Monday, 3 September 2012

South to Carcross, Yukon

Like..okay...the drive down from Whitehorse this morning, to Carcross was damned pretty.

This is the #1 coffee joint in Carcross..also has the museum. The rail tracks are part of the White Pass system. Ah seen the trax, ain't seen the injun.

 Downtown Carcross.....don't blink.

If you have ever seen the dunes of Oregon, then this should look awfully familiar to you.

Carcross Desert

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Carcross Desert
Carcross Desert, located outside Carcross, Yukon, Canada (60°11′14″N 134°41′41″WCoordinates: 60°11′14″N 134°41′41″W), is often considered the smallest desert in the world. The Carcoss Desert measures approximately 1 square mile (2.6 km2), or 640 acres.[1]



Carcross Desert is commonly referred to as a desert, but is actually a series of northern sand dunes. The area's climate is too humid to be considered a true desert.[2] The sand was formed during the last ice age, when large glacial lakes formed and deposited silt. When the lakes dried, the dunes were left behind. Today, sand comes mainly from nearby Bennett Lake, carried by wind. The dunes contain a wide variety of plants, including unusual varieties such as Baikal sedge and Yukon lupine, among others.[2][3]
The Yukon Territorial government made efforts to protect Carcross Desert in 1992, but failed due to opposition from locals who use the dunes for recreational purposes.[2]


Carcross Desert in winter.
Carcross Desert is significantly drier than the surrounding region, receiving less than 50 cm of rain per year. This is due mainly in part to a rain shadow effect caused by surrounding mountains.[4] As a result, several rare species of plant life have taken hold in the comparatively arid conditions. Carex sabulosa, or Baikal sedge, is only known to exist in four other sites in North America, mainly existing in Asia. Yukon Lupine, also unusual for the surroundings, "grows like a weed."[3] While the vegetation in the area currently locks much of the dune system in place, a large event such as a forest fire could easily clear out the vegetation and return the dunes to an active state.


Informational sign on roadside
The dunes are used by locals for sandboarding. Tourist groups also use the area for off-road scenic tours, which is allowed on the fine-grained dunes. Other summer activities include hiking and all-terrain vehicles.[5]
In the winter, the area is used mainly for cross-country skiing and snowboarding.[2]
The nearby White Pass and Yukon Route is a popular tourist attraction, bringing many tourists each year to the Carcross area.

More info from this site....

The answer, to be clear, is that the Carcross Desert is not an actual desert.  Rather, it is a large bed of sand that marks the location of a glacial lake bed dating back over 10 000 years ago.  The names ‘Carcross Dunes’ or ‘Carcross Sands’ would probably be more accurate.  The name, however, has been embedded for so long in local parlance that it’s not going anywhere.  Regardless of what it’s called, it’s a fascinating geological oddity.
The sign alongside the Klondike Highway denoting the Carcross Desert.  Source: Hersfold,  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.
The village of Carcross sits on a narrow outwash plain that separates Bennett Lake to the west from Nares Lake to the east.  Both lakes are remnant of Glacial Lake Watson, a post-glacial lake that formed during the late Pleistocene at the end of the last ice age.  As the glaciers in the region retreated, the glacial meltwater collected in the deep valley basin of the mountainous region.  The sediments and rock flour the glaciers ground away from the valley walls, formerly trapped with the glaciers themselves, were now washed into the lake and deposited over thousands of years, creating a thick lakebed of extremely fine silt.  The area where the village now sits was formerly 120 metres (393 ft) below the surface of the lake.
Eventually Glacial Lake Watson shrank and dried away with the disappearance of the glaciers, producing the intricate network of rivers and mountain lakes in southern Yukon and northwest British Columbia known today as the Southern Lakes, of which Bennett and Nares are but two.  The lower water levels in the region exposed much of the ancient lake bed, most of which became vegetated over time.  The area of the Carcross Desert, however, lies in a small mountain rain shadow that receives less than 50 cm (20 in) of rain per year.  As a result, the area stays dry, the surface stays unstable, and only a small amount of vegetation has managed to anchor itself in the troughs between the dunes, shielded from the abrasive effects of the wind.  Plant species not typically found in other similar regions such as Baikal sedge, Siberian asters, and Yukon lupine have made their homes here, as have ten rare species of insects that feed on the plants.
Bennett Lake’s continued presence in the region is what keeps the Carcross Desert going.  The Watson River empties into Bennett Lake just west of Carcross, carrying with it more sand and silt.  When low water levels expose the large sandy beaches of the lake in spring, northwesterly winds blowing across the lake send the finely-grained sand directly into the path of the dunes located 2 km (1.2 mi) away.  Sand grains are blown up the slight slopes of the Desert, forming large bumps that eventually crest and collapse into dunes.
The Carcross Desert is not protected at the moment, as it is very popular among locals and tourists alike who enjoy recreational activities in the dunes such as 4x4 offroading, ATVing, and sandboarding.  Cross-country skiers and snowboarders frequent the snow-covered dunes in winter.  This human activity actually serves to help keep vegetation from taking hold, thus preserving the dunes.  A glance at the above map shows how vegetation, particularly lodgepole pine and kinnikinnick, has slowly taken over most of the rest of the sandy path between Bennett Lake and the Carcross Desert.

Spirit Lake...south of Whitehorse, just north of Carcross

 A lady from Chicago was intercepted. She was on a cruise ship that was docked in Skagway and this was her CDN adventure....coming to Carcross.



  1. Absolutely gorgeous, sadly, it'll all be under snow and bitter cold soon :(.

  2. I'm afraid you are right, Matt. However, we will have more snow in Kitimat, than up here. Lots more.