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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Day 63 and 64: Yukon

You don't pass through Watson Lake without stopping in at the Sign Post Forest. Inaugurated back in 1942 by a homesick GI who was part of the team building the Alaska Highway, and stuck a sign up indicating the name of, and number of miles to, his hometown down south, his initial signpost has burgeoned into a veritable 'forest' of signs in the years since then - becoming the primary tourist attraction of this otherwise modest little town. We were quick to whip our 'wine women and philosophy' plate off of the front of Ruby and tack it up there with all the other signs. We then got the lowdown on the Watson Lake-to-Whitehorse stretch of the Alaska Highway from Button at the Tourist Office, before cruising around town a bit in the hopes of getting in on some of the Watson Lake action. A woman was grazing her horse along main street. That was about it, so we struck out for the Yukon government campground just west of town.

At $12 a night, unlimited bonfire wood included, our huge and fabulous lakeside site seemed like a deal and a half - helping to balance out those steep A.H. gas prices. At a bar a few kilometers further west, Rona got to know the locals over Yukon Gold and a couple of games of pool. Back at the campground, the lake was JUST warm enough to go for an evening swim.

The next day we traveled on to Teslin, midway between Watson Lake and Whitehorse. At the Tlingit Heritage Centre we learned about the mask-making tradition of this First Nations people, ate freshly baked bannock and chunks of smoked salmon, and talked travel with Pauline. At the Yukon Motel and RV Park we set up camp for the night beside the lake, headed up to the diner-cum-gas bar for caribou sausage and perogies, and watched people come and go in this surprisingly busy hub along the highway.

Then we were back on the road heading for Whitehorse. A trumpeter swan sanctuary, reached by a seemingly endless gravel side road, turned up nothing by way of an actual swan...Though two strange old birds were spotted lurking about. More of the strange lay ahead at the turnoff onto the Canol Road - yet another US army project dating back to 1942, and which left in its wake a stream of abandoned vehicles which still sit rusting away on the roadside.

Yukon's highlights are strange, yes, but therein lies their fascination. For a territory that bills itself as "larger than life," they are also remarkably discreet about their historic and panoramic wonders, making little of them by way of advertising. We were fast learning that if you see a tiny little sign on the side of the highway with a camera or a pair of binoculars on it, it is definitely worth skidding into the equally tiny parking spot 2 kms after said sign to take a look.