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Dawson City: A Mariner Magazine Exclusive

The Winter 2014 issue of Holland America Line’s Mariner Magazine features an article entitled “Dynamic Duo” by Dave Johnston that gives insight into Denali National Park and the Yukon’s Dawson City.

Here is the featured selection about Dawson City, the town the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush.

And if you don’t receive Mariner Magazine, be sure to check out the online version by clicking HERE.

Twenty-one years before Denali was named a national park, Dawson City was established in Canada’s Yukon Territory. The town sprang up after gold was found on Bonanza Creek (the naming wasn’t prescient; it was previously Rabbit Creek) in 1896. While miners staked their gold claims, Joe Ladue realized that the real profit lay in supplying those miners and started a town along the Yukon River. Within six months, 500 buildings—houses, hotels, restaurants, saloons—had been built on Ladue’s site and a year later, Dawson City’s population had reached 40,000 residents (1,300 people live there year-round today). And, thanks to a new, one-hour flight from Fairbanks on select Land+Sea Journeys replacing a two-day coach journey, it’s easier than ever for Holland America Line guests to visit this historic town.

The frontier spirit remains at Dawson City.

The frontier spirit remains at Dawson City.

Arriving in Dawson City, you can clearly see that the frontier spirit remains. The roads are a mixture of dirt and gravel, and wood-plank sidewalks line some of the town’s streets. In places like Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall, a non-profit casino whose yipping can-can dancers appear to endanger their own foreheads with their high kicks, it feels as if time hasn’t finished with 1896.

I knew that Dawson City was an old Gold Rush town, but I hadn’t realized that it never stopped being a mining town. As you head east on the Klondike Highway on the Goldbottom Mine Tour, mining’s effects on the landscape are readily apparent. What began as lone miners digging through the creek-side permafrost gave way to the big mining companies and their dredges, which turned creeks into tall serpentine piles of gravel tailings. After the companies left, in the 1960s, their place was taken by placer miners who use water to unearth gold from the dirt, sand, and gravel along rivers. Arriving on the site of the Gold Rush town of Goldbottom, which once had a hospital, electricity, and 5,000 residents, I find that it’s now home to only Justin Millar, his father, and a dog named Zeus. Every summer, the Millars work claims their family has kept since 1974. If you’re up to the challenge, you can pull on a pair of rubber boots and pan for gold yourself. You’ll have to take off your glasses, squint, and hold the pan close to a light source, because if you find anything, it’ll be just a glimmer of gold dust. While it’s beyond tiny, this gold dust adds up. It may not be the Gold Rush, but in 2012 Dawson City miners extracted more than 43,000 troy ounces of gold valued at more than $70 million.

Dawson City is surrounded by natural beauty.

Dawson City is surrounded by natural beauty.

Not far from Dawson City, an hour-and-a-half drive up the gravel-covered Dempster Highway, is Tombstone Territorial Park. We see as we enter that the shifting permafrost has caused the black spruce to twist, bend, and corkscrew in what is known as a drunken forest. Much as in Denali, the forest here dramatically yields to a tundra landscape of shrub versions of willows, poplars, and aspens that barely reach my knees. The traditional territory of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, a First Nation tribe, the park gets its name from stark granite Tombstone Mountain that’s an iconic part of the Ogilvie Range.

In the short time I spend in Denali and Dawson City, I see a lot. But I don’t see the Northern Lights or find any gold, not even a fleck. So there’s no way I can claim to have seen it all. But that’s what makes me want to come back — so I can look for the treasures that remain to be seen.

Have you been to Dawson City with Holland America Line? What did you think?

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