I went on a big northerly deviation a couple of weeks prior and it was time for another big journey north here in central Canada.
The town of Churchill on the Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba can only be reached by train or plane. Or ship. Flying is quite expensive so I opted for the train experience – a daunting 40 hour, 1700km journey. I also opted for no sleeper cabin.
Why would you put yourself through this? Pretty straight forward really. Churchill is known as the ‘polar bear capital of the world’ and is a fantastic place to visit if you want to see these animals in the wild.
But for the meantime there was nothing else for it but to get comfortable (lots of legroom, yay) and alternate scenery watching with photo taking and book reading. Lots of book reading.
The sunsets were amazing and in the night skies I was fortunate to see some northern lights. They proved a little elusive on the remainder of the trip and I’ll definitely be seeking them out on another trip one day.
We neared the end of our journey on a fantastic clear and crisp day. I guess I expected there to be a bit of snow around which there wasn’t, although some of the lakes were iced over.
When finally we reached Churchill one of my b&b hosts was there to meet me.
Having reached the end of the Top of the World Highway, we continued through Alaska and its stunning landscapes.
And the occasional evidence of mining operations long past.
The Taylor Highway started to take us back south, eventually handing us over to the Alaska Highway.
We passed lots of waterways.
Spot the beaver dwelling!
As we transitioned into evening we also transitioned back into Canada, passing through a somewhat bigger border post this time.
Not far away was Beaver Creek, Canada’s “westernmost community”, and a roadside lodge which allowed us to call it a day. The next morning it was back in the saddle for the final stretch back to Whitehorse. We had a lunch stop beside Kluane Lake.
This was near the village of Haines Junction, next to the Kluane National Park. We ventured out in drizzle along a 5km trail beside the Dezadeash River.
Bears were apparently around, but on this day at least they weren’t lying in wait for juicy tourists.
After a few long days on the road we rolled back into Whitehorse, seen here across the Yukon River.
But no time to rest, I was heading back to Edmonton the next day. The pace seems rather furious in hindsight, though I have a tendency to do this even now, and my diary makes no mention of travel weariness. So much to see, so little time, and the stamina to do it I guess!
We awoke to snow. It was late September by now and easy to see why the town closes its tourism operations at this time. The power went off – luckily when it didn’t matter.
The plan was to head back to Whitehorse and we had a couple of options. Return the way we had come, or go the longer way via the bottom of Alaska. The snow was a mildly worrying factor but we were both keen for the experience and so opted for a road called the Top of the World Highway.
We shipped out – which wasn’t too far from the truth as we had to catch a ferry across the river. First we scurried around for some final photos.
The ferry was a humble but practical affair and its operator warned us about the highway being slippery. Which made us think: were we doing the right thing?
We pressed on – albeit in cautious nana fashion.
Conditions determined that we didn’t veer off the road for photos on this day, rather just stop on the road. We saw only a couple other vehicles on the 127km long highway.
The landscape was amazing.
We reached the US border early afternoon and passed through the small customs post, staffed by two officers. Interesting job, stuck in the middle of nowhere like that.
Then we were in Alaska.
A teeny town off the highway called Chicken was closed but a highway service centre was open. Several hours of high concentration at the wheel was quite tiring and a pit stop was well earned!
And we still had a few hours to go.
First impressions of Dawson: unpaved roads, wooden buildings, boardwalks, and a clear sense that this would be a hard place to spend a winter. But it was charming in a rough-around-the-edges way, with a general atmosphere brought about by the dull cold day and absence of other people.
I had thought about staying in a hostel across the river. However, it is only open a few months of the year because it has no electricity and as it was a very cold day we wussed out in favour of somewhere warmer. A hotel room above a pub it was.
Bags down, we headed out for a quick explore.
The photo is reasonably straight, the same can’t be said for the building.
The cemetery was on a hill overlooking the town. Interesting to wander around and read the headstones.
Later on after our modest self-catered dinner we headed over to Diamond Tooth Gerties. A famous old gambling hall, it has a general demeanour reminiscent of its goldrush heyday. We stayed for two dancing shows, while sampling the local brew and having amusing conversation in halting English with a group of Argentineans.
I planned just the one night in Whitehorse before continuing north in my rental. A German girl who happened to be on the same bus and who stayed at the same hostel was also keen to go further afield, so she tagged along.
Our destination was the town of Dawson, some 500kms up the Klondike Highway. Originally a First Nations camp, Dawson boomed during the goldrush and shrunk just as quickly afterward. Today gold mining is still an important industry along with tourism.
We set out on the quiet road in the subarctic landscape.
There was no shortage of reasons to veer off the road for photos, such as these cabins – I think they may have been resting places harking back to days when horsepower meant just that.
The Yukon River is the longest in Alaska and the Yukon and it popped up numerous times along the way. A popular viewing spot is here looking down to the Five Finger Rapids.
I like that it wasn’t a blue sky day as it added to the atmosphere.
Another common sight along the way is evidence of forest fires. I read that they tend to let them burn up here and the climate inhibits regeneration.
And here again, closer to Dawson. Now that we were further north the snow started to appear.
On the outskirts of town we found this cute tourist gimmick and huge piles of mining tailings.
We knew we were visiting at a quiet time of year and happened to arrive at the visitor centre 15 minutes before it closed for the season. Most of the town closed the week before. However this was OK by us and there were still basic things open to last us the night before continuing on our way.
Since there was no lingering at the visitor centre we found a hotel and got out to explore this fascinating town in what daylight there was left.