Dawson City is a cool town of faux Gold Rush store fronts and unpaved streets to give visitors that 1890s feel. And restaurants with names like “Alchemy.” We ended up spending three nights there and Veeka got a kick out of Claim 33, a shop where they teach you how to pan for gold. She was thrilled with the flakes that she ended up there. We then drove to a riverbank where anyone can pan for gold and all we got was gravel! Now I understand all those photos of people standing knee-deep in water. You have to have running water to flush out the pans. Our second full day, we drove to Tombstone Territorial Park, which is the first leg on the “Dempster,” a long gravel highway that eventually – some 500 miles later – ends up in the village of Inuvik on the Beaufort Sea in the Northwest Territories. The highway is famous for giving flat tires and cracked windshields and sure enough, after a day on that, I had a crack spreading halfway across my windshield which is par for the course for many Alaskans. The gravel roads here are so awful that many folks never repair their windshields, as they’ll only get zinged again with more rocks.
But the scenery was the most magnificent I’d seen on the entire trip – and that is saying a lot. Seventy miles from Dawson City is this large area known as Tombstone and filled with huge jagged peaks, gorgeous vistas and wildflowers to melt your heart. We had great weather that day so we could see ranges with names like Cloudy Range, Prospector Range, Snowy Range and of course Tombstone Range. We did a short hike, singing “The Hills are Alive” (had to teach that to Veeka) and luxuriated in the blue lupine and smaller wildflowers everywhere. When you’re that far north, everything is alpine, so there was lots of balsam poplars, aspens, spruce, lodge pole pines and willows. The place where we stayed – Whithouse cabins – was cheery and fun for Veeka, as the owner had a 7-year-old who played with her. She wanted to stay! We stayed in a tent – really like a yurt – out back, which I really enjoyed.
The next day, we took a ferry across the Yukon River (a huge river that most folks in North America rarely get to see) and drove 65 miles on the Top of the World Highway, so named because you’re on ridges about 4,000 feet up above the tree line in the middle of nowhere in the boreal forest between Canada and the USA. This was a very isolated road and other than a bunch of RVs and us, there was no one around. There weren’t even camping spots. But there were these undulating blue ridges. Hard to believe that prospectors were in this area 100 years ago, as it’s still pretty untouched and remote. After customs, there was a lovely stretch of paved road, then a terrifying stretch of gravel road with drop-offs of hundreds of feet and no guardrails.
Decided that driving this road once in my life will be enough. Fortunately there’s a small village called Chicken about 40 miles from the border with a few restaurants. We returned to Tok, but instead of heading home to Fairbanks, I took a long detour down what’s known as the Tok cut-off; a lovely highway with views of mountain ranges in the Mentasta and Wrangell mountains. I knew we’d not be that way again, so wanted to see what we could. Arriving at a hamlet called Gakona, I headed north on Richardson Highway, then went west on an unusual gravel road known as the Denali Highway. This had been on my bucket list for awhile. The Denali route is right underneath the Alaska Range, which means you drive for 130 miles along the most gorgeous range of snow-covered peaks. We stayed at a lodge that night, then drove west that morning through more and more spectacular vistas that included Mts. Deborah, Hess and Hayes. Suddenly at the end, Denali itself popped up in front of us; again like a huge vanilla ice cream cone against the sky. We stopped in the national park to do a hike, as the weather was so gorgeous.
When we got home, my nearly 23-year-old cat, Serenity, had gotten even more feeble and addled. One leg was so arthritic, she could barely move it. A front paw was crumpling under her. She refused to use the kitty box, so peed everywhere. She had a tough time getting to the food bowls, would always tip them over and often seemed not to understand what they were as she’s had kitty dementia for years. As I had another trip coming up this week, I knew I could not leave her alone again, even with a pet sitter coming by once a day.
She would howl unhappily a lot but she wasn’t in pain that I could see. But it was so hard to watch her try to get around. Finally on June 4, I took her to the vet and had her put down. The vet said she had the worst case of hip dysplasia he’d ever seen. Have no idea how that happened. It’s just the worst thing to have to do. I felt – and still do – horrible about it but I didn’t have great options. And so, for the first time in 24 years (I got my first kitty in 1991), I am without a cat in the house. That is more than a third of my life. It’s amazing, really, that the same trio of cats lived so long.