Alaska Adventures: Skagway, The White Pass and Yukon Route Railway, and bears, oh my!

No offense to the cruise business, but one of my favorite things about our recent ship experience was getting off the boat and exploring. To that end, we chose a lengthy excursion for each of our three days on land. First up, a “Yukon Expedition” and White Pass Railway tour from Skagway, Alaska to Caribou Crossing in the Yukon Territory of Canada, and back. To steal a line from Mr. Dickens… it was the best of times and the worst of times.

After disembarking in Skagway, we caught a motorcoach for a 90 minute drive into the Yukon.
The city of Skagway is famed as the starting point for the shortlived Klondike Gold Rush that started in 1898 and lasted two years. When gold was first discovered a couple years earlier, prospectors rushed to the area expecting to see gold nuggets littering the ground thanks to erroneous news reports.
In actuality, only a handful of people ever struck it rich during the Klondike Gold Rush, but it didn’t stop some 30,000 people from trying their hand.
Prospectors showed up so eager and unprepared that Canadian authorities would only allow people through if they had at least 2,000 pounds of supplies.
Sadly, those supplies didn’t often include fodder for horses and thousands of beasts died from injury and neglect during this time. (So much so that the above canyon is referred to as Dead Horse Gulch)
Our motorcoach driver and tour guide made several scenic stops like this one.
After visiting Glacier Bay, I wasn’t expecting to be stunned by the scenery!
Hey look, a Yukon goofball.
Apparently tour buses bring out the crazy.
Notice the reflection…
Water like glass! This is Tutshi Lake, I believe. (Tutshi is pronounced “too shy”)
Teehee.
Our guide, Jonathan, who led the tour with just the right amount of goofy charm.
Such tourists.
Our tour was headed up to Caribou Crossing where we’d eat lunch, visit a nature museum and hang out for awhile before catching the train back. As we got close to the little city, we saw two jeeps pulled on the side of the road and Jonathan shouted “Bears!”
I almost died from excitement to be 40 feet from this mama bear and her cub.
Apparently bears really dig dandelions.
That brown spot in the background is her little cub who scampered too fast to be photographed.
Bear buns!
Trivia: Black bears aren’t necessarily always black.
Would never have expected a desert up in Yukon Territory.
Ha. We landed at Caribou Crossing, a pseudo-Gold Rush town featuring a BBQ joint, nature museum, petting zoo of sorts, dog sledding team and ice cream shop.
We started by visiting the animals.
“What?”
“What’s so funny?”
Husky puppies!!
We surmised that the whole “town” of Caribou Crossing exists to fund the owner’s dog sledding team for the Ididarod. Apparently entries into the race cost $25,000!
Although fun to see the dogs, we didn’t care for the “puppy mill” quality of the place, nor the moose-sized mosquitoes everywhere!
We understood that the dogs are chained to their kennels to keep them familiar with being chained together. But I still didn’t like seeing it!
Since it was upsetting to see so many animals chained up, we left to visit the “nature museum.”
Horns aplenty.
My sexy fur hat. Mr. T called me a babushka.
So, the “nature museum” turned out to be all taxidermy, all the time.
Not what I expected, but I tried to roll with it…
Until we got to a room with the big animals–bears, buffalo, cats and for some odd reason, a woolly mammoth. I felt nauseated at the sight of so many beautiful creatures killed for sport! Now, I know that hunting is a way of life for many and that especially up in the wilderness, hunting means the difference between living and dying… but I hated seeing hundreds of animal trophies.
Meh. We escaped and I made T buy me an ice cream to get the nasty taste out of my mouth.
The good news? We saw another bear on the way out of Caribou Crossing, this time on the way up to another scenic stop. This mama and cub were trying to cross the road and truth be told, almost ran in front of our bus!
Emerald Lake.
We stopped briefly at the real town of Carcross, home to a couple hundred people.
Spectacular.
The second half of our trip took place on the White Pass Railway which climbs 3,000 feet and spans 20 miles. Breathtaking!
Many of these scrub trees are full grown, by the way.
Quite a few of these pictures were shot from the balcony of the train car. T didn’t seem to mind going by cliffs in the open air, but it freaked me out.
We traveled through Fraser, BC for part of the journey.
During the Gold Rush, scurvy was an issue so an enterprising retailer shipped and sold cantaloupes for $10 a pop!
Soon the prospectors learned that the Indians ate spruce tips which are heavy in vitamin C.
They tried spruce tea which was apparently nasty, and then finally figured out how to make spruce tip ale.

 

The U.S.-Canada border. We went through mini-customs twice on the journey.
Many prospectors perished by virtue of underestimating the brutality of a Yukon winter.
The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad is an International Historical Civil Engineering Landmark apparently, similar to the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty.

 

The world’s tallest cantilever bridge when it was built in 1901. Learn more facts here.
One thing I learned about cruising is that you will see the same people over and over, especially if you do not WANT to see them.
Shortly after the train departed, we realized that the “good” side for picture taking was on the right. So we switched into the last right-side seats just before a mom and her grown-up daughter attempted to do the same. (I add “grown-up” so you don’t think we snaked the good view from a child. ha.)
Did we run into them every day after that on the ship? Yes, yes, we did.
Bridal Veil Falls. Apparently we don’t have a lot of creative names for falls since there are several of these Bridal Veil types.
George E. Buchanan, a Detroit coal merchant, had some sort of “visit Alaska” subsidy program whereby the he would pay a third of the cost for young people to visit Alaska, so long as they and their parents each paid a third.
Toward the end of our trek, the clouds descended for a bit.
One of our conductors.
The town of Skagway was originally called “Skagua” by the Tlingit Indians. The name means “home of the north wind.”
A famous brothel. Elsewhere in town there was a bakery/brothel combo where our guide told us that back in the day, you could get “Hot buns, 24-7.”
Skagway, with only 27 inches of moisture per year, is the “sunshine” capital of Southwest Alaska.
Skagway maintains the distinction of being one of the few Gold Rush era towns not to have suffered a major fire. These 100+ year old wood facings are originals!
If pressed, I’d say little downtown Skagway ranked as my favorite town on the trip.
I tried to buy local and made-in-Alaska souvenirs when possible.
Good to know.
Filled with beautiful gardens, Skagway is know as the “Garden City” of Alaska.
Residents number around 600 during the year. We met a number of people who just “ended up” in Skagway, one when her car broke down here on a road trip from New York. Sounds like one hell of a road trip!
Rhubarb, rhubarb, everywhere.
A creative historical advertisement for a watch shop that is still in town!
This strange building serves as the visitors bureau now.
Skagway sits 90 miles northwest of Juneau.
I don’t know.

 

Getting on and off the ship is serious business. You must check in and out, and go through a metal detector on the way back in. Punctuality is important, too.
We got back with 10 minutes to spare and were not one of the several “Mr. and Mrs.” So-and-Sos paged over head.
The Coral Princess.
View from our balcony. Apparently every ship that docks here paints their name/emblem on the rocks.

Next up: Helicoptering over Juneau and glacier-walking!

xoxo,
shawna

Alaska Adventures:
– Hello from Alaska! 
– Bumming around Moose Pass and Cooper Landing 
– Trail riding in Seward 
– Trouble takes a party bus Whittier
– Scenic cruising and the Hubbard Glacier
– Incredible Glacier Bay National Park (plus, whales!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *