Yesterday (Sunday) , we drove across the Top of the World Highway, over to the Alaska border.
The border closes in a couple of weeks for the season, so we wanted one last chance to look for caribou, and check on the fall colours before the snow comes.
Despite how massive Canada is, an estimated 90% of Canadians live within 160km of the US border. That still holds true for us. Alaska is only about a 100km drive from here via the Top of the World Highway, although the border crossing is only open in the summer.
And by name, the “Top of the World Highway” is called a highway, but almost the entire thing is gravel, and all of it is remote. There isn’t a house, business, or service stop between Dawson City and the border, unless you count two roadside outhouse stops and a collapsed log cabin.
The red lichens have lost their brilliant red hue here now, and the entire landscape’s palette is muted from what it was just a couple of weeks ago (see those photos). Every night lately we’ve had a good frost (-3C the last couple of nights!) and up here they’ve even had snow.
After scanning the horizon, all the slopes, and across the open tundra, we were stopped looking at some old mining equipment when Jeff spotted two caribou heading up a ridge!
Then the caribou got a bit closer. These next two were with the zoom lens:
I feel the need to explain a bit more about what your senses feel here. In some places where we stopped to walk around, there was no wind at all. The silence was deafening, in a way. When you stop walking, there is a complete and utter void of sound. The harder to try to find a sound, the more your ears will ring. When was the last time you actually heard true silence?
When you are on a ridge and there is a breeze, it sounds arctic. It was cold, but I don’t mean that. The wind in your ears sounds like the noise you’d hear while bundled in your house during a blizzard, hearing the wind wail away on your windows and doors. I can’t explain why it sounds different here, or even if it actually does sound different, or if you become more perceptive of it here.
On the way back, we drove on some trails that leave the road, just exploring, looking to see where they went. One looked more developed, heading off to the north, so we turned onto it to check it out. These signs were marking the beginning of the road:
Jeff said he thought he heard there was an old asbestos mine up here, so we guessed that is what “Clinton Creek Mine” must have been. Sometimes a cell signal would be a delight just to Google these things when you are exploring 🙂
Check out this bridge we crossed about 30km off the main road:
We turned around shortly after this. We were coming across camps and didn’t want to disturb anyone, so we didn’t make it all the way to the old mine. We’ll research and go back some day! The road was in remarkable condition.
Just before the bridge though, we saw a sign for the Forty Mile Site. I was giddy with disbelief. Forty Mile was the Yukon’s first community. As I’ve been reading Yukon history, I’ve read a lot about this exciting community. Its gold days predated the Klondike Gold Rush. Some of the unruliness in Forty Mile led to the North West Mounted Police really establishing a presence up here, keeping the law, and keeping the land which became the Yukon Territory firmly in Canadian hands.
Forty Mile almost completely cleared out when gold was struck in the Dawson City area and is a more of a ghost town now. I had NO idea Forty Mile was reachable by vehicle. I had assumed it was only reachable by boat (it is along the Yukon River).
We found out it WAS reachable, but still a kilometre rough walk through bear territory from where the road ends. It was 3 o’clock already, we had forgotten our bear spray (basically pepper spray strong enough to (hopefully) convince a bear not to eat you), and weren’t really prepped for the adventure, so we (very) reluctantly agreed to plan our visit for another day, which will likely be next year, unless winter holds off for a few more weeks.
Here is the closest we got to Forty Mile. This is the Yukon River, looking downstream. Forty Mile is about a kilometre down the river where the Forty Mile River joins the Yukon.
I can’t wait to come back for a full day adventure. There are still some cabins standing, from what I understand, and the territorial government and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation are preserving the townsite before any more of it is lost to time.
Heading back to the main road, I spotted a black shape on the hillside. Lots of times you think you see an animal and it turns out to be a rock or a tree stump. This one was moving though. Jeff stopped the truck and backed up until I could snap this picture. Not stellar, but he wasn’t very close. Nice big black bear, likely eating the remnants of this year’s wild berries.
Another great drive and a day of adventure!