True or False: The days following August 16, 1896, when George
Washington Carmack pried a gold nugget from the bed of Rabbit Creek in
the Klondike area of the Yukon were collectively referred to as
OK - it's a trick question. George Carmack was a real person and
he actually did find a gold nugget that led to one of the greatest gold
rushes in history. But the Klondike Days I'm talking about is an
annual event that takes place in Eagle River, Wisconsin. It's much
easier to get there then to the Yukon and the event is much more fun.
Not that finding gold wouldn't be fun... But I'm talking about a
weekend chock-full of entertainment and activity that the whole family
can enjoy; it was developed to encourage families to enjoy the Northwoods in
Heidi and I headed north on a Friday morning and, after a fairly
leisurely drive north -- by that I mean that the weather cooperated
quite nicely -- we found ourselves in downtown Eagle River (population
1,512 according to the sign) by mid-afternoon. I have only had the
pleasure of visiting Eagle River on two other occasions: once for a
Fourth of July celebration back in the late 1980s, and once as a very
young boy when I attended a nearby church camp (Camp HoneyRock; Wheaton
College, a Christian liberal arts college in Wheaton, Ill., has owned
and operated HoneyRock Camp since 1951).
One of the things that impressed me most about the town was the people:
without exception, everyone was friendly and treated us like we were
family. Smiles were commonplace and conversation was easy and
genuine. It was a very comfortable feel... something that one does
not usually encounter in today's world. After stopping for a few
groceries, we headed to our accommodations for the next two days:
Lodge, just a bit north of the town proper, is a premiere resort on
the Eagle River Chain of 28 Lakes (and overlooking both Duck and Lynx
Lakes), the largest chain of inland freshwater lakes in the world.
Our lodging consisted of a two-bedroom unit (with a King bed and two
twins) complete with two full bathrooms, a gas-operated stone fireplace,
satellite television with DVD player, full kitchen, high-speed internet
access and a marvelous view of the lake that was about seventy-five feet
from our patio. Other amenities existed as well, such a pool,
whirlpool spa, and sauna. There is also a private massage room and
locker/shower rooms as well.
plethora of lakes and streams provide endless opportunities for
adventurers, anglers, and nature enthusiasts during the warmer months
and five hundred miles of groomed, snowmobile trails can be accessed --
right from your front door -- during the winter months. The
arrival of Klondike Days, as well excellent snow conditions on the
trails were ample reason for the many sleds we saw in the parking lot at
the resort. We settled in to our cushy accommodations, lit the
fire, opened a bottle of Chardonnay and poured a glass to celebrate a
weekend away from the demands of the office. The weather was
perfect -- albeit a tad warm for snow-machiners at thirty-nine degrees
-- and it was nice to relax as we watched a few ice-anglers setting up
for some late afternoon fishing.
The setting sun added a warm glow to the snow-covered lake and a long
plume of smoke from distant fires (more on that later) wafted through
the pines. This was perfect, and Heidi and I smiled as we
contemplated the perfect place for a fish fry. A little homework
before we left had provided us with several possibilities, and I thought
the decision might be a difficult one. But we opted for a
restaurant at the
Chanticleer Inn, overlooking Lake Voyager and just a few
miles away, our choice made easier by the fact that it boasted a
smoke-free environment. We started with an appetizer of giant
portabella mushrooms -- a pair -- with a crabmeat stuffing. For
dinner, Heidi chose a sampler platter, consisting of portions of
haddock, cod, shrimp and scallops and I had the lake perch dinner.
The food was excellent; served hot and on hot
plates; if I were a food critic I would certainly give Chanticleer Two
Thumbs Up!. My perch (five pieces) was fresh, lightly battered, crispy
and tasty and accompanied by some excellent potato pancakes; Heidi's
dinner was excellent as well, and served with an outstanding
rendition of German potato salad. The prices were reasonable,
service was super and I would return in a heartbeat!
The morning brought an azure-blue sky, ample sun and a crisp five
degrees; it was going to be a great day in the north woods! After
a cup of coffee and a light breakfast, we headed over to Klondike Days.
It was just after nine o'clock and the thermometer had now passed
eighteen; cars were already arriving, as competitions were scheduled to
start at 9:00am. Held every year during the third week in February
on Saturday and Sunday, this year's event took place at the Eagle River
High School and Rocking W Stable. Now celebrating its 20th year, the
event has grown in size every year and continues to attract more
visitors; more than 10,000 people now enjoy the weekend festivities.
stalwart and business owner, Trig Solberg, of Trig's Stores has been
a major sponsor and supporter of Klondike Days right from the
Trig's has been a
major sponsor from the get-go, but is now joined by about four dozen
additional supporters -- including numerous banks, resorts and
businesses -- from the local area; hundreds of volunteers are also key
in helping to make the event the huge success that it is.
Upon entering the
grounds, the first thing that I heard was the sound of chain saws, so
naturally we headed in the direction from which the sound emanated.
Shortly we came upon the source of the noise: the Chainsaw Carving
Competition. What took place over the course of the weekend was
nothing short of amazing. Like artists working with canvas, these
carvers took three to four-feet in diameter logs that stood eight feet
tall and, with the dexterity of surgeons, turned them into beautifully
textured eagles, Indians, hunters and various forms of wildlife.
It was mesmerizing to watch and difficult to leave, but there were many
more events to see. Nearby was the Dog Weight Pull... but the dogs
weren't quite ready yet, so we ventured over to River Country Red's
Rendezvous and Living History Encampment.
Sponsored by Wild
Eagle Lodge and presented by the "Hidden Prairie Rendezvous Club" from
Phillips, Wisconsin, this had to be one of my favorite events of the
weekend. Lots of people may wonder what is was like to live in the
1800s: the days of the fur trapper and buck-skinner, but I doubt that
few ever ever actually "walk the walk"... As we entered the
encampment, the very first thing that we noticed was a canvas teepee.
Naturally, I assumed that it was simply there as a replica.
Suddenly I noticed that Heidi had disappeared. She had poked her
head inside the tent and had been invited in by the inhabitant: he was
sitting there in a long-sleeved tee-shirt and sipping his morning
coffee. What was unusual was the fact that the canvas teepee was a
toasty 75 degrees, heated only by a tiny wood-burning stove. He
had spent the night -- mind you, the temperature had fallen to five
degrees -- warm and snug inside the teepee!
We later stopped at
another teepee where the occupants were slow-roasting a leg of venison,
at a lean-to where a blacksmith was plying his trade, at a Tomahawk and
Knife Throwing exhibition, at a Black Powder Shooting demonstration,
fire starting, cooking and more. Some may say that a weekend jaunt
such as this, done every now and then, would be an easy accomplishment;
I would strongly disagree. Setting up, taking down and living in a
teepee for three days in a Wisconsin winter would definitely be a
challenge, even for a seasoned "camper". And it surely and easily
should remind all visitors just how cushy we have it in 2010.
Just outside the
encampment I noticed a flurry of activity. Getting closer, I saw
the reason: an assortment of of every size, shape and type fur hat that
would have made even Daniel Boone jealous. Ranging in price from
about $50 to several hundred, the variety was endless. It seemed
as if everyone on the grounds wanted one. An by the end of the
day... it seemed as if everyone had one! A short walk from hats
brought us to the Great Northern Lumberjack Competition, where there was
chain sawing, crosscutting, and ax throwing. We watched as a pair
of lumber "jills" went head to head in a crosscutting contest; the
winner sawed through the (approximate) 16-inch diameter log in just
under fourteen seconds! Immediately adjacent to the lumberjack
competition was the event I knew would be Heidi's favorite: the Great
Northern Log Pull Classic. How did I know? Well, it was
because horses -- draft horses in this case -- would be doing the
Heidi's love for
horses goes way back to an early age when she owned a couple of them,
and the love has remained strong. Any time we are anywhere near a
horse farm, stable, pasture or horse event, we make it a point to stop.
In this case, single horses as well as two-horse teams were competing
for prize money. Not only were the horses at Klondike Days
well-cared for, they were possibly some of the biggest and strongest I
have yet seen... and they were eager to take on the challenge.
By now, our stomachs
were beginning to growl. Luckily for us, a food tent was close by;
inside it was warm and filled with great aromas from elk and
buffalo burgers, as well as chili, soup and other delights. We
both dined on a buffalo burger and chips, washing it down with some very
cold Leinenkugel draught beer as we were treated to some excellent
bluegrass music performed by the band Sloppy Joe. The
musicians added some jug-band instrumentation (spoons, jug,
wash-tub, etc.), while band-members exchanged guitars, fiddle, banjo,
mandolin, and bass around the stage. Great and original stuff;
check 'em out on
MySpace! By the time we had listened to most of a music set,
sated our hunger and warmed our feet, the line for food extended right
out the front entrance to the tent!
Heading over to the
high school field house, we checked again on the chainsaw carving; the
lifeless logs were beginning to take on a personality and the pile of
sawdust around the carvers was getting deeper. Inside the 55,000
square-foot field house was the giant Klondike Craft Show offering every
imaginable craft possible from 100 crafters (rugs bowls, artwork, wood,
leather, furniture, photography, personal items and more fur hats... to
mention only a few). And there was Educational Programming 2010,
with everything from lessons in how to pan for gold (yep, there really
is gold that can be panned for in Wisconsin!), to lessons
in native skills and primitive crafts, to minerals, outdoor lore and
more. There was definitely something there for everyone's
Did I mention the
free dogsled rides for children, sleigh rides, the Klondike Antique
Sleigh Rally, snowshoe races, more food, more music and entertainment,
and on Sunday, a Native American Cultural Exhibition? Phew!
There is a lot to see and do... and it can all be done at a very
reasonable price: a Family Pass (two adults and three children for one
day) is $35.00 in advance or $40.00 at the gate. The sun was
getting low and the carvers were almost done. I knew I was done,
and was looking forward to a hot shower back at Wild Eagle Lodge.
I would be remiss if
I didn't mention one last "event" for the day. We were only mildly
hungry, but we had seen a place in town (while checking out the Ice
Palace -- something that has been "happening" since the 1920s.
From the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce website:
volunteers headed by the area firefighters, put in more than 700
man hours to cut nearly 3000 12-inch-thick ice blocks from a local
lake, haul them to downtown Eagle River, Wisconsin, and build a huge
Very cool -- don't
miss it if you are in the area! Anyway, the place I want to
mention is a restaurant called Riverstone Restaurant and Tavern, where
we enjoyed a marvelous Walleye Cakes appetizer and a cocktail as
we discussed the days sights and sounds. Riverstone is another
smoke-free environment and the food is excellent (really excellent
home-made bread) -- I only wish we were hungry enough to have stayed for
dinner; we will definitely go back next time we are in Eagle River as
the menu included numerous and interesting selections of beef, veal, pork and seafood.
It would be difficult
to say too much about Eagle River, Wild Eagle Lodge and Klondike Days.
It is also mandatory to again mention how great the people of that area
are; we really enjoyed our time there. (For more information about
Eagle River, contact the Eagle River chamber of Commerce & Visitors
Center at 800-359-6315 or visit
the Eagle River
And I think that I'll start
saving now, because I am going back to Klondike Days next year...
and I will come home with a hat!