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Bonding in the bush in Canada’s Yukon


The Yukon is sometimes referred to as part of Canada’s final frontier but to us the significance goes far deeper than that. This is the last vacation we will have together as a family so it is, in a way, our final frontier. When we landed in Whitehorse we had to go to pick up our car rental. We arrived at the desk where the attendant immediately welcomed us like we were old friends. “I expected you guys on the last flight.” I’m not sure why but it was nice to be greeted in this fashion. I had anticipated some rough driving so had rented a nice big SUV complete with a welcome sun roof. Quite a bit better than the usual compact we tend to get. The boys enjoyed the added comfort and it just seemed the right vehicle for the type of driving we’d be doing. Who knows what the roads are going to be like in some of the places we’re going. As we were about to leave the man asked if we wanted tire and windshield insurance for about 8 dollars a day. I thought that rather steep, after all we’d have the car for 12 days. I also wondered what this was all about. Is this some new northern scam? I looked at him and said, “What, are you kidding me?” and declined the extra insurance. As it turned out this is far from a scam and I would highly recommend that anyone take this extra coverage. The chance of you driving through the Yukon without a major tire or windshield mishap is slim to none.

The Carcross region is an interesting throw back to a time when mining and the railway ruled this part of the world. It’s very picturesque and it’s difficult not to think of the pioneer settlers as they came here in search of their fortune in gold. The region also contains a real desert. Not what you would expect to find in the Yukon, but it is billed as the world’s smallest desert. Having an off road vehicle allowed us to take a circular route around the outside. It wasn’t that long a drive; after all, this is the world’s smallest desert. What an incredible opportunity to see a part of our country that most people never will. The first thing you need to do is change your attitude and priorities. Slow down, where do you have to be that’s that important? Relax and enjoy life, this is one beautiful province.

Dawson City is our ultimate destination in the Yukon so we pack up the SUV and head north. As we approached Haines Junction it became very clear to all of us why we had chosen to come to the Yukon for a holiday. The natural scenic beauty is mind boggling. It truly does take your breath away. Sadly, we had constant sightings of the fire devastated forests of years gone by; but it’s all part of nature. From the ashes a new forest will arise in years to come.

As we advanced further north we realized that most of the roads were now gravel dirt and dust – what’s asphalt? Suddenly there’s a cannon shot and a starburst appears on the windshield just to my right. Ah, that’s what they meant by windshield insurance!

The Top of the World highway is a gravel road and it does indeed cross over the top of the mountain, the top of the world. It made me think about the pioneers and how they ever survived because as you cross one mountain there’s nothing but more mountains as far as the eye can see. How depressing; how did they ever motivate themselves to go on – especially in the freezing paralyzing cold totally dark all day and all night winters!

Arrival in Dawson City late in the afternoon was almost a religious experience. This old mining town was paramount in Canada’s northern history, from bust to boom to bust again as the gold rush flourished then died away. It grabs you and reels you in with its incredible old buildings, hotels, saloons, gambling halls and wooden walkways. The entire town has only dirt roads and what a dust bowl it is; but it just wouldn’t feel right if the roads were paved. It seemed that we had the town to ourselves which just added to the mystique and warm feeling.

A day in Dawson City is something everyone should put on their list of things to do before they die. It is an amazing town everywhere you turn. I found the old hotels and saloons take you back to the gold rush days with no effort whatsoever. The wooden walkways and verandas are so great to see because, let’s face it, you just don’t see them anymore. Just standing there was like living in the past. This is one great town.

After dinner Karen and I decided to take a drive on our own up to Midnight Dome, a hill with a great overlook view of the town. We thought we’d catch the sunset, not thinking at the time that that isn’t going to happen because here in the land of the midnight sun, the sun does not truly set.

As we got out of the car to walk around the dome, we heard a sickening electronic click clunk sound as the doors locked automatically. It was sickening because, here, at the top of an isolated hill with no one around, I had left the keys in the ignition. After all, we’re in the North. You don’t need to worry about keys or break ins. Well, yeah, we need to worry about break ins because now we’re going to have to break into the car somehow. We thought and thought and then, YES, the sunroof; and it’s open! Climbing up onto the roof was hard enough but trying to get in through the sunroof was a chore and a half. Luckily I was able to get in enough to grab the keys.

We decided to do something really different for us. We decided we were going to play golf. Now none of us really golf, but oh what a hoot when you basically have the course to yourself and you get to play at 10 PM under the midnight sun. The Top Of The World Golf Course in Dawson City is fairly hilly and very heavily forested, both things that would only add to the challenge for us. We rented clubs and electric carts and bought a couple dozen balls, so we were ready to go, all for a very reasonable price.

Both boys play the game like I do; try to kill the ball, and all you get is a great 200 yard drive, 2 fairways over. With Adam, being a body builder, it’s a 300 yard drive, 3 fairways over. The carts just made it more fun than you can imagine. It’s lucky that there wasn’t anyone else on the course or we’d have been asked to leave. There is no way anyone would have been able to play behind us; between us constantly going from fairway to fairway chasing the balls to Adam ramming Gavin in the carts; true golfers would never have tolerated us. Mini golf has always been a family holiday activity but this is the first time we’ve ever played a full game. It’s sad that we waited until now to try it, but we couldn’t have picked a better spot and we won’t likely ever have this unobstructed (by other golfers) opportunity to play again.

There’s a lovely canyon right in Whitehorse called Miles Canyon. We decided a hike through the area was in keeping with the type of thing we do on vacation and knew it would reward us with some fabulous vistas. To watch an eagle fly is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. Seeing them in this very picturesque canyon was the icing on the cake as the chance to hike in the awesome northlands with our boys was the real treat.

We wanted to do something special on our last day in the Yukon so we went down to the river and arranged a canoe trip. We rented the canoes for a few hours. Armed with a designated pick up time and point we headed out on our final adventure. The Yukon River has a very strong current so you can only canoe in one direction, downstream. This made the going relatively easy and the trip was fast, but we enjoyed some grand vistas from a vantage point not gained any other way. We had a nice island stop for lunch then we were on our way to the pick up point. It was relatively easy to find as we scanned the river banks and inlets for signs of the van and trailers to take us back to the starting point in Whitehorse.

This truly was our last adventure together. It is so sad to realize that this will be the last vacation we take with the boys. They have grown into fine young men and now university, jobs and girlfriends will make it impossible for them to get away for extended periods of time. We’ve had a fabulous run; 17 years of great vacations and wonderful adventures. I can only hope that they have enjoyed it as much as we have and that, some day, they can do the same with their own children. It makes your life complete.

More by Eric Whitehead in his book ‘Then there Was One‘.

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