Gold in Them Thar Hills?

photo(4)Woke up as we docked in Skagway. Went to breakfast. Came back to our stateroom. Opened the door. Looked in. And almost jumped out of our skin when we saw this! The stateroom stewards are all schooled in towel sculpture. Every day we found a different “creature” in our room; an elephant, a bat, a sleeping dog, and more. We were so happy with them that we took a basic course the ship offered…and bought their book on “Towel Creations”. Next time you stay over in Bordentown, expect something different in your room.

DSC_1463Skagway is directly connected to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-1899. We took a ranger walk through the town (all part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Park), an interesting mix of preserved historic buildings and those leased to merchants (the “gold” is in tourism from 1899 ’til now).

DSC_1466The town was created and developed by Capt. William Moore and a little later by a lone woman, Harriet Pullen. The stories of these two pioneer/entrepreneurs is absolutely fascinating (look them up). They anticipated the gold rush and set up the services needed by the 100,000 (mostly) men who came through seeking their fortune. Unfortunately almost all the claims were staked by the time the rush began.

DSC_1473 In two years the town swelled from a couple of people to over 8,000 residents, then quickly shrank back to 700. However, tourism quickly saved the economy since the railway had already set up lines to bring up goods for the businesses and the prospectors.

DSC_1467The railroad originally brought good only to Skagway. The prospectors then had to haul hundreds of pounds of supplies over either the Chilkoot Trail (33 miles) or the White Pass Trail (dead horse trail) to the Yukon. Carrying your own supplies via the Chilkoot might take three or four round-trips to get the year’s worth of living and prospecting supplies to where you needed them.

DSC_1530Here’s a section of the trail (seen from our train). Imagine dragging a several hundred pound sledge along this in deep snow and ice at below zero temperatures…three or four times. Things were pretty desperate for some in the 1890s.

DSC_1507We took a spectacular trip on the White Pass & Yukon railroad (first of four tunnels).

DSC_1520Tried to ignore the rather flimsy trestles being crossed.

DSC_1532And made it to White Pass, just at the Canadian border.

DSC_1495The views back were just amazing on this overcast day. We could even see back as far as the Skagway harbor at one point.

DSC_1470Back in town we checked out a few of the historic buildings and saw a terrific display of scrimshaw and other bone/horn carvings at a private museum. The museum had an interesting illustrated accounting of the history of the Iditerod dog sled race. The sporting event is based on the heroic efforts of local dog mushers in 1925 to quell a diphtheria epidemic that threatened Nome, especially the Alaska Native children. Their dog-sled relay was the only way to bring in the serum that would save the children. Fascinating.

This was the only day we really experienced the “cruise ship crush” as a huge Disney ship (probably 4,000 passengers as opposed to our 1,200) landed at nearly the same time in this tiny town.

DSC_1544A rotary snow plow used to keep the White Pass & Yukon line tracks clear.

Back to the ship for something completely different. Tomorrow we enter Glacier Bay, for what will be one of the most spectacular, inspiring days of our journey.

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