Tombstone Territorial Park is located just a short way up the Dempster Highway. If you find yourself in Dawson and want a fantastic day-excursion, Tombstone Territorial Park would be a fantastic place to visit.
I would go as far as making Tombstone the destination if I ever find myself in the north-central part of the Yukon. Once again, latitude and elevation have the interesting interplay that produces a convergence of the boreal, alpine and arctic biomes – all within the 850 square miles of the park.
We saw red fox, grizzly bears, parliaments of owls and multiple moose. But, if there is one creature that could sum up the fauna-equation, it would have to be ptarmigan.
Ptarmigan seemed to be nearly everywhere. We stopped at one point, and the intention was not to photograph or watch ptarmigan, but it turned into that. We watched and listened to males attempting to court females. Males make an absolutely bizarre sound; it is akin to wobbling a steel handsaw. The males were also incredibly easy to spot. Their white bodies, with brown necks/heads topped with a bright red cap. The females, on the other hand, were quite difficult to spot. You had to listen for a return call to a male, and then look for movement in that general direction.
Can you spot the female ptarmigan in the photo to the left?
Along with the quantities of wildlife, the other utterly amazing aspect of the park was how it was somewhat barren. There were dwarf willow, and dwarf spruce, and clumps of taller-than-ground-level vegetation, but the entire park had the feeling that, if it was winter, it would have been a vast, white blanket of snow with the Dempster cutting through it like an offwhite ribbon.
Just the number of RCMP that we saw in Whitehorse, a city of 23,276 people made me feel slightly on edge. I am not saying it was an inherently dangerous place – there was just a definite edge to the city. The First Nations vagrants -there was one that kept popping up, each time asking us for something else – trying to hustle you for cigarettes or cash as well as the many individuals we saw stumbling out of or in front of taverns; yet, at the same time, there were trendier restaurants, cafés, bookstores, and clothing shops. It was like a slice of the Pacific Northwest had cleaved off and somehow drifted to the Mesabi Iron Range – and specifically, Gilbert – of Minnesota.
We had breakfast at a hipster-esque breakfast place called Burnt Toast Café; we rolled out of town heading north toward the Dempster Highway. The entrance to the Dempster sits at around 64° N. latitude.
Our original intent, based on the distance our map, from the Dempster to Dawson City, was to skip Dawson entirely. The map had mislabeled the distance as 64 miles. We thought why should we travel a total of an extra two+ hours to get diesel. But, as we got closer to the Dempster and distances between places were shown on roadside signs – we realized that Dawson was much closer than the map had led us to believe. We could fill up with that precious distillate-fluid: diesel. We would definitely have enough fuel to get to Eagle Plains.
We stopped for fish and chips at Sour Dough Joes. I do have say that Sour Dough’s had fantastic fresh salmon fish and chips.
With full stomachs and a full tank & jerrycans of diesel, we rolled out of Dawson City.
Shortly down the Dempster Highway, there is a sign that is the equivalent of Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here. The sign basically warned of the total lack of modern services as well as the lack of prompt emergency medical services. We continued on; The sun was still high in the sky at 7:00 PM. Tombstone Territorial Park, with its snowcapped mountains, loomed in the distance.