My Research Trips

Yukon and Alaska

On the Road between Yukon and Alaska

While I was writing my historical novels set during the Klondike gold rush, I wanted to see the area – Yukon Territory in Canada and Alaska in the USA. I took my first research trip as an author and visited a gorgeous destination. My family joined me. Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip. Enjoy the view! You can also scroll down to see the top 3 things that surprised me most about my travels to the north.

The Top 3 Things that Surprised Me Most

Traveling to the Yukon and Alaska and seeing this part of the world was amazing. Here are the top 3 things that surprised me:

1) The smell of the air. It’s what I’ll remember most. It was incredible! Every step brought a new scent: mountain flowers, clear glacier water, pine trees, cold rivers. On the first day we arrived in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, it was raining and the sun was shining at the same time. There were 3 rainbows!

2) The high price of food. Most food is imported, as I had imagined, but I was still surprised at having to pay $8.00 for a bag of small oranges. Wild salmon from the Yukon River tasted heavenly, filled with flavor, but costs almost as much there as it does here. Worth every penny.

3) Around-the-clock daylight feels strange. We were so far north that in the summer, the sun never sets. There were two or three hours in the middle of the night where the sky was a deep twilight blue, but otherwise, the sun was bright enough to get a sunburn at ten in the evening. It was hard to fall asleep. Very exciting, though!

Yukon Mountains


 

The Klondike and My Visit

I love writing about the Wild West. Some of my books are set in the American West, but since I live in Canada, I also write about the Mounties.

A brief explanation of historical differences:

The U.S. has always had about ten times the population of Canada, so Canada’s West was settled about 30-50 years later, simply because of fewer people. In the States, settlers headed West ahead of any sheriffs or lawmen.  In Canada, settlement didn’t start until after 1873, when the government created the North-West Mounted Police and ordered them to first scout the land and build forts. Today, they’re called the RCMP—Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a rough equivalent of the FBI.

One of my series is set in the Klondike Gold Rush, late 1890s.  For research, I traveled to the Yukon and Alaska.

Yukon RiverThese photographs were all taken in Yukon Territory, Canada, just outside the city of Whitehorse. When the gold rush occurred in the middle of this wilderness, every route there was almost impossible to endure. The shortest route for stampeders was to take a steamship to Skagway, Alaska, climb over the mountains by foot, then build temporary rafts to navigate the rivers to get to Dawson City, Canada, where the gold was. Notice the color of the water and sky?  My camera had no filters. The rivers and lakes are turquoise due to silt run-off from glaciers. That’s the Yukon River you see.

The Klondike Gold Rush got its name from the Klondike River where most of the gold was found. Most stampeders were men, but some daring women made it, too.  They came from all over the world, but the majority were American.

Alaskan BorderThat’s the sign on the border between Yukon and Alaska. We had a nice paved road to get there, but the terrain for stampeders was so steep and sharp, most of their horses didn’t make it. Unfortunately, more than 3,000 horses died trying to navigate the pass.

The town in the photographs is Skagway, Alaska. The buildings have been preserved as they were back in the gold rush days. You can still get a bite to eat at the saloon, and a souvenir T-shirt at the general store. Lots of excitement! When we were there, five cruise ships were docked with about 10,000 international visitors doing their shopping.

SkagwayPanning for gold was extremely difficult, mostly because the temperature of the water was icy. Even in summer, fingers would get numb from the cold because it was so far north, and frigid glaciers fed the rivers.

Only about one-third of the stampeders who tried to get there made it. Of those who did, most did not strike gold. However, many people got rich from selling things to the ones who did. The new millionaires had nothing to buy in the wilderness, so anything a person could carry in—new clothing, food of any kind, wine, champagne, fancy hats, entertainment—was highly sought after and worth hundreds of times their value back home. Even some of the native Indians who were hired as guides and packers to carry supplies over the mountains became millionaires. There were many eccentric folks who made up this interesting piece of our history.


Traveling Across Alberta

I was recently in the Rocky Mountains in Banff, Alberta! It’s gorgeous there. It was part holiday, part book research, part photography.

Banff

We also went to the Badlands in Alberta to see the stunning rock formations…and the dinosaur museum.

Badlands in Alberta

Dinosaur Museum

This is a photo of the dinosaur lab at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, the place where scientists assemble the bones before placing them in the museum. It’s cool that they allowed a viewing window as we strolled the rest of the museum. This June they just discovered a new species of dinosaur! They named it Hellboy (Regaliceratops peterhewsi) – it’s part of the Triceratops family, with some differences in the horns and the frilly-looking collar and crown.

Royal Tyrrell Museum

Saw a lot of blue skies and wonderful spaces on the prairies.

Prairies

The open space is the flat land where the original Fort Calgary was built. Home of my Mountie stories! Background is Calgary.

Calgary

Here’s a view of the Bow River surging through the mountains.

Bow River

A photo from a river canyon in Alberta. The water was so beautiful and clear. Well, I’m back from my trip and now it’s back to writing. Working on the opening page and chapter. I find this the toughest part. If I don’t get it right, I can’t seem to go on until it’s exactly the way I like it. But when I’m finally happy with it, it’s one of the joys of writing.

Alberta River Canyon


 

California: Along the Coastline

California

Hello from San Francisco, California!  It’s absolutely gorgeous here! We drove up the Pacific Coast Highway on our way here. We left Los Angeles Monday morning and missed the earthquake by a day. Luckily there were no major injuries or damage. We were in Napa Valley when it hit and didn’t feel a thing. I’ve got to show you these pictures. I grew up on Gidget movies and Beach Blanket Bingo, and have always wanted to see the land where they were filmed. Malibu mostly, I’m told.


 

Overseas in London

A research trip to London! One of the most exciting things I did was take a behind-the-scenes tour of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Top 8 things I discovered:

1. There are secret hallways in Buckingham Palace that are used only by Queen Elizabeth. Our group was shown how one of the fireplaces swings open from floor to ceiling so that the Queen doesn’t travel the corridors like everyone else, to maintain her privacy and security.

Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace Gate

2. It’s considered rude to turn your back on royalty. During Queen Victoria’s time, all staff had to walk backward out of a room when Her Majesty was in it. This rippled through our culture. Have you ever had someone apologize when their back was turned to you?

3. In North America, we call rivers by their name, then add “river” behind it. Such as Mississippi River, Fraser River, etc. In England they do it the other way around. People call it the River Thames.

4. Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest castle in the world. It has been the royal residence of British Kings and Queens for almost 1,000 years. It’s magnificent.

5. When Queen Elizabeth’s staff are preparing for a state dinner, they still use rulers to measure and ensure that every single plate, goblet, and piece of cutlery is in the same position as the next place setting.

6. It’s a matter of debate how many Kings and Queens over time used food tasters to test the food before it touched royal lips, in case of poison. Historians do generally agree that Mary, Queen of Scots, had a food taster because several attempts were made on her life due to the fact that she was Catholic and controversial.

7. In Windsor Castle, our group had a private tour of the kitchens. They have two prep kitchens – one is used to prepare meats, the other to prepare vegetables. This is to avoid contamination of fresh produce with raw meats. Heads of states can’t afford to get sick!

8. Kings and Queens have always had their own private physician who travels with them.

Some more photos from my trip: