Inger and Jeff Latreille
Restoring Gold Country
~Saturday, July 2, 2022~
Day 12 of Alaska Trip
I guess I really needed sleep because I didn’t get up until 10:00 a.m.. But then again, I didn’t go to bed until 2:00. It might have cut into our touring time, but sometimes you just have to listen to your body.
The historic community of Dawson City (across the river) is big enough to warrant seeing it by bicycle. This mode of transportation
is a surefire way to take in as much of a town as possible, especially when you have only 1 day to see it. It would be a good rest day for Sadie back at camp. By the time we arrived at the ferry’s launch area, the boat was there and ready for the 10-minute river crossing. Now that’s my kind of wait!
Entering into town, we couldn’t help but notice the Dawson City Firefighters Museum to our left. With Jeff growing up in a firemen family, we just had to check it out. Dawson City’s fire department, established in 1898, is the oldest fire department in the Yukon. Being the only tourists there for the moment, we thought the docent would be happy to see a few curious souls to keep away the boredom, but that truly was not the case. In fact, he was quite the “old grouch” that was annoyed at any question we asked and who might have preferred his Saturday afternoon spent doing something else, other than trying to collect money for the non-profit organization. Our 2-person group eventually turned into 6. And with the bigger group, the volunteer became a little less uptight, though it was torture to get any kind of information out of him. His story was that he was a volunteer fireman for 45 years before his retirement. In fact, the museum is run by the Dawson City Volunteer Fire Department with their goal of preserving the city’s heritage. Despite our unpleasant welcome, we still enjoyed the many pieces of memorabilia (the pictures of the past, the patches, the helmets, the fire hydrants, the nozzles, and of course the big equipment). One that really stood out to us was the $150,000 renovation on a horse-pulled fire pump.
Used in the late 1800’s it had a steam engine on it, so it could pump water to fight fires, and was it ever gorgeous. Pretty amazing to see the “befores”.
Riding further into town, it’s always comforting to see a visitor welcome center, and it was also a small museum filled with such things as old toys, clothes, shoes, furniture, maps and one item that really caught my attention……2 interlocking moose antlers. We’d seen something like this before at the L.L. Bean store in Freeport, Maine. A local outfitter who found these 2 on the side of the Dempster Highway, donated them to the visitors of Dawson City, naming it “A fight to the End”. During mating season it is not unusual for male moose to compete in battle for the affections of a female. In a few rare cases such as this one, the antlers can end up locked together, unable to be separated. It appears in this particular case, the smaller moose died instantly as a result of the battle. Although the larger moose survived the fight, he eventually succumbed to starvation or more likely fallen prey to one of its natural predators. So brutal is this “survival of the fittest” world.
We also met a very helpful young lady inside the visitor center who gave us a map of the town and a list of great eateries. After getting a few tips of what to see and where to eat, we rode over to Triple J’s for a mid-afternoon lunch. Service was a bit slow at first but maybe that’s because we were starving. At least it gave us time to talk about our itinerary and check on our bookings. I had brought along my laptop hoping to book a few more upcoming excursions, but was unable to tap into their WiFi. Hopefully we can do some of our internet stuff while we’re in Chicken, Alaska.
But what a delicious meal we had out on their lovely patio facing the many buildings of the past. Jeff had a yummy Reuben along with a thirst quenching Yukon beer and I had a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with my fried chickpea sandwich with the freshest, most amazing ingredients, all on a Brioche bun. The cucumber, garlic, sourcream sauce made it extra special. Now I just need to recreate this at home. Even though I was unable to connect to Wifi, I WAS able to make a phone call to Chicken to confirm our lodging for tomorrow. Well, it was sort of a phone call where I could only make out every other word. After a few attempts of trying a different connection, the front desk clerk texted us back with our answers ....”yes, you have an electric site”, and “yes, we have water”. Woo hoo!! Now we can drive the Top of the World Highway tomorrow (mostly gravel) with 400 fewer pounds than we thought.
Next was a stop inside the Dawson City Emporium with an eclectic assortment of goods…..books, toys, jewelry, the expected array of t-shirts and snacks. You name it, they had it, though they didn't have ice cream. We were in luck just a few doors down, where the Klondike Cream and Candy would satisfy this afternoon’s sweet tooth; Jeff had a rootbeer float and I a milkshake. By the end, it was one of those things that you ask yourself, while holding your stomach in pain, “Why did I have that?” Funny how your tastebuds rule out all common sense.
The whole Dawson Historical Complex is quite large with its colorful frontier buildings and boardwalk lined streets. In Dawson City’s history, permafrost ranks second only to fire as the bane of buildings. Three buildings we saw illustrate this point; one a former photography studio, one a hardware store and the other a hotel. They are examples of what can happen when heated buildings are placed on frozen ground: the frost melts, mixing water with the soil to form a very fluid
muck into which the different footings settle at different rates. No restoration measures have been taken with these buildings in particular, so that visitors may experience history as it naturally unfolds. You’d never get away with this in California, especially with a building open for business right next door.
It’s amazing to think that some 50,000 gold-seekers stampeded this far north seeking their riches. It would be fun to go back in time (only for a visit) to see those hopping saloons with the can-can girls and the vintage sternwheelers crossing the mighty Yukon River.
With the skies getting darker and the fact we’d seen most everything, it was time to head back. I immediately noticed our ferry driver was a woman. Girl power!! Having total faith in her abilities, we did end up taking a little scenic route when she started slightly off course where the river’s current took us slightly downstream. But with gobbles of gas and full thrust, we got back on course and finally back to our side of the Yukon River. We just appreciate the free service no matter what!
And just as we thought and just as we got back, the winds picked up, the thunder got more frequent and the hail came, some the size of dimes. And man was it loud on the trailer. Thankfully, there was no damage. That’s one thing we’ve noticed this far north. You can have 80 degree weather part of the day only to go south by the afternoon, even with a cold front as this was. Where’s my sweater?