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A long wait for sunset in the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’

During a summer trip to Dawson City in the Yukon I sit looking through various brochures in the hotel searching for something that will interest Karen and me. Just outside the city is Midnight Dome, a lookout point on top of the small mountain on the northeast side. The name derives from the congregations of people who for decades have gathered on the top of the hill to celebrate the summer solstice on June 21. This has been going on since 1899. To watch the midnight sun and the changing colours of the sky is what passes for a sunset this time of year. So we tell the boys we’re going for a drive to watch the sun from a hill. “Do you want to come with us?”

They look up from the TV with a look that plainly says, “Are you out of your mind? No.”

Midnight Dome RoadNow I know there’s not going to be a sunset but there is some semblance of one lingering. I can take a photo and run it through PhotoShop and make it look like a sunset. Therefore, I now have a reason for this odyssey. The drive up the Midnight Dome road is beautiful. At 5 miles in length the road itself isn’t much more than a couple of well-worn ruts but the surrounding birch forest is magnificent. The lighting is superb; soft with long shadows. Against the darker forest background the birches themselves are a picture waiting to be taken.

It is so pretty here that we stop the SUV and go for a bit of a walk along the road. Now when I say we stopped the SUV I mean exactly that. I did not park it, I didn’t even move it off the road. I am not expecting any traffic here. Since we left Whitehorse three days ago I don’t think we’ve seen 100 cars in total. As we continue to drive up the hill I am very much alert and on the lookout for wildlife because it is that dusk, twilight time and typically that’s when the animals come out to forage for food. I am seeing nothing! I figured up here in the woods that we’d see some deer, maybe a fox but we do not see so much as a frigging squirrel!

People are always saying the wildlife is amazing in the Yukon and Alaska. Well it has to be somewhere else in the Yukon and Alaska because it sure as hell isn’t anywhere I’ve been. I think it’s kind of funny that this is so typical of us. I think the last time we saw any significant wildlife was in Yellowstone National Park – 9 years ago. That is a protected wilderness area but could be considered a zoo in comparison to here.

The view from Midnight Dome

The view from Midnight Dome

At the top of the dome the road just ends. There’s a circle you can drive around to head back down. We park the SUV and walk toward the edge of the lookout. All the brochures are correct. This is 360 degrees of magnificence. The panoramic view from Midnight Dome is spectacular. From here you can see Dawson City, the Yukon River, Klondike Valley, Bonanza Creek, Top of the World Highway and the Ogilvie Mountains. King Solomon’s Dome, the alleged source of gold that attracted so many to Dawson City in 1898, can also be seen as the green valley opens to rolling hills in the foreground surrounded by rugged mountains in the distance. Now THAT is well worth the drive up.

As Karen and I are trying to catch our breath in light of this incredible view we hear a very distinct, sickening “clunk clunk” noise. We both kind of freeze in our tracks thinking, “Please tell me that’s not what I think it is.”

I turn around and walk back to the SUV. Yes, that was the sound of the doors locking! Is this a new safety feature? Unbeknownst to me, this happens automatically. And where are the keys? Why they’re in the ignition of course. We’re in an area of the country where you certainly don’t need to lock your vehicle and it’s not exactly busy up here so why not leave the keys in the ignition. What can happen? Apparently the doors can lock by themselves genius!

We’re in the North. We don’t have to worry about keys and break-ins. Well, yeah, we need to worry about break-ins because now we have to break into our own vehicle. We have no way to get back to the hotel. No one knows we’re here. The boys know we went out for a drive but they don’t know where. I don’t imagine that this site is on a police patrol route. So what in the name of Jesus H. Christ are we going to do?!

I begin looking around to see if I can find a rock big enough to smash a window because that is truly my only thought about now. I can’t open the door. I don’t have a coat hanger handy and even if I did I seriously doubt I’d know what to do with it. As I crouch down to pick up a possible missile I look up at the side of the SUV and see a bit of brightness inside at the roof. As I stand up I cheer, “Yes! Yes! The sunroof – and it’s open! A ha!”

It’s a sign from above. However, this is not as easy as it sounds because I’m a bit on the large side so this will be a major undertaking. Not only do I have to get up on the roof of a full size SUV but I then have to squeeze my massive frame in through this now tiny looking sunroof. Picture the original Michelin tire man trying to climb through a Toyota tire. Luckily I do get up on the roof and it does not cave in. I am also very fortunate to get my one shoulder and arm in through the sunroof and stretch enough to get the keys out of the ignition – without dropping them on the floor. Wow, maybe I better buy a lottery ticket right now. I’m never this lucky!

We can now do what we came up here to do; enjoy this view. It truly is a scene like no other. I had no idea the river had such a massive bend in it. To be perfectly honest, I had not even noticed a river when we were in the town. Even though it is still what I would call dusk the lights of the city are on and it’s a very pretty sight.

As we walk through the trees I look up and see, oh my God, there’s a sparrow! Write that in the journal. This is the only wildlife we’ve seen since we got to the Yukon. Pretty pathetic.

We drive back down and arrive back at the hotel about 11:30PM. There is a vivid orange/rose glow permeating the sky. Even though it appears the sun is going down and you have the afterglow of the sunset, it is not particularly dark. There you have it, the midnight sun.

More by Eric Whitehead in his book ‘Then there Was One‘.

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