Over the past few years, I've become an emotional traveler. In the old days, it was simply about checking off as many countries and States as possible in my quest for global exploration. However, running from place to place, frantically snapping photos without the ability to even mentally process or absorb the landscape or person in the image, is no longer appealing, nor does it serve any value in human understanding or connection. During the Alaska journey last summer, I had the opportunity to make a brief stop in Skagway, a small town with less than 1,000 residents. People here live totally off the grid, surrounded by forests and huge mountains, with no doctors or lawyers for hundreds of miles. In the summer months, the population swells. Over a million tourists enter the village during the busy Alaska cruise season from May - September. I spent almost no time with the hordes of tourists, and instead ventured into the Yukon Territory of Canada, where this photo was taken. Never in my life have I seen such stunning landscapes, with a deep historical root, combining all elements of the human spirit - endurance, joy, defeat, sorrow...
1. From the hills of Skagway, you can see the steep cliffs and rocky terrain of the Yukon in the distance. The legacy of the area began in the summer of 1897, when a Seattle newspaper broadcast the headline "Gold, Gold, Gold!" and reported that a group of men had discovered gold in the Canadian Klondike. America was in the midst of a depression, and the nation went gold crazy upon hearing the news. Tens of thousands of men and women began the long journey in pursuit of riches, with most prospectors landing in Skagway and crossing the trails onward to the Yukon River.
2. It is estimated that over 100,000 stampeders set out for the Yukon, yet only 30,000 completed the trip. The journey was long, strenuous and cold. The Northwest Mounted Police in Canada required all miners to carry at least one year of living supplies for the journey, and one ton of goods over the terrain to be allowed entry into Canada. All transported through the dangerous cliffs, hills and rough terrain by foot, or sometimes with the assistance of sleds or pack animals. At the top of the trails and passes, Canadian Mounties maintained a post to enforce the stringent regulations. Winter temperatures in the region could drop as low as -50 F, and hunger was a big problem. Many stampeders simply gave up when faced with the treacherous conditions and others perished, falling to their deaths from the cliffs.
3. After arriving in Skagway, the stampeders had two options to the Yukon. The Chilkoot Trail or White Pass, both steep and hazardous. The Chilkoot Pass was shorter, but required more endurance, rising over 1,000 feet in the last half mile. It was too steep for pack animals, so gold rushers picking this route had to carry the supplies on their own.
4. Conditions on the White Pass Trail were worse, but the climb wasn't as steep. The area became known as the Dead Horse Trail, with over 3,000 animals dying on the route due to the inexperience of the stampeders and tortures of the landscape. Both trails led to the interior lake country where stampeders could begin a 550 mile journey through the lake systems to the Yukon River and gold fields.
5. What was the end result? In only five months, between July and November of 1898, the U.S. Mints in Seattle and San Francisco received ten million dollars worth of Klondike Gold. By 1900, another thirty-eight million dollars had been recorded, making it the largest, and most orderly, gold rush in history. At the same time, locals began to think of easier ways to travel to the Klondike. It was then that the White Pass Railway was born! The railroad was considered an impossible task, yet came to life through blasting through coastal mountains in only 26 months! An estimated 20,000 men with picks and shovels and 450 tons of explosives overcame the harsh climate and challenging landscapes to create one of the most scenic railways in the world. In 1994, the White Pass & Yukon Route was designated an international historic civil engineering landmark. The construction project is one of the greatest in history, an engineering obstacle filled with design challenges, granite mountains, steep grades, cliff hugging turns, and unimaginable weather conditions. The end result is pictured here - when I took a ride on the train in September. :)
6. Around each turn, wild and untouched nature awaits!
7. The train ride is not for the faint of heart, or those afraid of heights! You literally feel like you're hanging off the edge of cliffs, and you can stand on the platforms in between the railcars for great views and photo opportunities.
8. Steel cantilever bridge in the wilderness, viewed from the platform of the train.
9. Rolling through clouds, forests and mountains.
10. The destination from the train was Carcross, in the Yukon Territory. The town was a layover point for the Yukon fortune-seeking stampeders making their way to the creeks and rivers. Today, indigenous people still reside in the area, maintaining some traditions. This is most clearly visible when driving along the roads, where you will see many inuksuit, man-made stone or rock formations. They are used for navigation, as a point of reference, and in the Yukon, to assist with the herding of caribou for slaughter. Common formations used by tribes in the Arctic regions.
11. Slogan of the Yukon Territory - "Larger Than Life Plus Grand Que Nature."
12. I never grow tired of nature, and in this region the landscapes are pristine. Beautiful lakes, mountains, greenery, vivid colors and even dirt and dust! Everything you could wish for, a constant feast for the eyes! My favorite is Emerald Lake, the intense green color here is not manipulated at all through photoshop. The color is a result of light reflecting off of white deposits of clay and calcium carbonate at the bottom of the shallow waters. The high concentration of calcium carbonate comes from limestone gravels eroded from the mountains and deposited over 14,000 years ago by glaciers.
13. Mountainous area, with yellow autumn foliage in early September.
14. I don't remember the name of this lake, but throughout the Yukon, the mountains are your constant companion. Surrounded by them at all times.
15. More barren landscapes, typical dirt road in the area of Carcross, with absolutely no potholes or craters. :) Imagine if the wild regions of Russia were so accessible! It would be awesome.
16. During the journey, I learned that Carcross has the world's "smallest desert." One square mile of rolling dunes, located off of the South Klondike Highway. A sort of geological anomaly for a region with Arctic temperatures. Even in September, it was freezing!
17. Mountain landscapes I love more than any other for road trips! Excellent infrastructure and highways in this part of the Yukon. Smooth pavement and serpentine roads, a dream on which to drive.
18. What can I say about such images? They speak for themselves. If you love nature, you should make it a goal to venture to the Yukon Territory once in your lifetime.
19. Houses in most of the villages are ordinary, nothing impressive. Small, but fairly well-maintained. Some stand alone on dirt roads, while others are part of small villages.
20. Small village.
21. My favorite - it looks like some cottage out of a romatic film, with the flowers and bicycle. :) In search of a mountain man to join me here for a weekend trip!
22. Train tracks pass through the central part of Carcross, where there are still a few shops and a small trading post. In the summer, the area is totally overrun with tourists, but in late autumn and winter, I anticipate that the region is completely desolate, with the exception of locals.
23. I spent only seven hours in the Yukon, traveling with my parents during one of the port stops on our summer Alaskan cruise. The region is large, parts of it are completely remote, wild and even inaccessible through normal roads. Many indigenous people reside there, some still living a subsistence lifestyle, gathering everything for survival only from the land. The region is steeped with dramatic natural landscapes, amazing history, stories of perseverance, joy and sorrow. A huge testament to the will and diversity of the human spirit.
There are times in travel when I become completely speechless, due either to an intense and moving human encounter, or something strange that stirs in my soul. I can't adequately explain it. On the drive back, at the point where this last photo was taken, I stopped. And I felt, in the silence that followed, everything that had happened on the trip brought me to this place, to utter calm and peace. I sat on the shoulder of the road and cried for a brief moment, overwhelmed with the beauty of the world.
To the Yukon, I'll definitely return...someday!