In our last post, we chronicled our trip across the Top of the World Highway and across the border into Canada. The first town you reach once into the Yukon is Dawson City and because of the rich history of the area, we knew we would spend a few days exploring.
The only way to cross the Yukon River and get into Dawson City from the west is via the free George Black Ferry that runs 24 hours per day anytime the Yukon River is not frozen. We had some concerns with the entrance and departure angles of the ferry and were worried that the trailer might drag, especially when departing, but we took it slow and didn’t end up having any trouble. The ferry staff might have gotten a bit perturbed with us about how slow we were going, though.
Once in Dawson City, we opted to get a more expensive camping spot at an RV park right in town so we would be close to everything and within walking distance of many of the attractions. Dawson City is a very walkable town, so it was a great choice, even if it wasn’t the most budget friendly option.
On Friday, we spent the day browsing around town. This small town of about 1,500 residents was 30,000 people strong during the gold rush and was known as the “Paris of the North”. It was a town of great wealth and was the place to see and be seen. Because of that, there were many beautiful buildings that were built, some of which are still standing, and unlike most historic towns we have visited, it isn’t just one small area to see. The entire town has restored buildings, buildings that haven’t been restored but are still standing from many years ago, boardwalk sidewalks, and the general feel of being old and well-loved. All of this, along with the dirt roads, helps the town to maintain the feeling of an old mining town. We spent a very long time wandering the streets and enjoying the unique atmosphere of this place.
We enjoyed seeing the outside of the buildings so much that we opted to take a historic town tour that would give us a little more info about the town, but also allow us to go into three buildings that had been beautifully restored by Parks Canada. In this tour, we were shown the inside of the old post office, bank, and one of the many saloons from the era. It was great to see inside and to get some insight from our tour guide regarding the buildings, the history of the town, as well as some information about what life is like now in Dawson City. We had noticed that many of the buildings were built on pilings and learned on our tour that it is because of the permafrost. If you build right on the ground here, the heat from the building will melt the permafrost underneath and the building will start sinking and leaning. We saw many examples of this on our walk around town. Even on pilings, our tour guide said, it is still usually necessary to jack up and shim the buildings every 5 to 10 years as they settle and lean due to the changes in the permafrost.
We also visited the Jack London Museum. There was a wealth of information and photos from his life inside the museum itself, but the most interesting part was the replica of the cabin that he is believed to have stayed in while he was in the Yukon. When the cabin was found in the 1960s, there was a dispute between Canada and the United States about which country should have the cabin to display. A compromise was reached and the cabin was dismantled with half the logs going to this museum in Dawson City and the other half going to a museum in Oakland, CA. Each museum used the original logs and other logs cut from the same area to construct a replica.
Yesterday we spent the day on Bonanza Creek Road. In 1896, gold was found in Rabbit Creek and the ground was so rich that the creek was renamed Bonanza Creek. This discovery is what sparked the gold rush of 1898. How could we be in the area and not go see it?
This drive was truly astounding. The evidence of past and present mining was everywhere you looked! From the snake-like dredge tailings that lined the road almost continuously, to watching an excavator feed a working wash plant, you couldn’t look anywhere without seeing a past or present mine. Even though our tour guide yesterday told us that mining is still the number one industry in the Yukon economy, we were still very surprised at the number of current mines in operation in the area. We tend to think of mining as a thing of the past, but up here it is still a very real way of making a living and a vital part of the economy.
Our first stop along Bonanza Creek Road was Gold Dredge Number 4. Yes, another gold dredge. This one is the largest wooden-hulled dredge in North America and was built in 1912. It was one of over TWO DOZEN dredges that worked the area during that time period. No wonder there were so many tailings piles along our drive! This was also the best maintained of the six dredges we have seen on our trip.
We couldn’t go down Bonanza Creek Road without stopping at the Discovery Claim. This was where gold was first found along Bonanza Creek and was the first claim staked. There is a nice walking trail with tons of signs and we loved learning about the men who first found the gold and a bit about their lives. There was also a lot of information about the different ways gold has been mined in the area over the years. There was a set of Parks Canada red chairs along the claim on the bank of Bonanza Creek, so you know we had to try those out, too! It was amazing to sit in the chairs and reflect on the fact that the gold rush got its start RIGHT HERE and to think about the excitement that must have been felt in this spot!
Finally, we had the opportunity to travel to Claim 6 where we were allowed to do our own Bonanza Creek gold panning. We spent a couple of hours and found six or seven tiny flakes, so we definitely didn’t hit it rich, but the experience is what we will remember! How many people can say they have panned for gold in Bonanza Creek?!
We highly recommend a trip to Dawson City if you ever have the opportunity. There are a million things to do that kept us busy for the two full days we spent in the area. We could have stayed several more days and still not hit all the activities that sounded interesting to us! For now, though, further south we go!
Until next time!