The rush is on in Dawson City
Of all the old gold rush towns in Alaska and the Yukon, the most authentic is Dawson City. Come during spring breakup and slog through the mucky streets, unpaved streets, just like the Klondike stampeders did in 1898. Walk on the high boardwalks past historic buildings reclaimed by Parks Canada, or peek into dilapidated, but still standing, weather-beaten structures. There's history on every corner.
If you're a Robert Service fan, come in
"The summer-no sweeter was ever;
The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
The bighorn asleep on the hill ..."
A small, but busy place
Like all Interior towns, the temperature is in the high 80s in the summer, and plummets to minus 40 in the winter.
Still, its 1,320 inhabitants keep up a steady pace of festivals and sporting events throughout the year. Check in at the Klondike Visitors Association's website, http://www.dawsoncity.ca/thingstodo/eventsandfestivals, for a complete listing.
There's events that will entice Alaskans, from the Dust to Dawson Motorcycle Run (not a race, the organizers emphasize) that begins wherever you are and ends in Dawson City at the Downtown Hotel. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out the Great White North forum at http://www.advrider.com.
Coming up in May is the Gold Show the weekend of the 16th and 17th that brings in mining supply companies to show the latest technology to the still-active gold mining industry, with its 13,766 active placer claims, 90 to100 family owned and operated mines, and several hard rock mines. It's a chance for miners to let their hair down before getting down to work for the brief summer season.
They peek out again in August for Discovery Days, which celebrates the start of the Klondike Gold Rush. It also coincides with the Dawson Arts Festival, and even if you're an Alaska artist you can participate. The Yukon government and Yukoners are very supportive of the arts, and their festivals are always well planned. To apply go to http://www.kiac.ca/artsfestival/applicationinformation. I participated in 2012, and had a great time.
The Dawson Music Festival in July highlights old and new Canadian musicians who you have probably never heard of and are missing out on. Find out when the tickets go on sale and who will be headlining at http://www.dcmf.com.
Wander about town
It's a very walkable town, and you'll find something interesting anywhere you go - the replica of Jack London's cabin; the Dawson City Firefighters Museum, with its fire engines from the late 1800s, including Marvel antique horse-drawn steam engines, an 1897 Clapp & Jones and 1899 Waterous; the Gold Room on the second floor of the original Bank of Commerce building where miners brought their pokes for weighing; and the Dawson City Museum on 5th Avenue.
Visit the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre on Front Street to learn about the Tr'ondek Hwech'in, who have called this area home for thousands of years.
Dawson is where the Guggenheims added to their fortune through their Yukon Gold Co. and where Scrooge McDuck mined his millions, so go panning. Claim No. 6, 12 miles from Dawson, maintained by the Klondike Visitors Association, is where you can pan for free and keep whatever you find. Stop in and talk to the vintage-dressed information specialists at the Klondike Visitors Association headquarters on Front Street - no street number needed, it fronts the Yukon River.
Cap your evening with a visit to Diamond Tooth Gertie's, run by KVA, it is Canada's oldest gambling saloon, replete with cancan dancers. This is the only place I like to gamble, because they still have the old machines. If you believe you develop a psychic connection to the machine through pulling the lever, this is your place.
I asked the attendant once, "to whom do I report my winnings?" and he just smiled and said, "That's between you and your government." See, Canadians are nice.
Eat well and sleep tight
Accommodations run from the basics at the Bunkhouse to historic luxury at Bombay Peggy's, a renovated brothel with plush rooms and a bar that offers an array of fine malt Scotch, and micro-brewed beer. Paintings of Yukon and Alaska scenes by local artist Halin de Repentigny hang throughout. Once there was one of Broadway in Skagway, with me on my bicycle, hanging in the bar. Sadly, I couldn't afford it.
There's also RV parks and campgrounds, and again, go to KVA's website.
The restaurants are just lovely with lots of attention paid to making the best with what they have in such a remote place. I always have the Arctic char, a sea-going Dolly Varden, at Klondike Kate's, but anything there is excellent. The eco-friendly cabins behind the restaurant are a great place to stay.
And Dawson has the best Greek restaurant outside of Greece I have ever been to, the Drunken Goat Taverna. As a longtime Greek cook, I have my standards, and it meets all of them.
There's the legendary, gag-defying sip of the Sourtoe Cocktail at the Downtown Hotel, where you have to allow the embalmed big toe floating in the drink touch your lips in order to claim the certificate of proof. I just can't do it.
Really, it's not too far away
Dawson is a 10- to 12-hour drive from Anchorage. Head down the Alaska Highway and take a left up the Taylor Highway, past the road to Eagle, through Chicken, and to the border at Boundary. From there you're on the Top of the World Highway, which can sometimes be scary for RVers because it's a gravel road that's pretty exposed and twisty at times, with steep hills - it's a ridge road. Just drive more slowly than you would on pavement. Take the free 24/7 ferry across the Yukon, the George Black, to get to Dawson.
Or continue down the Alaska Highway to Whitehorse and go north on the Klondike Highway. It's 16 hours from Anchorage to Whitehorse and six hours to Dawson, but on this route you go through Kluane Lake Park, which is magnificent.
And if you have time, travel south of Dawson and take a left up the Dempster Highway. Go even for a couple of hours. I think it bests the Haul Road, and next month I'll show you why.