What a pretty name... Skagway!

Trip Start Jun 28, 2003
Trip End Aug 04, 2003

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Flag of Canada  , Yukon,
Wednesday, July 9, 2003

A funny thing happenned after I left the internet cafe a couple days ago. By the time I was done typing out the travelogue it was well past 10pm. I got into my car and then I had an internal debate as to whether I should turn my headlights on or not. It wasn't really dark but my "southern sense" said that it was pretty late and I should have them on. I ended up turning them on but I told myself it was because it was kind of cloudy.

The sun didn't go down til just past 11pm. It set in the northwest. The streetlights came on at 11:20pm. I was reading a book at my campsite unaided by any artificial light at midnight. It seems so strange. It doesn't keep me from sleeping however. I slept like a baby after that long hike up the mountain.

Monday, July 7th - Latitude: 60 degrees North
Whitehorse, Yukon

A McBiscuit Digression: I went to McDonald's for breakfast. As I entered I noticed that a car with California plates pulling up. I thought to myself, "This guy it gonna be pissed when he finds out there aren't McBiscuits in Canada." Sure enough the guy gets in line behind me and he's confounded by the lack of McBiscuits on the menu. He even asks the cashier if they offer McBiscuits. Denied, he gruffly orders a McMuffin instead. I give him a look of solidarity.

There was no driving on this day! Hip hip hooray!

This of course meant lots of walking and my thighs were already tender from the previous day's mountain trek. Everyone please stop thinking about my tender thighs now. Thank you.

I first stopped in at The McBride Museum. This museum tries to tell the whole Yukon story and mostly succeeds in its attempt. Of course it concentrates on the gold mining but there is also a good exhibit on other natural minerals and crystals that can be found in the territory. As well, they have a large display of stuffed wildlife. Outside the museum they have some neat things like an original steam engine from the White Pass Railroad, plenty of mining equipment, and a couple of original log buildings including the one that belonged to Sam McGee. Some of you might be familiar with Robert Service's poem "The Cremation of Sam McGee." The person in that poem was entirely fictional but there was a Sam McGee who was a prospector in Whitehorse who friends with Robert Service. Service liked his name and used it for his poem.

You can also do some of your own gold-panning at The McBride. You are given a pan full of dirt and a tub full of water. You put some water in the pan and gently shift the pan back in forth. Since the gold is much heavier than the rest of the rocks and gravel it sinks to the bottom so you pour out the top of the dirt and continue this process until you ar just down to the gold. I found 5 nice flakes of gold in my pan and a lot of gold dust (nothing to retire on unfortunately). I suspect that the dirt in the pan is salted with gold so that everyone goes away a winner. If you pay an extra 5 bucks who get to keep the gold you pan.

After a hearty lunch of Stagg's Private Reserve Canned Chili I visited the Beringia Interpretive Centre. This is a great place to go if you're already sick of the amount of Klondike Gold Rush activities that have been offered everywhere you turn. Beringia was a continent that formed during the Ice Age. It includes Siberia, Alaska & the western Yukon (as well as the Bering Sea). This is the Bering Land Bridge you might have heard about as the explanation as to how humans migrated to the western continents. Since glaciers used up a huge portion of the world's water the oceans were much shallower. Although far north Beringia was very dry so glaciers did not form upon it.

Although there is much to discuss regarding the weather and glaciation the Beringia Centre focuses on the mega-fauna that were alive at the time. It's those giant animals that puts the asses in the seats. You've probably already heard of the Mastodon and the Wooly Mammoth but there was also a giant beaver (9 feet long and 400 pounds), a wild horse, giant buffalo, and a huge ground sloth that used to roam this continent before man and the changing weather conspired to kill them off. Thre are many good models of these creatures' skeletons at the centre. It's interesting to note that the most of the fossil discoveries are made by miners.

There are other sites around Whitehorse to check out. I've included pictures of the Log Cabin Church, the SS Klondike, and the Log Cabin Skyscraper (4 stories). The Skyscraper actually has a bachelor apartment for rent on every floor. I was lucky enough to meet a resident who let me look at his place. Terribly small. Last but not least Whitehorse is actually big enough to support two crackhouses. If you're in the area and need a fix the two run-down houses at the corner of 1st & Jarvis can hook you up with whatever you need.

In the late afternoon I took a walk along the clay bluffs that overlook the city. You get a good view of the city, the surrounding mountains, the Yukon river, and the dam to the south that has tamed the Whitehorse rapids from the gold rush days.

For dinner I headed to the restaurant that has been voted the Yukon's best the past 4 years - Klondike Rib & Salmon. This place is a bit pricier than my usual choices while I'm on vacation but they offer a good selection of game meat and wanted to try some. I settled on the Caribou Stew and it was incredible. Caribou is very tender. Like beef but a bit saltier. I recommend getting the garlic mashed potatoes to go with it and the herb salad that comes with it is very tasty. The restaurant also makes it's own bannock bread and it's fantasic as well. Thick enough to mop up the remaining stew but not too heavy that it sits like a rock in your stomach.

There are a lot of German tourists here. Germans love David Hasselhoff and the Yukon. There is a daily non-stop flight from Frankfurt to Whitehorse. That means you can fly direct to here from Germany but not from Toronto. In fact I think that the Frankfurt flight is the airport's only international flight.

In the evening I climbed the bluffs once again in an attempt to take some nice sunset photos of the city. I don't think I succeeded. It was too cloudy to get any good lighting on the city as well as the mountains behind it. The late sunset also makes me realize that I've resorted back to the days when I was 12 years old. When the streetlights come on that's when I know it's time for bed.

Tuesday, July 8th - Latitude: 59 degrees North
Skagway, Alaska

Actually I'm back in WHitehorse but today was a day-trip down to Skagway. I'll start this day's events in Skagway and then work back to Whitehorse. The weather was miserable so I didn't stop anywhere on the way southward so it was probably the fastest trip I've made on this whole vacation. As well, by doing things south to north I'm recreating the experience of the gold-seekers who trudged up from Skagway in 1898.

Skagway sits in a beautiful inlet on the panhandle of Alaska. In 1899 it was the first incorporated city in Alaska. It's a gorgeous townsite. The town itself lives off of tourism so naturally it's a bit too touristy for my liking. The historical downtown area contains many of the original buildings so they have a very good re-creation of the boardwalk and false-front style of the gold rush era. Unfortunately, now most of these buildings aren't saloons but high-end jewelry shops. On this day there were 3 ocean liners docked in the harbour so this downtown area was crawling with people. If you make your way to the corner of 2nd Ave and State Street you'll find a business that has perfectly capitalized on these cruise ship patrons. It is a small store that offers some basic snacks but it also has 12 internet terminals crammed into the space as well as roughly 30 phones for people to use. I can't imagine the wiring that has taken place here. There were phones in the building. There were phones on the front porch. There were phones and patio furnitures in the alleyway. And they were ALL being used.

Another gamey meal: Reindeer sausage. A little Rudolph in every bite!

Still Skagway is worth your time should you be in the area. Like I said the area is absolutely gorgeous. There are activities to do away from the downtown area as well. There are a number of tour operators that offer trips by bus, train, bike, helicopter, boat and dog-sled over the surrounding countryside. That's an option.

I chose to visit Skagway's Gold Rush cemetery. It's quite scenic but the old wooden markers are gradually being replaced by new ones that take away from the charm. Still you can visit the grave of Jefferson "Soapy" Smith, the man who ran the town. Soapy was a gangster as well as Skagway's civic leader. He ran an immense crime syndicate but he was also considered one of Skagway's leading citizens. He's considered the man that built the town. Some vigilantes had had enough of Soapy's double-dealings and he was killed in a shoot-out. His killer, Frank Reid, also died in the same gunfight. Reid is the man who actually surveyed the townsite. It's not often you find a town where it's two leading citizens killed each other.

After that I headed over to the Dyea Historic Site. Dyea was a town on the opposite side of the inlet from Skagway. It was also the opposite in that law & order prevailed in the town. Dyea was the entrance to the Chilkoot trail into Canada while Skagway was the entrance to the White Pass.

Dyea no longer exists but there is a park on the former townsite. You can find a couple of collapsed buildings and the only remaining false front from the 1890s. You can also walk way out onto the tidal flats for the best view down the fjord. There is also a small cemetery here as well for those that were killed in the great avalanche on April 3rd 1898. 90% of the grave markers in this graveyard list this date as the final day of the interred.

Even if you're not into history the drive over to Dyea is worth it. I'd give me left nut for just one chance to drive that road being 100% sure no one was coming the other way. It's a wild twisty dirt track that clings to a cliffside. One wrong move and you're either plowing into a rockface or plunging into the drink.

My trip to Skagway only took about 2 hours. Since I was sight-seeing on the way back to Whitehorse it took me 3 hours and 45 minutes. Yes, there is a multitude of things to see. I think I went through 4 rolls of film today.

Immediately out of Skagway you start to climb up The Deadhorse Trail along White Pass. The trail was named due to the smell of the rotting carcasses of horse's that could not survive the climb into the mountains. Either they died of exhaustion or fell off the mountainside. There are a number of scenic pull-outs along the road and I think I used all of them. Definitely stop at the pull-out for Pitchfork Falls. You'll notice it because there is also a huge waterpipe running down the side of the mountain beside it. This is water diverted from a mountain lake that is used to power a hydro-electric plant for Skagway.

After passing by the American Customs house (the Canadian one is still 20 minutes down the road) there is a historic site for the former site of Log Cabin. This marks the end of the Chilkoot trail out of Dyea. You can still hike the trail and Log Cabin is where you should be arranged to be picked up once you are finished.

Then you enter Tormented Valley. The locals all call it the "moonscape" but I like Tormented Valley better. This valley is windswept and cold so very little grows here. What does grow is small and twisted by the wind. The small trees usually only have branches on one side of their trunks. It is in Tormented Valley where you'll reach Canadian Customs.

The next things besides mountains and lakes that you'll come across is the Venus Mine. Here you can find the remains of an old mine on the side of a hill. There is still a huge mill right at the roadside. Down at the water level you can see a couple of log buildings. Further up the hill you can still make out some of the tramway used to haul the rock out of the hillside. My book warns me not to eat any of the raspberry bushed in the area because of their high arsenic content.

Carcross the only town between Whitehorse and Skagway along the Klondike highway. I didn't stop in for a visit although the town looks like it has some nice eccentricities. I only stopped for the Carcross desert. This 2 acre patch of sand is affectionately known as the smallest desert in the world. It's the bottom of a dried-up lake but the area is too windy for much vegetation to take hold. The picture I've provided shows pretty much the whole desert.

I bypassed Emerald Lake as well. It's pretty but I've seen enough blue-green lakes for now.

My final stop was Robinson's Roadhouse. This was a stop along the White Pass & Yukon Railway. The old logs buildings are still standing (but barely) and the light hits it perfectly in the early evening for some great photos. Unfortunately, I didn't bring the digital camera along with me to this wreck as I had thought that there wouldn't be much to photograph. You'll see photos in a few weeks folks!

Unfortunately I didn't make it back to Whitehorse in time to have dinner at The Deli: Your Meating Place so I grabbed a sub instead. Just plain old turkey. Like back home.

I'd like to shout out some Mad Props to the Wired Cabin for their dedication in keeping their internet connections available even as they moved locations. They didn't even get mad at me when I blew one of their motherboards. Also, Mad Props should be given out to The Robert Service Campground. It's an excellent facility and I recommend it to anyone camping in the area, specifically tenters as the campground doesn't really cater to the RV Crowd. Fight the power!!
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