Watson Lake, YK (Sep 28/20) – This is not a sign you see everyday… “Arctic Ocean 880 km”. The location of that sign was at the intersection where the Dempster Hwy meets the Klondike Hwy, south of Dawson City… the sign beckonds the travelers to make the turn, enter a new world of possibilities.
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Driving the almost 900km to the end of the Dempster Hwy terminating at Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, was not considered (nor possible at this time of the year; the last portion is an ice road and only passable in the winter), but the 100km drive to Tombstone Territorial Park was enticing, the remoteness of the campground fit the terrain. The promise of Moose to be seen at ‘Two Moose Lake’ spurred the Westfalia Crew onwards…. good thing, the change in landscape was dramatic, the ‘tundra looking’ appearance of red/orange low bushes gave a unique feel to it all.
The road albeit all gravel & dirt, was surprisingly good, so much so, a trip to the far north is likely probable in the future. The scenery so different from anything seen on the journey thus far, that not even seeing ‘one’ Moose, let alone ‘two’, did not hinder anyone’s spirits…
Back on the main highway southbound, two 10km sections of the highway being upgraded was like ‘kamikaze surfing’ in a metre of mud on water skis. The pilot car ahead skidding all over the road did not instill much confidence in the travelers behind, trying to navigate these muddy sections was deplorable. A few times it felt like Hobbes would get bogged down & stuck… “just keep the foot on the gas & push on”. The amount of mud caked to the entire body of Hobbes was unbelievable! Little did N&J realize what effect this would have on Hobbes in the days to come.
Another freestyle camping spot north of Carmack on the Yukon River provided a much needed rest after the days journey. The property was apparently an old fishing camp that still had some structures in place to smoke and clean the fish caught on the river below…
Not wanting to repeat the same course taken on their way up, the next day it was decided to take a different route back to the south, instead of going on the main paved highway via Whitehorse. A secondary road with some pavement, but mainly gravel/dirt was chosen that terminated at Watson Lake. The mornings brisk, the drive ever so beautiful, the days seemed to linger with peacefulness and a silent awe. Little to ‘no other’ traffic on this route left N&J with a feeling of being true explorers in the vastness of this untouched land.
Arriving at Drury Creek Territorial Park on Little Salmon Lake was a pleasant surprise with camping right on the shores of yet another beautiful lake. N super excited to get the fly rod out and throw a few casts into the lake as the sun was still high enough in the sky…. spying the mouth of the river entering the lake she ran to get her fishing waders and river boots on.
All seemed peaceful until the moment J decided that N must wear her life jacket to wade into the mouth of the fast-moving river on the lake as well as tethering her to his chair on the beach with a long rope. Thinking this was quite the ‘ha ha’ moment, N was all game, laughing at what she must look like and giddy with anticipation of ‘landing the Big One!!!’… until that fateful moment when J decided N had gone just far enough, he tugged on the rope with Hercules strength ripping her off her feet and into the water! One arm flailing, the other firmly grasping her rod, ice cold water entering her waders, fear bubbling up within until shrieks and crying could be heard across the lake that must have scared the wildlife for miles…er kms!! Soaked, cold, dejected, but not wanting to give up N took off her shirt under the bib of the waders and continued to fish until the shivering took control and it was time to call it a night….with a lot of consoling and a lifetime of apologies, N&J were OK again.
The beautiful sun setting on the fateful spot of the ‘near drowning’, N&J happened upon a small white homemade burlap bag with a heart sewn on the outside. Inside was a note about the ‘heart sharing project’ started by a woman named Lorna who’s goal is to ‘share with an open heart’ and have the finder of the heart bag share a photo and their experience online with the #heartlysimple project… “growing and touching hearts across the world” seems to have touched N&J’s hearts and lives… at exactly the right moment
The next day, traveling again on this mostly deserted highway, was designated a complete success after coming upon a mother Grizzly & 2 cubs. Never having seen Grizzlies before, the walkie-talkies screeched with excitement! As the vans approached closer, the mother grizzly stood up on her hind legs and then moved quickly into the bush, out of sight; but her cubs especially the smaller of the two stared intently (Jesse stared back). Lots of pics taken while keeping a lookout for ‘momma’ returning to charge the ‘trespassers’.
The muddy highway adventure would soon come back to memory as Hobbes began to experience some transmission issues, shifting from from ‘gear to gear’ was getting harder and harder. The strain of the force required and the grinding of the gears evoked thoughts of the trip in peril. Turned out to be a problem of hardened mud caked like cement in the gear linkage. The 450km long drive in 3rd gear, a few stops to take a hammer to the linkage box to try and clear some of the debris, a stop at a car wash to pressure hose the undercarriage, and finally obtaining some WD40 spray was required to clean out the grit… back on the road in tip top shape!!!
Just west of Watson Lake found camping along the Liard River, a wide, fast flowing yet quiet stretch of water. It was here the Northern Lights (aka Aurora Borealis) put on a grand show!!! The green and white lights stretch from east to west across the north sky. (Kudos to photographers who can actually capture this astounding dancing marvel in the sky)
A visit to the Yukon would not be complete without a stop at the Watson Lake Signpost Forest. Apparently over 80,000 signs now populate ‘the forest’… signs from all over the world…. well thought-out signs, homemade signs seemingly made on the spot, others apparently stolen from their hometowns, no duplicates, everything unique and individual marking the journey made… from who and from where.
The very first sign was erected in 1942 by a US Army Serviceman, Carl K. Lindley. While working on the Alaska Highway (WW2) project he became homesick and posted a sign of his hometown along with the mileage… the rest is history 🙂