Finding Orchids in an Unusual Setting

Finding the entrance to Orchid Acres can be a little confusing for newcomers to West Dawson and Sunnydale. Someone will tell you it’s on the road to the Dawson City Golf Course, and that’s true, but the signs indicating that road are a little confusing.

There’s a large sign with a blue arrow, indicating that the road is coming up on your left, but the next road is not the one to take. It leads to a collection of off-grid rural cabins – attractive, but not what you’re seeking.

A much smaller golf club sign a bit further on is the one you want, and once you’re on the Sunnydale Road you can’t miss the attractive entrance to Orchid Acres, with its map to the two-kilometre trail that loops down and up the hillside overlooking the Yukon River.

The big attraction is the profusion of spotted lady’s slipper orchids that dot the slopes if you take the right hand path at the gate. What’s odd is that these little plants are usually solitary, but here there are thousands of them, growing close together. They need a certain type of fungus in the soil for bloom and germinate, and the conditions are just right here in the early part of the summer.

The trail, carefully planned to allow maximum viewpoints while not disturbing the plants, was constructed, along with a foot bridge and viewing platforms at strategic sites by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in government’s Heritage Dept. Youth Crew. The trail can be steep, coming and going, and a walking stick is a good idea, but there are enough level sections to let a walker catch a needed breath.

Attractive signs point out the highlights along the route, including the Twisted Trees (the crooked trembling aspens), presented along with a legend to explain their growth.

There are two viewing platforms. One overlooks Steamboat Slough, where paddle wheelers once sheltered from the oncoming winter ice. It’s thought that some wrecks may yet be found here.

The other platform overlooks the National Historic Site of Tr’ochëk, later called both Klondike City and Lousetown, but originally a fishing camp for the Hän people, who relocated down river to Moosehide when tens of thousands of Gold Rush invaders arrived.

This trail is also one of the 10 places in the Klondike where research on the nature of permafrost is being conducted. The monitoring devices can easily be seen from the trail, along with a panel describing the activity and some of the findings. Dawson City lies in a zone of discontinuous permafrost, and this site, part way up a hill, doesn’t have any.

Driving back on the Sunnydale Road, after a pleasant hour or so spent at the Acres, don’t forget to stop at the scenic pull out that offers one of the most dramatic views of the townsite, and the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers, where the clear current of the smaller river has yet to mingle with the sediment rich waters of the larger one.

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