Day 5: Wednesday, May 20, 2009: Skagway, Alaska

We were in Skagway on Wednesday. It's another small town, usually less than 900 people. The population grows during the summer months to deal with the tourist season. This was our longest day on our trip, in two ways. First, the shore excursion we took, "Ultimate Yukon and White Pass Railway" was 8 hours long. But also, this was the furthest north we went on our trip, so the sun rose at 4:18 AM and set at 9:36 PM. That is one long day. In Skagway, the temperature was about the same as we had experienced on the rest of our trip, at about 60 degrees. But we went up. 3,292 feet up, to be exact, and it got colder.

Our first glimpse of Skagway.


The narrow route in, Lynn Canal.


Oh, I love it! This could be a postcard.


These litte guys came right up to our ship.


A zoomed in view. I think these are some kind of puffin. Look at those cute little red legs!

Helicopter rides are available.


The Red Onion Saloon, once a house of ill repute. Now you can stop and be entertained by some of the madams, and by the ghost, Lydia.


All abord the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway!


One of the locomotives.


This red caboose was donated to the U.S. Forest Service and can be rented for camping.

Denver Glacier Trail.


Once we were out of town, they allowed us to stand on the platforms between the trains.


It is a narrow gauge railway (tracks are 3 feet apart) that goes over some very steep terrain and has many tight turns.


You can still see our cruise ships!


You cannot go to Skagway and not take this train. It is breathtaking.

The South Klondike Highway was our companion through the pass.


OK, did I mention steep terrain? Yeah, this ride was freaking terrifying.


But so worth it, being out on the platform.


This is looking straight down at what was directly beneath our feet.


This is looking up at what was above us.

Many twists and turns.


In the 1920's, George Buchanan from Detroit would bring boys and girls to Alaska to learn the value of earning and saving money.


Open valley on one side, rock wall on the other.




A bus on the South Klondike Highway.

I like this picture a lot. Too bad we were in the shade of the mountain.


A waterfall runs through the trees.


Steep. Very steep.


As we gained elevation, it got a little colder, so you would start to see snowy patches.


I looked up and said, "We're going to go over that rickety bridge, aren't we?" And we did.

A little more snow.


Evidence of a recent avalanche. Turns out this was over the same railroad we're on. They just carved out room for the train and let the rest take care of itself.


Just beautiful.


Mountain spires.


This is where we turned to go toward that bridge I saw earlier. This is Glacier Station, according to the map.

It too was a bridge. This is the view from it.




Looking back at where we'd been.


Travis, looking forward to where we're going.







The White Pass operates several trains. Here is another one coming up behind us.




Still very steep.

Alright, brace for rickety bridge. We're going into Tunnel Mountain, 1,000 feet above the floor of the gulch.


More crazy tourists.


Here we go!


Looking down from the bridge.


Now on the other side of the tunnel.

Lacy snow.




You can STILL see our ships in the distance. We're seriously like 18 miles away.













We're heading toward Steel Bridge, built in 1901. It was the tallest cantilever bridge in the world.

And we went right past it. Turned out they stopped using it in 1969.


So we took this lesser looking one instead.


Keep in mind that in all of these pictures, we are ON the train you see. Narrow gauge allows for very tight turns.


We're heading into the tunnel built in 1969 to replace the Steel Bridge. It is 675 feet long.


Looking back at the cantilever bridge.

Looking into the tunnel. It was pitch black inside.


We emerged on the other side.


That would be the Trail of 1898. See, this railway was built to allow the gold rush prospectors easier access to the gold fields further north.


This was the exact path they took. They said it was easier in winter because you could walk across some of the water.


You may have noticed that it's getting colder here. This is the most snow I have ever seen. It was stunning.

They have this giant snowplow they hook to the train that blows all of the snow off the tracks. Otherwise, I'm sure this would be undisturbed.






White Pass Summit. The US / Canada border at 2,888 feet above sea level. Prospectors were required to have one ton of supplies before they could be waved on past this point. Seriously. One ton.


United States, Alaska, Canada, British Columbia, and Yukon Territory flags.

Some of the water is starting to poke through the ice.











The train stopped for a few minutes to allow us to take in some of the beauty all around us. We decided to go inside and warm up.


Another bus on its way north.













Welcome to British Columbia, Canada.

Specifically, Fraser. Here, we got off the train and onto a bus and continued north to the Yukon Territory.


Our train car.


The view from the bus on the South Klondike Highway.


That is ice on the water.



As we traveled, we passed a little black bear near the side of the road. Our driver, Brian, tried to stop, but the bear was having none of it and took off.




We pulled off to this little boat launching area.


I can't understand why the beach was so empty?


Oh great. I had no idea it had begun.

Though the ice was melting now, the driver said he would have no qualms about driving the bus out there during the winter. Away from the sea, it gets to about 40 below.











An island encased in ice.




Me, encased in a bus.



A small gathering of buildings near (or maybe in?) Carcross.


Not snow, but sand. This is the world's smallest desert, measuring about 1 square mile.


Caribou Crossing, a little tourist center set up to look like an old western frontier town. They have a wildlife museum, gold panning, dog cart rides, ATV rides, mini golf, a gift shop, and a little cafeteria.


Inside the wildlife museum, containing mostly local wildlife. This is an albino grouse.


More grouses.

A minke whale skull and a wooly mammoth tusk.


Me and a caribou.


I don't remember what all of the animals are exactly, so I'll just let you browse.





These are snowshoe hares.


Short tailed weasels.


These wolves look very lifelike.





A barn owl.


A goat.


A dall sheep. We saw a few of these high up in the mountains on our way back to Skagway.


How many signs could a woodchuck hold, if a woodchuck could hold signs?


A grizzly and a wolverine.



Mr. Wolverine says, "cheese!"


Polar bear.


I think this was a very neat display.


Travis eyes down the Yukon bison.







Wooly Mammoth.


Travis poses with the Moose this time.

River Otter.


Too cute!


A steppe bison vs. two lions.


A capybara. By the way, this would be the "non native" corner.







Albino marten.


Stone sheep.









One impressive rack.



Another grouse.


Harbor seal.


OK, out to the dog mushers camp. This little guy is taking a break.


These puppies curled up under the sled for some shade.


Mom is talking to some dogs a little further away.

So adorable!


The "sled" dogs would get very loud when they were building the team, but once it was established who would go this round, they would settle back down again.


Off and away!





A parting look at the little frontier town.


Beautiful Emerald Lake.









It was a little windy.




Back to the town of Carcross, a small town of less than 450 people. This is their public library.


This is the school.

A typical small house in Carcross. Smaller homes are easier to keep warm during the winter.


Lake Bennett. 30,000 gold stampeders made their way to Dawson City through here.




The post office.


What is, essentially, Main Street.

The final stake for the White Pass Railway is driven here. This is the visitor center.


The general store.


The church.


I have a knack for getting pictures of the welcome signs as I'm leaving a location. So, here is the Yukon sign, on our way out.


Welcome to British Columbia.

We went to the website. It isn't what you think.




Our self portrait for the day.




There were ravens everywhere. We would at first think it was an eagle, but then see it wasn't and be a little disappointed. As such, we started referring to them as "second rate birds."

Coming in for a landing.




Where we were heading next.


What a gorge!


Welcome to Alaska!

Travis poses beside imminent death.


Not quite so fearless, I stood in a safer area.


This is what was behind him.


Neat colors!


We had a very long drive back down to the coast, where there was no more snow.

We had a long excursion, so we didn't have much time to shop in Skagway.


We hopped off the bus just long enough to snap these pictures of the wooden sidewalks.


Back to the sea.


This is the Spinnaker Lounge that was located at the front of the ship. It was a good place to relax and enjoy the view.


Speaking of relaxing...



I think this is Haines. I know we passed it on our way out of Skagway.






The band that played often in the Spinnaker, called Melodious Jones.

A cute little lighthouse.


The cities we visited are all part of a temperate rainforest. We're told that they usually get lots of rainfall. I guess we were extremely fortunate, in that it never rained on us all week. This is a shot of the only weather we saw - some fog rolling in.


Quite lovely.


Our only towel animal. I guess we weren't out of the room at the right times.


It was an elephant.

I took a late afternoon nap while Travis stayed on the balcony and took some great shots of the sunset and the nearby rain.

















Good night.

The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway has it's own website, if you're interested in seeing a little more:

Caribou Crossing also has a website:

But wow, what a day! The White Pass Railway is just stunning. Here is a little factoid in the magazine we were given on the train: "In only five months, between July and November of 1898, the United States mints in Seattle and San Francisco received ten million dollars worth of Klondike gold. By 1900, another 38 million dollars had been recorded - the result of the largest gold rush the world has ever known!" And think, that's 48 million in 1900!