Monday morning, August 20, 2007 we woke up to find ourselves tied to the dock at Skagway, Alaska. During the historic Gold Rush of 1898 thousands of gold-crazed adventurers looked for the best starting point for their trek to the gold fields. They found the deepest area for boats was at the northern tip of the Lynn Canal. This is how Skagway was born. When I think of Skagway, I see in my mind the pictures of the steps carved into the ice and snow over that were built over the pass, so that the men could get their supplies to the gold fields beyond. They were required to have a minimum of 1 ton of provisions when they reached the border of Canada or the Mounties would turn them back. The prospectors would make many trips up the pass to get all their goods up to and over the summit. Especially in the winter months, this might take 3 or 4 months....even more. Many were buried alive in avalanches, many died of the extreme cold. I've read so many of these stories...I couldn't help but think of those dear souls as I climbed out of that warm bus, that traveled up that beautiful smooth paved highway to take us over the pass into Yukon Territory. How awful the conditions must of been for those men, from every walk of life...over a hundred years ago. It was just like last year...cold, a little windy, quiet (except for passing cars) and you couldn't help but stare in awe at the rugged but beautiful landscape that surrounded the highway. I especially enjoyed this year's trip as the same driver we had last year was there at the bus to greet us. Mark, is very knowledgeable and entertaining and very willing to snap picture after picture of the tourists, with waterfalls, etc in the background. Originally from Los Angeles, he's lived in Skagway for quite awhile now, is a volunteer firefighter and active in the Skagway community. He spends his summer months doing tours up and over the Klondike Highway.
Skagway boasts a population of just over 800 residents. Unlike Juneau, it is accessible by the highway. You go north thru Canada, turn left in Yukon Territory, down the pass and there's the town. I checked MapQuest, from my house it's 1,804.85 miles...a little over 33 hours driving time...depending of course on the weather.
Skagway's climate is a little more temperate that Juneau's. They get less snow and less rain fall (average is 30 inches a year). The highway department does a great job of keeping the road clear because that's the main way they get the supplies in order to live. Mark said in all the years he's lived there, the longest the highway was closed in the winter, was one year for 10 days. And that was due to continual avalanches.
During the summer months both Skagway and Juneau have between 16-18 hours of daylight. And during the winter it's about the same amount of darkness. Both towns are on Alaska Daylight Savings Time right now, so the time is four hours earlier than Eastern Daylight Time. Skagway is much smaller than Juneau...it covers approximately a 20 by 5 block area. And like Juneau, the mountains rise right up behind the buildings.
I think my favorite of the 2 cities is Skagway, it's smaller, feels more like you've stepped back in time with the board sidewalks, etc. And even though they have a lot of shops, there's no big complexes like Costco, Wal Mart or Mc Donald's. There's a medical clinic in Skagway, with a couple nurse practioners and a couple physician's assistants but the closest hospital is a two hour drive (in good weather) into Yukon Territory. They also make that drive to go toa theater or shop in the "big box stores."
We ate lunch in the Red Onion Saloon. Back in the late 1800's it was one of the many "sporting houses" in Skagway's red light district. The waitresses there are dressed in period outfits...and other than the modern conveniences, you really do feel like you've stepped into a parlor of a gold rush bordello.
We shopped, till we were ready to drop and we found ourselves continuing to shop & walk toward the pier where the ship was docked. There was a stern wheeler that had come in & I wanted to go get a picture of that and then I told Bob, we may as well just walk back to the ship. Well, we got a little further and my poor sore knee was really screaming. But we kept walking...which allowed us to walk by and take a look at Pellen Creek, which I had only passed by on the bus before. The water was thick with spawning salmon and we were able to find a bench where we could sit and watch them. There were some little boys trying to catch them with their bare hands but even at their end stage of life, the salmon were too quick for the kids. There were also a couple of men fishing, they had no trouble catching them, but they always threw them back, so the salmon could finish their journey. Besides that, spawning salmon are not very good eating, unless you're a bear or an eagle.
The only thing that bummed me out on this day was that the great little shop, The Purple Moose was closed and empty. I had planned on buying more Purple Moose(s) for Christmas gifts this year.
Finally back on board, we went to our cabin, unloaded all our goodies and got ready for the evening events on board. The Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers preformed that night and theywere great. Since we were assigned to the late dinner seating, our show was at 7pm. So we settled in our seats in the beautifulMasquerade Theater to watch the show. Those young people put on such a fabulous show. Comparable to any in Vegas, for sure. The costumes are beautiful and the costume changes are many. I don't see how they do it.
By the time the show was over and we headed for our 8:30pm dinner, the ship had sailed away from the dock and we were on our way to our next adventure.