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Mon 21-Jul-2014 Alaska, Travel | 0 comments | Map

Dempster Highway

Dempster Highway

Finally we had a beautiful sunny day – blue skies with white puffy clouds. We have had so few of these on this trip and none recently.

We headed north on the Dempster Highway. The Dempster is a 457-mile gravel road connecting Inuvik (a town of 3000 on the MacKenzie River delta) to the rest of Canada. The town itself was built in the 1950s by the Canadian government to replace a town which was lost to flooding. The primary residents are the Inuvialuit people (Eskimos). The overland road to the town was not competed until 1979.

The part of the highway we traveled was mostly in very good shape compared to the Dalton. It is a wide gravel road located on a gravel bed about 8-9 feet above the surrounding land. There are a few places with potholes, but generally it is smooth gravel – much better condition than the Dalton Highway – although we still got muddy because of yesterday’s rain. The beginning of the road follows the North Fork of the Klondike River and passes through flat taiga forest, but soon opens into nearly treeless vistas with glacially softened mountains. There is a constant incline which tops out at the North Fork Summit Pass (4600 feet). The views of the Klondike, Tombstone, and Blackstone Ranges are stunning – especially since they were in sun without cloud cover today.

At about mile 30 we entered the Tombstone Territorial park where we planned to spend the night. At mile 45 we went to the interpretive center and spoke to the ranger about good day hikes in the area. Then after picking out a site at the campground, we headed further north for sightseeing and our hike. On the road we turned back at about mile 70 – the end of the park just as the next sets of mountains were appearing. We both agreed that we must return here someday to travel the entire length of the Dempster. It is just such gorgeous, peaceful country.

We pulled off the road to have our lunch on a little side road where there was a memorial to Joseph and Annie Henry, two native Canadians, who, a testament to the quality of life in this area, lived to be 104 and 101, and were married for 81 years. Joseph led the party that selected the route for the Dempster highway; he followed traditional routes that had been used for generations.

Our animal sightings for the day included ptarmigan, swans, coots, ducks, a golden eagle, a marmot, and foxes. The latter were the most fun. A litter of three “teenage” foxes were playing on a hillside right next to the road. They were jumping all over each other and tussling the way puppies and kittens do. What was remarkable to us was that while two of the kits were red, the third was pitch black with just a white tip on its tail and a white “star” on its chest. After a while, the mother appeared; she was also very dark, but had some red streaks in her coat. We were sad when they finally disappeared into the brush.

Our hike up part of Goldsides Mountain was terrific. The hillside was all wildflowers, moss, lichen, dwarf birch, and a few spruce. At the end of the trail we were at one of the highest points around so we had nearly a 360-degree view. This was the first established trail we have used since leaving the Alaskan coast. In Denali NP they encouraged us to just take a walk on the tundra, figuring we would all take different routes; here they ask us to stay on the trails as walking on the tundra all in the same place causes damage, and in this cool, dry climate, the tundra takes a long time to renew.

We returned to our Tombstone campsite for a fire (wood provided by the Yukon Government) and a dinner of grilled steak and vegetables served with a salad. We were glad we had located our campsite before we went hiking because the campground was full by evening. Our site was located right on the river; we could not hear or see any of our neighbors.

Tombstone Territorial Park Campground Review: 38 huge sites with lots of trees separating them. Picnic tables, fire rings, central water, pit toilets, and free wood provided. The campground road is very rough with lots of potholes. Fee: $12.