Day Forty Three marked the beginning of our second journey up the gorgeous Alaska Highway. This time in the opposite direction, and headed on a much different adventure, with the ultimate goal of fulfilling Teegan’s bucketlist item of “going to the Arctic Circle”.
Our first night on the road following our six night stay in Dawson Creek with our amazing family was spent at Muskwa River; a recreational camping site off the Alaska Highway. It was a brief overnight stay that included an evening family hike while we did a little fishing. A campfire and some s’mores concluded the night and we prepared for the next days travel, deeper into the Northern Rockies.
Next up was Muncho Lake. Typically a two hour drive from where we began, that turned into nearly six for us! Once again, we couldn’t get enough of the photo opportunities and stopped frequently to experience as much as possible, while taking our time to observe the beauty and do things like; a stop at Testa River Lodge, a family run campground and gas bar, that also serves homemade delights a plenty! A definite must stop for one of their infamous cinnamon buns. You won’t regret it, and we don’t either! We enjoyed a photo opportunity at Stone Mountain and next Doug dropped in a line at Toad River, while the boys and I hunted for the perfect spot for a few more …. You guessed it, pictures! Toad River is a real gem, a marvelous aqua marine with a stone shore line set amongst the towering Northern Rockies. The most memorable wildlife sighting on this leg of the journey was the family of caribou we observed drinking from and grazing next to a stream a long side the highway. The kids were delighted, and it was nice to finally spot a few in the wild.
Twelve kilometres of jade-colored water will tell you that you have reached Muncho Lake. We enjoyed a lake side camping site amongst the spectacularly folded mountains. It was incredible to say the least! That night we observed a magnificently large and glistening moon, hanging perfectly over the mountains through our bedroom window. The next day we witnessed that same glorious moon and sun pass each other in the sky at exactly 11:11 a.m., while we all made a special wish. The lake was unbelievably still during our stay. Observing the mountains reflect so heavily on the mirror like water motivated us to seek tranquility within, and immerse ourselves in the strength of the mountains and calmness of the water. There were many moments experienced in this state, and some moments not so much … because well … that’s real life … Teegan was frustrated and disappointed with a snagged fishing line and later broken fishing rod, and Hudson was hard to please on this morning hike along the lake. Mel decided to bring the boys back to the RV to give them lunch and Doug some breathing room, which proved positive for everyone. On Doug’s travel back to Murtle he found what is now his favorite walking stick, Jaga. Doug has an unexplained connection to this interestingly thick and curvaceous stick. Teegan helped him identify animals within it’s body, at the head it resembles a lion and at it’s tip a snake. Jaga has now joined us on many hikes. Later that day we continued on the single lane highway, sandwiched tight between the lake and the mountain towards Liard River Provincial Park for our long awaited visit to the natural hot-springs!
A brief one hour drive, and we arrived at Canada’s second largest hotspring: Liard River Provincial Park; a natural oasis tucked away in the Boreal forest. An enchanting walk on a wooden boardwalk leads you to the hot spring pools, as it passes through a warm water swamp that supports rich and diverse plant, mammal and bird communities. It’s mineral and algae rich waters are a local favorite to regional moose. We settled into our site and then loaded up the boys into our little red wagon and headed to seek some soaking serenity. We felt spoiled as we explored the beauty of this area in the slow paced and quiet off season. It was the perfect fall setting as the spade shaped, brilliant yellow birch leaves fell gently on the waters of this tranquil bathing gem! Our two days here were spent cleansing our souls and Murtle! An afternoon was spent boiling water over an open fire to do outdoor laundry. A classic catch up day. This was complemented well by resting our bodies in the springs… as well as the occasional hammock nap … the boys enjoyed times to be silly and expend their energy in the modern forest themed playground…. It’s all about balance …. Right?!
That evening following dinner and a camp fire, Mel turned the propane hot water heater on to have a shower and forgot to turn it off. The hot water heating, and the furnace running all night resulted in a very cold cabin the next morning. We were out of propane, and would have to travel 3 hours north to Watson Lake, the closet place to fill our on-board propane tank. The silver lining in being forced to travel first thing in the morning is that you have a lot better chance at seeing wildlife along the way. We had the pleasure of seeing a wolf, bald eagle, golden eagle, black bear cub and bison (by the hundreds). We arrived at Watson Lake on Sunday to discover that most of the locally owned businesses were closed. This including the only service station in town capable of filling our propane tank. We were forced into an overnight stay at the Downtown RV park; a fully serviced parking lot with clean bathrooms, hot showers, wifi and reasonably priced laundry facilities. Basically everything we needed to get ourselves ready for our trek to Whitehorse. That afternoon we enjoyed lunch at a local restaurant, followed by an interpretive trail walk featuring information posts on local fauna that is used in traditional native practices around Wye Lake. Mel and the kids enjoyed searching for pine cones for a nature inspired hedgehog craft they had in mind. It was early to bed for everyone and a snowy start to our next day. Doug grinned gleefully at the one inch blanket of white stuff that coated our table and camp stove while he prepared coffee and breakfast in his housecoat. We then headed to the service station for propane, but on route discovered we had a flat tire. We received directions to a local tire shop from the service attendant, and a very busy local man squeezed us in and had our valve stem replaced and us on the road in no time!
Four hours further north put us in the Capital city of the Yukon Territory, Whitehorse. Finding camping in or near the city was impossible but, we were able to find a boondocking spot in the mountains, not to far from the city center. It was a perfect spot over looking the city and Long Lake. Teegan was disappointed with the amount of trash near the site from previous campers, and worked hard that evening to pick it up. We later relished the sounds of Doug playing guitar near the campfire on a clear and crispy evening. While in Whitehorse, we enjoyed visiting the Canada Games Center; a multi-use community sport, recreation and wellness facility. We were impressed with the reasonable entry fee for non members and felt as though we were on a mini water park holiday when we entered the well equipped pool area. A wading pool, lazy river, water-slide, hot tub, steam room and lap pool offered us plenty to enjoy! Following a swim, the boys loved interacting with other children on the indoor play ground. The facility also offered an indoor hockey arena and recreational skating surface, as well as an indoor soccer field and multi use court. An onsite Booster Juice and Subway were also available. We loved the emphasis on healthy active living that the city portrays. This coupled with the gorgeous mountain scenery and an encouraging atmosphere to adventure and explore made us feel that this city could quite easily be a place a young family could call home.
After a few days stay in the capital city, we celebrated 50 days on the road! In true adventurer fashion, we began preparing for our trip to the Arctic Circle. First we headed to the cities tourist center, and chatted with a very friendly and helpful employee. She provided us with knowledge and plenty of reassurance that us and Murtle would surely make it there and back in one piece. Upon hearing of our previous experiences with remote travel and dirt roads, she promised that if she was able to take the trek herself in a Toyota Corolla that we too would be just fine! We spent the entire following day preparing for the next destination on our journey. This included topping up on all of our fuel sources, filling our water tank, doing laundry, getting groceries and renting a satellite phone (as the Dempster Highway offers nothing in the way of communication otherwise). We vowed to use it only in the event of an emergency, as the per minute cost was pretty pricey, but the cost would most definitely outweigh the risk of being stranded on a highway in tourist off-season, when you’d be lucky to see another vehicle once or twice a day. And we’re happy to report that no S.O.S. calls were necessary!
The evening before our departure we enjoyed a stay at the Tahkini Hotpools. In comparison to our stay at Liard River, this place fell short. The prices and rules were a bit too much, and access to the pool is not included with your camping fee. The plus side was that we were able to enjoy a relaxing 36°- 42° Celsius swim in the naturally mineral rich waters. The boys were thrilled with the opportunity to swim gleefully outdoors, while never once being able to complain that they were cold! After our dip, we prepared a fire and began simmering a few dishes for the trip; a chili and beef stew were prepared. While the beef stew was cooling on the table outside awaiting it’s transfer into freezer storage containers, a red fox decided to invite himself for dinner! It didn’t take him long to realize he wasn’t alone, and he scurried off, to Mel’s relief leaving the stew untouched. Next was the debate of who was going out to get it! Mel and Teeg immediately counted themselves out, but not without Doug refusing too! This left Mel heading out to retrieve the pot.
The succeeding morning we set out to do a few more “touristy” things! We were excited to celebrate 50 days on the road, and our imminent travel on the Klondike Highway in search of the 736km gravel Dempster Highway! But, not without a bit of a hiccup! The grey/black tank release valve had frozen shut! Doug spent thirty minutes outside with a hairdryer begging that this would be the solution... and to our relief… or maybe I should say release … it worked!! Tanks were drained, and we were Northbound!
Our next stops in Whitehorse before hitting the Klondike highway were Bean North and the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. The Bean North Coffee Roasting Company is a certified organic fair trade coffee cafe in the northern Boreal Forest; just north-west of the beautiful city. We were encouraged by locals to check it out, and we’re happy we did! A few souvenirs and two delectable London fog’s later, we were off to The Yukon Wildlife Preserve; a unique wildlife viewing property, featuring many northern Canadian mammal species in their natural environment. Encompassing over 700 acres with various natural habitats, the Yukon Wildlife Preserve is an amazing place to catch an up close look at thin horned sheep, muskox, mountain goats, woodland caribou, lynx, moose, arctic and red fox, mule deer, elk and wood bison. We chose to take the interpreted bus tour, and we were delighted that we did, Doug (our wildlife tour guide) was fantastic! He was very impressed with the boys knowledge of the animals, especially Teegan’s enthusiasm and interest! Doug stated he’d gladly take Teegan as a staff member and was in awe of what an intelligent, articulate, friendly and kind boy he is! Parenting win!!
That night we drove to Ethel Lake, a special place that unexpectedly took us 24km off the highway, through a twisting, turning, narrow, dirt, mountain back road to a very small, private and unoccupied campground. A long drive day, and a crisp evening brought everyone indoors early. The boys and daddy enjoyed a generator powered and fun fueled video game night!
The Dempster highway is about as remote as it gets – taking you through mountains, over great rivers, and even crossing the Arctic Circle. It begins 40km east of Dawson City, YT on the Klondike Highway. There are no highway or major road intersections along the highway's route. It extends in a north-northeasterly direction to Inuvik, passing through Tombstone Territorial Park and crossing the Ogilvie and Richardson mountain ranges. There are no facilities on the Dempster Highway until you reach Eagle Plains (km 371), Fort McPherson (km 553) or Inuvik (the end of the Dempster). Our travel day from the beginning of the Dempster to the Arctic Circle sign at Eagle Plains, YT is one we’ll surely never forget!! From stunning mountain vistas, barren frost nipped tundra, elevations that kept Doug white knuckled and sweating at the wheel as we kissed the clouds, to jaw dropping sunsets, we were truly blessed with nature’s finest display on this journey, and plenty of space and privacy to take it all in!! That evening we reached 66° latitude, the Arctic Circle! A gigantic and victorious check mark on Teegan’s bucketlist!!
We boondocked in the Eagle Plains Motel and Service Station parking lot, the one and only stop. We had the pleasure of enjoying sunset, and camping at the Arctic Circle sign. Eagle Plains is an expansive area of rolling hills between the Ogilvie and Richardson Mountain ranges, along the Dempster Highway. The area is high in elevation and sits above the treeline. The ground is covered in mosses, lichens, and shrubs. During our visit, all said vegetation was covered in heavy permafrost, due to the fifteen below October weather. Prior to departure, we had contemplated continuing our journey to Inuvik to catch a glimpse of the Mackenzie Delta’s but, unfortunately due to increasingly cooler temperatures and an impending snow storm to the north, we decided to head south. On our descent through the mountains, back to Tombstone Territorial Park, we met our goal of travelling 10,000 km!!!
We adored the Tombstone Mountains, and as promised to ourselves we setup camp for a couple of days. We spent the following days hiking the interpretive trails, chopping firewood, as well as fetching and boiling water from the North Klondike River. The North Klondike River is a tributary of the Yukon River, that gave its name to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896. We witnessed this arm of the river transform from vivaciously running, to a brilliantly frozen trickle over the course of 24hrs. During this trip Doug and I began to acknowledge how we’d slowed down, how our days were simpler, conversations more meaningful and exercise was plentiful. A feeling of contentment in our state of disconnect from technology. Truly living, truly happy!
Thank you to all of our continued supporters, we need and appreciate all of you!!
Mel, Doug, Teeg & Huds xoxo