Been there, done that
Dawson City, Yukon, Canada
The smoke picks up again, the fires raging northeast of us. We find out that almost all the paved-roads parts of Alaska are full of fire-smoke. If we want to escape, we'll have to head east for hundreds of clicks. We've had several fellow travellers (the coolest/weirdest people stop to talk to us, people doing the same kind of thing we are, except they are from somewhere in Canada, not La Florida, US) tell us to check out Dawson City. Some of the coolest things we've seen this trip (Hyder, Alaska, and the Stan Stephens wildlife cruise, for a couple) have been through oral discourse.
Dawson City is a cool little town. We enter it when the TOTW highway turns from goddes-awful gravel to water. We cross the river on an 8-car ferry boat, the sun muted, trying to melt a hot-pink hole through the fire-haze. The white smoke poured across the river, the air itself burned alive, and we felt like we needed to pull the coins off of our eyes and pass them over to the ferry operators. Ugh. What an amazing scene. No pics, of course, because...and I'm only a little bitter about this...of the fire-smoke, of course. We'd been breathing fire smoke for five days when we crossed the River Styx. Okay, the Yukon River, and I'm just being a bitchy tourist.
Dawson City looks as if it is still a wild-west town, Canadian style. No paved streets, everything set up in tight little squares, old-style buildings painted anew. And a funky little casino with a can-can show and the vocal stylings of a fabulous replica of Diamond Tooth Gertie. Diamond Tooth Gertie's Gambling Hall is a municipal-coop gambling hall. All the proceeds go to the town, a NPO (or whatever they call them in the Klondike). We wet our whistles there, stuck a dollar in a slot machine (remember how lucky in love we are), and watched two can-can shows. Marvelous performers, marvelous costumes, marvelous energy-level. Funny how they're the only thing in town, and they still kick and smile and dance like you have a dozen other shows to choose from. http://www.downtown.yk.net/
Dawson City is eerie as hell, late at night, with the sun still trying to reach us at eleven pm, full of white smoke like the fire is right around the corner, not hundreds of kms away. It's like Cowboy Hell. Ghostly. Burning. Deserted. And the gas stations have all closed by the time we get out of the casino, so we camp on the outskirts at a tractor repair shop/bus station, sure the drivers will wake us up early, heating up their buses before they go about their days. We leave Alaska by a different route than we came in: the Top of the World Highway, which is supposed to be one of the most amazing roads in the world. Really. The vistas are supposed to be second to none. We're not sure if this is true, because the entire journey is...full of forest-fire smoke. Ah, well. We'll always have Valdez, we tell each other.
Most of the TOTW highway is paved. For about a hundred miles, however, the road is potted, pitted, sometimes gravelled, awful, baby, awful. Even for an Alaskan road during summer. We take a break from the dusty bumpy road in Chicken, Alaska, a town so small and desolate they have their water delivered once a week. We have a beer in the Chicken Tavern, where the proprietress tells us about her bad divorce and the Caribou she shot just that morning. The specials board for the cafe next door changes while we sit sipping on our barstools, and we meet the cook when he comes out, apron bloody from butchering the Bou, to tell our hostess that she'll have to take the liver off the menu, he couldn't get to it before the intestines burst and ruined it.
Back to the Yukon. They let us back into Canada (really, the only testy time we had at any customs on this trip was getting into Alberta the first time), no problems, and warn us that the smoke continues at least to Dawson City.
The drive is ok anyway, though. We look over the edge of the road into the incredible vistas, all covered in smelly white smoke, and pretend we can see them. You can feel the skope of them, feel the trees and rocks and streams and distant mountains under all that white.