Saturday, September 1, 2012

Juneau & Skagway, Alaska

Tue, Aug. 14th - Thur, Aug. 16th 

Haines Small Boat Harbor where we boarded the Fjord Express for a day trip to Juneau.  The little catamaran in the foreground is named Kaptain Kaos.

Leaving port at Haines.  The left half of the town was originally Fort William H. Seward (1903), the U.S. Army's first permanent outpost in the Territory of Alaska.  It was named after Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State who arranged the purchase of Alaska from the Russians in 1867 for $7.2 million.  Known as Seward's Folly, he claimed it would be the legacy of his career, but it would take a century to prove it.  As it turned out, one gold mine alone produced over $22 million, not to mention all the others, and oil, coal, scads of other minerals, military security, fishing industry, hunting, trapping and tourism.  Turns out it was a pretty good investment. 

This is a closer view of the Fort that was purchased by a group of WWII veterans as a business venture, when it was being closed after the war.  It didn't turn out to be a success for them, but they did manage to save it.  They called it Port Chilkoot and it was eventually merged into the city of Haines.  It is mostly hotels, B&Bs, apartments and such now.

Passing by a glacier and a small cruise ship in the distance.  Lots of glaciers along the way. 

We also saw several humpback whales and a pod of porpoises, but I didn't get any good pictures of them. 

We passed quite a few fishing boats with big nets out, that we had to carefully skirt around. 

We stopped to watch as this guy cranked his net in.  If you look closely, you can see him picking one of the fish he caught out of the net as he cranks it in. 

The Captain said there was a Steller Sea Lion on the beach.  It was hard to pick out from the rocks until we got a little closer. 

He was a really big one.

We pulled up close to this little falls because the Eagles usually hang out here. 

Then somebody spotted a bear.   And sure enough, there was a grizzly trying to catch a fish. 

And he got one and headed off into the grass for a tasty, little picnic.

We pulled up along side of this trawler to pick up a couple passengers who were on a fishing vacation and needed to catch a plane out of Juneau to return home. 

There was a bald eagle way up in the tallest tree here with it's huge nest just below it.  They use the same nest every year and add more to it every year.  Their nests have been known to be as big as a pickup box and weigh up to 2,000 pounds.  I can't imagine how the tree holds it up. 

Arriving at quiet, little Yankee Cove a few miles outside Juneau, we are picked up by a bus and toured around town.  The nearby Juneau Icefield covers nearly 1,500 square miles and feeds 38 major glaciers and over 100 smaller ones. 

The Fjordland is a 65 foot catamaran and brought us up the Lynn Canal from Haines to the state capitol.  It has been the capitol since 1906, when Alaska was just a territory.  It is the only state capitol that cannot be reached by road.  The first major gold strike was here in 1880 and was the first to result in the founding of an Alaskan town.  They had several legendary mines, the last of which closed during WWII. 

The city of Juneau is built on a steep hillside next to the water.  The sidewalks turn into stairways.  As the street ends, but the stairways keep going up the hill, the stairways are an extension of the street and have street names.  The town goes from sea level to more than 3,800 feet within a mile of the coastline.  With just over 30,000 people, it is the third largest city in Alaska. 

We hiked up the street a few blocks to take a tour of the State Capitol Building.  Completed in 1931, it was originally the Territorial Capitol.  It has a replica of the Liberty Bell out front.  One was given to every state and territory as part of a promotional campaign for U.S. Savings Bonds.  It's not very fancy and has no outdoor grounds, due to lack of space, but the tour was very interesting.   

After the tour we walked over a few blocks to have a look at the Governor's Mansion, built in 1912.  It's very pretty and has a nice fenced-in yard.  It's high up on the hill and they have a nice view of the port over the roofs of other homes and businesses. 

Back down on the waterfront, we walked around a bit and had fish and chips here on the pier, while we watched the float planes take off.  There is also an aerial tram you can take up the hill to get a great view.  We didn't go. 

Our bus picked us up to go and see Mendenhall Glacier, but there had been a bad motorcycle accident, and traffic was backed up being detoured around it.  So we ended up with only about a half hour at the Glacier.  Too bad, because there is a nice mile or so hike out to the falls, but we only had time to walk out to the point and take a few photos.  The glacier is 100 feet above the water and more than that below the water.  It has been receding about 200 feet a year since 2000. 

Our catamaran picked us up at this small boat harbor and we were off again, on our way back to Haines. 

Another great day! 

Just a couple pretty views on the way home. 

We were served tea and coffee and an apple on the morning trip and a bowl of salmon chowder with a roll and a cookie on the trip home.


Passing by Eldred Rock Lighthouse. 

A closer look at the seals and/or sea lions on the rocks. 

A faraway view of the Malaspina Ferry that we will be taking to Skagway tomorrow.  The ferries are named after glaciers.

Here we are Wednesday morning driving the RV onto the ferry. 

Leaving Haines for Skagway, which is only about 15 miles by water, but about 350 miles by land.  So the cost is about the same as driving, but only takes about 45 minutes.  Skagway is the northern terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway System.  Skagway is located on Taiya Inlet, a picturesque glacial fjord. 

Relaxing on the sun deck of the ferry.  I kind of wish the ride would take all day.  You can book a sleeper room or set your tent up right on the deck or in the solarium.  When I was here sixteen years ago with a very good friend, we had a sleeper one way and bunked in our sleeping bags on deck on the way back. 

Arriving in Skagway.  There are four cruise ships in port, as there are Monday through Thursday every week.  That's between 8,000 and 10,000 people in this small town of 834 year round residents.  Friday through Sunday they only have one cruise ship in port.  However, there are also trains, buses, planes, helicoptors and tourists driving in everyday.  They expect 800,000 visitors for the summer. 

I think it goes without saying, that this is my favorite place in town.  What could possibly be better than a whole store devoted to FUDGE?  We stayed at the Pullen Creek RV park just two blocks from the harbor. 

This is the White Pass & Yukon Train that was built during the Klondike Gold Rush, one of the few remaining narrow guage trains operating in the world.  In the half hour we were hiking out to the cemetery, we saw five of these come into town with 12 to 16 passenger cars on each train.  They take over a half million tourists on this three and half hour scenic ride through the Coast Mountains to Frazer every summer.  Two days a week you can travel to Carcross and Whitehorse, I think.  The Railway took 10,000 men with 450 tons of explosives only 26 months to complete, 1898-1900.  It is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, a designation it shares with the Eiffel Tower and the Panama Canal.  

While we were at the Gold Rush Cemetery, two of these cute, little tour buses brought folks out from town, which is about a mile or so.  The graves of Frank Reid and Soapy Smith are the highlight of the cemetery due to the historic showdown at the waterfront when Frank shot and killed Soapy.  Soapy was a scoundrel and con man with all kinds of scams to separate the miners and townfolk from their money.  He and his gang controlled the town for nine months. 

After the shootout all the towns people showed up for Frank's funeral.  They put up this huge monument on a hill in the center of the cemetery, with the epitaph that he died for the honor of Skagway.

The pastor was the only one to attend Soapy's funeral and he was buried off in a far corner with only his name and date of death on his marker.  Ironically, it was later discovered that Frank Reid was also a scoundrel and wanted for murder in Oregon.  All the graves in this cemetery are from about 1897 to 1904 and there are quite a few graves for that short period of time.  We took the hike up the hill behind the cemetery to a very pretty waterfall. 

We went on a park ranger tour of historic Skagway.  This home was built by the founder of Skagway.  The smaller log cabin was his first home here about ten years before the Klondike Gold Rush.  He predicted there would be a gold rush and Skagway would be an important port to get there, so he had homesteaded and plotted out lots for a town.  When the stampede began in 1897, Skagway became a city of tents almost overnight.  By 1899 it had 300 businesses, including 33 saloons, 5 bakeries, 3 breweries, 7 dress makers, 4 dentists, a butcher & cheese shop and a music teacher. 

We went to the National Park's theatrical renditions of the ballads of Robert Service and stage show of the short, but fiery reign of Soapy Smith and his gang.  They were reputed to be the largest band of thieves in North America.  One Mountie described Skagway as "a little better than hell on earth". 

They pulled this poor sap, Bob, out of the audience to be part of their show.  John was breathing easier when they passed him up and chose Bob just a few seats from us.  Poor Bob was so embarrassed, his face just got redder and redder as Mollie Fewclothes and Squirrel Tooth Alice kept fighting over him.  Bob's wife was laughing and enjoying every minute of his discomfort. 

Oh those dance hall girls!  Performed at the historic Eagle's Hall for 75 years, it's the oldest running show in the north, and they are all a fun way to get a synopsis of the history of the area.  The Fraternal Order of Eagles was originally known as the "Order of Good Things" and was started in Seattle by six theater owners and moved up the coast with the gold rush.  Skagway is charter No. 25. 

We took the pedestrian bridge over the Taiya River and hiked out to Yakutania Point.  Just over or around the mountain nine miles from here is the ghost town of Dyea, the start of the Chilkoot Trail.  The 17 U.S. miles of the Chilkoot Trail is a unit of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park.  The trail is a 33 mile hike that is half in the U.S. and half in Canada and takes three to six days to hike.  The three other units of the park are the six-block historic district in Skagway's business area, the White Pass Trail and the Visitors Center.  Jack London arrived in Dyea Aug. 7, 1897 and was over the Chilkoot Pass by Aug. 31st.  He and his partners built two boats, crossed Lake Lindeman and were at the mouth of the Stewart River by Oct. 9th where they spent the winter, 80 miles upstream from Dawson City.  By spring he was ill with scurvy and stoked coal on a steamship for his passage home.  He never mined gold, but his Yukon novels and short stories made him a fortune.  Some of his stories include descriptions of the White Pass Trail becoming known as the Dead Horse Trail.  Over 3,000 horses died as inexperienced and thoughtless gold seekers struggled to reach the Klondike.  A park ranger told the story of how the horses just dropped from starvation and exhaustion and the stampeders just walked right over them until by the end of the day their bodies were completely flattened to the ground. 

Looking back toward Skagway Harbor, we see the cruise ships.  The Disney ship is the nearest one with two red smoke stacks. 

Standing on the pedestrian bridge, we watch planes coming and going from the airport. 

If you zoom into the right hand corner, you can see three helicopters that just took off on glacier tours. 

I wasn't quite sure what to make of this store front.  Seemed kind of outdated, but maybe they are planning to run again. 

The Artic Brotherhood Hall on the right is covered with 8,833 pieces of driftwood and houses Junior Ranger exhibits and activities.  At the Red Onion Saloon on the left, I went on a brothel tour of the ten-crib operation they used to have upstairs.  They charged $5.00 for fifteen minutes, the same rate as they charged in 1898.  The bawdy, innuendos just went downhill from there.  It was mildly entertaining, but probably not worth $5.00.  I wonder if the miners said the same thing in 1898. 

This is the small boat harbor, just across a big parking lot from our campground.  Some names on the boats were Funzie-One, Badly Bent and Dock Holiday. 

Just beyond the small boats are the cruise ships.  Far out in the bay is the Disney ship on it's way out. 

We left Skagway Friday morning and paused at the border today for one last look.

Today's Trivia:  The average American male walks 2,040 miles each year and drinks 42 gallons of beer.  That's 48.6 miles per gallon!!

More tomorrow,

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