The Klondike Loop from Dawson to Whitehorse is 333 miles long and follows rivers mostly free of ice by now, with mountain ranges in the distance. Both towns are on the Yukon River, but the highway does not follow the river due to difficult terrain. During the gold rush, steamers made six or seven trips back and forth between the two cities each summer. Wooly mammoth skeleton
The most impressive feature is the emptiness of the country. Few roads lead away from the highway, and if there are any isolated cabins they can't be seen. There are three places with gas, cafe, and a few rooms. The two side roads, which we didn't take, lead off to the tiny remnants of gold and silver mining towns, with the names of Keno and Faro. There is forest, but not much sign of forestry. Evidently it's not cost effective to harvest these trees.
We've seen more and more RVs, in groups of two or three, all heading north. We don't have the statistics, but it seems that the bulk of the summer travellers to Yukon and Alaska are riding in RVs. We've seen everything from pickup campers to bus motor homes towing trailers, with the majority tending towards the large size. We've considered this option and decided it's not for us. We'll be happy to discuss our reasons with anyone who's interested.
We pulled into Whitehorse late in the afternoon and signed up for two nights -- after all, Whitehorse (pop. 18,000) is the territorial capitol -- plus we needed to do laundry! Queen of the Yukon
We drove around town and went to the large, modern tourist information center. The steamboat Klondike II was tied up on the Yukon River and the riverfront trolley had just started its short summer trip for visitors.
After the morning laundry, we visited two museums and took one hike. The first museum was the Beringia Center. Beringia is the name given to the lands of eastern Siberia, Alaska, the Yukon, and the surrounding continental shelves, which were above sea level and connected during ice ages. The huge amount of hydraulic mining during the gold rush uncovered large numbers of fossils, mummies, bones, and human weapons and tools from these times. The Center addresses the passage of animals and humans from Asia to North America through Beringia. It uses archaeological information, as well as First Nation legends, to study the history of Beringia. Glassy smooth Yukon River
The result is a rather confused mixture of science and myth. For example, First Nation legends relate that beavers were once much larger than they are at present, so that present day adult beavers were the size of the newborn beavers. But no archaeological evidence has been found to support this legend. Despite this odd mixture, the Beringia Center manages to stimulate the visitor's interest in the migrations across what is now the Bering Strait. Certainly the skeletons of wooly mammoths and sabre-toothed cats are impressive.
An interesting question is when humans first arrived in Beringia. In his book Guns, Germs, and Steel (if memory serves), Jared Diamond claims that this was about 12,000 years ago, and that the humans followed the large animals all the way south to Patagonia, hunting them to extinction in a relatively short time, say by 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. But if humans arrived as early as 24,000 years ago, then those humans in Beringia must have hunted the large animals without exhausting the food supply for 10,000 to 15,000 years.
Like the Beringia Center, the Transportation Museum next door studies a critical facet of life in the region. Rivers are navigable only for part of the year, roads and railroads are difficult to build and maintain, dog sleds are now used just for recreation, horses can't go in the tundra and muskeg, airplanes were and are the only good way to reach remote areas, since water or snow landings are possible almost all year. So the development of the Yukon, whether for mining, tourism, or scientific research, is wholly dependent on transportation. Miles Canyon suspension bridge
The Gold Rush of 1898 - 1912, and the building of the Alaska Highway in 1942 involved a fascinating array of methods of transportation, from dog sleds to airplanes to large trucks and treaded vehicles as men tried to find their way across the vast distances often in impossibly cold weather. One room, the Bush Pilots' Room, is filled with photos of early aircraft, some of it banged up repeatedly. The pilot who expected to make a career as a bush pilot had to be a darned good aircraft mechanic as well.
The Yukon River narrows into a deep canyon just above Whitehorse; we crossed a suspension bridge and took a walk along the banks of Miles Canyon to Canyon City, the site of a camp used by portagers during the gold rush. Now it consists of some barely perceptible depressions and a few foundation timbers in the forest. We were happy for the opportunity to stretch our legs for an hour or so.
Alaska and the Yukon are areas that should be visited by the most physically active, who will venture forth into the wilderness by foot, boat, or bike, and feel comfortable camping outdoors. We can only sample the great travel experiences that younger travelers might have.