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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
A city ankle-deep in dust is not most people's idea of the perfect vacation destination. Neither is the Yukon, widely thought of as a cold, icy, mysterious place somewhere to the north. But as I forded the sunlit dirt streets of Dawson City, Yukon Territory (population 2,000), I felt connected with the past in a way I've seldom experienced.
Dawson City, located at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike rivers, is the site of the richest gold strike ever in North America. A hundred years ago, a passel of prospectors raced to the Yukon after the steamer Portland sailed into Seattle in late spring of 1897 with what was reported to be "a ton of gold" from a Klondike River tributary. Seattle's population nearly doubled that summer as people rushed to get provisioned for a trip north. Even the mayor of Seattle resigned his post and headed north. Less than half of those gold seekers made it as far as Dawson City. Those who did briefly turned it into a boomtown of 40,000, but few made any fortune.
I was drawn to Dawson City by "The Milepost," touted by many as the must-have guide to Alaska and the Yukon. "The Milepost" covers the Alaska Highway, the Inside Passage cruise-ship route, and 87 other scenic and historical routes. One of those—the Klondike Loop—seduced me.
The big attraction was Dawson, of course, but "The Milepost's" description of the 337-mile section of road from Whitehorse, capital of Yukon Territory, to Dawson City promised I wouldn't be bored along the way: The route includes the Takhini Hot Springs; a reindeer farm; world-famous cinnamon buns(they were near the size of Frisbees); mountains formed by volcanic mudflows 185 million years ago; agate trails; Native heritage centers; a Hudson's Bay Co. fort; a farm that grows organic vegetables; fishing and camping opportunities; and spectacular scenery.
The most heart-thumping action, though, was provided by a black bear and her two cubs, which we encountered ambling alongside the highway just past Pelly Crossing, 158 miles south of Dawson. The bears seemed unconcerned when my husband Michael jumped out of our rented RV and started taking pictures from a distance of just 100 feet (with foolish disregard, I pointed out, of "The Milepost's" warning not to get too close).
When we made Dawson around 2 p.m., the weather was pleasant. Although Dawson City is 165 miles south of the Arctic Circle, the mean high temperature in July, according to "The Milepost," is 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and daylight lasts for up to 20.9 hours during the summer.
Dawson's dirt streets—which turn to mud in the rain—and its still-standing and restored historical buildings make it easy to imagine what life was like in this place one early writer dubbed "boomtown in a bog." We strolled past Diamond Tooth Gertie's Gambling Hall, where the Gertie girls charged $1 a dance in Dawson's heyday and where you can still gamble today; the Palace Grand Theatre, home these days to the Gaslight Follies; poet Robert Service's cabin, where a local actor recites poems and stories in the summer; Jack London's cabin, built from logs saved from the original cabin where London stayed on his way to the Klondike; and the office of the newspaper started during the gold rush.
"The Milepost" also provides information on other activities, like panning for gold, touring the Klondike goldfields, boating on the Yukon River, and taking advantage of nearby Dome Mountain's spectacular views.
Because Dawson gets an influx of visitors in the summer, it boasts modern lodgings, including bed-and-breakfasts, and RV parks. The bank has an automated teller machine, and there's even a golf course five miles from town. It was nice to have these services available, especially since they didn't detract from the town's charm. Thanks to "The Milepost," we'd come to a place we never would have considered—a region rich in history and overflowing with traveler appeal. I want all my guidebooks to lead me to such places. Thanks to "The Milepost," we, like the most fortunate Klondike prospectors, had set out for adventure and struck gold.—Michele Andrus Dill lives in the Seattle area.