Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Yukon Trip - Day 2 - Atlin, BC

After a breakfast of zucchini carrot muffins and coffee we packed up and headed a little ways south of Whitehorse to Miles Canyon. We had the park to ourselves on this rainy morning and took a walk around, imagining how early explorers and prospectors would have navigated the deep and fast-flowing Yukon River between the canyon walls. Geographically interesting is the interlocking columnar volcanic basalt that forms the canyon – similar to that seen at Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. The orange lichen on the basalt and the clear turquoise water make for picturesque scenery. We crossed a suspension bridge over the canyon and followed a trail a ways along its rim. There are a number of trails in the park, but exploring them properly would take the better part of a day.
We headed further south on the Alaska Highway then turned off on Atlin Road, which crosses the Yukon – British Columbia border and ends at the town of Atlin. Although in BC, Atlin cannot be accessed by road from BC, but rather must be reached through the Yukon, by a three-hour drive south from Whitehorse. The drive is beautiful, through spruce valleys, with views of snow-capped mountains. We stopped for a scenic lunch by Little Atlin Lake.
rest stop at a Yukon River dam, on the Alaska Highway south of Whitehorse
Atlin Road and Little Atlin Lake (featuring our cracked Yukon windshield)
rest stop at Little Atlin Lake
lunch at Little Atlin Lake
crossing into BC on Atlin Road
Atlin sprung up in 1898, when the Klondike Gold Rush brought 5000 people to settle in the region. The town thrived, attracting tourists on the M.V. Tarahne and other lake boats in the 1920s, to see the “Switzerland of the North”. Although lake boat tourism declined during the Great Depression (the Tarahne was retired in 1936), tourism once again picked up with the construction of an overland route to the town, Atlin Road, in 1950.
M.V. Tarahne on Atlin Lake
In chatting with the friendly owners, Trudy and Bob, of the Sojourner’s Loft hostel where we are staying tonight, we learned that Atlin’s population of 300 in the winter doubles to 600 in the summer, due to an influx of visitors primarily from Germany and Juneau, many of whom own vacation cabins in the area. Additionally, each July the Atlin Music Festival draws a few thousand visitors. We also learned from Trudy and Bob that “gold fever” is not just a thing of the past – Bob operates extraction equipment for modern-day prospectors that sifts huge amounts of earth at great expense, in some cases yielding millions in profits, but in others leading hopeful prospectors straight into debt.
the town of Atlin
Fortunately the sun emerged to afford us a nice afternoon walk around the town. Atlin’s Tlingit name, Aa Tlein, means “big body of water” – a reference to Atlin Lake, on which the town is situated. We walked out on the dock and along the lakeshore, admiring the views of Atlin Mountain across the water.
Atlin Mountain across Atlin Lake
flowers by the dock
crystal clear water
With the whole town built on a gentle slope, just about every property has an incredible vista of the lake and mountains. We walked through the streets, seeing the Globe Theatre (built in 1917 and still operating), general store and grocery store, courthouse (now housing the art gallery and library – open just four hours a week), St. Martin’s Anglican Church (1900), Atlin Museum (the museum was closed, but we browsed the outdoor displays of old farming and mining equipment), and fire station.
Globe Theatre and other businesses
Atlin General Store -- selling hardware, houseware, and a few souvenirs
Atlin Grocery Store -- stocking just a few of each item
courthouse -- now housing the art gallery and library
Atlin Museum -- outdoor exhibits
old firehall and fire wagon
gold prospector mural on the back of the old firehall
We saw the old hospital and poked around in a couple of old gold rush cabins on the lakefront nearby. Although many such historic buildings have information plaques on them, some of the old buildings seem otherwise undisturbed – in one cabin we found a disintegrating jacket hanging on a hook, food cans, and old newspapers, seemingly untouched since its occupants left over half a century ago.
old hospital

an abandoned gold rush cabin
abandoned gold rush cabins
inside one of the cabins -- a copy of The Province from 1958
abandoned boats in front of the old cabins
abandoned boat on Atlin Lake
We also saw several buildings, including a jail and community hall, that had been relocated from Discovery, a former gold rush town 8 km east of Atlin that is now a ghost town.
Discovery's jail, relocated to Atlin
Discovery's community hall, relocated to Atlin
Also interesting was getting a glimpse at what daily life is like for Atlin residents, by walking through the residential streets and past the medical clinic and correspondence college.
wooden houses and log cabins of Atlin's residents
flowers (and wild rhubarb!) seem to grow well here
Atlin Health Centre
Northern Lights College, in partnership with UNBC
no shortage of unoccupied lakefront land
We drove just east of the town to walk through Atlin’s cemetery, where nature is beginning to take over the wooden grave markers of primarily European and American pioneers of the early- to mid-1900s. Across the road from the cemetery is Atlin’s air field, amounting to a stretch of gravel where little private planes could (bumpily) take off and land.
In the late afternoon we headed 2 km out of town to Sojourner’s Loft, to move into the little A-frame one-room cabin where we’ll be spending tonight. Trudy and Bob have been running Sojourner’s Loft for five years and clearly take a lot of pride in maintaining a lovely property. Furthermore, they set their price point lower than any other Atlin accommodation and participate in a program that offers room and board to young travellers in exchange for labour. We are pretty lucky to be the only guests tonight in such a beautiful, quiet, secluded place!
Trudy and Bob's log cabin home
We had a look in the three available cabins: the single hut ($20), the double glasshutte ($50), and the loft ($80 for 3 people; where we are staying). Of these only the loft has electricity, and includes a fridge, toaster oven, and kettle.
the hut
the glasshutte
the loft
inside the loft
view from the loft's window
Outdoors a common cookery, washing basin/mirror, shower, and outhouse are available. We've been provided with a large container of potable water and may collect our own washing water from the outdoor shower.
the cookery (and the loft building to the left)
the outdoor washroom: washing basin/mirror, shower, and outhouse
The entire property is decorated so charmingly, with colourful flowers, wind chimes, statues, bird houses, and other whimsical garden decorations wherever you look.
muskoka chairs outside the glasshutte
As it’s a rainy 10 °C this evening, we've turned on the baseboard heater and are having a cosy dinner of instant noodles, vegetables, and fruit in our loft.

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