Saturday, July 11, 2015


Had a wonderful first day in Whitehorse!  Started out with a 4th of July celebration coffee and donuts gathering of the group and then our wagon master's briefing, telling us all about the options of activities here, and outlining our trip to Destruction Bay when we leave on Tuesday.  After that, Trisha and I drove downtown for a few errands and stopped at the pet store to get Sophie a new sweater, for these cooler temperatures we've been having.  And, guess what??  As soon as we put it on her, within a couple of hours the temperature rose high enough that it was too hot for her to wear it!  But I'm sure it will be colder before too long.

After lunch we went for a hike in Miles Canyon, not too far from our campground.  The trail we took follows along the Yukon River for quite a ways and it was just beautiful!  The jade colored water of the river was so striking, with a brilliantly sun-filled afternoon.  We started with a walk across a suspended footbridge across the river from the parking area and then alternately hiked right by the river and then veered into the woods a bit more, with pine needle-covered paths below lots of aspens and other hardwoods.  The weather was just right, and even though we wore long pants and took jackets, we were comfortable in t-shirts and could have worn shorts.  Ken went with us and we had a great time.  The most remarkable thing that happened though, was when we came out from the woods at a boat launching area and we were having some difficulty reading the trail guide to find the continuation of the trail,  Trisha noticed a young man down by the boat dock with his boat.  So she went to ask him if he were local and familiar with the trails.  Well, you know Trisha, she can quickly strike up a friendship with anyone, and before you know it, this nice young man offered to take us for a ride in his boat!  He is a mechanic for Nissan in town, has lived here all his 33 years and said he's always excited to show off his area to visitors.  He said he had moved away once to Alberta, but missed the Yukon so much he came back and is happy to be back.  So he drove us all up and down the river, and took us deep into the canyon, which was spectacular, with the high walls of rock rising above the river--we even got to go under the footbridge we had crossed earlier.  We passed the floatplane base, where lots of float planes were parked, and a couple even took off while we were driving around.  Few things make Trisha happier than being out in a boat on the water, so she was just squealing with delight!!  I get such a charge out of seeing how excited she gets over things--it brought back lots of wonderful memories of the times we spent on Lake Alatoona camping with the kids and later on Lake Jackson.  Andrew, our new friend, reminded us a lot of Jeremy, with his easy spirit, quick smile and welcoming attitude--just a totally unexpected but wonderful treat!!  Only Trisha could have pulled off something like this!

By the time we got back we were in need of a nap, a refreshing way to end the afternoon. After we got up, another RV caravan group was coming into the campground--this now makes three groups of us here, all heading to Alaska.  A couple from Montana was pulling a huge 5th wheel into the spot next to us and the sites here are quite narrow, so I had to help them figure out the best way to place their rig so we both could have our slides out and make room for the entry doors.  They were very understanding and we worked out a good solution.  Saturday evening we joined a group of our fellow caravaners at a performance of the Frantic Follies, a Whitehorse tradition--a family started the Follies in the '70's and it's been going on since then.  The other two caravans also had groups there, and we were commenting on the way home how much the production depends on groups like ours.  And, of course, this is basically a summer thing, since the winters here are so cold and brutal, not too many folks like us venture up here.  It was a fun evening, and we all got a great laugh when one of the characters, a woman torch singer, came out and picked a guy from our group to bring up onstage and sang to him, giving him the nickname Pookie.  He was a good sport about it and was the perfect one she could have picked from our group.  We all can't wait for the next wagon master's briefing for when Chuck calls the roll and we'll all yell out Pookie when Chuck calls his rig number!!

Sunday morning was another beautiful day, though getting somewhat hotter.  We have all been surprised at how warm it has been this far north.  Most of us were expecting much cooler temps, though Chuck had told us all when he sent out the first notifications before we left home that we should be prepared for both cool and warm weather.  Most of us, I think, were just associating the northern part of Canada and Alaska with cold--making assumptions is always dangerous, huh?  Anyway, Trisha and I went for a wonderful bike ride--there is a paved bike and hiking trail that runs along the Yukon River into downtown Whitehorse, with bridges so you can cross and ride along both sides of the river.  We rode into town past the USS Klondike, an old wood-burning steam paddle powered riverboat that's now up on land as a museum to the riverboat era, when such boats were used to transport ore and other supplies to places reachable only by the river.  We also passed a lovely city park, right on the banks of the river, with a water splash pad where lots of children were having fun playing in the water, and a place where we could view a small island with sea gull nests on it.  On the way back we rode the other side and went up to view the hydroelectric dam, where there is also a fish ladder for the salmon to make it upstream for spawning.

That afternoon our group drove out to the Mukluk Adventures Ranch, owned by Frank Turner, a legend among dog sled racers.  Although we, like most folks, were familiar with the Iditarod race, we had never heard of the Yukon Quest before this experience.  It is also a 1000 mile race that one year runs from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, and the next year from Fairbanks to Whitehorse.  The Iditarod started in 1973 as a fairly low key competition for dog sledders, those folks who had made their living running dog sleds for supplies, etc. in the remote wilderness.  The racer was not very well known outside of Alaska, until ABC's Wide World of Sports picked it up, and then, as is usually the case, it grew exponentially, and brought the inevitable big bucks of corporate sponsorship into the picture.  Many of the mushers--the term derives from the French word for march--felt like the race had become too big for them, so in 1984 the Yukon Quest was started, in the words of Frank Turner, "to have a race like the Iditarod used to be."  It's now become quite the race, though still smaller than the Iditarod, but is run each year before the Iditarod, and now lots of the Quest racers do the Iditarod as well, some 10 days later.  This is nothing short of amazing, when you think about the grueling conditions these mushers and their dogs endure, temps often 40, 50, 60 or more below zero!

Anyway, Turner set a Yukon Quest course record that stood for 12 years, the longest any record has lasted.  He retired from competitive racing in 2008, but keeps about 120 dogs on his ranch now, adopting them from shelters and caring for them.  In the winter you can go stay at the ranch and he and his staff will teach you how to drive a dog team and take you out for adventures--this is how he supports his year round dog rescue efforts and care of these beautiful animals.  In the summer you can go to the ranch and just use it as a base for hiking, kayaking, biking, and other outdoor adventures.   First, though, when we all got out of our cars and we were in the big yard where all 120 dogs are at their individual houses, he said "Let's get a big Muktuk welcome for all of you folks" and then turned toward the dogs and began to howl.  Suddenly we were greeted by a chorus of 120 dogs, howling their heads off!  It was just amazing!!  He explained how you could tell from the sound of the dogs' howl if they were happy or upset, and these were definitely happy dogs!

He gave us an incredible presentation about the history of the Quest, as well as the history of dog sledding in general, how the dogs are selected for the teams, how he works with them, how the race is conducted, and the detailed ways they care for the dogs to ensure their health and safety.  It was just amazing to listen to him talk about how he cares for each individual dog, how he assesses the individual strengths and talents of each dog to know how to place them in the team of 14.  He said some mushers only use male dogs, but he has found that, while male dogs are often more muscular and stronger, female dogs have more of a focus and can keep the whole team on task better--and he set the course record with 6 female dogs on his team!  He told us how they have to carry coolers of frozen food for the dogs, plus a cooker to boil it for them; how he broke two teeth trying to bite into a Clif Bar that had frozen, and how closely the vets check the dogs at checkpoints, sending dogs home that are injured or sick.  You have to have at least 6 dogs out of the original 14 when you finish in order for your time to qualify.  He also told us how he uses simple verbal commands for the dogs, like gee and haw, and just a simple go to start.  As he said, no one says "Mush you huskies, mush," like Sgt. Preston of the Yukon did!  I could go on for hours on all the things he told us, but suffice it to say that it was mesmerizing!  This guy cares so much for his dogs, and we were all spellbound listening to him.  Reminded me of when I was at the flute workshop with R. Carlos Nakai--it was nominally about how to play the flute, but really just imparting Nakai's philosophy of life.  Same thing here--while Turner gave us lots of information about dog sledding, it was really his way of living and caring for others.  When he talked about his job was just to do everything he could to help each dog become the best she or he could be, and thus the whole team becomes better, he was so passionate, Trisha and I were moved to tears.  He analogized that to any of us working together on any kind of team, whether work or family or whatever.  You could just feel his compassion and his earnest belief that we are all put here on this earth to help others become the best they can be.  It was really an incredible experience.  Someday I'd really like to come back in the winter to experience dog sledding.

After his presentation we got to go out into the yard with the dogs and spend some time with them.  That was so much fun, and one particular dog, named Ritter, and I seemed to really hit it off.  Ritter just kept licking my hand, then stood up on hind legs to give me a hug and just kept nuzzling my beard--really sweet!  After that, his staff put on a wild game dinner for everyone, with barbecued wild salmon, blueberry elk sausage, caribou, buffalo and arctic char.  They also had a lovely salad, some veggies and potatoes, and Chuck had let them know that we are vegans, so they made grilled portobello mushroom steaks for us.  Most of his staff are young people from Germany, Switzerland and Denmark, who come here to work for some of the year.  It was fun to meet them and to look around his house at his trophies and the examples of the kinds of heavy clothing used for the 50 degree below zero temps in the winter while dogsledding!  Really a fun evening!!

Monday I got up early and took a nice long bike ride, and then we spent the rest of the day going to museums and cultural displays in town, along with Ken and Kathy.  That was a lot of fun and we got to see some wonderful artwork, particularly at a gallery/museum in Yukon College.  They had an exhibit featuring work by local First Nation people, and one of the most beautiful things was an owl carved from a moose antler, which was just gorgeous.  Some of the exhibits at the cultural center, though, were sobering and difficult to view, as they told the story of how the native people were run off their land that they and their ancestors had been calling home for generations, upon the arrival of the Europeans.  Unfortunately the similar story we saw in so many national parks in the US, as the Native Americans were forced to give up their lands.  One of the most scandalous and disturbing exhibits was at the Old Log Church museum, telling the story of when the Anglican missionaries came, forced their religion on the natives, and, in an attempt to assimilate them into the European based cultures, forcibly took them from their homes and moved them away to missionary schools.  While this was ostensibly done to educate the children, the exhibit told the painful story of how many of these schools were riddled with massive sexual abuse of these children by the missionaries.  And the other sad chapter in this story was how the Catholic bishops decided to come with their missionaries, and then there was fierce competition between the Anglicans and Catholics over who could claim the conversions of the "heathens."  Such sad things have been perpetrated by organized religion, who proclaim that they were spreading the Good News of the Gospel, but were doing all these unjust and vile things to other human beings.

Anyway, it was a fun time in Whitehorse, and there was lots more to do than we had time for.  We'll go back for one night on the way home in August, so hopefully we can do some more there.  Here are a few pics:

Plywood mockup of police car on the side of the road as we were leaving Teslin, I guess maybe to encourage people to slow down!
 Views of the drive from Teslin to Whitehorse, pretty foggy and rainy day, though a lot of the low visibility was also due to smoke from nearby forest fires

 Stopped at Johnson's Crossing for coffee and scones.  This was a point along the way of the Canol Project, building an oil pipeline to a refinery in Whitehorse to supply US forces with fuel when they heard that the regular routes might be subject to Japanese attack during WWII.  Canol was the abbreviation for the Canadian Oil Company, which did this in cooperation with US Army Corps of Engineers.  In this pic someone has changed the l to an E on this door from an old Army truck.
 Don't know if you can read this if you enlarge it, but it's the story of the Canol project

 Even though it was an overcast day, it was still pretty striking.

 Downtown Whitehorse; we went to the big store when we first got there and these were taken as we were driving back through town to the RV park
 We liked their license plates--that's a miner on the left.
 A famous local restaurant, The Klondike Rib and Salmon
 And, of course, the ubuquitous Starbucks!

 It was chilly when we set up, so Sophie got a little up close and personal time zipped up in Trisha's jacket!  Both of my girls very happy!!
 On our hike along the Yukon River in Miles Canyon
 The footbridge we walked over at the beginning of the hike
 Looking down river

 No, we didn't actually see this little otter; just on a signboard at the start of the hike
 Trisha and Ken walking across the footbridge.

 Here the trail was right on the edge of the river, but the water was way below.  Don't you just love the color of the water?  Believe me, this picture doesn't come close to showing how beautiful it is in the flesh!!

 Looking through the aspens down on the river
 You guys know how much Trisha loves views like this--taking the path to new adventures and possibilities!!

 Beautiful flowers along the way!
 Path goes this way, guys!

 Some beavers have been here!!

 The dammed up river has formed a lake, which is now also a floatplane base
 This is the view of the dock and the boat where Trisha met the owner, Andrew, the nice young man who then took us out for a ride on the lake and into Miles Canyon
 Views from the boat

 Andrew, our new friend!
 Trisha's always happy when she's on the water!

 Going up into the mouth of Miles Canyon

 Now going UNDER the footbridge!

 Liked Andrew's boat stickers

 What a nice guy Andrew was--he was so happy to show off his homeland!

 After we got off the boat, on our hike back to the car; these raindrops on these leaves really spoke to us.
 I was having trouble with the camera's focus on some of these, but these flowers were really pretty.

 Another trail tree!  Native people used to alter a tree's growth to mark trails.

 Saw some rafters, just chillin' down the river!!
 There goes Andrew again!

 Some shots from our bike ride Sunday morning

 The Klondike
 A beautiful mural on a building in a small park
 some artwork in downtown
 Riding along the bike path--not a bad place to ride, huh?
 Some of the downtown art installations
 A trolley barn for the little riverfront trolley that runs in downtown

 Here's the trolley
 Just love the name of this station!
 Looking out over this island in the river where the seagulls nest

 Some of the nesting gulls

 Pictures from the story board about their eggs
 . . . and their newborn chicks
 Pretty cool that Trisha's shirt was color coordinated with the fireweed along the path!!

 The stern paddlewheel on the Klondike

 Just love aspens!
 Trisha riding through the trees!
 A gull out on the rocks where the rapids used to run for 10 kilometers.  The dam slowed down the rapids quite a bit
 Riding up to the dam

 And the fish ladder

 This downtown board explains the native creation story of how the Crow created humans

 on the way back we stopped to hike on Robert Law Park, a small island in the river; rode over a little bridge and then hiked

 Love these banners at the parking lot where we started

 Met a nice young couple from Quebec who took our picture after our ride

 Frank Turner's Mukluk Adventure Ranch; as you can see he relies a lot on solar panels
 Here's the man!!
 and his dogs
 and here he is leading them in the Mukluk Welcome howl!!
 This is Glacier, a dog who was born with an abnormally formed hind leg, so she could never race, but is still a beloved member of the family

 Some of the dog houses

 Frank making his presentation
 Come of his racing bibs
 and an early wooden sled.  Now they use much lighter weight titanium framed sleds
 a gopher, who came to listen to the presentation!
 trailer he uses to transport the dogs
 Frank showing off a dog jacket like he used when the dogs rested
 A mock up sled dog he used in his demo; here tied to the team lines

 My new friend Ritter!
 Trisha found some new friends too!

 Here they are out in the yard.  They take them in rotating groups out to run in teams, and then to run free in an enclosed huge area, and then they come back to their individual houses
 Sort of says it all, huh??
 Inside the dining room at the Wild Game Dinner
 Our friend, Sharon, with two samples from the Yukon Brewery
 Paul and Jodi, with Chuck in the background
 Some of Frank's trophies

 These are the huge mits he used in the races--cured with smoke so you can still smell it

 some of the other clothes he used

 an actual picture of Frank's house, taken in winter on a night when the Northern Lights were out in force!!
 log planter outside his house
 cool sign!
 A dog harness

 Glacier and a friend, above
 Love the way the sun plays on the mountains and clouds

 Out on my early morning bike ride--very peaceful!

 These are actual houses from the early 1940's; the owner of the one in the foreground kept his floatplane tied up right by his house on the river

 Seagulls on the island

 Beautiful morning son!

 Toured the Klondike
 They burned more than a cord of wood an hour in this boiler, so they had to stop to take on wood quite often on their trips up and down the river
 some cargo
 the steam exhaust system
 logs for the boiler
 the steam turbines

 4 person crew bunk room

 the pantry
 where the second class passengers ate
 here the first class passengers ate!!
 First class passenger staterooms
 Know your place!!
 Kathy trying her hand at rope ring toss, one of the games they had on board to pass the time
 They used these spars when the river got too shallow to draft, so they would extend them down through collars, into the river bottom, and slowly push them forward, so the boat would move along sort of like a huge grasshopper!
 The paddle wheel

 Trisha, sporting her beautiful necklace and earrings made by Mary Ross at Lake Superior Stone Drifting Jewelry in Washburn, WI last summer--just beautiful, both the model and the jewelry!!

 An old picture of the church

 some of their artifacts:  a wooden baptismal font, a reed organ, an accordion, the lecturn and the bishop's traveling trunk
 Trisha loved all these little portable communion sets

 in downtown Whitehorse, they've really made the backs of buildings attractive with these murals
 Some native clothing at the cultural center

 One of the legends of creation is that there were two class created, one crow, one wold
 Some lovely woven beaded masks

 Sculpture garden at Yukon College

 This was called "Shadow People," inspired by the phenomenon observed in Hiroshima where people were vaporized when the bomb was dropped and their shadows appeared on buildings where they had been
 Some lovely sculpted carvings

 Inside the art gallery at the college, this is all woven beadwork, so intricate and beautiful!
 The owl carved from a moose antler
 This was really interesting--the artist embroidered a list of things a "woman should take to the wilderness" on an old dress
 Beautiful carved mask
 soapstone doll, dressed in traditional winter clothes
 all of this, the hat, the jacket, the blouse, all made of wood, leather and fur

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