Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hot In Alaska, Pt 3: Skagway & The Historic Route To The Yukon In Northwest Canada

CRUISE SHIPS still need old-fashioned brawn, a firm grip and low-tech ropes to secure huge modern vessels to relatively small piers in Skagway.

It was a fascinating process to watch but not as spectacular as the road ahead with The Skagway City and White Pass Summit Tour adjacent to the train route that was popular during the late 1800s. Prospectors first braved a very rugged trail hoping to find gold in the basin of the Klondike River in Canada's Yukon.

It took a whole lot of muscle and bravery to blast a road through inhospitable terrain over terrifying heights. During our visit, except for the heritage train loaded with tourists and the tour buses, there was very little traffic along the track or highway outside Skagway. Although fog and snow will eventually blanket the view, in summer it is a scene of endless evergreens.

The weather had been particularly dry this season but we did see, and drink from, a waterfall bouncing down the boulders.

Ancient mossy patterns bubbled quietly behind the curtain of rushing water.

Our tour guide said “lift your feet” as we jumped the invisible border from the US into Canada and back again. It took more than 80 years of stops and starts to properly complete the Klondike Highway that somewhat follows that original trail from Skagway in Alaska through to the Yukon.

We drove over the Captain William Moore Bridge that was constructed about 40 years ago with just one anchored end. It was built to be flexible because there is an earthquake fault line beneath the gorge some 110-feet below.

Back in Skagway there were the usual shops filled with trinkets and jewelry. There were several churches and a pastor who, we were told, was also the sheriff. He would have been as amused as we all were at the antics of the young lady (pictured below) enticing tourists to see a show about a colourful character named Soapy Smith who reigned in Skagway during the gold rush.

We opted for the museum where there were lots of interesting things to see.

I admired the craftiness of the heritage trunk. Its façade of driftwood reminded me of Camp No. 1 in Skagway built for the Arctic Brotherhood.

When miners came to town, the Brotherhood supported those who were members in various ways as they prepared for the arduous journey over the Chilkoot Pass to the Klondike gold fields.

The contraption (below) is an early snow plow designed to set in front of a train engine to clear the tracks. Impressive ... but out of commission nowadays.

Skagway was originally spelled Skagua (meaning windy place) by the Tlingit who were the first people to cut through the rocky, forested terrain. Although we experienced only a warm breeze, there is a cold wind that blows and about 260 inches of snow annually that might be welcomed by the population.

With almost one-million visitors yearly, I am guessing the some one-thousand souls, including the pastor/sheriff, who live in Skagway breathe a huge sigh of relief when flakes fall and cruise ships stop coming after September.

Up next: Glacier Bay and scenic cruising.

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