You Have to Go North to Go South

Carcross 2018-5

The road climbs significantly when you leave the coastal Alaskan town of Skagway. Like most of the Alaska coastal towns there is only one road, so you never need a GPS. The Canadian Border is not far away due to the narrowness of the Alaska panhandle on which the towns of Haines and Skagway are located. The US and Canadian customs buildings are not very close to each other and not close to the actual border, because the mountains are so steep on each side of the highway there is little room for even small buildings. This is another reminder of the harsh conditions that the treasure seekers faced during the Klondike Gold Rush.

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This road is another one of the stunning Alaska/Canada scenic drives. Celia and I have found it hard to comprehend how many beautiful journeys there are when you make the Alaska trip. The Icefields Parkway toward Jasper, AB, the Alaska Highway through the Kluane National Park, the Glenn Highway toward Glennallen, AK, the Richardson Highway to Valdez, AK, are just a few of the amazing passageways.

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As we headed north, we could see the first signs of the fires and smoke that were ahead of us.

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As you leave Skagway the largest town along the way is Carcross, YT, which has become a tourist destination on the road to Whitehorse, YT. This is because the White Pass tourist railroad sends hundreds of visitors to this small town as do numerous tour buses. Caribou Crossing as it was once called, is up to the challenge by creating infrastructure to emphasize its history and cultural background, in spite of having only about 300 residents.

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Carcross is the home of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation and it is on display as soon as you arrive. We visited both the community and the Parks Canada visitor centers. The national park center emphasizes the history of the Chilkoot Trail, a key passage way to the Klondike during the famous gold rush. It shows a film detailing the area history and significance. The town is also home of the Carcross Desert, dubbed the “world’s smallest”, and is famous for mountain biking.

We did not stay long and continued on to one of our favorite Yukon spots, Teslin Lake. We wanted to camp in the Teslin area so we could visit a local museum the next day. The George Johnston Museum in Teslin was not open for the season when we were making our way north in May (open June 1 to September 1), so we saved this for our return trip.

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Teslin Lake

George Johnston Museum

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We were the first visitors this morning at the museum and were encouraged to watch the movie of Johnston’s remarkable life. An Inland Tlingit, Johnston was the first person to purchase a car in Teslin, Yukon. The problem was that there were not any roads in the area! George had three friends build him a three mile road and then charged fares to eager riders so they could experience an automobile ride. He used the proceeds to pay back his buddies for their efforts. He soon learned that the frozen Teslin Lake was a perfect road for his car and it was almost 80 miles long. What better way to venture out ice fishing during the frigid winters but in your 1928 Chevy.

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George Johnston was quick to adapt new technology and he soon purchased a mail order box camera. He became an avid photographer whose favorite subjects were the people of the community. He also traveled extensively throughout the region, absorbing the culture and customs of others. This museum focuses on his life incorporating many of the images he produced, including the life-changing events that the building of the Alaska Highway through Teslin brought. Interestingly enough, his early road became part of the highway.

We are much farther north than when we left Skagway, Alaska. Soon we will turn off the Alaska Highway and travel south down the Cassiar Highway toward the lower 48.


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