Abandoned Mines and Haunted Hotels in Keno City
You can find quite a bit of information about Keno City on the web. Information about a history steeped in turn of the century silver mining and the hearty souls who scrabbled a life out of her remote wilderness. The web will also tell you about the current vibe that emanates from an eclectic mix of artisans and adventure seekers who all have one thing in common: a love for the austere beauty that defines this tiny enclave.
What you cannot so easily find online is a description of how it feels to walk her gravel streets, gaze upon her 100 year old structures and walk in the footsteps of the souls that almost seem to linger yet, decades after their leaving this mortal world.
I experienced a sense of welcome and belonging unlike any that I have ever felt before from a geographical location.
It was almost as if, in some ethereal manner, I had found what I was looking for. Like my inner being was picking up a vibration that I could not consciously – or physically feel.
Thinking back, maybe what I found was a place in time – rather than a place on the map.
Or maybe, as has happened before, I was simply overtaken by the beauty surrounding me.
And maybe that is why it is that you cannot find this information online.
I have recently lived, even for but a few moments, in Keno City, and yet I cannot clearly tell you what I felt. I cannot convey the emotions, the tingle, the sense of wonder that filled me from the inside out in a manner that can help you to understand.
For I still do not understand it.
It was like I was a child again on a great exploration to the far reaches of the world, while never leaving the my own backyard.
Yet this time, I truly was in a far reach of the world.
How do you convey all of that in a manner that makes sense in an online article or wiki?
As I walked into the Keno City Hotel I immediately felt as though I had left the 21st century and walked into the early-days of the last century.
Still maintaining the original configuration of a saloon downstairs, albeit updated with a couple of pool tables and a big screen TV hanging from the wall, the ambience was pure early-1900’s
There were three older gentlemen sitting at the bar, bottles of beer in their hands and animated conversation passing back and forth between them and the barkeeper.
The conversation stopped as I walked up to the bar, and I immediately felt like I was being assessed and appraised, much like the stranger walking into the saloon in every decent Western ever filmed.
“I’ve heard that a man can get a room here if he needs” I said, a smile breaking across my lips.
All four of the beer-bottle-holding gents passed a look amongst themselves, then one said “Well, ya, if you like rustic.”
What the hell? Was that some kind of code or something? Dave, the fossil-hunting Klondike man at Stewart Crossing, had used the exact same phrase.
“Yup, that suits me fine” I stated. Then one of them asked “How do you feel about ghosts?”
“One of the rooms is haunted you know” chimed in another, before the barman was able to silence them all with a look.
“How many of ya?” the grizzled barkeep asked.
“There’s two of us, and we’d like a room with two beds if you’ve got one” I replied.
“Well, yer in luck. I’ve got one room with two beds in it – yer’s if you want it.”
“Not the haunted one, I hope” I said, trying to maintain my smile.
“Never mind these three” my man behind the bar answered. “They’re just tellin’ tales. You’ve got nothing to be worried about.”
“Unless you sleep in #9” one of the lads said, earning another dirty look from the proprietor.
I would come to find out later that the hotel apparently has a guest that has been ‘hanging’ around for many, many years – the ghost of a man who killed himself with a rope, presumably not having discovered the fortune that he sought.
I never was able to get all of the details out of the owner, the man behind the bar.
“Traveling on motorcycles I see” he offered.
“What gave it away?” I asked, standing there in my motorcycle jacket, pants and boots.
“Ya, that’s quite the gear ya got on there. Where ya from?” asked one of the 3 patrons.
“I’m from Ottawa, Ontario and my buddy is from Toronto, Ontario” I replied. “We were on our way to Dawson City when we ran into Dave at Stewart Crossing, and he said we had to come to Keno City, and that we should stay here at the Keno City Hotel.”
“He’s a good man, Dave is” offered the owner. “You boys been up to the signpost yet?”
And that was how Tom and I came to meet Leo, the proprietor of the Keno City Hotel.
Pointing us in the right direction, and telling us of little-known paths leading to hidden adventure-seeker prized locations, Leo appeared to lose 20 years right before my eyes.
His eyes took on a shine that can only come from within, lit by a passion that can fade but never, ever die, as he told us of some of the secrets of Keno Hill while cautioning us to be careful and to take our time.
Leo, it seems, used to lead adventure seeking travelers on ATV tours throughout the area in recent years and was only too happy to share some of his knowledge with Tom and I.
And so it was that we found ourselves astride our bikes some 30 minutes later, once again riding a narrow gravel road up the side of a mountain.
Something that never gets old, no matter how many times you do it.
Tom and I carefully navigated our way up to the top of Keno Hill, to the site of the famous Keno Hill signpost.
We snapped off a couple of pictures, and Tom hid the painted rock he found weeks earlier in a riverbed of the historical ‘Ksan Village.
An artist in British Columbia, Liana Robinson began painting rocks and hiding them in locations frequented by hikers and adventure seekers some time ago, asking only that the person who finds one of the rocks post a picture on Facebook and then hide the rock again in some other, undisclosed location.
Check out the Facebook page here – it’s really kinda cool.
Tom’s rock has since been found, posted and re-hidden at least once since he left it atop Keno Hill.
There are several hiking trails on Keno Hill, and looking down into the valley that lay several thousand feet below I could see the remains of an old miner’s cabin, still standing and appearing to be in decent condition, though one of the out-buildings was nothing more than a heap.
With no navigable motorcycle route down to it, I was forced to explore through the long lens of my camera, admiring from afar.
Another abandoned miner’s cabin, a relic from a time long past, stands atop Keno Hill and can be reached by vehicle. Tom and I rode over and explored all that remains of a hard life, lived decades ago, fraught with peril in search of fortune.
Really not so hard to understand, when you take a moment to consider that today we die at our desks, suffering heart attacks and strokes as we struggle to find ways to get out from under mounting debt and stress ourselves to the limit trying to find a way to be happy.
If only we had received that raise, or gotten that promotion, or. . .
If only we had lived. If even for a moment.
We spent the better part of an hour on top of Keno Hill, gazing in wide wonder at the beauty laid out before us on the canvas of mother earth before swinging a leg across our steel steeds once more, heading off in search of the past.
Leo had given us directions to an easily and often overlooked path that leads around to the other side of the mountain, and down into a bit of a high valley where at one time, some men had gotten rich.
And some had lost their lives.
Abandoned mine shafts speckle the surrounding mountain sides, rusting steel tracks leading from their now-barricaded maws to the tipping points at the edges of steeper sections, the old payload of the carts now growing moss and once again becoming part of the mountain, though many hundreds of meters from where it was once pulled.
Much like the feeling that I had at Telegraph Creek, I swear that if I just listened hard enough I could hear the clank of steel-on-steel as these ore carts left the mine shafts, entering the sunlight just long enough to dump their payload of overburden into heaping piles on the sides of the mountain.
I felt like I could stand there forever, frozen in time, to become a relic commented upon by future adventure travelers fortunate enough to have found their way to the secrets of Keno Hill.
Tom was first to enter one of the abandoned mine shafts. Hearing his reply as I called out his name safely from outside of the now not-quite-barricaded entrance, I also stepped inside.*
My flesh pebbled immediately.
I would like to think that it was from the icy-cold air rushing out of the now partially collapsed shaft, but I think that my reptilian brain sensed something that my eyes and ears could not.
I tried to snap off a few pictures of the old shaft, but my camera flash could not overcome the ink-black darkness for more than a few feet.
True to life, the inside experiences are the ones left described only in words, the memories becoming what our imaginations design as time passes, often times protecting us from what truly was.
Whether you choose to agree, or prefer to chuckle under your breath, calling me a flake, there are ghosts among us.
And we are but spirits, being human for a time.
Tom and I eventually explored 3 different abandoned mine shafts, and the experience left an indelible mark upon me.
I will most definitely return to this place of memories.
Riding back down the mountain from this point was a little sketchier as this path was really nothing more than a two-track cart path, seldom used by any one. The base was soft and loose, and the rocks large and unstable.
We both felt a sense of relief upon arriving in Keno City once again – though I cannot say that it was entirely due to successfully navigating the trail. . .
Leo listened with an open ear as we excitedly recounted our adventure, his eyes again lighting up as he superimposed his memories over our words.
I knew in that moment that Leo would never, ever leave this place that he had made his home.
Keno City truly was the source of his flame.
Leo, Tom and I sat around the table in the saloon until well after 1:00am, the sun still shining upon the landscapes and lighting up the leaves of the alder, birch and aspen, glowing golden on the pines on the mountain sides.
It was not hard for me to see the allure – to feel the almost magnetic pull that kept Leo in Keno City.
I do not have to close my eyes to imagine myself there.
I took a walk around the town snapping photos of the things that intrigued me, soon realizing that I had basically photographed a tapestry of the entire settlement.
While walking around I met a couple of young men, Ellis and Rhys – brothers – from Calgary on an adventure of their own in a Honda CRV.
I recognized the vehicle, having seen it atop Keno Hill near the Sign Post Summit Trail and immediately congratulated the men on their courage to get out there and do it. We struck up conversation, sharing tales of our adventures and comparing notes.
Ellis and Rhys both agreed that they would seek out the old mine-shafts in the morning, a term that is strictly chronological at this time of year in the Yukon, as the sun never really sets. The light darkens to dusk at about 2:00am, lasting about an hour before brightening the sky once again around 3:00am.
Saying that you had a good night’s sleep may not technically be true. There is no night.
I went back inside, rejoined Tom and Leo and listened to Leo tell his story of how he came to be here, originally hailing from Trois Rivieres, Quebec.
Coming to Keno City in the early 1980’s, Leo worked the mines on Keno Hill and says that he was actually that last man out of the last shaft when United Keno Hill Mines shut down operations in 1989.
I swear his eyes watered at the memory, and I was once again struck by just how much this man loved this tiny little town.
I thanked Leo for sharing his story and said goodnight, leaving the two men to carry on as I walked up the narrow stairs to the upstairs gallery of 10 rooms.
The feeling of being back in the early part of the 20th century was no longer just a feeling. I truly had stepped back in time.
The rooms have been cleaned up, and a fresh coat of paint applied, but otherwise they are just as they were when built in the 1920’s.
Original doors, with original hardware, it is only the two bathrooms that have been updated with modern showers, sinks and toilets.
All of the furniture pieces, and the banisters are authentic, and the floor creaks exactly where it should.
I found myself almost but not quite wishing for a visit from the guest in #9
Dare I say it – I slept the sleep of the dead
I hope that this post has succeeded in piquing your interest in this tiny little central Yukon town. I believe that you can tell that Keno City has had a significant impact on me, and it is not beyond reason that you may be hearing from me as I write by the light of a window at 11:00pm from the Keno City Hotel next summer.
Leo and I have more tales to tell, and stories to share. Of that much I am certain.
If you are trying to plan your summer vacation and at a loss for where to go, I promise you, you will not be disappointed by traveling into the past and I also assure you that there are fortunes to be found that will last you for the rest of your life.
For they cannot be spent, and they are fortunes that grow as they are shared.
Safe travels my friends. And please, if you ever do make it up to the Yukon, drop in and say hi to Leo. And the guy writing in the corner.
Some additional links:
*I want to note that neither Tom nor I ever removed any kind of barricade, fence, sealed door or any such system put in place in order to keep people safe. We did, however, often take advantage of the fact that people before us had done so.
I also want to note that these mine shafts are an absolutely deadly hazard. Simply saying ‘enter at your own risk’ is not enough. If you are going to enter where clearly you should not, know that you are doing so at risk of great peril. And whenever possible, send a friend in first.