Thursday, July 8, 2010

Gold-Rush Town: Skagway, Alaska

Sailing north from Petersburg on the Alaskan Marine Highway, the ferry entered the most spectacular fjord: Lynn Canal. The glaciered mountains rise from both sides of the channel under the bright sunshine. After a full day of sailing, the ferry stopped at Haines, AK, and the ferry arrived in Skagway late in the night. Skagway is the north end of the Inside Passage.

With a population of 900, Skagway has a rich history from the gold-rush. Surrounded by the high peaks, the town was built in the small valley. There is a part of the town that is designated as the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, and those gold-rush era buildings are stabilized and preserved in the downtown. Like Juneau and Ketchikan, Skagway is one of the main cruise ship destinations. During the busy summer months, the small town is as crowded as Disneyland.

During the Klondike gold-rush period, over 30,000 prospectors arrived via steamship boats from the lower 48 as well as overseas to Skagway. The prospectors marched down to Dawson City, Canada, through one of two trails: Whitehorse Pass and Chilkoot in the harsh winter. Both trails were extremely hazardous.

In the Summer of 1900, the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway was completed. However, the gold-rush had already subsided at that time.

The White Pass & Yukon Route train rides over the scenic mountains are very popular tourist attractions in our modern times. I was on the train on my recent travels while it was full of Canadians on Victoria Day. The train left downtown Skagway at sea level and was soon surrounded by spring greens, and slowly climbed up the pass while I saw snow on the ground.

The train went through the tunnels, and I looked down the deep canyon. We soon crossed the U.S - Canadian border and entered the Yukon Territory in Canada. It was still winter at White Pass...snow still dominated the ground, and numerous alpine lakes were still frozen.

Arrived in Frazer Lake, and after a very short break, the train headed back to Skagway.

Hiking up the steep trail from the downtown, the forest opened up to the Lynn Canal view. The snow covered Chilkat Mountains were painted as soft magenta at sunset. Those large cruise ships were leaving at the time.
Finally, I was heading to Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve via Juneau, AK. Glacier Bay will be my home for this summer.