Sunday, August 3, 2014


Our stay in Skagway got off to a bad start.  First, when we checked into the RV park they told us they had no water and did not know when it would be back on.  Next we learned the train excursion we had scheduled was canceled because of a derailment.  Then in the middle of the night we were rocked by an earthquake that severed a cable leaving most of Southeast Alaska without cell phone or Internet service. Fortunately, things got better.  The next day we did the trip to Juneau (last post), then the water was turned on, the cell and Internet services were restored and the train excursion was rescheduled for Sunday.  We ended up having a great stay.  
  Skagway is the exact opposite of Haines, it is all about the tourists.  There are three or four big ships a day visiting this tiny, little town.  They bring in over 1,000,000 visitors a year, so there is a large number of summer workers then the population drops to about 800 in the off season.
The city and the park service have done a great job of maintaining the 1890's feel of the old gold rush days.  All the buildings in the area near the harbor have been restored to that period.
Take away the cars and the paved streets and it's like you are caught in a time machine.  Wooden sidewalks and the old store fronts.  Of course, it is all for the tourists right down the the tour of the brothel above the Red Onion.  We choose not to take that one but we did eat there.
My favorite old building was Skagway Brewing.  We have now added half of Alaska's twenty microbreweries to our list.  The beer and food were very good.
The one thing that surprised me was that several stores were selling diamonds.  Turns out they are owned by the cruise ship companies who offer on board seminars on how to buy a diamond.  Really, diamonds in Alaska??? 
Several of the buildings, like the Mascot Saloon, are part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.  The park service has restored 15 buildings and leases the ones they don't need to local businesses.
Another part of the historical park is the Chilkoot trail that goes from nearby Dyea 33 miles north to Bennett Lake in the Yukon.  The trail was used by Sourdoughs trying to get to the Klondike gold fields.  Canada required that every miner had a year's supply of food before they would be allowed into the country.  It took 10 to 20 trips over Chilkoot Pass for each man to get his cache to the border.
Many did not make it, so there are a couple of interesting cemeteries near Skagway and Dyea.  The one in Dyea has the graves of over 70 men who were all killed in one day by 1898 avalanche on the trail.  Of the 100,000 men who came to Skagway only 30 or 40 thousand made it to the Klondike and of those only 500 became wealthy by finding gold.
Also part of the historical park is the townsite of Dyea, a town that equaled Skagway in population during the gold rush.  While it was closer to the Chilkoot Trail it did not have a deep water port, so after the gold rush it slowly disappeared until this and the cemetery are all that is left.
Our original train excursion on the White Pass & Yukon Route was on a train pulled by the old #73 steam locomotive.  Because of the derailment that closed the train for three days our rescheduled trip was pulled with one of the diesel-electric engines.  Neat but not as authentic. 
The railroad was started in 1898 to carry miners and supplies over White Pass to Bennett Lake. The railroad is an engineering marvel as it climbs from sea level to 2,865 feet in only twenty miles with some grades of almost 3.9%.  It had to be narrow gauge because of the tight turns required to get to the pass.  
Today the railroad has twenty diesel-electric engines, 82 restored and replica passenger coaches and two old steam engines.  There is a huge shop to maintain all this equipment.
This was our locomotive.  Just not the same as a smoking old steam engine.
Look carefully and you can see the trestle just below the clouds.  There were several spots where you could look straight down into the valley and tracks far below.
One of many tight turns.  The railroad was used to deliver material for the construction of the Alaska Highway during WWII.
A good look at how steep some section are.  The steam engines were used until 1954.
This was the highest steel cantilever bridge in the world when it was constructed in 1901.  It was used until 1969 when a new tunnel was dug to bypass it. 
Heading into one of the two tunnels.
The flags of Alaska, United States, Canada, British Columbia and Yukon, all places served by the railroad.  The building is a replica of the one the Mounties used to check the miners coming into Canada.
The last remaining water tower used by the old steam engines at Fraser, BC.  At one time the trains went all the way to Whitehorse, 110 miles from Skagway.  Today they run excursions as far as Bennett Lake where the Klondike miners would get off the train and build boats to float north to the gold. 

For the trip down the mountain they move the engines to the other end of the train.  Right is the 1898 trail that was used by some miners before the railroad was built.  This was a longer, but less steep route to the Klondike than the Chilkoot.
Heading back down.  Even though we did not get to ride with the steam locomotive we had a fun time on the White Pass & Yukon Route. 
While our stay in Skagway did not get off to a very good start, all ended well with a beautiful rainbow.  We  are heading to our last stop in Alaska at Hyder.  That is another 700 mile, three day drive back across some of the Alaska Highway and down the Cassiar Highway through British Columbia.

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