Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Alaska RV Tour - Skagway, Alaska

The Tlingits are First Nation (Native) people that are indigenous to a wide stretch of coastal region that spans British Columbia and Alaska. The Tlingit word for Skagway is “Skaguay”, which translates to Home of the North Wind and we would soon discover first hand that Skagway weather can be windy, cold and rainy - even in July! It was chilly and damp when we arrived on Friday, July 2nd and, as it turned out, the weather would become even colder and wetter during the 4 days we spent in Skagway. Oh well, we can’t control everything.

Skagway began as a very small fishing town but boomed during the Klondike Gold Rush that began in 1896. During 1897-1898, Skagway became a port town that provided would-be prospectors with access to the infamous Chilkoot Trail. There was very little law or order in those days: one member of the Northwest Mounted Police described Skagway as "little better than a hell on earth."

Modern Skagway has a permanent population of around 1000 and is therefore considered a noteworthy town by Alaska standards. It is also well-established as a Cruise Ship town and so is a pretty major tourist destination. The shopping/tourist area reflects this and is dominated by numerous jewelry stores and gift shops, many of which are owned by the cruise lines. With every cruise ship that comes into port, Skagway swells with hundreds of tourists and so the downtown tourist area can get pretty crowded.

On our way to Skagway, Spike warned us several times don’t touch the boat people – eeek! because they carry germs and would almost certainly make us sick. Funny… we assumed he meant the local or native fishermen but as it turned out, he meant the people on the cruise ships because they often carry ‘flu germs and other unpleasant contagions!

Unfortunately, we missed meeting up with my family by only a few days; they were on one of the dastardly cruise ships that had come by a week or so earlier. It would have been great to see them, if only for a few hours, and I’m sure we would have touched them despite Spike’s warnings!

When we arrived at the Pullen Creek RV Park, we were assigned to a cramped site a few feet from the road that had a bunch of discarded lumber piled up where we would step out of the RV. Anyway, Spike made arrangements for us to change to much more pleasant site and so it worked out just fine. We ended up parked far away from the road next to Margi and Neil Brown, which was nice.

The first full day (Saturday), our group of yellow jackets met at the National Park Visitor Center in downtown Skagway, which is just a short walk from the RV park. We watched a well-made film about the Klondike Gold Rush and the Chilkoot Trail, which filled in some details on the background Spike had already given us about this era. We then headed back to the RV park where Spike and crew (Roger, Herb, Val, Teresa, and Craig the RV park manager) put on a surprise re-enactment of Soapy Smith’s fatal shootout with Frank Reid and his group of vigilantes. It was a lot of fun!

We also helped Sophie celebrate her birthday with cupcakes and singing!

That afternoon was interesting also. We loaded up in Spike’s van and went on a drive around the town and then on up to the Chilkoot Trailhead at Dyea. After that, we went to the Klondike Cemetery to see Frank Reid and Soapy Smith’s gravesites (among others), and to visit Reid Falls.

After returning to our RV, we cleaned up a bit and then Neil, Margi, Lynda and I had an early dinner together at a nearby restaurant. After that, off we went to the Days of ’98 Show with Soapy Smith.  This fun show is centered on Soapy Smith, his showgirls, and includes some readings from Robert Service’s poetry. It was very well done and we really enjoyed it!  The actor that played Squirrel Tooth Alice was completely crazy and manic and I have not laughed that hard in a very long time!

The next day, Sunday, was July 4th and so we walked into town to watch Skagway’s Independence Day parade, which was a lot of fun.

Click here for photos of our visit to Skagway.

On Monday, Lynda and I took a day trip to Juneau along with several others from our RV group. We went aboard the Fjordland, a 65-foot fast-hulled catamaran. Neither one of us were particularly interested in Juneau itself; we were more interested in the boat ride and the possibility of seeing whales, porpoises, sea lions, and so forth. As it turned out, we had a good day despite the weather being rainy and cold!

We boarded the Fjordland at the Skagway port, which is next to the RV park, stopped in Haines to pick up a few more passengers. and then headed south to Juneau along the Lynn Canal. During the trip there and back, we spotted several humpback whales (or at least saw their blows and parts of their backs), saw a few rookeries of Stellar Sea Lions, and enjoyed the company of several playful Dall's Porpoises.  We also saw Bald Eagles and various water birds, and had opportunity to watch commercial salmon fishermen hard at work with their nets. 

While we were on Juneau, we went to see the Mendenhall Glacier, which was very impressive and also walked around the town of Juneau.  Like Skagway, Juneau is a cruise ship destination and so it very touristy with lots of shops, pubs and restaurants. 

During the 11 hours we were on the trip to Juneau, we left Sydney and Barley in their crates and Roger took them for walks a few times. This worked out very well and the dogs were fine, although they were very happy when we got home!

To see more photos of our day trip to Juneau, click here.

We left Skagway on Tuesday, July 6th and made our way to Whitehorse.  More adventures coming up!

No comments:

Post a Comment