Our trip to Tuktoyaktuk was cancelled due to the low clouds, so at about 5:30pm we decided to head down the Dempster instead of spending another night in Inuvik. After all, this far north, the sun doesn’t set at all!
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Something about the sun during the night up here was really strange. The sun was high in the sky, yet the shadows seemed long. It was awesome and eerie all at the same time.

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We saw another grizzly!

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Then we realized it wasn’t alone! There were 2 more grizzly bears right above it on the slope. We put the van in park and watched them for awhile.DSC_0497

They chased each other and wrestled. What a treat to watch!

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Later we realized these bears were just north of where we spotted the grizzly lounging in the grass the day before! Maybe one of them was the same bear!DSC_0525

We had been stopping every 20km or so to do a tire check on the Dempster. Because there is sharp shale on the road, it helps to pull the stones out of your tire treads before a sharp one gets in there. That was the theory anyway.

Shortly after we spotted the bears, Jeff realized he hadn’t stopped in a bit and stopped the van so we could do a tire check. As soon as we opened the doors we heard sssssssssssss… OH NO! We had a flat tire!

Now Canadream says not to change the tire yourself. Instead, you are supposed to call their 1-800 number for roadside assistance.

Uhm. Not only is there no cell signal here, we are literally in the middle of nowhere and it is after 9pm!

Luckily (and we had verified before we left Whitehorse), we did have a spare tire and a jack. Some rental companies don’t include these! My god, imagine?

Due to the stress of the next 90 minutes, I didn’t take any photos. I kinda wish I had them now, but at the moment it just didn’t seem so appropriate.

The jack was a little thing, and Jeff wasn’t too sure where to put it at first. There are a lot of tanks under a camper van and very little clearance to get under there to reach. It was the driver’s side rear tire, on the same side as the propane, gas, water, and sewer tanks.

Fortunately, it was windy and cool and there were no mosquitos! Some places we stopped had millions of mosquitos! How fortunate! But we just saw 3 grizzlies up the road! We decided it would be best if Jeff focused on jacking up the van, and I focused on watching all 360 degrees around us for bears.

Jeff bashed his knuckles on the ground over and over as he struggled with the little jack. We were in an area that was mostly open tundra, but there was a thick line of willows alone the road. A bear could be just a few feet from us and we wouldn’t know! I paced madly around the van and back and forth beside it.

Finally I spotted a truck coming! Maybe they have a bigger jack!

Zoom! They drove right by and didn’t stop.

Wha??? Who does that?

Then Jeff decided we would be prouder if we were self-sufficient and did this on our own.

Another vehicle appeared a little while later. It was a big Canadream RV! They slowed way down as they approached and stopped just beside us. I think we gave them a heart attack. There were a couple with a baby and didn’t even know if they had a spare tire! We said we would be okay and let them go.

Soon after, Jeff made some progress and was able to the van jacked up far enough to remove the flat tire. I had put my toque on by this point (I knew it was a good idea to pack a toque!). It was a cold arctic breeze, even with the blazing sun!

It wasn’t too much longer that we had the new tire on and were able to secure it in place and stow the flat tire. Sure beats using a flashlight! This midnight sun business is awesome!

But we were still at least 70 km north of Eagle Plains and this was the area known to have lots of shale. What would we do with another flat???!?

It was stressful and quiet in the van and we headed to Eagle Plains.  Soon we saw a beautiful big bull moose!DSC_0541 DSC_0545I just LOVE moose. What a gorgeous creature!

We rolled into Eagle Plains about 11:30pm, with a big sigh. The sun was still high in the sky. The building was locked up, so we took the last camping spot and pulled our curtains and went to bed. The sun was beaming into the back of the van through the trees.

The next morning we were happy to see the tire shop open for business! For $30 they repaired the flat tire and we stowed it back away as our new spare. We met a really nice couple here from Val Caron, near Sudbury who were heading north. They’d been in Nova Scotia on an earlier trip and knew they’d been in Antigonish!

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We gased up, and headed out, with the safe and secure feeling of having a spare tire again.

We were lucky again and spotted more dall sheep! These are the thin horned variety. They were close enough that we got out of the van and could hear them baaaaaaa’ing. There was 1 leader, and 4 following him. Two of them were babies!

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It was Friday by now, and the weekend traffic was really picking up as we drove south and around the Tombstone park area.DSC_0596

Well picked up doesn’t really mean busy, just noticeably a few more trucks and campers. The scenery is breathtaking the second time too! There was no regrets going so far on a road we knew we’d have to drive right back on!DSC_0597

We saw several big white swans – Trumpeter swans maybe? Many ducks too. Here are a few that were too shy (or hungry) to show their faces for the camera.DSC_0600 DSC_0608 DSC_0610 DSC_0612

By mid-afternoon we were back in Dawson City!

We decided to stay at the Gold Rush campground again for another couple of nights. It was getting really busy as the summer solstice (first day of summer) attracts extra tourists to Dawson City, but we managed to get a site, although one with full hookups. Wasn’t too much more money, and worth it to stay in town.

We then booked tickets again for the river cruise! This time there were enough people! We missed the cut off to order a dinner for the boat though, so we were on our own to eat supper first.

So, for dinner, we did the best thing imaginable. We went BACK to Klondike Kate’s so I could have another amazing Chicken Little sandwich (and a couple more Yukon Gold beers during their happy hour!).

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This is Jeff’s you-better-not-be-taking-a-picture-of-me look.
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We were seated out on this patio again. On the far wall there is a world map where you can press a pin into your home town. Nova Scotia was already pretty saturated, so we didn’t need to add another pin.

Then we walked down to the dock to board the Klondike Spirit! DSC_0620

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It is a modern boat with engines and a paddle wheel on each side.DSC_0629

We went down the river to see the community of traditional native community of Moosehide, about 5 km down the river from Dawson. No one lives here anymore, but they do use the buildings still seasonally and the entire village has been recently maintained.DSC_0639

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Ship graveyard near Dawson.

We turned around and headed back up the Yukon River, passed Dawson and went further up the river.

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A young fellow lives in this tiny cabin year round! Before the river freezes up, he pulls his cabin up on shore for the winter!

We were on the boat with a bunch of travelling seniors on a bus trip. We hit it off with Gene from Virginia who told us about his pontoon boat and catfishing expeditions back south. As a common stereotype, many of these American tourists, although incredibly friendly, had no earthly idea of where they were. One asked us how we liked Alaska, thinking we were in Alaska, and when we asked about their other stops on their trip, although they were having a great time, they had no clue where they were most of the time, but were still having a blast.

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The next morning we walked through more of the shops in Dawson City, and then booked ourselves a spot on the Goldbottom mine tour!

We got on a little bus with a few other tourists, including 3 folks from north of Toronto, and a Grandmother and her granddaughter from Florida, and headed south for Hunker Creek!

On the way we passed a few gold mining operations. Our tour guide showed us the mines owned by a couple of the guys on the Gold Rush and Yukon Gold TV shows.

One miner found this entire mine shaft preserved in the ground, still with green wood. He brought it to the road side and added a roof for a display. Back in the gold rush days, this is how the miners mined through the winter. They would light a fire to help melt the ground, and that would allow them to dig a bit further. As they went deeper, they used green trees to line the shaft. It wasn’t until summer with they had water from the thawed creek available that they were able to sort through their collected paydirt to see if there was any gold in it!

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The Goldbottom mine is now in its second generation. Most of the placer mines in the area are small and are family run. Placer mining means the gold is sprinkled in the gravels here, unlike other gold mining that requires busting gold out of solid rock.

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The old roadhouse at the mine. Built in 1906 and still used to board miners today!
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Inside the roadhouse. Here’s a lynx hide!
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Lots of old photos of the mining operation.
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Jeff with a mammoth tusk, unearthed from the permafrost here at the mine.
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A mining claim only costs $10 a year. Each year you can expand and stake another claim. The Goldbottom mine operation has expanded to 69 claims now, shown on this map of the Goldbottom and Hunker rivers.
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This is how to mine with a monitor. The monitor sprays water from the river at the frozen permafrost to melt it and unearth the pay dirt below that contains the gold.
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As the permafrost is melted, all sorts of old bones are unearthed. This area was not disrupted by glaciers in the last ice age and was home to woolly mammoths and other prehistoric animals.
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The miners collect all the bones and a scientist comes up from Whitehorse from time to time to check to see if there is anything valuable for the Yukon Beringia museum in Whitehorse. One miner once unearthed an ancient horse that was fully preserved by the permafrost.
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We followed the mining process, from beneath the permafrost to the large trommel that spins and allows the gravel to pass through and the gold to be collected in the sluice boxes below.

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The gold and paydirt continues to be separated from each other until it ends up in a gold wheel, which quickly separates the gold flakes and fine gold from the dirt.
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Gold is 19 times heavier than water, so the natural force of gravity helps move the gold to the middle of the wheel as it spins.
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And presto! The gold is now out of the dirt! Then a magnet is used to remove the last few heavy metals that can also be collected during the process.

I had no idea that every creek produces a different gold, so local gold miners can actually tell where gold was mined just by looking at its characteristics.

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Funny hat at the gold mine.
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Look at this nugget found here at this mine!

Then it was time to give it a try!

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We were each given a gold pan, and our guide shovelled a load of paydirt into our pans that hadn’t yet been processed.
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Then, after a brief demonstration, we headed into the river in the rubber boots they provided, to try panning for gold!

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Turns out I was pretty good at it! I had 3 gold “colours” in my pan. Just little flakes of gold, but I was allowed to keep them! Yahoo! I’m rich! 🙂

After striking it rich, we headed back to town on the tour bus, and then explored Dawson City a bit more.

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Here’s the cabin of Robert Service, bank teller turned famous poet.
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Here’s Pierre Berton’s house! Likely my favourite author. He grew up in Dawson and his father was part of the original gold rush. His home is now used as a home for visiting writers.
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Jack London’s cabin.
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We headed back up to the dome. The summer solstice would be celebrated here at midnight on this day, but we weren’t sure we wanted to drive our big camper van up there later in the day with all the drinking and party goers.
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We found the old graveyard, established in 1898, and visited with the pioneers of Dawson City.

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The graveyard still has bumps where people were buried. Many of graves are surrounded by a little fence. I think this was originally a native tradition.

There is also a police cemetery here to remember the lost and fallen officers from Dawson.DSC_0765

There are excellent directories located at the cemetery so you can look up any of the early pioneers and find where they were buried. The cause of death was often included, often drowning, typhus, and other unnatural deaths.DSC_0770

Then it was a fine time to clean the Dempster off the van!

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Messy!

Our final night in Dawson City was one for the record books. What an epic night! Instead of going up to the midnight dome to celebrate the solstice, we stayed in town. We had dinner at the Triple J restaurant on their patio. The waitress, from Toronto, just kept the Yukon Golds coming!

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Nice glass!

Someone was playing some old ragtime tune on a piano out on the deck.

We had a wonderful dinner, and then Jeff ordered us a dessert to share. A toasted smore brownie! WOW!

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Later in the evening, we went to Diamond Tooth Gertie’s again for her midnight show. It was pretty busy! As we went to the bar to get our first beer, noticed one of the miners from the Gold Rush TV show was right behind us. As I pulled Jeff’s ear in to whisper to him, we noticed almost all the miners from both Gold Rush and Yukon Gold were there! We’ve seen every episode of both shows, and know their names, but they really are just regular dudes, so we didn’t bug them. It was just really awesome seeing them all there.

Gertie’s midnight show was really great, lots of energy, and the dancer’s long skirts were gone! It was a really good show that energized the full crowd. We had another slice of Big Al’s pizza on the steps to top of the night!

Stay tuned! Next post – Dawson City to Chicken, Alaska, and down the Alaskan Highway!

Lisa

Lisa (Verkley) Schuyler is a blogger reporting live from her new home in Canada's Yukon Territory. Often found wearing a hoodie, covered in pet hair, Lisa is a mis-placed forester who now spends her days engineering happiness for WordPress users. Lisa loves nature, animals, and most importantly, her handsome husband Jeff.

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