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Paddle Wheelers and the Midnight Dome!


The paddle wheeler “Klondike Spirit”.


July 25, 2017 

At 9 a.m. we boarded the paddle wheeler “Klondike Spirit” for a two-hour river excursion on the Yukon. The Klondike Spirit, a modern side wheel version of a paddle wheel steamer, was constructed over a period of five years in Eagle City, Alaska and put into service in 2005. The boat was very maneuverable with paddles on both sides that could be operated forward and backward independently. The diesel-powered riverboat had three passenger decks, a food service galley and two staterooms for crews. It was the first side-wheeler to be built on the Yukon in decades.

As we got underway, the paddlewheels started spinning and churning up water. We were propelled forward. I moved to the middle deck which had great open-air visibility. Rodge preferred the bow because the point of view was similar to that from a submarine bridge. We first headed north (downstream). The Yukon River, framed by mountains and sprinkled with wooded islands, was calm and thick with silt and was the color of chocolate pudding. We cruised by Moosehide, an historic First Nations settlement. When the Gold Rush stampeders took over their Dawson City location in 1897, the Han people moved downriver to Moosehide. In the 1950’s, the declining population at the settlement and the closing of their school caused the people to move back to Dawson, where they now are an integral part of the community.

Up ahead I saw the Dawson Ferry crossing the river. The ferry runs 24 hours a day when the river is free of ice. After the river freezes, usually by mid-November, the government creates an ice road across the river and people drive across that. There are six weeks in fall and spring during freeze up and break-up when no passage is possible so people living in West Dawson must prepare accordingly.

After traveling five miles we turned around and headed south (upriver). I couldn’t help but think about the history associated with the river. Over one hundred years ago paddle wheeler traffic dominated the Yukon River. During their heyday, that started with the beginning of the Gold Rush in 1896, there were over 260 stern-wheelers. These riverboats, unlike the “Klondike Spirit,” had their paddlewheel in the back. That design protected them from hitting sandbars and made them less vulnerable to damage. The boats that supplied food, mail, goods for the miners and transportation were powered by wood fueled locomotive-type boiler engines. From Whitehorse to Dawson City, wood camps sprung up along the river to provide fuel for the stern-wheelers during their journey.

Paddle wheelers continued to use the river until the 1950s when the Klondike Highway was completed. Bridges built along the highway to Dawson City were too low to accommodate the old river steamers and by 1955 all steamers were beached. On our way upriver, we passed by a sternwheeler graveyard where six large paddleboats were pulled up on the riverbank in West Dawson. Most vessels were eventually wrecked, destroyed by explosion or fire, or dismantled for their lumber, machinery, and valuable hardware. We could only see the two outermost boats from the river and they are decaying wrecks of wood, tilted funnels, wires and paddle frames.

Along the riverbank our captain pointed out where Dawson City’s infamous “Caveman Bill” hangs out. Up ahead on the West Dawson side of the river we could see the entrance to his humble abode decked out with a wooden door and a metal roof. We also spotted one of his dogs, solar panels and miscellaneous junk scattered around. He’s lived in the cave for 18 years. Even in the winter when temperatures drop to 50 below, he has a wood stove he can fire up. “Caveman Bill” has all the comforts of home without plumbing and electricity. LED lights brighten up his world along with the comfort of his two dogs. He spends a great deal of his time making furniture for himself and others. He has Wi-Fi connection off and on and best of all he has a riverfront location. Amazing!

After we cruised by Dawson City, we continued south until we reached the confluence of the brown, silty glacier-fed Yukon River with the clear blue Klondike River. It was quite striking to see the two rivers flow side by side like two long ribbons. This phenomenon is due to the difference in temperature, speed and water density of the two rivers. After about a mile, the clear waters of the Klondike started mixing with the silty brown waters until they became one, the mighty Yukon! Our excursion was almost over and it was time to turn around and return to the dock. I thoroughly enjoyed the paddle wheeler cruise.

Back ashore, we walked down Front Street and reached the ice cream shop at 11 a.m., just in time for lunch. Another ice cream pig fest ensued and we enjoyed a relaxing twenty minutes watching the world and river pass us by as we sat on the boardwalk in front of the shop. We spent the next hour or so walking south atop the dike along the river then headed back north to Fifth Avenue to our hotel. During the course of our travels, we passed the community’s indoor pool, a hockey rink, a curling club, library and school. We later found out there is a nearby ski slope and golf course.

After a relaxing dinner, we met in the hotel lobby for our sightseeing trip to the Midnight Dome, the mountaintop immediately east of and overlooking the town. It is called the Midnight Dome because for decades people gathered on the top of the hill to watch the midnight sun and the changing hues of the night sky. The Dome is a metamorphic rock that stands 2,911 feet high. Our guide drove us up a winding road to the summit. The weather was perfect, visibility unlimited, warm and sunny. The view in all directions was awesome—rivers, forests, distant mountain ranges and Dawson City. The view rivalled the Grand Canyon in majesty. It was a panoramic vision of beauty!

We arrived back in town by 8:15 p.m. just in time for the 8:30 p.m. show at Diamond Tooth Gerties. The show was the same as the previous evening except a different woman played the lead singer, Gertie. We had an enjoyable time on our last night in Dawson City. Could life get any better?




We board the “Klondike Spirit” for a cruise on the Yukon River.


Heading north on the Yukon River.


Simply messing about in boats.


A sternwheeler graveyard full of decaying wood and mangled steel.


Tilted funnels, wires and paddle frames haunt this sternwheeler graveyard.


“Caveman Bill” living off the grid in West Dawson City.


The captain navigating the Yukon River.


A bird’s-eye view of Rodge on the bow of the paddle wheeler.


A view of the clear Klondike River flowing along side the muddy Yukon River.


Rodge’s funky picture of the Yukon River.


The river was thick with brown silt and was the color of chocolate pudding


I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.


Walking atop the dike along the Yukon River.


Near the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers. The big split!


The Yukon River framed with colorful vegetation.


The Yukon up close and personal with the Klondike.


Kathy composing a picture.


Billy Goats Restaurant and Pub.


A quaint Dawson City home.


Rodge,  on his way back to Gertie’s Wing.


The Midnight Dome mountaintop overlooking town.


A grand view from the Midnight Dome.


Small wooded islands chilling in the Yukon River.


A view of Dawson City from the Midnight Dome.


The confluence of the Yukon and Klondike (bottom left) Rivers.


Kathy capturing the magnificence and beauty of the Yukon.


Kathy striking a pose.


Rodge posing with the Yukon River.


The Gold Rush Girls kicking and flashing their colorful skirts.


Gertie serenading the crowd.


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