May 12, 2017 Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, CANADA

Enjoyed a great stay in Skagway.  Saw it turn from a ghost town to a boom town when the cruise ship passengers streamed into town.  They boarded trains, buses, tour vans, and even Hummers to go up to White Pass.  We took our car to watch them unboard, shiver, and stair into the white.  Then they took pictures of the wild, pictures of each other, and pictures of themselves.  They had entered upon what seemed to them all the Arctic and it touched them.  We drove on and stopped to make short walks along the road.  Off road was a few feet of slushy over a vicious terrain of rocks that ranged in size from 2 centimeters to 2 kilometers with everything in between.  Hard walking when you can see the surface.  Now covered with soft and slippery ice, almost impossible. 

In spite of the conditions the birds were happy.  On the forested slopes we heard and saw the great Sooty Grouse strutting and hooting.  On the snow above were Willow Ptarmigan making a crackling call to lure in the shy lasses.  Robins, Hermit Thrush, and Fox Sparrows sang from sticks, Juncos and Lapland Longspurs were kicking at the edges of the snow.  Pairs of Herring Gull sat on rocks above lakes apparent only as turquoise flats of ice among the house-sized boulders.  I guess if one does not claim a territory now it will be gone when the ice melts. 

From Skagway started the White Pass Trail over the top.  From nearby Dyea started the Chilkoot Trail.  We visited that town to find one wall remaining.  The NPS is reopening some of the streets through the forest that has reclaimed the land.  In April of 1898 an avalanche on the Chilkoot Trail took seventy souls and took the spirit out of the town.  The railroad would soon begin passage from Skagway over the White Pass.  Skagway had a good harbor.  Dyea did not.  Today Skagway prospers as a service and transportation hub and as a great tourist town.  Dyea shut down. 

Yesterday we drove over the top again with our rig up the 11% grade and through the winter.  On this side the spring is about two weeks behind Juneau.  The pussy willow are shining and most of the buds are breaking on the other deciduous trees.  The dominant trees are White Spruce and Lodgepole Pine.  The trees are small.  We are in the Taiga forest of “matchstick trees.”  The lakes are partly frozen.  We’re camped near Marsh Lake which overflows to form the Yukon River which flows some two thousand miles to a point west of Anchorage into the Pacific Ocean.  The river is open but there is lots of ice along the shore and over the backwaters.

We enjoy the accent of the Yukon folk.  They think we talk funny.  They’re celebrating the start of the growing season.  Time to push in onions and start the cabbages  It is mid-May after all. 

Our furnace stopped starting this week.  That is not a crisis.  It is warm now after all, 55 this afternoon and we have an electric heater (when we have shore power) and a propane powered catalytic heater.  Still, it is nice to have and we were able to schedule service tomorrow.  I like to have heat when I go to Alaska.

This morning we found our first Ruffed Grouse of the year drumming on a log and saw a flock of Trumpeter Swan adorning a patch of ice on Marsh Lake.  I should mention the Mountain Goats looking down at us.  No sign of Moose or Caribou yet.  I watch closely for them when driving. 

Our sunrise is now 5:23 a.m. and sunset is 10:30 p.m and it is scarcely dark when the sun is down.  We have our aluminum blinds in place in the bedroom.  Even when cloudy the sun is relentless and pushing out the ice.  A few giant mosquitoes have already appeared but they fly to slow to catch you when you walk and are easily turned to crumbs with a slap of the hand.  All part of the experience.