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Our Fairbanks, Alaska long weekend adventure

It was a long weekend here in the Yukon (Discovery Day), so Jeff and I decided to take a quick trip to Alaska for one last cross border adventure before the border closes up here, mid September.

Chicken, Alaska

We left after work on Friday and went to Chicken, Alaska for the night. Chicken is a little town that exists for gold mining, with a recorded year round population of just 7 people. There is no phone service, no electricity, no cell towers, and no grocery store. But the people of Chicken have made the place into a real booming tourist stop. We arrived just as everything was closing up, but we had reserved a little cabin in the trees from The Chicken Gold Camp & Outpost.

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The cabin had free firewood, a picnic table, and a fire pit, but it was a damp and rainy night so we stayed indoors. Our cabin had a king sized bed, a single bed, a chair, and a couple shelving units. There was no electricity or water but the outhouse wasn’t too far away, and I brought a couple movies on my laptop.

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Fairbanks, Alaska

I had been in Chicken, Alaska when we originally came up here on vacation in 2014, but I hadn’t been all the way to Fairbanks.

My Fairbanks impressions:

  • So many people. There are more people living in Fairbanks than living in all of the Yukon. Fairbanks has a population of around 32,000 with the outer boroughs bringing the population to 100,000. The Yukon only has 33,000 people in the whole territory.
  • Doesn’t feel remote. For a city that is actually slightly north of Dawson City’s latitude, there is pavement, highways, every chain, movie theatres – really all modern conveniences, and transportation options. Compared to our quaint town, Fairbanks is living 100 years in the future.
  • You don’t feel like you are in a northern city, until you look at prices. They were similar to here, and you notice the significant cost of freight in everything.
  • Big military presence. The US army has Fort Wainwright there, and just outside of town is the Eielson Air Force Base. There must have been 50+ fighter jets and bombers on the tarmac.

Riverboat Discovery

In addition to shopping, I booked us a reservation on a couple touristy things. One was on the Riverboat Discovery. This tour was so well organized A+++

The Riverboat is modelled after the old style of sternwheeler riverboats that navigated the Chena River in Fairbanks, just like they did here in the Yukon River.

The same family has operated these boats since they were original modes of transportation. Now, just for tours, they are onto the Discovery III although the Discovery and Discovery II are also still on the river.IMG_8633

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They have this tour business WELL designed. First, you congregate inside where there are all sorts of souvenirs, and food, and ice cream. Then you wait to board.DSC_0081

There were 2 sailings on Saturday. With 4 floors on the boat, they could fill it right up with cruise passengers who come to Fairbanks (and also Dawson City) by bus.

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The tour starts off down the Chena River, and they have a bush pilot friend take off RIGHT beside off the boat, right off the river, and then he comes back and lands again. He calls in on the radio and you can hear him.20160813-DSC_0087

The entire three hour tour is narrated, but not by a recording! A man did a live commentary. There were also live video cameras, and TV, so if something was happening on one of the other 4 decks of the boat, or to one side or the other, they’d show it on the tv screens so you never missed a thing!
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They told us about some of the history up and down the river, showed us some nice houses, told us the history of others.20160813-DSC_0097

Then we stopped the boat beside Susan Butcher and her family’s dog kennel. Susan won the Iditarod 4 times! Unfortunately she died much too young from cancer. Her husband kept the kennel and now her daughter talks to the river boat tour. They wore mics on shore, and told us about having a team of dogs. They showed us some puppies, and then harnessed up a team to the powerless ATV and took them for a run!
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The dogs took off in a cloud of dust pulling the ATV around the pond. While they were running, I took a picture of the sternwheel of the boat, which was actually functioning, not just for decoration! The sternwheel propels the boat, but there are also assistance thrusters for tight turn arounds in the river. (We turned twice, it was awesome!). The sternwheel isn’t driven by a wood powered steam system like the old river boats, but diesel instead.

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Then Jeff took a fuzzy selfie of us.20160813-DSC_0106

And then the dogs were back! They were unharnessed, and all of them ran straight into the river to cool off and get a drink. It was an AMAZINGLY warm day, probably the nicest day of the entire summer, with the temperature in the mid-80’s (Fahrenheit while I’m in the USA!)

 

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We cruised on, seeing some more nice houses and trees, while small bush planes were flying over. The Chena River is right by the airport, and Fairbanks is a supply hub for most remote communities and families living in northern Alaska.

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Near where the Chena River flowed into the Tanana River, and where the boat turned around, we stopped at a recreated native Alaskan village. Summer students from native communities were employed on the boat, and got off the boat to teach us about their culture.

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We saw reindeer (shown above), and they taught us about clothing they wore and made from their fur harvesting and hides from their hunts.20160813-DSC_0129

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It was cute hearing a visitor telling her children that ‘no, no, they didn’t KILL the animals. They lived good long lives and when they died in the forest, then they were found.’  🙂

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Here are some freshly processed chum salmon drying from the salmon wheel (seen in the background). After they dry in the sun for a couple hours, they went in the smokehouse shown below. Chum salmon is a lesser grade of salmon, and is still used to this day to feed dog teams. They said they let chum salmon smoke for about 2 weeks.

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We had 20 minutes or so of demonstrations and then we were able to walk around and explore before getting back on the boat.
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Once back on the boat, Jeff got us a couple old Alaskan beers, and the staff prepared smoked salmon and cream cheese on crackers for everyone.

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I’d highly recommend this tour. The same family has been running the tours since 1950 and have it well perfected!

Lance Mackey

When I was browsing touristy sites for ideas of things to do in Fairbanks, I saw mention of a kennel tour of Lance Mackey‘s Comeback Kennel, and it had stellar reviews, so I booked us in for a visit on Sunday.

There are some big dog sled kennels that are on the cruise ship passenger tour route, and have buses full of tourists stop by daily. We didn’t really want that experience. Instead, we went to the exact opposite.

Lance himself greeted us at his kennel. No one else around, just Lance, Jeff and I. Lance’s kennel is about 30 minutes from town, totally off the grid with a generator running, with a breathtaking view of Alaska.

Lance was “into” dogs his entire life. Lance’s dad co-created the Iditarod. Lance has won the Iditarod FOUR times, and he’s won the Yukon Quest FOUR times! Amazing feat for him and his dog teams! He’s also beat throat cancer, battled with infection and circulation issues in his fingers, lost a finger tip or two, and fought his own life battles. He is a down to earth guy, a bit shy, but proud of his dogs and of his work with his dogs.

We got to meet his champion veterans. Here’s Maple, a Gold Harness winner in the 2010 Iditarod for being an outstanding lead dog.20160814-DSC_0160

And here is Lance and one of his beloved dogs.20160814-DSC_0165

Lance is pretty much what you see is what you get. He lives here in the woods. Doesn’t wear a watch. Doesn’t know what day it is. Just living life to the fullest with his dogs, girlfriend, and newborn child.

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Lance showed us his puppies and talked about his breeding philosophies and puppy raising.

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Here is another one of his retired dogs, with 3 more sleeping in the rear:

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His 3 year old team that he’ll be running the 2017 Iditarod with, are in the front of the picture below. In the far rear he has an entire dog yard that he took in for the summer. He runs a boarding kennel, and for the most part the visitor dogs become just one of the pack. There were two enormous great danes staying with him, and they ran along side Lance’s dogs and other visiting dogs of all sizes.

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The dog yards are clean, and Lance’s dogs are all nice and friendly. Here is his latest litter of pups:20160814-DSC_0183

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Here are a few of the team he’s been training for their first 3 years for this winter’s Iditarod. 20160814-DSC_0187

He told us he likes his black big dogs the most and often uses them in his breeding plans.

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Sometimes these dog yards can be so noisy, but his dogs really only barked when we drove into the yard and then if any of them got excited, they quieted down when Lance told them to. Most of them were just sleeping in the sunshine.

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Lance really wants another win, but it feels like he wants it for his dogs, his sponsors, and his fans even more than himself. I can tell you one thing – he has two new fans in Dawson City that will be pulling for him!

If you want to read more about Lance, I really enjoyed this in-depth article:

http://www.outsideonline.com/1870186/lance-mackey-worlds-toughest-athlete

Back to Dawson

Our drive home from Fairbanks was pretty uneventful, since it was mostly rainy and miserable. However we did see one really big Alaskan resident:

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a thicker moose!

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Another visit to the Bear Creek compound – what a treasure!

Earlier this summer, we visited the Bear Creek historical compound of the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation, just south of town on the Doors Open Dawson day.

Refresh your memory here: https://lisaschuyler.com/2016/05/21/doors-open-dawson-2016/

Today The Friends of the Klondike Corridor, and Parks Canada,  had another gathering at Bear Creek, inviting everyone to visit. Regular tours of Bear Creek stopped a few years ago, but having the compound so intact is such a gem. They are making a push to see if it would be feasibly possible to reopen the compound to visitors.

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Gaby, our tour guide

Bear Creek received funding this year to stabilize Joe Boyle, “The King of the Klondike”‘s house, and to stabilize the machine shop.

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Joe Boyle’s house

Rear view where the stabilization work has begun

Rear view where the stabilization work has begun

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Parks Canada interpreters, playing Laura Berton and Martha Black.

We had already seen the gold room, where the gold was refined, on our last visit. But this time the Machine Shop was open!

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What an amazing experience! When the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation closed up shop in 1966, any valuable machinery and equipment was sold off. But there is still so much to see in the machine shop, that serviced the company’s fleet of gold mining dredges.

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This equipment above is called “The Hammer”. It is a hydraulic press. It was too big and heavy so it wasn’t sold or removed from the site. Its air compressor was removed, but the rest is still there. An interpreter told us the men operating this had to have such precision that they would train with eggs in their shell. They had to lower the press to just crack the egg without crushing it. Wow!

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There are tools and supplies everywhere. It feels just like people walked out of work in 1966 and didn’t come back the next day.

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The old blacksmithing forge

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Part of what made the visit to the machine shop so amazing was the trust given to us to wander around and not touch anything. There were no barriers, or velvet ropes. No sneeze guards. No security. We were just left to wander around in the dark with the guidance of “don’t touch anything”.  Nothing looks staged or recreated. It looks just like a machine shop that was closed in 1966 should look.

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Diefenbaker picture stuck on the wall here, and a reminder from The Yukon Progressive Conservative Association to vote for Erik Nielsen on Federal Election Day – June 18, 1962.

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Looking out the back door

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Powered ice cream mix?

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Jeff just shakes his head when I take weird photos that no one else would take, but of course I visited the old bathroom!

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Oh my!

 

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Even an empty toilet paper roll is still on the wall.

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After the machine shop, we got to go into another building. Another environmentally controlled dry storage building for Dawson City and area artifacts!

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Old typewriter

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This is an old hydraulic barber chair.

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Adding machine

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There was cake, a fun scavenger hunt (with a gold nugget as the prize!), and Barnacle Bob, one of our towns most talented musicians, played the keyboard piano.

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These gigantic beams are used for repairs around the site, and on the restored gold dredge #4.

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Old machinery – steam shovel?

In the survey we were given, they asked what prices we thought would be fair to charge for different scenarios, so it looks like they are compared self-guided visits to full historical actors, or even just ghost story or poetry reading. I hope we get more opportunities to come back here. I’d love to see inside more of the buildings. Even if it is just a peak in the window!

 

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Caribou scouting trip

Jeff heard of a series of back roads and trails that could get him up to a highland area, higher than the treeline, where he could hunt woodland caribou.

Despite it raining every day for weeks and weeks, we decided to head out yesterday (Saturday) while the cloud layer was still sitting really low. Jeff wanted to see the area, see if there was any caribou, so he could plan a hunt (the season is already open).

Here are some photos from our adventure!

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August is really mushroom season up here. There are mushrooms, toadstools, and fungi everywhere!

I love the spotted ones! I think the Smurfs would be right at home.

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They grow all through the woods, and even on the sides of the roads where tires rarely hit.

Some of them look like poop. haha!

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The roads were pretty good going in. Jeff warned me of really steep switchbacks and he heard I’ll likely want to close my eyes in some spots.

Some of the road was a soft wet mud with huge puddles and water holes, but luckily most of it was gravel so it drained well, and in some places the roads was just big rocks.

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The clouds hung really low so when we got to the top of one of the peaks, above the trees, we couldn’t see anything but the inside of the cloud. I didn’t take pictures there 😉

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Jeff knew there was a river crossing after one of the downhill switch backs. Everyone said it wouldn’t be a problem. However it has been raining every day and it was really high and turbulent.

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We got out and looked at it. Looked at the truck clearance. Looked at the river. Took a selfie. Looked at the tracks. Knew no one else had driven back here in a few days at least. Knew we don’t have a winch yet if the crossing went south. The water would definitely be hitting the bottom of the doors, especially with the swift current.

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Jeff was told the road after the river crossing quickly turn to trails you’d rather just have an ATV for than a truck, so we decided not to cross the river and cut our adventure short. We probably would have been fine, but why risk it?

You have to be really self-reliant when you are adventuring in the Yukon, especially if you’re leaving the main highway system. We always carry our SPOT device, so we can send a satellite signal emergency signal if we need a rescue in an emergency, but so much else can happen. I sort of skirt an area between the paranoid and the overly prepared, or are those the same? 🙂  I wear a spare set of truck keys and a whistle around my neck. We bring bear spray. In our truck we usually carry an ax, a jack, a couple spare tires, camp stove, a couple sleeping bags, and I always bring a backpack with a couple changes of clothes, rain coat, and a couple pairs of wool socks. We got knives, lighters, water, and some food. We’re thinking of mounting a winch on the front of the truck too. Maybe we’ll never need it, but that one time we really need it, we’re going to be glad we have it.

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I love the trees and forests of the Yukon.

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Some of the area we drove through had been burned by forest fire in recent years.

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By early afternoon the sun was starting to break through. You can see that our fireweed is just about done and fall colours are taking over the landscape.

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Sold our house, poked some cherries, and autumn is coming

It’s been a great couple of weeks! Here are some highlights:

House

IMG_8458First, we FINALLY sold our house in Nova Scotia! It was a long, expensive, stressful year with a empty house 4 time zones away. Now a wonderful young family owns it and we couldn’t be happier knowing there is someone else living in the house who will love it as much as we did.

I thought it would be instant relief, but it seems to be taking a bit to sink in. I wonder if it is going to feel like we got huge raises without funnelling so much of our income to Nova Scotia.

I also feel a bit like we’ve done what everyone else does when they are 60+ years old and their kids have finally moved out. We skipped the kids, drastically downsized earlier in life, sold our big house, and now we live in a little rental house in a touristy town where people come to have their summer vacation 🙂

Cherries

There is a man who drives a fruit truck up here from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia every two weeks. Last week when he was here I got a huge bag of cherries, oranges, and peaches. The cherries are awesome! But after snacking on them for a couple days and barely making a dent, I knew I had to do more!

They aren’t the kind you would traditionally bake with, but a found a recipe that is basically like rhubarb crisp, but with cherries, and instead of an crumbly base, it used more of a biscuit recipe on top. Perfect! But I don’t have a cherry pitter!

I Googled for a solution and ended up using an empty beer bottle, placing a cherry on top, and then plunging a sharp stick you use to hold olives in your drink (why do we own this?), and poking the pit through the cherry and into the beer bottle.

It worked pretty well! I did end up with stained hands, but that’s okay! Here’s how it looked:

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Rhubarb and my Garden

Rhubarb seemed to be just a spring treat other places I’ve lived, but they seem to have it at our farmer’s market here every weekend. I keep meaning to freeze it, and somehow it ends up chopped up and in a rhubarb crisp in the oven. It just happened again. Smells delicious!

My garden hasn’t had a great July. My tomato plants were so big and green in June, but this month they got so yellow and I just assumed somehow the pails I planted them in weren’t draining, because we’ve had so much rain. Finally I did a bit of research to discover a lack of nitrogen could also be the cause. Duh! Now with a couple fertilizer doses, they are doing WAY better. They are just cherry tomato plants so hopefully we can still get a good harvest before any frost hits (first frost was August 3rd last summer!). My cucumber had a late start and it is flowering, but I don’t know if there is enough time!

On the other hand, the herbs are almost unrecognizable! 24 hours of light grew oregano and sage with GIANT leaves. My basil and chives are doing really nice too.

We aren’t supposed to have a greenhouse or a garden in the ground at this rental house, but we’re already scheming for how we can do better next year. Luckily we have so many great produce growers at our farmer’s market!

Grayling

We’ve had some incredible meals this week. A moose roast. A caribou roast. Cherries. Rhubarb. And twice we’ve had Arctic Grayling that Jeff caught. So far I haven’t managed to catch one. It is both awesome and frustrating to fish when you can see the fish. I just keep casting and casting trying to entice the fish. Sometimes I even bonked them on the head or back with the hook and lure.

Can you see the fish in the next photo? Look between those fireweed flowers and the stick above them floating in the river. He is likely still there right now because he refused to be caught.

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But these 3 Jeff caught pretty easily! They were delicious!

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Autumn

It feels like fall is coming quickly now. Last night, after midnight, we were packing some things for our fishing trip today, and we had to turn the lights on!!!! The lights!

We’ve seen some trees looking a bit yellow when we’re travelling to our fishing hole up the Dempster. Soon we’ll have frost, cranberries to pick, and Jeff will be hunting. Actually hunting season starts tomorrow!

We’ve had rain every day for weeks. I haven’t spent enough time outside soaking up sun this summer! This week there is no rain in the forecast, so here’s hoping this forecast sticks! I have a few more freckles ready to hatch before my skin retreats beneath my winter wear!

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Exploring the gold field roads south of Dawson City

We didn’t have any weekend plans, so yesterday we spontaneously decided to take a drive out through the gold fields – back on Bonanza, Quartz Creek, Sulphur, Eureka, Dominion, and Hunker Roads.

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Fireweed, Yukon’s flower. People say you can tell how many weeks of summer are left by how many flowers have yet to bloom at the top of the stalk.

It was a really smokey day. There are lots of fires burning in Alaska right now so the conditions must have been right to push the smoke in our area. 20160716-DSC_0002

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve had beautiful sunny days, with blue skies. During the day the thunder clouds start building and by supper time, we’ll have a quick rain. A couple of times these storms turned into little monsoons! On Thursday it was building for hours with lots of rumbling, and then it dumped marble sized hail on us. My tomato plants don’t seem very impressed. After each storm the temperature drops about 10 degrees.

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Here is the head of the Ridge Road trail near King Solomon’s Dome. It has a 360 degree amazing view, but was smoked in a bit today.

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If you aren’t familiar with the placer gold mining we have around here, gold is found in the dirt and gravels from ancient river beds. It can range from small nuggets to flakes and almost flour like little specs. Anyone can stake a claim and find gold by using a gold pan, but most miners do it on a bigger scale using heavy equipment, big wash plants or trommels, and gigantic sluices to separate the gold from the rocks and dirt. Separating the gold relies on the fact that gold is 19 times heavier than water, so they try to catch the gold in riffels and mats while washing away the dirt.

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This gold miner is using big conveyor belts to move the top dirt out of the way of the dirt with gold in it that he’ll process.

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We have pretty wildflowers growing in the most unlikely places, like on the road.

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Swimming hole with an old crane and line to swing on.

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Top of an old dredge

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Because gold mining is so reliant on water for separating the dirt from the gold, active mines usually have access to a creek for water, and then may build a reservoir pond to hold water for them to reuse, and often will have a series of settling ponds so the water is clean when it is released back into the river (rather than muddy).

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Tons of cool mushrooms around. I’ve gotta learn which ones we can eat.

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History everywhere

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I’m going to guess this water piping was used for power generation. Likely for the dredges.

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1937

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Old cabin beside the water pipes. Old electrical lines here too

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Another old cabin in the woods. It had power wired up inside too.

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Old garage beside the cabin

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The tin on some of the roof and garage walls was just flattened tin containers. Inside they used flattened cardboard boxes for wall boards and insulation.

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Of course I went in!

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Cardboard boxes were addressed to the Yukon Gold Corporation in Bear Creek. Most were eggs, meat, milk, and margarine.

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Small hole in the floor. Cold storage? Wasn’t really very deep though.

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Newspaper from the Vancouver Sun was part of the flooring. Couldn’t make out the year.

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Back to the far side of the garage building.

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Looks like someone dumped their burn barrel recently looking for treasures.

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And just found a lot of rotten, rusty old cans.