Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Alaska - Day 6, Skagway & Yukon Territory

Friday, September 26

Weather: High in the low 40'sF
Cold. Partly cloudy, rain, drizzle, partial sunshine, and snow in the mountains.

Arriving in Skagway, Alaska
We sailed into Skagway early in the morning, and it was just as I had envisioned! It looked and felt like the Alaska I imagined. Skagway has a normal population of under 1,000, so it isn't large, and it maintains (on purpose, I'm sure) a frontier atmosphere. There are three streets, or at least that's how it seems. Don't expect huge department stores and 20-story resort hotels! I liked it. It reminded me of Cicely, Alaska (for you “Northern Exposure” fans out there). I am severely tempted to insert a smile emoticon. Someone stop me. Please.

Managed a shot of the train going over the trestle.
Looks a little shaky, but I guess it does the job.
A coach picked us up and delivered us to the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad station, which would have actually been just a nice walk's distance from the ship. No matter. The excursion we had chosen was a narrow-gauge railroad ride up the Chilkoot Trail to White Pass (the boundary between the United States and Canada) with a coach segment into the Yukon, the same route the gold miners took during the Klondike Gold Rush. I'm sure we all remember movies about the Mounties bringing the law to the Territories, wearing those amazing uniforms. So romantic! I've wanted to go to the Yukon since I was a wee girl with stars in her eyes, and I wasn't going to pass up this chance.

The view from the other side and
over the people.
Unfortunately, not knowing the difference, I sat on the right-hand side of the rail car. If you take the train ride from the station in Skagway, be sure to sit on the left. Unless, that is, you enjoy looking at rock walls instead of valleys and bridges and mountain tops and things.

Lots of water. Beautiful.
It was raining and cold, but lots of people braved the elements to stand out on the car's platforms, front and rear, in order to catch a view. The windows in the car started to fog up because it was so much colder outside than inside, and my camera battery died. My mood was, I will admit to you right here and now, souring somewhat.

My husband wasn't using his camera, so I tried to take a few shots from behind the last seat bench on the left, which actually was a great spot and afforded a nice view. Things have a tendency to work out just as they should. My mood improved considerably.

Snow! My joy was complete. Alaska.
And then, about half-way up to the Pass, the rain turned to slush. And the slush turned to snow! Score! I was surprised at the number of passengers aboard who had never seen snow falling, including a young lady from Los Angeles and a couple from Puerto Rico and the gentleman sitting opposite my vantage point. Naturally, I encouraged them to go out on the platform to experience first-hand the feel of the snow as it falls on your skin and the taste of it on your tongue, which they did. They came back inside wearing silly grins like little children. Everyone should experience this if at all possible. It's magical. 
The husband spotted some wildlife.
His joy was complete. Yukon.

In Fraser, British Columbia, we transferred from the train to the motorcoach, with a charming young man named Dave as our guide. He was funny and informative, chatting about the local geography, flora, fauna, people groups, politics, religion, and economics as we made our way to Carcross (Caribou Crossing), Yukon. There was no question asked that he could not answer. Impressive. I am taking the liberty of assuming that his responses were based in fact and not made of whole cloth, but it worked for me.

The Carcross Desert, Yukon
Seeing the topography and conditions the gold rush miners experienced, many of them to be driven to desperation as their dreams were dashed and their expectations were crushed, made me appreciate their efforts and sacrifices all the more. Granted, there was no doubt greed involved, and many made fortunes at the expense of the unfortunate. But the survival skills involved in braving the elements without the equipment and gear available today, to transport your goods and supplies on your back to your destination through multiple round-trips, to arrive safely and with your things, and to survive, well, that's almost unbelievable. I guess we need television shows like “Survivor” now to satisfy the wanderlust and thirst for adventure and testing that is present to some degree or other in the human spirit. To be a pioneer was not for the feint of heart, and it still isn't. It's a risk. And sometimes a high risk doesn't yield a high reward. But sometimes it does!

Miles and miles with nobody and nothing man made. Yukon.
Whitehorse, had we been driving on our own, would have been another hour up the highway. At 30,000 people, it's the biggest city in the Yukon. Dave said there are only 35,000 people in the whole Yukon. The Yukon is approximately the size of California. Imagine California with 35,000 people in it instead of 45,000,000. Sign me up! It was breathtaking to see such wide, open spaces filled with nothing but natural beauty. The fishing and hunting are said to be spectacular.

We crossed the border twice today.
Did I enjoy the excursion? Why, yes. Yes, I did. I would do it again. It fueled my thoughts and energized me. My imagination was fired up. I was ready for anything. I wanted to drive the Alaska-Canada Highway and have an adventure! And that's what an excursion is supposed to do for you.

Skagway, Alaska
Back in Skagway, we were greeted by lots of closed-for-the-season shops; half-empty, packing-up-for-Mexico shops; and snarky, chain-store shopkeepers telling us we were “supposed to be here yesterday.” Well, pardon me. I should have gone to the saloon! But I thought the town was very cute, and perhaps this is what's to be expected when you visit at the very end of the tourist season. Or, in this case, one day after it. No worries. I'm looking forward to visiting Skagway again.

Look, Denny. There's a marina!
Skagway, Alaska
Everyone was at the table for dinner. What a treat! Here's what we ate: My husband had the calamari appetizer, while I had lychee fruit with watermelon balls and candied ginger and mint. I liked it so well, I asked for another one. I shared that one with him, albeit somewhat reluctantly. For the soup course, he ordered the beef-vegetable, while I enjoyed a very tasty gazpacho. We both had Caesar salad. His entrée was Szechuan Shrimp, and mine was Beef Stroganoff. I was very pleased with the noodles, which weren't overcooked. For dessert, I had hot apple strudel with vanilla sauce, a la mode. And he had...yes, you guessed it. Joel and July, our wait team, are taking very good care of us.

After dinner, pianist Colin Salter entertained us in the Vista Lounge with “Ode to Billy Joel,” which was very good but too short. We made our way to the Princess Theater, where we were impressed by the antics and skill of comedy juggler Aaron Bonk. Then we played Majority Rules in the Explorer's Lounge. I'm pretty sure the winning team cheated (kidding).

And then we went back to the Vista Lounge for “Cruise Line Is It Anyway?” The cruise director's staff were featured as comedy players. The show started out all right, but soon it was falling all over itself in an attempt to be shocking. I am not a fan of shock comedy, so I was glad when the show was over. If you enjoy laughing uncomfortably at others instead of chuckling with them as they make spectacles of themselves, be my guest. I think I may have inadvertently piqued your interest?

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