October 9/80 Sense and Nonsense
I wonder if other people can promptly answer as to whether or not they had a good time on holidays? I never can. At least not until months after we have returned home. I am noncommittal until all real and imagined injuries to my nerves, to our vehicle and to our bank account are completely healed. By that time nobody seems to be interested anymore.
For some reason we always seem to be heading north on holidays. (Surely the spell of the Yukon cannot be that strong?) Last time Leon and I were accompanied only by Fern, our small daughter. This time teenage son, Bruce, was also able to come with us. Son-in-law Darwin, daughter Cathy and their two little ones would follow along in their new pick-up truck and camper.
We decided to accept an invitation to visit some cousins and Grampa L. who were camping and fishing at Stewart, B.C. during the long Canada Day week-end. The gorgeous scenery, including a huge blue glacier close to the road, would be well worth the extra miles. Perhaps after reading my journal someone will answer the question that is still haunting me. Did I have a good time on holidays?
Saturday: (June 28) Big rush to get going. Leon had completed building the camper. Bruce, Fern and I painted it. I finished painting the bottom bunk quite late last night and this morning it was still tacky. (Had to hurriedly Mactac over it!) First wildlife – a baby groundhog two miles from home. Leon had to boot it off the pavement to discourage its suicidal tendencies. (It lacked gratitude and tried to bite the boot that may have saved it’s life).
Stopped at a high point above the Bulkley where the gray water flowed far below. Cathy, with Leon’s support, leaned over and took a picture of the dizzying depths below.
We finally found the Kitwanga turn-off after I had almost given up on it. Lo and behold, a beautiful stretch of pavement greeted us; but not for long. The road rapidly deteriorated into a rough, winding, and in some places newly-constructed path. We finally decided to camp at a creek at Mile 34. Second wildlife – a porcupine slowly ambled up the creek away from us.
Sunday – Friday: This morning (Friday) we finally left Stewart, B.C. (Note: On Monday, June 30, 1980 the bridge over the wide, swift-rolling Bear River – the only land route out of Stewart, was totally destroyed by fire.) Arson was suspected. Around 2,000 tourists were in town that week-end celebrating Canada Day, American Independence Day, and Stewart’s Golden Anniversary. Hyder, Alaska was also isolated by the fire. (“Downtown” Hyder consists of three saloons and a souvenir shop.) The Bailey bridge completion was delayed by the hour from noon yesterday to midnight last night. Impatient tourists were lined up on the road at nine last night – when last we checked. Others were in formation at the campgrounds.
We had arrived in Stewart on Sunday, intending on camping overnight, visiting and partaking of the “crab sandwiches” Grampa L. had insisted he would serve us. We planned on leaving Monday morning but got a late start because Cathy and I insisted on being “Hyderized” (On a glass of Molson’s Canadian – orange juice for the kids). As it was, we were too late.
Comments on our five days in Stewart: One member of our party found herself paying double-digit duty on a few souvenir items from Hyder. (It is easy to forget that Hyder is in a foreign country.) The killer whales had frightened the salmon away and the red tide rendered the mussels poisonous. The ugly fish someone caught was well photographed. (Could his relatives have picked Grampa’s soup-bone crab bait clean – even to the marrow?)
Darwin after bridge burning: “Now I know how an animal on a game farm feels – there’s room to run around, but no place to go!”
Me: “We should write ‘Help’ on one of those balloons that sailed over the mountains.” (From float in Canada Day parade)
Cathy: “How about S.O.S. for Stranded On Stewart!”
Sign on Dease Lake’s float in parade: “Arctic – Pacific Divide” (in part) “…where the waters were undecided whether to flow DEASE way or DAT way…”
It was nice to see Cousin M’s brother and family who flew in from “the outside world.”
Woman on phone in hotel lobby: “Mother – don’t laugh. Mother please stop laughing … It’s not funny! Just feed my fish at home and I’ll drown my sorrows to-night in Hyder!”
Cousin M. overheard a young fellow on phone in the bar. “I’m not sh____ you, boss! I really can’t get back to work. You’re going to pay me for my Stat. aren’t you? Why not? It’s a… It’s an Act of God… Isn’t it?”
Cousin R’s song: (Sung alongside campfire in a plaintive, bluesy, tone of voice) “Build another bridge ‘cross the river, ‘Cause the old one ain’t no good at all! If they don’t build a bridge across the river, Oh Lord, we could all be here ’til Fall!…”
The biggest beef, especially among the locals, seemed to be the lack of fresh milk in town. Apparently even the cafes were dry. Everyone’s spirits held up well until the morning after it rained (Wednesday morning?) The two happy guys in the brown pickup near the popular “rest room” spot were the picture of utter desolation that morn. Side by side, arms folded, leaning against the wet railing, they silently contemplated the wet grass.
We women re-ally “swung” in Stewart one afternoon – on the playground swings. Even Grampa “swung” that day. We also spent a lot of time visiting the museum, browsing through some interesting shops and peering at old buildings. Stewart has some dandy old buildings. Every day we walked down to the hotel to check the bulletin board for progress reports on putting in a new bridge across the river.
Saturday (July 5) Attempting to write from back of camper on bumpy road. (Near Cassiar junction on Highway 37) It’s pouring rain and we just finished lunch near a sparkling river before it started in. We got groceries etc. at Dease Lake this morning after camping last night by the Stikine river. Ugly water but beautiful sand alongside for the kids to play. Lots of interesting rocks. Wish I knew what jade looks like for sure? Cathy and Bruce collected rocks and Cathy found some heavy black sand that sparkled. Later they explored the old house across the river that turned out to be inhabitated – by a rabbit. (Two eyes glowed mysteriously in the dark!)
This morning the kids picked wild strawberries to eat with their pancakes for breakfast. Later we stopped at Rabid Grizzly campgrounds and were intimidated – not by the name, but by the bugs! After that the road gradually deteriorated. We went through a section of heavy oil that splattered the trucks badly. Road was rough past Good Hope until the Yukon border, where it instantly took a turn for the better. Saw a bear beetling off into the toolies after a car passed us at an unsafe speed just outside of Upper Liard. We ended up camping at a commercial spot 2 miles south of Watson Lake, which was well worth the four dollars. Showers, food, gas, fishing licences, laundromat and Varsol.
We promptly used the latter on the trucks, and with soap and water managed to remove most of the black oil. It had poured rain up the Cassiar (our truck had a wake behind it!) but in the evening at camp it suddenly cleared up and was nice. Can’t get over all that daylight – at 11 o’clock it seemed like eight at home. Forced myself to go to bed at eleven. Earlier, Cathy had found herself “misunderstood” by a young fellow who works in the store. “Mosquito dope” must be strictly a B.C. colloquialism – at least he had never heard of it in reference to bug repellant. He thought she wanted some new kind of marijuana!
Sunday: Did laundry and headed up the Robert Campbell Highway. Stopped at Lucky Creek. No fish would bite (seriously). Had lunch at Frances Lake. Country is swamp spruce and tamarack bordered by fireweed (a redder colour than ours.) Camped at Finlayson River where Leon caught two baby grayling. Tyler (small grandson) fell in the river and hurt his feelings (mostly.) He had been indulging in his favourite pastime – throwing rocks into the river, and he forgot to let go!
Monday: Raining. Ate breakfast under tarp. Coffee for us. Kids ate cereal in camper. The Robert Campbell highway must have been a chore to build. It is straight as a die much of the way, and all fill through the two hundred miles or so of swamp country, broken only by some beautiful lakes and rivers.
I especially liked the Pelly River, our lunch stop. Saw elderly couple there who had followed us up from Frances Lake and recognized us. They had a nicely kept up, older, camperized International truck. The river was icy but Jennel (small granddaughter), Fern and I found warm puddles in the rocks to wade in. We passed Beautiful creek (the cruddiest looking of all the many creeks in the area). Also Bruce creek. (Fern giggled for miles over that name.)
As we neared Faro we entered gopher country! Bare hills pitted with gopher-holes everywhere. Faro would be prettier with the mountains surrounding it and the Pelly River flowing through it, if it wasn’t for the burn on the hills directly above town. Apparently, it happened the year the town was first built; 1969, and the fire took 70 new houses with it.
After leaving Faro we checked various campsites. One on the outskirts of Faro on a lake, (swampy) stocked with rainbow trout. Decided to go 20 miles down the road to Drury Creek. Remembered we needed milk. Forgot to buy it in little trailer court store in Faro.
We stopped at Little Salmon Cafe for coffee and got “coffee cream” to go. Drove through a lot of smoke along Little Salmon Lake to the campground at west end of lake. The forest fire was across the lake, directly behind a hill. (Had been burning since a week Saturday. It was not being fought as it was not considered a “priority fire”)
Leon and Darwin put boat in the lake, but no fish. The elderly campground attendant told us later (over coffee) that there were grayling in the creek but few in the lake. He said the R.C. highway had been bad until last week when they had fixed it for a big derby on Frances Lake. His lady friend had won the prize for the biggest fish – a mere twenty-seven pounder. He said that was surprising as they usually are much bigger. (Thirty to forty pound lake trout.) Chinook salmon spawn up the Yukon rivers and there are pike and grayling in most of the lakes and rivers. (Our friendly campground attendant wondered how Leon managed to catch such small grayling as he did in the Finlayson yesterday.)
The old guy zipped home on his motorbike and as we were heading for bed he brought back a bag of frozen grayling. Our friends in the International camper are also camped here. Tuesday: Beautiful day. Ate pancakes and grayling for breakfast. The road is good below Faro – much better than the narrow gravel road we were on yesterday. Stopped at a high point above our first glimpse of the Yukon River. We took photographs while Leon rolled rocks down into Pierre Burton’s favourite river. Stopped at a store near Carmacks and bought groceries for to-day. Some things are cheaper than back home. (Large plastic tarp – 22 dollars, no tax)
Had lunch at Lake Labarge. It is a beautiful lake surrounded by storybook – pastel coloured hills and mountains, with sandy beaches between the huge rocks. We passed many beautiful lakes, such as Fox Lake. The country is prettier above Whitehorse than around Faro. Still plenty of gophers (ground squirrels). Also seagulls everywhere, cleaning up on the highway casualties.
Cathy and Darwin have lost another headlight, so now they have none. Takinni Hotsprings was disappointing. Should have realized it would be commercialized and crowded so close to Whitehorse. Problem of where to camp? We had paid our 10 dollars for access to all the nicely-maintained Yukon government campgrounds. There were two, but they were 10 and 11 miles from Whitehorse. We decided on a commercial one.
Robert Service Campground is located on the south access road to Whitehorse – A real rip-off, no table, no firewood and crowded, not-that-clean facilities. The large campground was packed solid. Some vehicles had been “Cassiarized” with thick black oil. After 10 at night, I walked down the river with Cathy and Bruce (and cameras). Then, back and up the Yukon looking for places to take pictures. Ended up walking all the way to Whitehorse and downtown. (Not that big a town) Bruce and Cathy took pictures of a sternwheeler at 11:15 at night. (Sun went down at 11) Still lots of daylight. People wandering around – kids on bikes etc. Bought a “Whitehorse Star” and read it on the way back to camp at midnight.
We peered at an old log building which was referred to as a “log skyscraper”. The two storeys were small and appeared to be “built up on stilts,” as Cathy described the odd architecture. Somebody was obviously living downstairs but the building was a public attraction anyway. A nearby sign read “Drinking Not Permitted On Premises – Drink At Own Risk” (A recent law had enforced the curtailment of public drinking on the streets of Whitehorse.)
I noticed one good vegetable garden with very healthy vegetables. Wonder where they found the topsoil? In Faro, apparently, it costs 40 dollars to plant a tree. At midnight at the campgrounds, there was still a lineup at the ladies’ showers and also at the mens’ restroom. Cathy said one impatient mother let her 12 year old son into the ladies room.
Bruce rolled up in Darwin’s tarp and a blanket to sleep under the stars.
Wednesday: Bruce woke us up early in the morning. It was raining and he had been sleeping in a puddle of water. Drove to shopping centre in Whitehorse – and first to the Laundromat. It was filled with tourists and the place was big and buzzing. I managed to warm up our wet clothes before all the dryers went on the blink. Packed up wet clothes and bought groceries, clothesline and clothespins. Prices not too bad (cheaper than Stewart) except for fruit and vegetables. (Fresh Mac. apples 1.19 a pound)
Up the road we passed a narrow creek bed entitled “George’s Gorge”. (Is there a name for word phrases that contain sounds which are interchangeable? That is, and still make sense?) George’s Gorge – Gorgeous George. I remember Ted Baxter’s goof on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. He began his newscast with, “…a whitehouse source revealed”; tripped over his tongue and the crucial words came out as ”Whitehorse souse ” instead!)
A few miles past Teslin, Darwin abruptly pulled off the road. When we stopped beside him, he touched his side window and his hand went right through it. A jeep had passed him and flung a rock. The glass was completely cobwebbed and fell off like ice crystals. He already had a cracked windshield and this morning, in Whitehorse, had paid 27 dollars for a new headlight. We found some plastic and tape. Leon and Darwin patched up the window as best as they could. We ended up camping at our old stamping grounds (in 1977) – Rancheria. The wind was still blowing as it did back then. (I asked the manager of the road stop next door if the wind “always” blew up there. He said “No!” – a trifle too defiantly – didn’t recognize us naturally and I didn’t press the issue)
We built a roaring campfire and the kids played down in the sand. Fern discovered some gopher holes and spotted a rabbit almost in camp. She put out some lettuce leaves for him and watched closely before having to go to bed. In the morning the lettuce was gone. We strung up the clothesline and dried some clothes in the wind despite the fact that it spitted rain at times and was cold.
Thursday: Darwin paid 1.98 a gallon for gas at Rancheria. I bought one case of beer and one case of pop and received 40 cents back from a 20 dollar bill. Had lunch at Boya Lake campground. (Seemed like miles from the road – one of these days I will stop having ideas!) Darwin carved small white masks for the little girls and left a large ugly one on tree to guard our old picnic table. (Made them from Bruce’s second foam plastic cooler casualty of trip. He had stood up in back of camper as Leon made a sharp turn into campsite and fell on the fragile thing!)
The oiled stretch of road near Cassiar wasn’t that ugly this time. Leon caught his limit in grayling right away – lots of pictures. Camped 4 miles south of Dease Lake. Had a heck of a time finding a place to camp. Cooked Leon’s fish and Whitehorse chicken. At present Cathy is trying to make coffee at 11p.m. over few remaining hibachi coals.
Leon, Darwin, Cathy and Bruce made willow whistles. Bruce’s didn’t work. Darwin made bow and arrow – didn’t work.
Friday night: We are definitely becoming bushed. As Leon said, “Last night it was willow whistles, tonight its rocks!” Darwin hurled at least four rocks at a bug before he decided that it was definitely dead. Then he and Bruce threw rocks at a huge culvert across the road. Sounded like cannons going off! To-night I immersed the Freshie jug full of “good old-fashioned oatmeal” that I bought in Stewart, in the dishwater. It immediately turned into “good old-fashioned soap paste.” Mystery: who took it out of Cathy’s camper and put it with the dirty dishes?
It was hot to-day- first time for days. Too hot and dusty really. Everyone giggled when we bypassed the Stewart road and for some reason no one wanted to go there