Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Whitehorse Yukon and the Ferry Columbia from Skagway to Haines

Leaving Boya Lake on the Cassier Highway we continued north to the intersection with the Alaska Highway at Junction 37. While I never worried about the ability to acquire fresh water when planning our trip, I did have concerns about three other necessities that might pose a problem. Two were acquisitions, diesel fuel and diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). The other was disposal of waste water from our gray and black water tanks. I solved the fuel issue by carrying two five gallon jugs of diesel in the TV and made it a rule to fill up as soon as possible anytime the fuel gauge indicated 1/4 tank or less. As with the fuel, we always carried an extra 2.5 gallons of DEF in the truck. DEF is a mixture of highly concentrated urea in water. Small quantities are injected into the specially designed catalytic converters of modern diesel vehicles to convert the harmful nitrogen oxides usually emitted to harmless nitrogen and water. It is carried in a tank separate from the fuel tank on the truck. That tank needs to be replenished every few thousand miles with about five gallons of DEF. It is available in nearly every auto supply store and many larger truck stops. But, many smaller gas stations that sell diesel fuel do not carry DEF.  While the truck will still run when the DEF tank is empty, vehicle speed is reduced to about 30mph. Finally, I was afraid that getting rid of our waste water would be a logistical challenge. Those with more experience traveling in an RV and others with no experience at all might be amused by our concerns. While virtually every privately owned commercial campground has a sani-dump station, not all public campgrounds are so equipped. Besides, we expected to boon-dock (staying on public lands away from designated campgrounds) which would require finding public sani-dumps. Our concerns were eased once we reached the midwestern United States. From then on, many towns and fuel stations had sani-dumps readily available.

We dumped our black water tank at the sani-dump and re-fueled here at Junction 37.  Sarah and I saw a young man with a small dog walking through the parking lot of the service station and hitch-hiking west on the Alaska Highway. We stopped and offered him a ride to Teslin, the next 'major' road house on the way north. Simon, and his dog Paddy joined us for the rest of the morning. Simon's goal is to learn how to live off the land by fishing and gathering native edible plants and roots. We felt that his efforts to gather sustenance was not as effective as he might have wished, so we stopped at Rancherio for lunch and insisted that he be our guest. Although, as hungry as we knew he was, he ordered the least expensive item on the menu, porridge with toast. We enjoyed Simon's youthful idealism as well as his stories of sleeping in the woods alone with his dog. We said goodbye to Simon at Teslin where he wanted to stop for a while.
Simon and Paddy

The tinwheeler continued on to the Wolf Creek Yukon Campground just outside the major city of Whitehorse, Yukon. The population of Yukon Territory is only about 30,000 people and more than two thirds live in Whitehorse. Whitehorse is a tidy city on the Yukon River. It is the cultural, governmental and tourist center of the territory.
Downtown Whitehorse
Exploring the MacBride Museum of Yukon history (http://www.macbridemuseum.com/) we were surprised to see a machine built in our home town of Worcester, MA. It is a machine that puts label on bottles.

The label machine

Made in Worcester

We have deliberately chosen not to have a firm itinerary for this adventure. This seemed to be exactly what we wanted when we learned that a music festival was scheduled for the next weekend in Dawson City, about 325 miles to the north. Although our original plan was to go south from Whitehorse to Skagway, AK, following the trail of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-98, then take the ferry to  Haines, AK and back up to Haines Junction, Yukon and the Alaska Highway we decided to slow down and make Dawson City in time for the festival. Since we still wanted to see Skagway and the route taken by those seeking their fortune in 1898 we left Mary Joan at Wolf Creek and made a day trip to Skagway. We stopped in the small town of Carcross and strolled the street seeing the many old buildings from the gold rush days. During our stroll we met a young man who told us that the music festival at Dawson City was not what we expected it would be, certainly nothing like we experienced at Smithers. This caused us to rethink our plan to go to the festival, but we put off the decision of where we would go next until later in the day.

Carcross cottage

The road from Carcross to Skagway was through another landscape like we had never experienced. The route provided not only the usual majestic mountain vistas but also a high mountain plateau. It was near tree line, studded with dwarfed trees and mottled with small alpine ponds. From this plateau, the road dropped precipitously back to sea level at Skagway, the launching point of the rush for gold.
This one caught Sarah's eye

Skagway is a tourist town, through and through. The center city is a conglomeration of gift shops catering to the cruise ships that frequent this town. One highlight was the Skagway Museum and Archives. This museum presents a clear depiction of the who, what, when where and why of the frantic follies of the Klondike Gold Rush.

Before leaving, I inquired at the Alaska Marine Highway terminal about taking the ferry from Skagway to Haines. I found the cost not as bad as I thought and there was a supplementary ferry the next afternoon in addition to the one usually scheduled at 7AM. With the disappointing information about the Dawson City Music Festival and the less than expected cost as well as convenient departure time, we booked passage on the ferry for the next day. After our tour of the town, we returned the Mary Joan in Whitehorse.

Our last morning in Whitehorse was spent updating this blog at the public library and touring the SS Klondike, the last stern paddle wheel to ply the Yukon. It has been meticulously restored and is well presented with a self guided tour.

By the time we finished touring the SS Klondike, we had just enough time to make the trip back to Skagway to catch the ferry. While we had driven this stretch of highway twice before, we found the scenery as magnificent as if we had not seen it before. The differing light and the absolute calm of the water presented a novel view of the scenery.
Mirror Lake

We arrived in time for the ferry employees to measure our vehicles and position us in the line to board the ferry. The boarding process was a bit daunting but was accomplished without incident. The ramp into the ferry was steep and parking the truck and trailer in the confined space of the ferry was a challenge. The effort was worth it because the hour and a half ride down the fiord presented grand vistas of snow capped mountains we could not have experienced any other way.
Heading toward Haines from Skagway
A white knuckle moment came when the ferry workers told me I had to back up the trailer inside the ship in order to get off the ferry. Being just inches away from the hull, this request was not accepted very eagerly. But, with deliberate care, we followed the load master's direction and successfully extricated the Mary Joan from the bowels of the ferry Columbia to the docks of Haines, Alaska.
Mirror Mirror too close to the wall!!!

Stay tuned for more.

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