Days: 391-392 (21 July 2015 – 22 July 2015)
Total distance travelled: 100,264.7 kilometres (62,276.19 miles)
Around the turn of the 20th century Dawson ballooned into a city of over 40,000 hardy souls, the majority of whom were here wholly and solely chasing the colour (that’d be gold).
The story of the Klondike Gold Rush is an incredible one, of man (I’m not being sexist here, it was simply that gender who were the huge majority) fighting against nature in the pursuit of fortune.
Fast forward one hundred and fifteen years and Dawson still stands, although according to the 2010 Canadian census, a pale version of its grand younger self with a permanent population now of around thirteen hundred…
The mantle of city has been lost, however the past is not forgotten, hence its present brand, the ‘Town of Dawson City’.
One long day of driving for Sarah and five hundred and fifty five kilometres under our belt had gotten us here to a land where people still indeed prospect for gold.
The day had passed in a repetitive manner, where we’d cruise along for a while, then be forced to wait for a pilot car to guide us as the summer seasons road works were crammed into this narrow window of opportunity all around us.
We’d breakfasted on the largest cinnamon bun either of us had ever seen from Braeburn Lodge (indeed this thing was so big, it was breakfast for the following two mornings as well) and also taken a brief pit stop at the Five Finger Rapids, a dangerous section of the Yukon River where paddlewheeler vessels had been winched between some potentially perilous rocks (all long in the past).
The road work crews were at times frustrating, but are by all accounts very necessary, as the same stretch of road may require repairs every summer season, a legacy of so much of the highway being built atop permafrost, which thaws and shifts during the hotter months.
Finally reaching Dawson City, we utilised the free ferry service that allows vehicular and pedestrian traffic across the Yukon River (twenty four hours hours a day all through summer), cruised into the campground and found ourselves a site.
At about this time, as we set up our borrowed tent and settled in, we strongly regretted not having purchased ourselves a few beers to help with proceedings!
Still, we had ourselves a lovely spot, not far from the river and a short ferry ride into town.
So obviously lacking in supplies, it was to town we then made our way.
Dawson City itself is like one huge museum.
Buildings have to adhere to a traditional look (at least in the downtown area), so as to conform with what original buildings remain, although in truth, few still stand from the towns true glory era, after the place was pretty much burned out of existence thanks to fires back in 1910!
We had ourselves a little wander of the dusty streets, grabbed ourselves some beers, and then got ourselves back across to West Dawson (where we were camped) so we could truly relax… and yes, by relax, we mean crack open that first cold can!
Our venture to the shops had come not a moment too soon as well, as we’d just snuck in before the liquor stores 6pm closing time.
Those half a dozen beers between us, didn’t in fact sate our appetite, so we made our way back into Dawson for a bite to eat (we went with the perfect meal to accompany beer, Poutine) and thought we’d indulge in a little bit of the tourist type stuff by partaking in a show at Diamond Tooth Gerties (basically an old time show, this one came recommended to us and with three performances spread over the night, each apparently getting a little racier).
It was good fun to sit and watch the show, and awfully easy to down another beer, a tally we’d also added to over dinner as well.
There was even some audience participation required, and when the portly gentleman beside us refused to be a good sport, I was suddenly volunteered and found myself twirling on stage and gripping garters with my teeth.
All good fun as I’m sure you can understand!
By now we were falling victim to both the amount of beer consumed, as well as the crazy long northern daylight hours (it was creeping up towards 11pm and the sun was still very much up), which very nearly produced a premature end to our next adventure.
By now, well and truly chock full of ‘Dutch courage’, we thought it a good idea to attempt a little something that is quite famous (globally), at least as famous as things up here in the Yukon can truly get.
That is, kissing the toe.
Up here in the wild north, somebody, at some point in time, thought it would be a grand idea to pickle a severed toe, then serve it up to willing customers in their drinks (to be kissed, not swallowed).
Now these shenanigans go down at a particular bar, however the fun stops at 11pm… and it was five minutes to!
Suddenly, we found ourselves running through the streets of Dawson City, trying to find this saloon where we could have a drink and plant our lips upon a severe toe.
Well, we found the place (the Downtown Hotel), ordered drinks, and then we saw the toe…
Despite the no swallowing rule, over the years, several people have either thought it a good idea to deliberately do so, or somehow taken things to that next level accidently.
As such, there is now a $2,500.00 fine for anybody who does so!
So this is pretty much how it goes…
Cruising along elsewhere, because what any respectable person needs by this time is another drink, we ran into a couple of Canadians who’d been there to have their shot at the toe at the same time as us, and after another couple of beers and the discovery that our entrance fee into Gerties allowed us re-entry at anytime, suddenly found ourselves headed in that direction for the midnight show!
To stroll the streets and it still be broad daylight was pretty trippy, but by now, having already indulged in our biggest night since Central America, none of it seemed nearly as odd as it should have.
The midnight show did indeed live up to its reputation as a much racier affair, however this was never the kind of place where the girls lost their gear, so Gerties reputation remained unblemished… although it’s very possible that this is where there is a deviance from the years of old!
Incredibly, we were still not done, as another local haunt lay ahead, where basically anybody still standing (which included the four of us) followed the now casually clad dancers down the street to another dive.
Eventually, with the sky still light, but slowly started to dim to its darkest point, we took our leave and retired.
That’s right, even though it was now closer to 3am than 2, the sky was still light, and the twenty four hour ferry was still there to ferry us home.
To our great surprise, other than feeling a little weary, we woke feeling surprisingly okay, a little hungry (that’s where that cinnamon bun proved its worth again) and rather parched.
It was yet another sun filled Yukon morning, so we took a little wander down river to where I’d read might possibly lay a graveyard of sorts.
Not your average kind however, as this was the final resting place of three paddle wheelers which, despite their incredible age, had still not rotted away thanks in large to the dry and generally cold temperatures in the extreme north.
This was not to say that any of the three were in terribly good condition however, in fact they looked incredibly dangerous to anyone who dared climb aboard.
As such, we remained to simply take it all in from the fringes.
Today, especially on the back of the night we’d had, was always going to be a much slower affair, yet we weren’t content to simply do nothing.
As such, we did a little more wandering of the cute town that is Dawson City, taking in its streets, the Y.O.O.P (Yukon Order of Pioneers) Cemetery, as well as climbing a wooded path behind the town for views of both the Yukon River and up the valley where it and the Klondike meet.
We felt a bit stupid walking along and shouting ‘Hello!’ into the underbrush around us, but that is seriously what you need to do, rather than simply stumble upon and startle a bear into something rash.
To round out our day, we took an evening drive (after cooking ourselves up a barbecue lunch, then a tin of soup for dinner) up a mountain that sits behind the town, although evening is probably not the correct term given that it was some time after 11pm!
We made our way up this rise known as the Midnight Dome, hopeful that we might actually witness the sun set below the distant horizon (even though it would still stay light for hours).
The sunset, it wasn’t to be, but it was still a beautiful view to bring to a close our second day in Dawson.
The following morning found our camp cleared and the car packed, ready for us to make the long journey all the way back to Whitehorse.
We just had a couple of final stops first.
Our efforts to find a decent sign announcing the start of the Top of the World Highway came to nought (it starts on the West Dawson side of the river), so I made do with this sign not far from the entrance to the campground.
Back across the river and just out of town, we took a detour off the main highway, travelling along a dusty gravel road for several kilometres as one final Dawson City excursion beckoned.
We were in search of the site known as Dredge No 4, at one point in time, the largest gold dredge in operation anywhere in the world!
Shortly after our arrival a tour was to begin, so we lingered a little until things got underway.
I won’t go into too many particulars, you can either Google it, or better yet, visit for yourself.
This contraption was built to basically scrape the rock from beneath its structure, sift out the gold and dump the unwanted matter (the tailings) out its back, creating a lunar like landscape around it.
Incredibly, this nearly eight story high construction (indeed, it was the tallest structure in the Yukon until an eight story apartment block was built in Whitehorse sometime in the 1990’s) was operated by only five men!
It was one hell of an interesting place, and a solid piece of gold mining history to conclude our two day visit to Dawson City…
* Our campsite at Yukon River Campground cost us $12.00 CAN per site, per night.
* There was a $12.00 CAN entrance fee per person for Diamond Tooth Gerties, however this allows unlimited entry.