Monday, June 19, 2017

Going to the dogs in the Yukon

My beautiful homeland of Canada turns 150 years young on July 1st.  I had really hoped to explore a place I hadn't been to before this year but as it doesn't look likely I decided to celebrate by writing blog posts about my travels in every province and territory.  Yes, I have visited every province and territory in Canada. Despite my passion for exploring the rest of the globe nobody can ever accuse me of not seeing my own country.

The reason I have visited them all is due to my walking club.  The Canadian Volkssport Federation is part of the International Volkssport Federation which covers many countries all over the world. Of the many walking programs they offer,  they have one that requires you to walk in every province and territory and also one in the capital city of every province and territory.  I started the programs in 2004 in Regina (of course!) and ended in Quebec City in 2012.  I am proud of this accomplishment and because I like challenges I am now working on the states and state capitals in the United States.  I began the program in 2005 but as I am just over half done I have a long road ahead to finish.  So far it has been lots of fun and I am looking forward to all the travel and adventures ahead of me.

So without further preamble let's head north to the Yukon.  Fun facts:  the Yukon territory covers an area almost twice the size of the United Kingdom with a population of about 35,000.  80% of the Yukon is wilderness.  What's the difference between a province and territory you might ask? Provinces receive their power and authority from the British North American Act. (1867) whereas Territories' powers are delegated to them by the Parliament of Canada.

The capital of the Yukon territory is Whitehorse, a city of about 24,000 people.  This city that got its start due to the Yukon Gold Rush was originally named White Horse.  It was changed to its current name in 1957.  Whitehorse has the warmest climate of all comparable northern communities due to sitting in a valley and it is also known as the driest city in Canada because of being located in the rain shadow of the Coast Mountains.

I arrived in Whitehorse in September of 2010.  I flew with airmiles points as I have done for all of my northern trips.  This was the fourth weekend in September (the number of airmile points required go down in mid-September) so of course they had their first snowfall that weekend.

Dogs, dogs and more dogs

I was picked up at the airport by Frank Turner who owned Muktuk Kennels where I would be spending that night.  Frank is one of the Yukons most accomplished mushers, having competed in 24 Yukon Quest races over 25 years.   I heard about Frank and Muktuk Kennels from reading the book "Mad Dogs and an Englishwoman" by Polly Evans which is about her experience staying at the kennels and taking part in the Yukon Quest.  In fact I took the book with me so that Frank could sign it!  I had purchased it in London at the Destinations Travel show where I heard Polly the previous year.

The kennels are just out of Whitehorse and I arrived to the sight of many dog houses and dogs, dogs, dogs.



For the next 24 hours I was in utter doggy overload bliss.  It is no secret that I LOVE dogs.  The next 24 hours were one of the best times of my life. You would have had to slap me to get the grin off my face.

Meet some of the doggies:

Panda...easy to see how she got her name




Thought Jojo was looking for some California grass!  


I never could do a selfie...eek.  But in the background yu can see the lodge where I stayed. 


Shelby

Unfortunately, due to the wet snow that fell the next morning I was unable to go on a training run with the dogs...very disappointing. However, I did get to help feed the dogs and generally hang out with them.  Every spare minute I was out taking photographs.  When I went through my photo file on Whitehorse to pick photos for this post I could not believe how many I actually took!  Hundreds!! The dogs loved to dig so you had to be very careful to avoid the huge holes - especially tricky the next morning after a fresh lot of snow.

Definitely a leg breaker if you stumbled into one of those holes !!! 
I got to walk down to the Takhini River with Frank and some of the dogs.  It was so obvious how much Frank loves all the dogs and the feelings are mutual.  Every dog is treated with love and respect and of course Frank knows each and everyone despite having 30 of them on site.  The retired sled dogs are either adopted out to local families or live a cushy life for the rest of their days hanging out indoors.




Pure joy! 

I was pretty darn popular as Frank had given me treats for the dogs.  Yes that's me wearing the cliche plaid shirt over my jacket and thick sled pants.  The hat was my own..what can I say it looked cute in Peru.  I really didn't care what I looked like anyway - I was having too much fun!! 

That evening I enjoyed a specially prepared Yukon dinner with Arctic Char and Caribou steak with baked potatoes and vegetables.  Delicious.


Frank graciously signed my book for me and told me some stories of his many experiences in the Yukon Quest. I swore I'd come back someday to see the start of it in Whitehorse.  The 1,000-mile race goes between Whitehorse and Fairbanks alternating start points each year.  Someday I will get to witness the start of the race in Whitehorse.





I know don't I look elegant. The leopard print wellies are a nice touch don't you think?  Lots of doggie paw prints all over me and I loved it!

There are options to stay in cabins but I stayed in the main lodge and was the only guest that night. The room was basic with no television as they live off the grid so try to conserve as much use of the generator as they can.

When it came time to leave I cried.  I swore I'd be back in 18 months...well here it is nearly 7 years later and I haven't been back.... but I will.  I nearly went back the winter before last.  The manager of the kennels and I were emailing back and forth discussing potential dates when I learned that I had to have major dental work done - with a Spring trip to the UK planned as well that ended that.  I will get back someday.

If you are visiting Whitehorse and are a dog lover I'd definitely recommend visiting Muktuk Adventures. http://muktuk.com/If you are afraid of or don't like dogs it is worth it to visit for an afternoon to see how a sled dog operation functions, however, I wouldn't recommend staying overnight.  It's pretty noisy between the barking and howling - I loved it.

Exploring Whitehorse 

Frank dropped me at the Beez Kneez Hostel which was close to the downtown area.  It is a very laid back hostel with a friendly manager.  I met some interesting people there including a couple from Switzerland who were traveling the world. There was a hostel dog named Angus who was very laid back and friendly and that helped ease the pain of leaving Muktuk.



The next 48 hours saw me doing a 10 km walk, visiting two museums - the wonderful MacBride history museum and the fascinating Beringia Interpretive Centre which showcases the ancient people of the Yukon, the Ice Age and more.   Just writing this makes me want to hop a plane and go back.  It was my favourite northern community by far.


The Prospector Statue - a salute to the many prospectors who passed through Whitehorse 

The Yukon river in central Whitehorse 

Yukon River along the walk
The Log Church in downtown Whitehorse 




A couple of the beautiful murals in the city



Yes, it snowed again.  The 10 km walk took me out to a residential area.  The walk has since been changed thanks to a club member who was temporarily living in Whitehorse.


Another log building



The SS Klondike, now a National  Historic Site.  It ran freight between Dawson City and Whitehorse from 1937 to 1950.  You can visit but somehow I don't think it was open on this snowy day and even if it was...uh..no thanks.


At least some things look pretty in the snow


Main Street in Whitehorse



It's not all log cabins in Whitehorse - here is a modern government building. 


I'm not normally a beer drinker but sometimes I just have to try a local brew! 

And then it was time to leave Whitehorse.  Unfortunately, so far Whitehorse is the only place I have visited in the Yukon but I will be back.  I still have to explore Dawson City, Kluane National Park, ride onboard the White Pass and Yukon route railway and go back to Muktuk to finally ride on a dog sled! 

1 comment:

Marianne Barkman said...

Another good one Laurie ! I've always thought sled dogs were mean or ferocious but clearly, not all are !