Friday, November 8, 2013

Never Cry Wolf.

Day 1 in Whitehorse.  Whee!

I am on Yukon soil at last, and I can barely contain my excitement as Marlaine lets me go to the bathroom at the Whitehorse Airport. 

LOL  Ok, that just came out of my weird brain, and it stays.  I really did have to use the washroom, though, hence the excitement!  Really, though, I could barely contain my excitement as we threw my crap into Mar's car, belted ourselves in and I chugged the entire Kanteen of water that she had brought for me.  Flying is dehydrating, I have decided.  Then I clutched my latte and my breakfast sandwich and gleefully looked out the window as we took off in search of adventure! 

I could hardly believe I was there.  I know some people dream of visiting the islands, or travelling overseas.  Me?  I have always loved exploring Canada.  While taking some business studies courses in university, I somehow found myself adopted by a group of international students.  Even though they were here to experience Canada, they delighted in taking me to different restaurants in the city to try cuisine from all of the places they hailed from.  It's so funny - as I write this, I find myself sad that I lost touch with this group.  I can't remember their names or faces, but I remember feeling so lucky that they had scooped me up.  Lucky, because they opened up my eyes to how the world sees Canada.  They all wanted to come to Canada because once you are here, it is relatively easy to take in many extremely contrasting landscapes and cultures.  You can go to B.C. to see the Rockies.  You can go to Alberta to see badlands.  You can go to the prairies for sun gleaming off wheat fields as far as the eye can see.  You can go north and see wildlife that differs significantly from what you'd see in southwestern Ontario.  You can go whale watching in New Brunswick.  You can work on your French in Quebec.  You can take in a maritime culture on the east coast.  You can see red dirt in P.E.I.!  Suddenly, I didn't feel so boring for loving any chance I got to travel in my own country.

I have been to almost every province, save Newfoundland (I'll get there!), but I honestly never thought I'd have a chance to set foot in any of the territories.  I remember studying them in school, and I have spent hours making myself motion sick from zooming in and out of the northern shores of Canada on Google Earth, amazed by the different terrains.  I mean, check this out - this is an image of the terrain around Tuktoyaktuk.  So crazy!

And yet, here I was! I must say, I am so fortunate that it was Marlaine who I was coming to visit, because she planned out a visit that was custom designed for me - that is one of her specialties!  She absolutely knew what I would enjoy and what would make for a meaningful trip.

First stop, was anything BUT a stop.  We went for a drive that started on the Alaska Highway and turned into the Klondike Highway, and we went all the way south into British Columbia until we hit the U.S./Canada border and we turned around and came home again.  It was so cool, because I found out later that the South Klondike highway pretty much parallels the route that the prospectors took during the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1800s. This drive has been heralded as one of the country's most scenic routes, and I would have to agree, given that I spent pretty much the entire drive like this:

Before we kicked off this road trip, we took a quick spin around Whitehorse, so I could see what it looked like on the ground, and then we drove up the mountain that most closely overlooks the city - Grey Mountain.  There were a few lookout points, and as I got out to take a look around, I felt like my lungs were being deep cleaned.  You always hear people talk about "mountain air" - I am totally a convert.  The air was so, so crisp and I could smell the trees.  And... one of the thrills of my trip was soaking in how different the lifestyle is in the north.  Being outdoors and being active are just part of the culture in Whitehorse.  And there are so many really interesting and different ways to accomplish this.  For example, when is the last time you saw one of these clubs within 5 minutes of your house?

I've been home for over a week now, and I am still completely enchanted with life in Whitehorse.  I mean, come on... you can hike up a mountain on your lunch break!

Anyway, once we'd seen the city from Grey Mountain, we headed out on our southern sojourn.  It was a perfect way to start my stay, as it allowed us to chat and catch up, but also to marvel at the scenery and the wildlife.  We'd get out of the car from time to time to really take in the view, and then we'd carry on. 

One of our first stops was Carcross.  Carcross was originally a fishing and hunting camp for First Nations people and was once called Caribou Crossing.  Later, this community became a stop for prospectors during the gold rush years who were enroute to Dawson City.  Today, Carcross has a population of just under 300, is home to the tiniest and cutest post office I've ever seen, and also boasts a wickedly good coffee shop!  It also seemed a bit like a deserted town - likely because it wasn't really tourist season.  There was a random dog just walking down the middle of one of the streets, and there were ravens sitting on signs and houses wherever you looked. We stopped for a walk around, and some lattes and a washroom break.  The washroom break proved to be educational for this traveller.  I felt compelled to document the sign taped to the coffee shop's bathroom door:

As we drove south, we also drove up and up into the mountains.  The scenery was mind blowing!  Signs everywhere warned of avalanches and rock slides. We drove and drove and chatted.  We especially had fun playing a crude version of wildlife bingo.  This basically meant that every time we saw something move, we'd freak out and yell, "LOOK!"
At one point, I thought that I saw mountain goats up on a mountain (duh!). Marlaine pulled over and we got out to take a look.  And when I say I thought I saw mountain goats, I should clarify.  They weren't nibbling grass beside the highway.  They were wayyy, wayyy up there, but there was no doubt they were mountain goats when Marlaine shouted, “GOOOOOAAAAAATSSSS!” and they treated us to a short 1.5 metre shuffle.  I was so excited!  Fluffy, distinguished mountain goats! 

We kept driving and soaking it all in.  As we drove, I began to accept that Marlaine was a bit of a knee jerk roadside animal fanatic.  Meaning, we would be driving, and suddenly she’d inhale sharply, brake, veer off the road and breathlessly exclaim, “What was that!”  I have no idea how, but she spotted a bald eagle who landed in a tree top about 300 feet away from us.  I won’t question her abilities – they are uncanny, but it certainly taught me to hang on to my seat!  LOL  Plus, I saw a bald eagle!  Mountain goats and bald eagles - so far, it was a very stereotypical northern drive!
I was excited to pose along the way with signs that were memorable to me:
While Marlaine kindly humoured my sign "thing", we kept driving until we were running the wipers from the cloud condensation – we were literally in a cloud!  The whole topography had changed.  It went from towering dense forests of pines to spindly trees and an almost phosphorescent yellow lichen everywhere.  We finally came across the American border, but since I am a homebody Canadian weirdo, I didn’t have a passport and we couldn’t go into Alaska.  That would have been really cool, but I could at least SEE Alaska, and according to local conspiracy theories, I flew over it too.  I got out of the car, took a picture, and scrambled back into the car because it was flipping FREEZING!  The change in temperatures that corresponded with the changes in altitude were fascinating!
U.S. customs... way off in the fog/cloud.  :-)
On our way back up the highway and down the mountains, we pulled over and took a short hike down to the river.  Before Marlaine got out of the car, she said, “hey, check this out!” and I turned around to see her displaying a giant canister of bear spray!  This was because, as she and everyone else in Whitehorse says, "why be stupid?"  We climbed over rocks and through branches and groundcover where Marlaine showed me Kinnikinnick berries, I found a pile of caribou poop (ok, for those of you paying attention, this was my lame link to the teaser at the end of yesterday's post), and we found utopia.  Gorgeous rushing river, trees, pure mountain air, surrounded by mountain peaks.  Blissful.

Headed back up the highway.  I was happily taking pictures and chatting away, when Marlaine freaked out and yelled, “WOLF!”  I was so, SO excited!  An honest to goodness wolf would be the ultimate Yukon “find”.  We saw the wolf trotting down the highway in front of a pick-up truck – presumably driven by someone else who was excited to get a glimpse of this northern species.  As we got closer, it became obvious that we had been duped - mostly by our over-eager selves.  Turns out that our majestic wolf was just a dog, and the pick-up truck following it was being driven by the dog’s owner – a jolly woman waving hello as she “took her dog out for a walk” along the Klondike Highway.  Wolf sighting FAIL!
As we continued on, we came around one bend, and I couldn't help but gasp at what I saw.  The majesty of the mountains seemed to be captured at one amazing lookout.  Here was my best attempt to capture it, but as is always the photographer's lament, the picture simply doesn't do it justice.
As we eventually made our way back to Whitehorse, one of Marlaine's favourite spots became my favourite "jump out and snap a picture" memories.  As we crossed through Carcross on our way back home, she pointed out the Carcross Desert.  A desert nestled in the mountains!  What a fascinating sight that was.  It felt so neat to walk across the sand to find a shot that framed the contrast between two extraordinary natural wonders.
With time trudging on, and Marlaine's family at their house eagerly waiting to welcome me, we headed home in the setting sun feeling nostalgic, awestruck, and energized all at once.  I was stunned that within hours of getting off the plane, I had seen more than many people get to see in a lifetime. 

I am a lucky, lucky girl.

Next post:  We meet a lost Aussie, and I become.... The Ultimate Ptarmigan Tracker!

1 comment:

  1. Dancing goats, who knew? Love that you soaked up every bit of this trip! Gorgeous pics!