Faro: Named for a Card Game

Faro, Yukon, is a tiny little town born from mining, but not the kind we’re used to hearing about up here near Alaska. Yeah, people panned for gold along the Pelly River (Pharaoh/Faro is an old French card game they played), but the big deal was lead and zinc. As in, the world’s largest open-pit mine, at one point.

At its heyday, 1,500 people lived here working for the mine, but in 1998 the owners went bankrupt and the population dropped; right now it’s 440. Much of the town’s former housing for mining workers is boarded up.

The Canadian federal government has partnered with territorial and local groups on a huge, complex mine remediation project (they’re reclaiming the land), and the town seems to be using some of that money to promote ecotourism.

They’ve built the impressive Faro Interpretive Center, plus a campground with an actual laundromat in it (be still my heart), tons of trails marked with local animal motifs, an arboretum (basically signs in the woods), and several interpretive areas for wildlife viewing. (We are too late for the Sandhill Crane migration and too early for the Fanin sheep and moose to be around much, but we have seen the grey foxes that live in town).

Residents are working hard to make the place welcoming, with touches like hanging flower baskets and plenty of benches and signage.  There’s even an anachronous 9-hole golf course across the street from us (it winds through town). It’s a tableau of locals flaunting the weather: at 55 degrees, one guy plays golf with his shirt off.  

What’s sad is that we seem to be the only tourists around, and we’re not big spenders, either. I saw one guy walking around the welcome center holding laundry detergent; he must be visiting. Others are in the main campground, but they all have Yukon plates.

I’ve really enjoyed my overall impression of the locals.  We ended up parking on a hill out in the open in the campground overflow section so we could get plenty of solar power, and every single resident drives or bike rides or ATVs or walks by our site though-out the day. Each and every one of them waves.  

Lots of residents here seem to do roadwork in town or on the nearby Campbell Highway or as part of the mine reclamation; a stream of motorized equipment drives by each morning and night. We even had our own crew working beside the trailer (apologetically), hydrovac-ing a utilities hole and trench and inserting pipes.  We would have been bummed by the noise, expect for the irresistibly cute dog one guy brought to work with him who stood on lookout all morning.  

There’s the lady at the welcome/interpretive center who sold me a bag of homemade gingerbread cookies that were so thick and soft she should have called them cakes. Her daughter is putting herself through college partly by selling beautiful, hand-tied flies that I just couldn’t figure out how to justify buying. (Tracy caught the fish below with a rod and reel.)

There’s the guy who pumped diesel for us at the do-it-yourself-station; the station is just a big tank connected to a card keypad, but the keypad was broken that day, so this pleasant guy did the pumping and ran our card for us. He talked about having been up on the mountain working on a power pole when a big storm came right in on him.

There’s the guy who talked with Tracy in the street; he said he’d moved here from Whitehorse because the same house there that costs $600k here costs only $120k. He’d been to the U.S. once, when the mine had to transport a giant ruby to Colorado, and the transport truck was so old that it needed its own on-board mechanic, so he took the job. He said the mine got their money’s worth in him.

I used to live in a town of 330 with an influx of tourists every summer, so I know how hard it is to overlook their obnoxious behavior. The fact that people wave at us here is wonderful!

Captions for photos: Tracy had a helluva time playing in the old mining truck on display; he’s hiking near the old mine site now so might get some photos of it. He also caught us lunch one morning, several trout that were delicious fried. That white statue is called Mountain of Everything (A Netta, Net Clonie Hes) by Jerry Kortello, who has other art on display in Whitehorse. It’s a glory to look at in different lighting.