Monday, August 19, 2013
Overcast & very windy, high 50s
Walking tour day, it seems.
First was a National Park Service ranger-lead tour of the town of Skagway. Skagway and the adjacent town of Dyea were the main points of entry for the Klondike gold rush. Skagway was the entry to the White Pass Trail to the Yukon while Dyea was at the head of the more famous Chilkoot Pass Trail. Both towns went from nothing to become huge tent cities with many thousands of residents in a matter of months following the news of major gold strikes in the Klondike.
Rather than a straight history of the town, this ranger followed the Skagway careers of a few of the prominent Skagway citizens, mainly the first American settler, William “Billy” Moore, and Jeff “Soapy” Smith. The former first visited the site as part of a surveying team. With his son Ben, he claimed a 160-acre homestead at the mouth of the Skagway River in 1887. Moore settled in the area because he believed it provided the most direct route to potential goldfields. They built a log cabin, a sawmill, and a wharf in anticipation of future gold prospectors passing through. His predicted gold rush actually happened ten years later.
During the gold rush period, Skagway was a lawless town, “little better than a hell on earth” according to one journalist. Fights, prostitutes and liquor were ever-present on Skagway’s streets. In the center of this little hell was Soapy Smith, the most colorful bad guy of the period. A sophisticated swindler, he presented himself as a kind and generous benefactor to the needy. He was killed in a famous shootout in 1898.
Later we took what turned out to be a private, ranger-lead tour of the remains of Dyea, just three miles distant from Skagway. (No one else turned up for the tour!) Although Dyea was originally larger than Skagway, it failed to compete successfully. Among the reasons Dyea failed was that Skagway had a deeper harbor and the route following the White Pass Trail was the one chosen for building a railroad. All that remains of Dyea is the decaying ruin of what was once a large warehouse, a false front from a building that once stood on a street corner, holes that were once root cellars and a few pilings of what used to be a very long wharf. Part of the reason for so few remaining bits is that this area is part of a rain forest and things decay very rapidly. Also, people salvaged many of the building materials to help build new structures in Skagway.
What was for dinner? Try baked Salmon from our fishermen neighbors in Kenai, steamed fresh broccoli and a spinach and pear salad with goat cheese and pear-balsamic vinegar dressing. Yum!
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Overcast, high 50s, still very windy
We went out for breakfast at Glacier Smoothies & Espresso. They turned out some very good egg and black bean wraps and excellent coffee. Afterwards we wandered through some of the many shops that lined the main streets downtown.
The downtown was very busy with four large cruise ships in town carrying about 8,000 – 10,000 passengers. Skagway is popular because it has a deep harbor and offers a lot for passengers to do. For one, it offers a half-day train ride on old fashioned rail cars up through the White Pass to Carcross. There is the exciting gold rush history to absorb along with old buildings, National Park tours and old gold-rush era cemeteries to view. Finally, there is the usual assortment of shops, these all blessed with that special, gold rush cache.
What few cruise ship folks do is to walk. So we walked out to Yakutania Point, the pretty bit of land that separates the Skagway harbor from the shallower one at Dyea. We also visited the Gold Rush Cemetery and nearby Lower Reid Falls. Finally, we spent some time in the Skagway Town Museum.
We wanted to do more hiking but Bill’s knee and Sandy’s back were both acting up. Here’s hoping that both maladies clear up so we can continue this trip!
Dinner was a chicken and veggie stir-fry.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Overcast and breezy, high 50s
We were beginning to burn out on Skagway. So, we spent a slow morning, reading for a while before breakfast and then wandering back to town.
Bill had been admiring Alaskan-style Ulu knives since we toured the Ulu Factory in Anchorage. He almost purchased one by a local knife maker in Homer but hesitated. He found knives by the same maker in Skagway and, after trying several for fit to his hand, finally selected one to purchase. It used carbon steel from an old saw for the blade with a handle made from a deer antler.
We returned to Glacier Smoothies & Espresso for lunch and returned to the camper in the mid afternoon to reorganize some things in the camper and the car, work on notes for the website log and did laundry.
Dinner was roasted vegetables which Bill supplemented with some hot dogs we had in the freezer since we left home.
It rained pretty hard overnight.