Our international flight from Vancouver, Canada to San Diego left about 9:30am arriving in San Diego about 12:30pm. Our dear friend David picked us up at the airport and shuttled us to our new home at The Glen in Scripps Ranch.
We had anticipated being home on June 9th so we were very happy to finally be home. We realized that the world with Covid-19 is unpredictable and that we have to prepare for the unexpected on future trips.
We began our journey home on this day from the tiny Dawson City airport where the entire airport is about four-hundred square feet in size. The airport has one check-in counter and the locals all seem to know each other. None of the locals seemed to wear masks or even own one as they were asking for masks at the counter.
Our short seventy-minute flight on Air North from Dawson City took us to the town of Whitehorse where we had a three-hour layover until our next flight. We then took a two-hour flight to Vancouver International Airport where we would spend the night.
Our hotel for the night was the Fairmont Hotel located one floor above the check in counter for the international flights at the airport. A short elevator ride and you are transported to another world. The elegant hotel had spacious beautifully decorated rooms unlike we had seen on this trip. They had a lovely restaurant and lounge with a young woman singing. Many of the rooms, as ours did, overlooked the airport and runway. The hotel was surprisingly quiet given its location above the bustling airport with planes landing and taking off outside.
This morning we started out with coffee and sweets at a local coffee shop called Bonton. The sweets we tried were a cinnamon Bundt cake, a sausage roll and a very chocolate cookie. Our drinks were a hot chocolate for Kent and a Chai latte for me.
Our next stop was at the Parks Canada storefront devoted to the history of Dawson City. They have some very nice historical photos showing how the goldrush changed the city. In the early days, settlers and businesses pitched tents along the riverfront for housing and the selling of goods of all sorts. As more people came to town and prospered, the town grew quickly. Tent homes and businesses alike were rebuilt with wood, some with the finest materials available like wallpaper, Persian carpets and hardwood floors.
The goldrush only lasted a few years before the majority of folks disappointed with the harsh conditions and lack of fast wealth, packed up and headed home. This left the town of Dawson better than it was before the goldrush but having to deal with new issues like abandoned properties, vacant storefronts and a lack of customers. Many of these early buildings are still standing today although a bit worse for wear. Not much was known about building on the permafrost in the soil and so many of the early buildings have settled unevenly into the ground as the heat from the buildings melts the ice in the soil.
After a short rest at our hotel we headed out on a hike to find the community cemetery founded in 1898 after the much smaller cemetery in town was full and more space was needed. The hike took us about thirty minutes from our hotel, mostly uphill, on a dirt road to reach the cemetery. The new cemetery was built on the hillside above town and is still used today. Over the years the cemetery was expanded as the need grew. For such a small town I found it interesting that the cemetery would be divided into multiple cemeteries based on religious affiliation. The cemetery has defined lawns for the Jewish, the St. Mary’s Catholic, the Police, The Masonic and the Fraternal Order of Eagles.
For the most part there are very few headstones in the cemeteries and instead most graves are marked with basic wooden crosses or markers. The Parks Canada office has an entire brochure dedicated to the cemeteries in town including a write up on some of the interesting people who have been buried in the cemetery over the years. Some were made famous for their luck in the goldrush while others were known for their contributions to the community.
By the time we returned to our hotel Kent was exhausted and his legs were hurting. Oh, the joys of getting older!!
In the late afternoon after a needed rest, we headed out into town looking for someplace new to have dinner. Many places were either closed for the day or were not open between lunch and dinner service. We stopped at a restaurant and bar where the sign said “serving a limited menu.” When asked what the limited menu was, we were told that we could either have a roast beef sandwich or a tuna sandwich. In the end we ended up back at the JJJ Hotel where we had eaten a couple of times before.
After dinner, staying in our room and watching TV was very appealing.
Our first day after being released from quarantine was a partly cloudy and partly sunny day and the temperature climbed to about 65 degrees. We took advantage of our remaining time in town by visiting the local Dawson City Museum. The museum is located in a beautiful two-story colonial style building. The museum has a large collection of photographs, documents and artifacts from the Klondike region and, in particular, from the goldrush days. The display cases, descriptions and historical data were all presented in a clear, crisp and elevated style on par with any fine city museum around the world.
As with much of north America, the local native people were pushed out of their native land at the whim of the white man. Only after twenty-five years of negotiations with the Canadian government was some of the local land released to its rightful owners.
The museum featured many people who made a splash in the Yukon region either for a short amount of time during the goldrush or for a lifetime living in the region. Some well-known for the businesses they owned, one for owning the longest running bordello in town and some for keeping the city alive after the short-lived days of the goldrush. After the goldrush, many businesses closed up and their owners left town as fast as they had arrived, leaving behind buildings filled with merchandise.
Our next stop was the Jack London Museum honoring the famous author who lived in the Klondike for a short time in 1897 and 1898. When Jack was just 21 years old he made his way from Oakland, California, where he was born, to the Klondike, hoping to make it rich. Instead of making it rich, he found a very difficult life, a very cold winter and a lack of food for the number of residents at the time. His lack of good food led to him getting scurvy which also accounted for his short-lived time in the Klondike.
While Jack did not write during his time in the Klondike, he did gather stories told by the locals over the cold winter. Once back in Oakland, he recovered from the scurvy and he began to write fiction using his experiences in the Klondike as inspiration. Jack wrote prolifically and was one of the most popular and well-paid authors of his time. He made over a million dollars a year in the early 1900’s. On average he wrote three books a year until his untimely death at the age of 40 in Glen Ellen, California, in Sonoma County. Among his most well known books are Call of the Wild, White Fang, The Sea Wolf and Martin Eden.
In the 1960’s the cabin that Jack London lived in during his time in the Klondike was discovered. For years, this cabin location was unknown. The port of Oakland, which has a Jack London Square, agreed to help with the bill to have his cabin brought from the backwoods if they could have half a piece of the historic cabin. It was agreed that the cabin would be disassembled and split equally between Oakland and Dawson City. The cabin was rebuilt into two new cabins using additional timbers. The museum here now has a Jack London cabin as does the city of Oakland.
Next to the cabin is a small visitors center where they have walls filled with photos of Jack London’s life, with emphasis on his time in the Klondike. A lovely lady who was hosting the visitors center gave a 30-minute talk about Jack’s time here in the Klondike. She has been a resident here for 44 years and has a love for Jack’s books. It was a very interesting museum.
There was the good and the bad about being in isolation or quarantine in a small town like Dawson City. The good news is that we were in a hotel owned by Holland America and they had on staff both a nurse and a paramedic. The bad news is that a small town does not have many flights out of town and it can be difficult to get home after being quarantined.
We also had three meals delivered to our rooms every day. The meals were all edible although not always warm. Breakfast could range from French toast to an egg and ham sandwich on an English muffin. Lunches were sandwiches, chicken, pasta and more. There was a lot of variety for dinner from steak to chicken and pork to pasta. The food was very edible and usually more than we could eat.
If we had gotten caught in a large city like Vancouver we would have had to rely on ordering room service or from a delivery app to eat.
I was tested again for Covid on day three and tested negative again. During our quarantine the US lifted its requirement to have a negative Covid test before entering the country. Therefore, I’m not really certain if I had Covid as well, or not.
On the evening of June13th we were allowed out of quarantine and permitted to resume our normal activities. We went for a walk around town and the air somehow seemed fresher and the flowers more beautiful than before. We were able to secure flight arrangements to travel from Dawson City to Whitehorse and then on to Vancouver on Thursday June 16th.
On this day we ventured out to the Parks Canada visitor center where we took a walking tour of the town’s historic sites as well as a tour of the sternwheel paddle wheeler called the Keno and a tour of the Palace Grande Theatre. The weather was cool and cloudy on and off but we managed to avoid any rain.
The tour of the downtown area was given by a woman named Faye who had lived in the town and area since 1976. She was extremely knowledgeable about everything around the city including some of the characters who lived there past and present. The Parks Canada similar to our National Parks organization owns 33 buildings in the town and has restored or is hopeful to restore them in the future. We were able to go inside a historic bank building, a historic post office building and a historic hotel. They had all been beautifully restored and appointed to reflect the goldrush times.
We may have had some delicious ice cream for lunch along the waterfront at the Klondyke Cream and Candy shop. They serve up 32 flavors of ice cream, soft serve, waffle cones and more.
After our lunch we toured the paddle wheeler Keno that is now being preserved in dry dock on Front Street at the river’s edge. The vessel was launched in 1922 and is celebrating its 100th year this year. She transported silver, zinc and lead ore down the Stewart River from mines in the Mayo district to the confluence of the Yukon and Stewart Rivers until the years after World War II. It was retired from service in 1951 due to the extension of the Klondike Highway. The Keno has been a tourist attraction in Dawson City since 1960.
Onboard the vessel we were able to see where the steam was created by burning extensive amounts of wood to turn the large paddle wheel at the rear. They would be making stops along the voyage to pick up more and more wood as its hull was not large enough to carry the ore and enough wood to get it to its destination. The upper level carried some passengers in a dozen or so very small cabins, each equipped with bunk beds and a ceramic basin. There was a fairly large kitchen to feed not only the passengers but also the crew. They continue to maintain the vessel and it is in excellent looking condition.
The Palace Grand Theatre is a fully restored, gold rush era theater originally built by Arizona Charlie. Most of the building was in such poor condition at restoration that little of the original structure exists today. The theater has a large lobby with a dance floor and seating on the first floor, two upper floors with box seats and some dressing rooms and apartment for the owner. In its heyday miners would attend shows and then dance the night away with percentage girls who received a quarter on every dollar they got for a dance. Miners also would spend large amounts of money on drinks. Percentage girls made as much as $750 a night. That was a lot of money at that time. The theater is still used extensively today for community theater groups, comedy events, civic events and fundraisers.
After returning to our hotel Kent was still feeling like he had a cold and was feeling tired. I suggested that we use a Covid rapid test to see if it was a cold or something else. Unfortunately, the test came back positive so I decided to take one as well. My test came back negative. We contacted the program manager and a nurse was immediately sent to our room to test us again. Her tests showed the same results that ours did. She informed us that the Yukon requires a 7-day isolation period, plus another three days after isolation before you are permitted to travel. The nurse suggested that we isolate separately in hopes that I would remain negative. If we were to stay together and I tested positive later, the clock would start all over again for my isolation.
I was promptly taken to another building for isolation where nearly every room was filled with people who were also in isolation.
This day we had a 5:00am wakeup call as we had to have our bags out for a 7:00am departure to our next stop, Dawson City. We boarded a plane for the short 40-minute flight to Dawson City, Yukon Territory, once the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush. The time changed from Alaskan time zone to the same time zone as the west coast so we lost an hour of the day. Dawson City has a population of about 1,300 inhabitants. The Han Speaking people of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in and their forebears hunted here prior to the Late Modern Period. The current settlement was founded by Joseph Ladue in 1897, and was named after noted Canadian geologist, George M. Dawson, who had explored and mapped the area from 1887.
Dawson City was the center of the Klondike Gold Rush that began in 1896 and changed the First Nations camp into a thriving city of 40,000 people by 1898. The gold rush had ended by 1899 and the town’s population plummeted to about 8,000 inhabitants. When Dawson was incorporated in 1902 the population was less than 5,000. After World War II the Alaskan Highway was built some 300 miles south, bypassing the town and dropping its population further. By the 1960’s and 1970’s the population languished around 600 to 900.
Jack London, the American novelist, who write The Call of the Wild, lived in the Dawson area from October 1897 to June of 1898. Due to the increase in the value of gold, modern day Dawson still has some gold mining activity and a thriving tourism and arts scene.
Dawson City has only one paved street, Front Street that runs along the Yukon River. All of the other streets are dirt with no sidewalks, curbs or gutters. On the busier, more well-traveled streets they have boardwalks for sidewalks. Many of the buildings in town date back more than 100 years when the town was founded. Much of the town needs repair, updating and a coat of paint while other buildings are beautifully restored and freshly painted.
Our hotel was the Westmark-Dawson City owned by the Carnival Corporation. The hotel is spread across several blocks with different vintage buildings, some dated and some much more recent construction although built in the style of 100 years ago. We stayed in one of the older motel style buildings with dated rooms, ugly hallways with drop ceiling tiles and not very special. We had two upholstered dining chairs because of the limited space in the room but the carpet and linens were fresh and modern which helped.
We had a nice lunch at a local hotel and bar not far from our hotel called JJ’s. The fish and chips and Reuben sandwich were very good. Like everywhere we have been, everyone is short staffed and looking for workers. The Carnival corporation offers its workers a free cruise after working just 400 hours so I thought maybe I should stay for a while and work. The staff is working lots of overtime and they still need more help for most jobs from the front desk to room cleaners. The restaurants are having trouble getting servers and kitchen help.
In the evening we visited the most famous spot in town called Diamond Tooth Gertie’s, a casino and showroom, all in one. Gertie’s was opened in 1971 by the Klondike Visitors Association as a way to promote tourism to the Klondike. Over the years, the casino grew and the shows evolved. Today, Gerties has three shows a night right in the middle of the casino hosted by Gertie and her can-can dancers. The name Gertie comes from a dancehall girl of the day who married Dawson City’s most prominent lawyer and did in fact have a diamond between her teeth. Gertie had a very nice voice as she sang a variety of vintage songs accompanied by a pianist and a drummer. Her can-can dancers made many costume changes and performed the can-can as well as a bit of tap dancing.
When we came out of the casino we had our first sight that it had rained while we were inside. This was the first rain we have had in the last two and a half weeks. We did not get rained on but it does not take much rain to make a mess when you have dirt roads and no gutters.
We had another beautiful, warm and sunny day; and it was a very busy day. We started off the morning with a coach ride to a sternwheeler paddlewheel riverboat. A local family by the name of Binkley has been in the area for over 120 years (Five Generations) and started the river excursion business in 1950. Today eleven members of the family are river pilots and they own several paddlewheel boats they operate during the months when the river is not frozen over. Our tour was on the Discovery III that is 156 feet in length and holds up to 900 passengers. Thankfully, the morning tour we were on only had a fraction (around 100) of that many passengers onboard.
Our first stop on the river cruise was for a demonstration of a bush pilot taking off and landing on the river. One in 70 Alaskans are licensed pilots and planes are used for transporting not only people, but supplies and cargo throughout Alaska. Our vessel was equipped with many television monitors where a guide narrated what we were seeing. The pilot of the plane was also equipped with a microphone and camera so we could hear directly from him about his experience as a local pilot. He took off from the river twice and landed once to demonstrate how smooth and easy it is for a plane to use the water as a runway.
Our next stop was at a sled dog training facility owned by the family of Susan Butcher who won the Iditarod race four times. Susan passed away from cancer but her husband and daughters have kept the family business going. Susan’s daughter Tekla was on shore with a microphone to tell us about some of the sled dogs and to give us a demonstration of the sled dogs in action. The dogs pulled her around a dirt track as she rode in an all-terrain vehicle instead of a sled.
We then experienced the merging of two rivers, the Chena River and the Tenana River, one with crystal clear water and the other with milky looking water from the minerals and debris collected from the melted ice and run off from the local mountains. This is similar to the merging of the rivers you can experience in the Amazon near Manaus, Brazil, although not as dramatic.
Onboard the Discovery III they were serving up unlimited free coffee and tea along with a bottomless supply of blueberry donuts…. so delicious you can’t just have one!
We then stopped at Chena Village created by the Binkley family to resemble the original Chena Athabascan Indian Village of the early 1900’s located near the site. We disembarked the boat and met two young girls who are students and from local native Indian peoples.
Located within the village they showed us a salmon trap located on the river where they can catch 1,000 salmon or more per day. After fileting the fish and cutting the filets on the diagonal, only held together by the skin, they would use a drying rack to dry the fish for several days. Once air dried they would hang the fish filets in a smokehouse for several more days to cure the meat for storage. A storage closet on stilts called a cache would be built high off the ground to keep the smoked salmon away from animals.
There were many old log cabins that had been gathered from the surrounding areas, disassembled and relocated here to show us how the people used to live. Many of the cabins were quite small in size, one room with an outhouse and no running water. Many had planted or sod roofs for insulation against the elements. Small wood burning stoves were used for heating and cooking.
The two young girls shared with us their traditional fur clothing and coats, as well as furs used in clothing, bedding and tent making. This was the first day we experienced Alaska’s least favorite animal, the mosquito. The mosquitos were out in force, with every turn you were busy swatting and waving them off of you.
We were given a bit of free time to explore some of the cabins and other exhibits. They had several taxidermy moose. Tekla was there with some of the sled dogs and she was signing books about her mother and the Iditarod.
After we completed the riverboat experience, we visited the Binkley family’s large gift shop and dining room where we had our lunch. They served up a family style meal at very long picnic style tables with benches. The meal included a green salad, bread rolls, a beef stew, a pot of vegetables and chocolate brownies for dessert.
Inside the gift shop they have a freezer where you can experience the Alaskan winter. The freezer was set to -40 degrees which is about how cold it can get on a winter day. We spent a few minutes in the freezer and that was enough to get the idea about the cold. Of course, we were dressed for a 70-degree day and not for a cold winter day.
We then took about a 30-minute coach ride to another experience owned by the Binkley family called Dredge 8. Dredge 8 refers to an old abandoned gold mine that is now designated as an historic site. It had been abandoned because the cost of extracting the gold from the earth became more expensive than that value of the gold found.
They have a very nice open-air train that takes you on a short tour of the mine before coming to a stop at the dredging platform and warehouse. The dredging platform building is three stories tall and we took a tour inside where you can see how the gold was brought out of the earth and separated from the soil and rock. While the train was waiting at the station they had a fiddle player playing and singing country songs.
Outside the warehouse they gave each person a bag of soil and they had hundreds of gold pans and stools staged so we could each experience gold panning. With the help of many guides we separated our gold from our earth and rocks and were left with the flakes of gold in our pans. We then took the gold we had panned inside to have it dried, weighed and valued at today’s gold price. Kent only ended up with about three flakes but Mark managed to find more than the average of $12; he ended up with $27 worth of gold flakes. At the price of gold, this is very little, but more than almost anyone else found.
On display in the warehouse were lots of historic photos of the mine, old mining equipment and a large nugget found on the site valued at $75,000 in today’s prices. You can actually hold the gold nugget and take photos of it. They also sold all types of gold jewelry, gift items, etc. Also, a nice treat were the endless trays of assorted Costco cookies, coffee and tea to eat and drink.
Here we also saw a section of the Alaskan Pipeline that is above ground due to the permafrost in this area where the pipe could not be buried underground. The 800 mile-long pipeline brought many people and jobs to Alaska when it was built between 1974 and 1978 at a cost of eight billion dollars.
In the evening we headed out to a 44-acre local heritage park called Pioneer Park where they have a variety of historical buildings gathered from around the city. There is also a small train and an old ship that you can tour. We had some Greek food before we went to a small theater to see a show called the Golden Heart Review. The variety show of singing and dancing has been running for many years. It has a small cast of just four performers accompanied by a pianist. The show was quick moving, funny and entertaining.
After a leisurely morning and lunch at our resort we headed to Fairbanks, Alaska, nicknamed the Golden Heart City. Fairbanks is a city with a population of about 32,000 inhabitants and is an area inhabited by the Athabascan peoples for possibly ten-thousand years or more. The town was born of the gold rush era when Italian immigrant Felix Pedro found gold in the area in 1902. Today the city has modern shops and malls, as well as a 44-acre Pioneer Park including a Gold Rush Town with 35 restored buildings.
The extremely cold winters in this interior city have led to the city playing host to international ice sculptors who descend on the city for the World Ice Art Championships. Fairbanks is also considered a great place to see the aurora borealis which appears here on average 243 nights a year.
The coach ride from Denali National Park to Fairbanks, Alaska took about 3.5 hours in total. We had a very nice driver who gave information on the sights that we were seeing along the way, but the views were limited by the dense forests.
We stopped along the way in the town of Nenana at the Alfred Starr Cultural Center located next to the river. The cultural center had many local artists displaying and selling their paintings, woodwork handicraft items, jewelry and clothing. They also sold cinnamon rolls, hot dogs, candy and snacks to raise money for the local community of fewer than 500 residents.
Once we arrived in Fairbanks there was a cocktail party at our hotel, the Westmark, as it was billed. This meant that you had a choice of a red, white or rose glass of wine, or a beer or soft drink. No snacks, no napkins, no nothing. Not impressed. On a positive note, we did sit with a very nice couple from North Carolina and her sister from Virginia and had a lovely conversation.
The hotel itself was similar to our hotel in Anchorage. It was dated, in need of maintenance and not very stylish.
After the cocktail party we took a walk about seven very short blocks to a Thai restaurant for dinner. The food was good and so plentiful that we could not even finish it all. After dinner we took a short walk along the riverfront in the heart of the town. The town is a mixture of old and new, well maintained to boarded up and everything in between. There is a spacious public plaza along the waterfront with a fountain and clock tower. A modern pedestrian bridge takes you to the other side of the river and provides nice views over the river.
This was a quiet relaxing day spent in town near our hotel. There is a small strip of businesses along the main highway that they call Glitter Gulch, where we explored the shops. The strip is mostly comprised of some small restaurants, gift shops, artist galleries and such.
For lunch we stopped at the Denali Dog House where we tried reindeer hot dogs with cream cheese, deep fried onion strips, bacon and mustard. The flavor was all in the toppings, while the hot dog was not much different than something we might get at home.
Carnival Corporation not only owns the McKinley Chalet Resort where we are staying, but they also own a neighboring resort called the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. The Chalet has 483 rooms while the Lodge has another 666 rooms to house guests traveling on both Princess and Holland America ships. They are both struggling to staff their resorts after being mostly closed for two years due to the pandemic. They do hire students who are studying restaurant management from places in eastern Europe, as well as young people from around the United States. They use a large number of buses to transfer people from the train station, between resorts, to and from Denali National Park, as well as around the enormous properties with all of these rooms. The properties are something like 25 acres each with small buildings of cabins and some larger newer buildings throughout. The Chalet is also located on a hillside above the river with the main lodge about 60 stairsteps above the rest of the property, so many people need the shuttles to get up and down the hillside.
We had a great view from our balcony of the forested mountains, snow covered mountain peaks and a peak-a-boo view of the fast-moving river. Now that the snow has mostly melted, the wildflowers had begun to spring up everywhere.
I’ve included a photo of one of the oldest automobiles used to transport tourists around the Denali National Park all the way back in 1928. This 1924 Fageol was built in Oakland, California in 1924 and brought to Alaska from Seattle in 1928. It was capable of transporting as many as 22 guests on its 218-inch wheel base.
In the evening we attended the Music of Denali Dinner Theater onsite. For dinner they served us a family style dinner of salmon, barbecue brisket, mashed potatoes, corn and apple crisp. After the dinner they put on a one hour show about the first climbers to reach the summit of Mt. Denali. The food was fine and the show was a bit amateurish, but it gave us something to do.