Northeastern Canada offers unexpected landscapes of high peaks, glaciers, rivers, lakes, and valleys full of thick vegetation; vast extensions where the human presence is nothing short of testimonial. They are sparsely populated areas, including the Yukon territory, one of the last remaining wild strongholds of North America.
Up to this point, tourists from all over the world arrive, eager to discover the corners that, at the end of the 19th century, were the scene of the gold rush. They usually opt for a road trip along the Klondike Highway, the epic route that joins Skagway and Dawson City. During the trip, the traveler discovers spectacular alpine landscapes and even, if he is lucky, comes to see the presence of bears and moose. However, the biggest surprise is to come: on your way, you will cross a desert.
This is Carcross, considered – and this is the Guinness book – the smallest desert in the world. There are 260 hectares (2.6 km2) of fine sand, dunes, and vegetation typical of an arid climate, located at the foot of Lake Bennet. The desert is only 600 meters wide: a person can cross it from side to side in less than 15 minutes. Surrounded by mountains and just over five hundred kilometers from Alaska, the Carcross desert has become one of the most unique natural phenomena in the world.
A Semi-Arid Desert
For years, the desert was considered a real enigma by the few inhabitants of the area – the town does not reach 450 inhabitants, and the Yukon territory has about 34,000 – but today, scientists clarify their doubts with solid arguments.
And its origins, according to experts, date back to the last ice age – more than 10,000 years ago – when the area was part of a large glacier. When melting as a result of high temperatures, large lakes were formed, sediment accumulating in the bottom of the water. Later these were dried, and the sediments became a sandy extension that has acquired the shape of dunes.
Although in the past there has been a debate about the desirability of calling Carcross a desert, at present there is a certain consensus to classify it as such – semi-arid deserts – due to its low annual rainfall.
Visitors will be greeted by a visible wooden sign surrounded by an extensive layer of sand. Beyond tourists and curious, the dunes of Carcross, molded by the wind of the lake, are the preferred place for locals to practice sandboarding in summer and, surprisingly, cross-country skiing and snowboarding in winter. Without a doubt, a spectacle worthy of being contemplated.