Stories by John Masters
Meridian Writers' Group
WHITEHORSE, Yukon-The 1,500-kilometre circle route from Whitehorse, along the Alaska Highway, through Dawson City and down the Klondike Highway back to Whitehorse, is a drive that can hold you spellbound at any number of points and in a variety of ways.
For those who love the open road and scenery that is, by turns, sweeping and dramatic, those things alone will be enough to recommend this trip. For anyone wanting more, here's a quick sampling:
• Haines Junction, gateway to Kluane National Park. If you have the money ($1,300 for up to four people), take a 60-minute helicopter tour with Trans North. Fly over mountain peaks and down the Lowell Glacier, a St. Lawrence River of ice up to 600 metres thick.
• Silver City. Just before you come to Kluane Lake, a sign on the right indicates a turn-off for a B & B. Drive five kilometres down the dirt road and you'll come to the little-known remains of Silver City, a gold-rush town built in 1904. The roofs are still on several buildings.
• Burwash Landing. The surprisingly good little Kluane Museum has dioramas of the region's major species: moose, lynx, grizzly, caribou, red fox, wolverine. Did you know that the innocuous-looking fisher "possesses the ability to consistently penetrate the armour of the porcupine, adding this to his regular diet"?
• The highway between Burwash Landing and Beaver Creek (172 kilometres) is built on permafrost and even though it's been worked on repeatedly, frost heaves mean that much of the drive is like being at sea in a good chop.
• Beaver Creek. Canada's westernmost community is home to the Westmark Hotel, where Holland America puts up its busloads of tour groups. From May through September they're entertained at a dinner show that includes fake Mounties and French lumberjacks. You're welcome to join them.
• Chicken, Alaska. At Tetlin Junction you turn off the Alaska Highway onto the packed-dirt Taylor Highway and head north. Chicken, with a "downtown" consisting of a saloon, café, liquor store and gift shop, is operated by modern-day pioneer Sue Wiren, who bought it all in 1989.
• Dawson City. Crossing back into Canada and driving along the Top of the World Highway you come to the Yukon River and Dawson City, home of the Klondike Gold Rush. There's enough history here to keep those interested busy for a week. For everyone else there are good shops and restaurants, shows at the Palace Grand Theatre and gambling at Diamond Tooth Gertie's.
• The Silver Trail. It's gold the Yukon is known for, but if you take the turn-off at Stewart Crossing you can travel 110 kilometres to the almost ghost town of Keno (pop. 20), built on silver.