Friday, August 04, 2006

The Alaskan Adventure--Part V

We sailed all night, and at about 6:00 AM arrived in the tiny town of Skagway. Skagway, Alaska, was the gateway to the Yukon gold rush of 1896, affording fortune-hunters the shortest route to the Klondike, though certainly not the easiest. The Chilkoot Trail, the genesis of which was in Skagway, was treacherous and steep by foot, and the White Pass route, though not as steep through the Coast Mts., was not much better. Add to this prospect the Canadian authorities' requirement that all gold-seekers were not allowed to cross the border without a year's worth of provisions, and things really got complicated. The year's provisions weighed approximately 2000 lbs. A man would have to carry it up in bundles of 100-200 lbs. each, deposit it with a "watcher", then go back down the trail and up again until all his gear was assembled at the AlCan border. No wonder that by the time most of the prospectors reached the gold claims offices 1n 1897-1898, no claims were left. For most of these adventurers, the Gold Rush was a Gold Bust.

Shortly after we awakened in Skagway and started on our room service breakfast--what luxury!, Rick heard splashing outside our balcony. Camera in hand, he hurried out. Here's what he found:

A harbor seal had swum up to the side of our ship, found a salmon, and was shaking it back and forth to snap its back. He then proceeded to eat his breakfast along with us.

Once we disembarked and ventured into Skagway, it began to drizzle a light, steady shower. We were told it was typical Alaska weather. What we had been having, sunny and bright, was very unusual.

"There's no bad weather in Alaska," one Alaskan told us, "only inappropriate clothing." We had come prepared with rainproof coats with hoods, and lucky for us, we had booked a tour in an old-fashioned trolley to take us all around Skagway. We'd have a roof over our heads the entire time except when we wanted to get out and take photos, like the one at the top of this post.

Our tour guide lives in Skagway, although she is not a native. And, because of the severity of the winters, she does not live in Skagway year round. Whereas it is normal for Alaskans to have only a few hours of sunlight/daylight each winter day, because of the way Skagway is situated, they get, on average, about twenty minutes. Additionally, Skagway's supplies are floated in on boat and barge about once a month, year round. The nearest town, CarCross (Caribou Crossing) is about 120 miles away, a pretty far drive if you are out of milk or bread. She said produce is sky-high, and it's not a pretty sight to see people playing tug-o-war over the last browning head of lettuce or greening piece of meat at the end of the month. There are about 800 residents in Skagway, but that number decreases radically in the winter, as you can imagine.

Skagway's claims to fame are many: besides being the gateway to the gold rush, it was the first Alaskan city to be visited by a U.S. president (Harding), one of its businessmen had a brief dalliance with Mae West, and it has the only surviving chapter of the Arctic Brotherhood (of which Rick and I are now members!). Oh, and I bought Jared and Sam some salmon jerky there.

One of Skagway's favorite stories is about its conman/outlaw, Soapy Smith, who was finally exposed and gunned down by a man named Frank Reid, who Soapy shot in"manhood." Soapy died in the gunfight and Reid died of his wounds about 2 weeks later. They are both buried in the same cemetery, but Ol' Soapy isn't allowed to be buried within the legal confines of hallowed ground.

The White Pass Railroad in Skagway, which is through the Coast Mts. is an engineering marvel. We decided not to ride it as a tour, but learned about it. And we saw this from it prominently displayed in town. Can you guess what it is?

It's a huge snow auger, or snowplow to clear the tracks up in the mountains. Neat, huh?

Finally, we were Skagwayed out. We bought the boys the obligatory souvenirs here, our last stop in Alaska. We trudged through the rain back to our ship. We got out of our damp clothes and laid out our dinner dress. And, very wistfully, watched them cast lines as we pulled away from the dock. This was it; we were officially headed away from Alaska. One day at sea, one day in British Columbia, Canada, and then our cruise was over. We stood at our balcony rail for a few last pictures of Alaskan scenery.

*you are still clicking on the pictures you really like to enlarge them , aren't you? Good!

You may notice the two different colors of the water in this photo. It is caused by the melting freshwater of the glaciers meeting the salty water of the ocean. Very cool. Just another of the fascinating aspects of this interesting and captivating land.

If we had to leave Alaska, I was glad that I had a day at sea tomorrow to reflect on all that I had seen and learned and enjoyed. It was almost overwhelming. Everything about Alaska had taken not only my breath away, but almost my vocabulary to process it.


  1. What a great post! My favorite part is '"There's no bad weather in Alaska," one Alaskan told us, "only inappropriate clothing."' I guess Bostonians could say the same thing, but snow still makes me shudder. Magnificient photos!

  2. Thanks, anali. I'm not too crazy about winters here in NE Ohio, either, but I hear about your nor'easters, and I shudder, too. I've never been to Mass., but it's on my list. I teach about the Salem Witch Trials, and would like to visit the area while avoiding the trashy commercial sites. Maybe I'll get your input when I plan my trip!


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