Yukon Nuggets

2006 Yukon Nuggets

Carcross Desert


The Carcross Desert isn’t. A desert, that is. Rather, it’s a remnant of the last Ice Age; this ‘desert’ is really a sand dune. The sand accumulated during the Pleistocene age when large glacial lakes filled the valleys in the southern Yukon. The Pleistocene period, which lasted almost 2 million years, ended about 10,000 years ago. A good thing too, or most of the Southern Yukon would still be covered with vast glaciers. As the ice receded, it left a huge glacial lake in the region now occupied by Lake Bennett. As the glacial lake dried up, sand from the bottom was exposed. Today active sand dunes like Carcross are rare in the North, many that survived the drying up of glaciers have become overgrown with forests.

Not so with the Carcross dunes, which have a readymade supply of sand from around Lake Bennett. The Carcross desert is a haven for amateur botanists. Most, if not all, of the plants at the dunes would never survive in a real desert, though several of them that do survive are rare species for this part of the world. One of the most interesting species is the Baikal Sedge, a flashy Asian species found only in 4 other locations in North America. It’s also found in the sand dunes near Kusawa Lake. The Yukon Lupin, distinguished by a silvery appearance caused by hairs on the upper surface of the leaves is more common here than any location in the world. Other interesting plants because they are rare or of limited distribution are the Blue-Eyed Mary, Button Grass, and Nelson’s Needlegrass, showy Jacob’s Ladder, common Juniper, and kinnicknick grow on the more stabilized or sheltered areas of the dunes.

Formal protection of the dunes has been the subject of some discussion either as a territorial park, or some other designation. But so far nothing has come of it. Still, the area is a major tourist destination, and a fine spot for local photographers. With just the right lighting and by keeping all those tall trees out of the shots, creative photojournalists can certainly makes the dunes look like the Sahara desert of the far North.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.