supper, we visited the old cabin of the Klondike balladeer, Robert Service (author of “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and other poems). As we sat on the lawn in front of the two-room cabin, a young woman from Parks Canada gave an excellent talk about Service, complete with the recitation of several of his poems.
Then we drove up to the top of Midnight Dome, the mountain overlooking Dawson and the valleys of the Yukon and Klondike rivers. The sun was still high in the sky (even though it was almost 9 P.M.), and the vista was spectacular.
We have a full day of touring scheduled for tomorrow here in Dawson; then on Thursday we plan to head up the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Circle and beyond.