Mawlers’ Big Adventure ’04:
Happy Trails, Sad Motel

Sunday, 8 August 2004

By the Numbers
  • Distance Driven Today: 436 km
  • Gas Purchased Today: 103.144 litres
  • Total Cracks in Windshield: stable at 7 or 8
Wild Woolies
  • Ducks: numerous
  • Swans: two at Two Moose Lake
  • Grizzlies: 2, one momma and one cub
  • Beaver: two
  • Nortern Rednecks: four

Setting out from Eagle Plains, we begin the second half of our southbound Dempser trip. This time, we have the interpretive guide in hand, and we see things we didn't notice at all on the way up. We stop at the Ogilvie-Peel Lookout, which we stopped at on the way up, but this time we take time to take pictures of the tiny plants and the stone spirit men at the pull-out. Lea Ann notices that there isn't any toilet paper in the johnny-on-the-spots and is contemplating donating a roll to the cause, when a Yukon Territorial Government truck drives up.

We have been contemplating how the toilet paper gets to these outhouses. There are probably a half dozen outhouse spots (2 outhouses each - wouldn't want girls and boys mixing, now would you?) along the Dempster, which is approximately 700 km long. For those of you who are kilometer impaired, that's 434 miles... not a lot of outhouses per mile. So, we have this image of the road crews bringing toilet paper in their dump trucks and marching over in their hard hats to replace the necessities.

In fact, there are guys who drive from maintenance camp to maintenance camp (I think there are 3 or 4 along the way) and check for broken down cars, road conditions, and toilet paper. No kidding.

So, as we're contemplating our own donation, a fellow drives up in his Yukon truck with a huge, very old dog in the back. We strike up a conversation with him, and he tells us that his dog is 15 years old. We play with the dog a little while... Err, well, we pet him. He's not much about playing. He sits happily in the back of the pickup for hundreds of miles, checking road conditions and toilet paper with his Yukon man. You'll be happy to hear, before he leaves, the YTG man adds toilet paper to the johns.

Speaking of Johns... Along the way we see a pull out that has two very oddly placed outhouses. The sign for the pull out does not mention "facilities", but there they are, so we pull in. I am a bit skeptical that these particular specimens are in service, so I approach with some caution and peek down the hole.

Let me explain. I am not some john-peeper. Outhouses are supposed to sit over a big pit in the ground. When you do your business, it fills the pit. Hopefully, not your business in particular. Perhaps you should see a doctor.

Anyway, at some point, another YTG truck will come along and suck the muck out. What a job that must be. But all this toilet humor serves a purpose (besides making you laugh, and you know you did) because it points out the need for a pit under the outhouse.

And here lies the problem. Or sits.

There is no pit under the toilets at this pull out. These are just random outhouses placed haphazardly in a parking lot. And, yes, they have been used. Without a pit. Or a net.

Kinda messy. Is there a special YTG guy for that job? Needless to say, we move along.

We are studying the Dempster Highway interpretive guide, looking for obscure items like peregrine guano, when we round a corner to find another kind of wildlife. Just barely poking its nose into the ditch is a mid-80s, no muffler havin', beer can in cup holder, high centered Dodge Charger. Yee haw, just like back east.

First of all, having heard what you have about the Dempster, would you drive a Dodge Charger up here? And then come the obvious questions like "how did the front two wheels get into the ditch, facing perfectly perpendicular to the direction of the road?", but I guess the beer can answers that question.

We stop to help, of course, how else would we have seen the beer, and it just seems like the right thing to do when the next people are probably several hundred kilometers away. So four guys (including me) push on the front end of the Charger, while a woman attempts to drive the thing out in reverse. We end up with lots of dust and a bigger rut under the tires.

Finally, it is decided that someone should go for help. Since we are southbound, we agree to take one of the guys to the road maintenance camp a few kilometers to the south. And this is where the next surprise comes in. It turns out that the people driving the Charger north to Eagle Plains are all YTG employees, so if there is anyone at the maintenance camp, they will all know each other. Better than that, they drive this road all the time and are still completely unprepared, stuck, and feeling a bit stupid. The fellow riding with us insists that his car always has a pull chain for such emergencies. All this is said with a noticable Nova Scotia accent, proving once again that Canadians just cannot stay put.

As we near the maintenance camp, we see a YTG truck coming our way, so I flash my lights and manage to flag him down. We finally manage to close the gap between us (everyone drives over 100 km/hr up here, so the reverse gear gets a lot of use) and get out. The YTG truck driver is the same fellow from the Ogilvie-Peel overlook with the 15 year old dog, though he has dropped off the dog at the camp. On hearing the story of the unfortunate Dodge Charger and its passeners, the YTG truck driver laughs hysterically and says some things that translate to (I am paraphrasing here) "you idiots, how did you manage to do that?"

I am sure that the passengers of the Charger will never live that one down, so they have their penance.

Those two get back in the YTG truck and head north to rescue the Charger and Lea Ann and I decide that we should back-track to catch an item that we missed on the rescue mission. In particular, we are looking for something called "elephant rock".

We find the appropriate turnout using the Dempster interpretive guide (let me repeat: a great little book) and set about looking for the rock in question. According to the guide, you need to use binoculars to see this elephant-shaped rock on the horizon. Apparently, you can see a trunk and everything. We look. And look.

Still looking.

Lea Ann looks at a couple of distant formations and concludes for us both that her suspension of disbelief is not that high; there is nothing out there that looks like an elephant. We turn to go back to the car and there it is.

There is a small rock in the distance that looks just like an elephant. No joke. Not only that, but someone has erected a post that lines up directly with the elephant, so finding it should have been a piece of cake. Oh well.

Somewhat strangely, the stones holding up the post all have writing on them. People have been signing their names on the rocks, writing bits of poetry, you name it. We added our own, of course, and being the eco-nuts we are, we wrote ours in pencil instead of magic marker.

We also added our motto for the trip: "We can do anything as long as we don't know what we are getting into."

As we are driving south, the smoke that we first noticed yesterday just gets worse. By the time we get back to Tombstone Territorial Park, which stretches from about kilometer 72 to kilometer 120 on the Dempster, it is almost impossible to see the peaks on either side of the highway. Most of the peaks are within two miles of the road, but they disappear into a blue-ish haze.

Just inside the park, we stop at "Two Moose Lake", but there are no moose. We spot some odd ducks, but that was mostly in the vanity mirrors.

Finally, we just give in and start taking pictures of the sun through the layer of smoke in the air. It is actually quite stunning and reminiscent of what might have worked for The Lord of the Rings. Pulling over to one side of the road, Lea Ann notes that, because it is so late on the highway, we are the only ones out there. It is just us on the highway... and them.

The "them" to which Lea Ann just so nonchalantly pointed happen to be a mother grizzly and her cub. They are standing in the road less than 50 yards ahead. Momma takes one look at us and runs off the road. Baby bear pauses and looks like he wants to investigate, but changes his mind and follows momma off into the woods.

All in all, this is turning out to be a good day!

Distance Learning
Did I mention that I was taking a class on the Philosophy of Science before we left? Well, I am actually still taking the class. I brought my books with me, adding several pounds to the luggage. I do the readings and post critiques to the discussion board, which is how we have been doing the class up to this point, anyway. The one snag is that I also have a final paper due in this class and did not finish it before leaving for vacation. As a result, some free time is spent on the readings, the critiques, the final paper, and the basic "necessity" of finding internet access.

The ugly truth about our first night back in Dawson City is that I end up spending most of the night awake, working on my final paper, but I think I have it all done now. I hope.

We really slow down now, hoping to surprise another grizzly on the road. In a few kilometers, however, we come to the end of the Dempster and see no more bear. We are now safely back on the pavement of the Klondike Highway, heading west to Dawson City. This is the stretch of road where we saw a mother moose with two calves, so we are keeping eyes peeled for critters.

My attention is rewarded with a suspicious wake on a pond. I call it out and immediately make a U-turn to get back to the middle of the pond. Lea Ann thinks I have lost my mind because all she has heard is that there are ripples in the pond, but her mind changes when I have enough coherence to explain: beaver.

There is a large beaver showing off in the pond along the highway. He even flaps his tail for us a few times. Taking many frames of the beaver, we are pretty satisfied and ready to head toward town, but wait, there's more. Our show-off beaver is joiined by a second beaver.

That is correct, we have one small pond and two large beaver. They even swim close enough together that we can get both on film.

Does it get any better than that?

Now we can set off for our room at the Bunkhouse in Dawson City, but first we stop for gas, a soda ("pop" up here), and a window cleaning.

We pull into our hotel parking lot at 10:05 pm local time, having completed one of the best driving days of our trip so far and find that they have given away our room because we did not show up by 10:00 pm. So our grand plan to relax, spending two days in the same room, is blown right out of the water. Despite firm, but fair complaint, we are sent down the street to the El Dorado hotel, which turns out to be a very generic North American hotel. We will only be staying here one night, I can guarantee.

We finally manage to finish off the day on another high note at "Klondike Kate's". This restaurant has a good selection of beer, exellent food, and fantastic desserts. We have a load of each. Fat and happy, we finally call an end to this day.

see it on a map

The previous installment:
Inuvik to Eagle Plains - The Pictures

The next installment:
Eagle Plains to Dawson - The Pictures

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All materials © 2004 Lea Ann Mawler & Stuart Mawler