Considering the Caribou RV Park at km 1403 of the Alaska Highway was established in 1974 and your humble correspondent lived in Atlin from 1977 to 1984, I must have driven right by it hundreds of times over the years without giving it a look or even a thought. I knew it was built by and for Germans, but that was the extent of my knowledge until a couple years ago. While researching and writing a series on “Yukon RV Hotspots” for this publication, I stopped by to check it out. I wasn’t impressed enough then to want to write about it. I am now.
Fast forward to the last week of August 2019, just before Labour Day long weekend. Grandpa and #1 grandson, 12, were heading south with a travel trailer for a four-day/three-night “End of Summer” camping trip around the Southern Lakes loop in a clockwise direction. The first destinations were Snafu and Tarfu on a dark and stormy night when Lady Luck played her second card in a mini monsoon: The portable Champion generator decided to take this trip off when we were making camp at the Marsh Lake campground. No electricity meant no tunes, no fridge, no fun and only two choices to save the first night of our brief journey around the popular local loop—either keep going to Six Mile River Resort in Tagish, or retreat back to little Germany at Caribou RV, the only nearby places to get plugged in. My co-pilot voted for the latter and I agreed since it looked like we were in for a rough camping trip and it’s better to suffer bad luck closer to Whitehorse than farther away. Earlier that morning, it took us six hours just to get out of Whitehorse because two wheel bearings on the trailer had to be replaced. If it’s true bad things come in threes, we had already used up two without finding a warm place to sleep and a dry place to uh … sit and think. Were Caribou RV and the Wolf’s Den going to be the third to complete this hat trick of forgettable camping?
Hardly. From the first jolt of electricity, which activated the jukebox and filled our little R-pod with 100-year old banjo music from the Patuxent Project, the attitudes of both young and old improved dramatically and we began our Caribou and Wolf transformation by breaking into rockabilly dance steps confirming, irrefutably, that banjo boogeying is, indeed, hereditary. Let the Bluegrass hootenanny begin! By the time we checked out three nights later, grandson #1 was proclaiming Caribou RV and the Wolf’s Den restaurant the best camping/gastronomic experience of his life and his grandfather concurred.
The new owners of the Caribou RV Park, Steve Berger-Husson and Sandra Jost, of Luxembourg, have combined with longtime Wolves, Harry and Yvonne Ochsner, of Switzerland. Together, they bring the delightful feel of Central European hospitality to the outskirts of rural Whitehorse.
They are two distinct businesses with owners from two different countries, but only 222 steps separate them from each other. This season was the 17th for the wolves and the fifth with a “for sale” sign, but that might change in the future because newcomers Steve and Sandra have loads of energy, exuberance and ideas.
“We took over the campground in April this year, but the purchase process took nearly one year and a half,” Steve said. “We did this year what we had to, but not all what we wanted to. “Our plans for 2020 are improvement, improvement and improvement, bring more colours and flowers and improve through the lessons learned in our first season. The guest’s joy, fun, and comfort is our main target.”
They also realized the previous owners weren’t keeping up with the times as RV’s keep getting bigger and longer, so they are designing some new larger sites to hold them. Luxembourg and Switzerland are two of Europe’s best gemstones. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the world’s last official dukedom, began as an impregnable old Roman fort on Bock Rock in 963 and means “Little Castle.” Its history is a fascinating one too complex to summarize here, but it is still vitally important to modern Europe as the site of the highest court of the European Union, and one of the principal founders of the EU.
Switzerland’s story is far better known in the west and is very similar to Luxembourg’s. Switzerland is primarily a federation of 26 cantons (counties) from Germany, France and Italy, while Luxembourg is bordered by France, Germany and Belgium. The menu in the Wolf’s Den reflects this, as they have four types of spaghetti from Italy, several Schnitzels from Germany, Cordon Bleu and sauces from France, and the star entree which is Swiss and called “The Tartar’s Hat.” This grandson, who is currently debating whether he wants to become a diesel mechanic, a gourmet chef, or both, was fascinated by the European menu and wanted to try everything. Grandpa felt like he was back in Europe writing ski racing stories in the Alps and dining like a duke in the edelweiss und alpenglow.
Considering we were on a rainy route to desolate places called Snafu and Tarfu, it was quite an adjustment to find ourselves suddenly dining in exotic Swiss excellence. We became willing captives of the Wolf people in Caribou country. In fact, for next year’s “end of summer” excursion, we’re going to leave the marshmallows, popcorn, hamburgers, hotdogs, smokies and bratwursts in town and call it the “Loop du Cuisine,” with stops at Wolf’s Den, Six Mile River, Carcross for The Bistro and refurbished Caribou Hotel, and a last stop at the Cutoff Cafe for a taste of halibut on the drive home.
You may assume our run of early bad luck in late August exploded into good luck when we were forced to stay at Caribou RV and dine with the wolves. We will be regular customers of Sandra, Steve, Harry and Yvette from now on and feel apologetic for taking so long to find this unexpected oasis on the Alcan.
We wish them all bonne chance, guten tag, buon appetit und mucho dinero in 2020!