Thursday, July 23, 2009

28-2009 Whitehorse Yukon Canada to Carcross to Skagway Alaska

Whitehorse Yukon revisited.

I had one of those moments today. I was wondering around Whitehorse, taking a few pictures and just absorbing the Yukon territory, when I came across a statue in town. Thinking I’d take a shot or two of it, a miner holding his shovel and his faithful companion dog next to him. Then I looked down at the plaque and read, “Dedicated to all those who Follow their Dreams”. Wow, talk about getting a lump in my throat. A statue dedicated to me and the rest of those who have followed their dreams.

And this wasn’t just a simple platitude that was just thrown out there. To me this statue spoke to me. You see, ever since growing up in Northern Michigan I was encouraged to follow my dreams to where ever they would take me. And the first dream I followed was of living in a tropical setting where I could bask in the sun, swim in the ocean and watch the palm trees swaying in the breeze. I had an opportunity to go to Florida on vacation and when I got there, I stayed. I’ve been following my dreams ever since. Making each one a reality in time.

I’m completely stunned to have traveled this far to read a message dedicated to following ones dreams. Awesome man, just awesome.

Funny too that I’ve seen all of the Harry Potter movies in such exotic places, having just gone to the small theatre in Whitehorse. Imagine, I’ve seen these films in as far away places at Marathon Florida in the Keys to as far north as up here in the Yukon. Pretty cool if you ask me.

Carcross to Skagway Alaska

I headed out on Tuesday for what I thought would be a short drive of 109 miles but there was so much to see, it took me about 5 hours to drive. I had to stop at Carcross Yukon which is the terminus for the scenic rail ride from Skagway. It has one of the oldest continually operated general stores in the Yukon. The town, like so many small towns, played a part in the gold rush days. A neat stop in the country where folks who like a remote existence in a beautiful country wouldn’t think of living any where else. For us photographers there are just a ton of buildings and scenes to take pictures of. I love the old buildings in a place like this, add a bit of water, boats and mountain ranges and I could take a 100 pictures in a very short amount of time and I did.

But I couldn’t stay there all day so I headed on down the Klondike Highway towards Skagway. I’ve got to tell you, the road between Carcross and Skagway has the most striking scenery I’ve ever seen. Majestic mountains, long Alpine glacier fed lakes that go on for miles. The highway luckily bordering all of this. The scenery changed constantly around every curve. An interesting terrain developed where the thick boreal forests were replaced by rugged rock outcroppings covered in liken and mosses stained white, copper and greens with small stunted trees and brush trying to survive on little to no soil. Small lakes and ponds mingling among the solid rock landscape reflecting the clouds and tinny blue skies.

Crossing over into British Columbia and then to the U.S. boarder where they do a real thorough check on each person. Took them a short while to check my records on the computer and then I was off. Crossing over White Pass and into Skagway. At one point I was on level with the clouds before the descent. Crossing a unique cable bridge over a steep rapine, catching a couple waterfalls on my right hand side. One of them was huge as it’s white water crashed down literally on the edge of the roadway. Really caught me by surprise. These are the types of things one just can’t get a picture of. There’s just no way to stop jump out of the truck and get that shot. Especially when the road is pretty narrow and descending at about a 6% grade. But what memories they create.

And Tah-Dah, I’m in Skagway. A narrow spit of flat land between two huge snow capped mountain ranges on either side. The bay directly ahead of me at the end of the road. The tall cruise ships visible from many block away.

Low lying clouds shroud the tops of the mountains. I’ve had an opportunity to experience what the locals have to do when ever they need supplies or medications. In my case, I’d run out of one of my eye drops for my glaucoma. There is no drug store in town. The local clinic in town did not have the medicine on hand so they showed me how to order it from Juneau. Basically I needed to contact Wal-Mart and have them fill the prescription. I then called a currier service in Juneau to have them pick up the prescription and deliver it to Wings of Alaska who flew it to Skagway. Even the local news stand has national papers delivered daily from Seattle. The papers are flown to Juneau and Wings of Alaska flies them into Skagway. And their current, not yesterdays newspaper.

Had a great lunch at the Skagway Fish Company. I had Halibut Fish and Chips. Really really good. The restaurant is right on the railroad dock where I got a chance to look at the huge cruise ships up close. A Norwegian cruise ship was the hugest one I’ve ever see. Looked like they’d stuck two ships together. I’ll try and post a picture of it. There were 4 big ships in dock today, but fortunately many people take the bus or train tours so they’re not all in town at the same time.

The tour trains and busses comes right up to the waiting ships to scoop up the tourists for their adventure into the Yukon for the day.

I joined a group at the Klondike Gold Rush National Park and viewed an exceptional film on the Klondike Gold rush that created Skagway and helped populate and change the Yukon and Alaska forever. Imagine word of gold being discovered up in Dawson and 100,000 desperate people looking to getting their lives back on track (there was a great depression back in the late 1890’s). By the time they got up here, all the gold had already been discovered and all the land had mining claims already on them. Only about 10,000 actually made it as far as Dawson City in the Yukon.

After the film, I joined a Park Ranger led tour of the town. The National Park owns 22 of the historical structures in town and is continuing to restore and rent out many of the structures. Our Ranger told us about the people who created Skagway and they all went by the name of “entrepreneurs”. Quite a history lesson in how an individual with a dream and great ideas can make a go of it. Even women who came to make a decent living and ended up becoming rich in their own right. Their stories make the town come alive. Including the stories of the scoundrels like Soapy Smith and the red light ladies of the evening.

If you make it to Skagway, don’t pass up the opportunity to take a Ranger guided tour and see the film. You’ll learn not only the history of the town and it‘s people, but something about the locals who live and thrive here today. Some, ancestors of those first pioneers. And it’s my favorite price….. Free. To learn more check out the Klondike Gold National Park Site. or more Klondike history.

I’m thoroughly enjoying my stay here in Skagway Alaska. There are great places to hike and

tour. I drove along the Dyea Road which leads into another portion of the Klondike Gold NP. It’s where the second trail, the Chilkoot Trail began. You might have seen pictures of the Klondike gold miners where they were climbing up the mountain pass in winter, looking like a trail of ants climbing their way to the top of the pass. The NP now owns this land, once a part of the 1st Nation Tribe of Indians trading route. After driving along the well maintained dirt road, which hugs the side of the mountain range along one of the long narrow inlets, I arrived at the park. Just a few signs to indicate where to begin my exploration of the area. Numerous groups were gathering for bike trips, hiking and horse back riding. So many options. Since I pretty much knew what I was doing, I went on and started my hike. There are a couple of tails in the area, I took a loop trail around the original Dyea settlement. Little is left of the boom town settlement that sprang up overnight, only to be abandoned two years later. Amazing how nature will reclaim the land so quickly. Darn, I missed seeing the bears along the river near the end of the road. I may have to go back to see them as they hang out in this area quite often.

This is another seaside port that I’m completely smitten with. I plan on staying here for 4 more days to continue exploring the area, maybe ride my bike around town. A bit more traffic here than in Valdez, but I think it will be safe as I can take some of the side streets, rather than the main street to ride around on.

I’ve posted more pictures on my picasa web site to go along with this report. Ps, the current weather up here is very cloudy, but when the sun peaks out it’s just magnificent. Temp has reached a high of 70 today, with evening temps around 54 degrees.

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