June 6, 2008

Dawson City - Klondike Gold Rush

Just before arriving in Dawson City, we had another reminder that we were indeed on the counterpart to the Alaska Highway. Yes, here to, on the Klondike one experiences those same dirt (maybe mud) strewn sections accompanied by massive construction trucks hurling granite projectiles directly at the windshield. But we fooled ‘um, we left our very own “Louisiana pre-cracked by a gravel truck” windshield in place, knowing full well that we’d need a new one after Alaska!

Dawson City was not quite what we expected…it’s a strange blend of torn-up industrial mining corridor, dirt-street wooden sidewalk cowboy town, and modern tourist center all rolled into one. The City residents pride themselves on supporting placer mining (rather than deep shaft), claiming it’s more “environmentally friendly”, and “easier on the land” but one look at the picture below showing the entire area ravaged by open pits & rock-piles suggests that even this form of mining is pretty detrimental.

The Guggieville RV Park http://www.yukoninfo.com/guggieville/ had it’s very own reminders of the gold rush era scattered about, with a collection of antique gear near their front entrance. We were encouraged to go try our luck, just down the road at Claim 6 (now owned by the Canadian government, presumably to give tourist a “legal” site to pan).

Along the road to old #6 there was ample evidence of mining, with both sides lined with numerous rock pits & piles. The largest wooden dredge ever built now lies in ghostly silence at the site of Claim 4. Between Claim 4 & 6 is the original Discovery Claim, the one that started it all. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klondike_Gold_Rush

You can even buy and own a current claim if you choose….anyone want to strike it rich, it’ll only cost you a hundred grand!

With pan & shovel in hand,

Kim & I had visions of striking it rich (by tourist standards this would be finding a micro-ounce sliver of the yellow treasure at the bottom of the sloshed mud & gravel).

I was the first one to give up, it didn’t take me long to realize my chances of finding an interesting rock or crystal along the creek were far greater than a micro-nugget. Kim stayed with it for quite a while with no luck, but a lady a few meters away did managed to produce this pinhead sized flake. (yep, that's it in the center of the cleared area at the bottom of the pan...don't blink you eye, you might miss it!)

Oh well, there are far worse ways to spend an afternoon.

Oh, and up here it’s still afternoon well into the night, the sun never actually setting…it’s amazing, and also interesting how the body-clock is so in tune with the sun! So, off to town we went to celebrate our anniversary…that’s right, it’s been one year since we pulled out of Folsom, Louisiana on the great adventure. All the locals agreed that THE place to eat in town was the “Drunken Goat”. Of all places, this remote, circa 1890 gold-rush cowboy town boasts a fine Greek restaurant! We had the “Platter for Two” which included everything start to finish, and was outstanding…so much so that went back another time.

Since Guggieville is only three miles from town, we decided to make a full day bike ride, exploring each & every street (yes, there’s at least a dozen) and then making the climb up the hill behind town to visit the old town cemetery. Riding through town is like stepping back in time. The dirt & gravel streets with raised wooden sidewalks create an atmosphere of days past. Although many buildings are actively used and cared for, they all date back to at least the early 1900’s, and many show materials of their original construction.

As we wondered from street to street, we decided to park the bikes and walk for a while. I pulled up to a good sturdy “hitchin’ post” and was about to lock the bikes to it when I glanced up and noticed this sign. Just to be on the safe side we moved the bikes a ways down!

Dawson was the home of writer Robert Service. He is world reknown for penning "The Shooting of Dan McGrew", The Cremation of Sam McGee", and "The Spell of the Yukon" . http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/biography/service_r_w/robert_service.html

As we were walking I stumbled upon this old boiler. Assuming it had something to do with the gold rush, I was surprised when I read the plaque… “the boiler that cremated Sam McGee”. This triggered a search for Service’s original cabin, which we found just up the hill on the backside of town. The site and cabin are well preserved, and representative of early life here in the City. The sod roofs were commonplace and many are still seen today.

Just a couple of lots over is Jack London’s cabin, also in great shape. Interesting that the two great writers shared a love for this town. London is known for The Call of the Wild, and White Fang. And his best novel, The Sea-Wolf. http://www.jacklondon.com/

Most interesting was the simplicity of how he lived including the use of the original meat locker which still stands next to the cabin.

Since we were already started up the hill on Dome Road, we continued on to the town cemetery. Just before reaching it, we discovered a trail that leads to a terrific overlook of the area. From here you can see evidence of the placer mining to the east……
, and the confluence of the Klondike & Yukon just above the City off to the west.

The cemetery has several sections are stretches for perhaps a quarter mile in each direction. It is the final resting place of many of the souls captivated by the lust for the precious nuggets, and several original pioneers of the area.
One of the most interesting aspects of the burial place is the extensive use of wooden grave markers, many of which were burned years ago in a grass fire that ran through the lower end of the site. Although the climate is harsh, wood seems to endure in the cold, dry air.

Kim found the children’s area unique, with it’s
crib-like pipe structures bordering each plot.

Our final night here was celebrated by visiting Diamond Tooth Gerties saloon & dancehall for the nine o’clock show. The place was pretty crowded, with many playing the odds trying to strike it rich at the round & square gold mines.

Kim & I decided that panning was better than spinning and just elected to sit back and watch the show. With lots of singing, some great honkytonk piano playing and colorful can-can dancing we had a great time.

Adding to the fun was meeting our new RV friends Judy & Mike Feldman there. Then there was the audience participation number, where Mike was selected to dance on stage. The highlight for him was getting to remove the garter from his partner’s leg “in any manner you wish”. I’m not quite sure how it ended up on his head, but I’ll leave that to your imagination. You might also want to check out the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xnd9ek3meB4

The biggest surprise of the night was stepping out of the dark nightclub environment at 11PM only to be blinded by the glaring sun as we walked back to the truck!