On July 4th, we left Muncho Lake to head to Whitehorse, YT and it was a misty, overcast and chilly drive. I’m sure there were views to be seen and animals romping somewhere, but for the entire 285 mile stretch of road they escaped us! By the time we reached Whitehorse, the drizzle had stopped and though still a bit nippy (mid 50’s) our tour leaders, true to their promise, barbecued a traditional 4th of July meal for us to enjoy!
Whitehorse is the capital of the Yukon Territory and its largest population center. In fact, the entire population of the YT is just shy of 34,000 and Whitehorse makes up over 23,000 of that! It’s a bustling town that sits along the banks of the Yukon River and its history is steeped in the days of the Klondike gold rush. It also became an important transportation hub as stern-wheelers carried passengers and goods up and down the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City. And, in fact, one such stern-wheeler is now owned by the Canadian Parks Department and is on display in downtown Whitehorse!
A bus tour was arranged for our first full day in Whitehorse to take us around town and show off what it had to offer. We traveled past Miles Canyon where the Yukon River cuts its way through the region on its way to Whitehorse, we saw Schwatka Lake and the float planes that are as much a mode of transportation as a car in these parts, we toured the aforementioned stern-wheeler, had a lesson on the migration of salmon at the dam and fish ladder and finished off with a drive through the city center. All-in-all a very informative 4 hours.
Miles Canyon and Schwatka Lake
This vessel was built in 1929 and was the largest on the Yukon. In its heyday, it ferried large amounts of iron ore from the busy silver mines upriver to waiting trains that would take it to the smelter. It was also a first class mode of transportation for passengers willing to pay the price of $35 which was a bit more than the average monthly salary of $25. The tour of this vessel is self-guided and you are allowed to wander through most of its entirety.
Whitehorse Rapids and Fishway
To accommodate the salmon that travel through this area to spawn, the largest wooden fish ladder was built to provide access through the hydroelectric dam on the Yukon River. While it was still a few weeks early to spy any chinook making their way up the ladder, we still enjoyed a very knowledgeable young man as he explained how painstakingly they track each fish to insure the viability of the species and the rivers through which they travel.
Our second full day in Whitehorse we were in for a special treat as we traveled about 20 miles north of the city to visit Muktuk Adventures for what was called a Taste of Yukon Tour and Lunch. Muktuk is an off the grid, family-owned business that raises sled dogs, 140 to be exact. Each one treated and loved as a member of their family it was fascinating to hear how they are raised to be very people oriented and how they are trained to pull a sled. Their dogs are used primarily for taking tourists like us on guided trips in the winter and not for racing in the marathons of the Yukon Quest or the Iditarod. After the owner’s presentation he took us out to the kennel area and allowed us to freely walk around and pet any dog we were so inclined to. What a thrill! Every dog you approached was friendly and loved the attention each of us was heaping upon them. We even had an opportunity to hold a puppy from one of their recent litters! After petting as many dogs as we could, we cleaned up and went inside to eat a lunch prepared with items from their garden and samplings of local fare – assorted greens and strawberry salads, smoked salmon and elk sausage appetizers, bison burgers and homemade brownies and ice cream for dessert. Art was so taken by the operation, he wants to schedule a trip here in the winter for one of their guided sled runs – at 20 below zero, I think I’ll just sit in the lodge and wait for his return!