Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Alaska Cruise - Part 2
One of the top ports of call for almost all Alaska cruise lines is the town of Skagway, situated at the top of the Alaska Panhandle, on the north end of Lynn Canal. It is most famous for being the gateway to the Yukon or Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-99.
As the news of the discovery of a mother lode in the Yukon, men from all walks of life headed there from as far away as New York, South African, the Great Britain, and Australia.
From Skagway, the prospectors traveled the dangerous Chilkoot Trail and crossed the Chilkoot Pass, or hiked up to the White Pass and proceeded to Bennet Lake, the headwaters of the Yukon River. Here, some 25 to 35 miles from where they landed, they built rafts and boats that would take them the final 500 miles or more down the Yukon to Dawson City, near the gold fields.
The gold stampeders were forced by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to carry a year's supply of goods — about a ton, more than half of it food — over the passes to be allowed to enter Canada. Some realized how difficult the trek ahead would be on route to the gold fields, and chose to stay behind in Skagway to supply goods and services to miners. Within weeks, stores, saloons, and offices lined the muddy streets. During the spring of 1898, with approximately 1,000 prospective miners passing through the town each week, the population was estimated at 8,000. By June 1898, with nearly 10,000 residents, it was named the largest city in Alaska.
Today, many remnants of that historic period remain for the adventurous at heart. Just walking down Broadway, the main street is like a journey to another century. You can pick up a walking tour map that shows some of the original spots and gives an overview of their history. A good example is the Red Onion Saloon, one of Skagway’s most infamous watering holes. It’s well known for its provocative past and the upstairs has changed little since the time when it was frequented by turn-of-the-century working girls.
Another adventure reminiscent of the town’s history is a trip on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. The "Scenic Railway of the World" links Skagway with Yukon, Canada, a 41-mile roundtrip offering an unforgettable journey to the summit of the White Pass, a 2,865-foot elevation.
Perhaps the hi-light of any cruise to Alaska is sailing as close as possible to the beautiful glaciers that make their slow journey to the Pacific Ocean, and watch them as they "calve" into the sea. You stand in amazement, as, with sonic booms, great chunks break away from the glacier; sometimes causing tsunami like waves. The excitement of those watching nature at work, is palpable.
With climate warming, these glaciers are fast retreating and one wonders how much longer we will be able to experience this marvel of nature.