August 16, 2013
Skagway – Our first excursion
The alarms we set for 6:30 AM, which isn’t as bad as it sounds since Alaska is an hour ahead of the west coast and 3 hours ahead of Panama. We weren’t the only people with plans. There were many others at breakfast early.
We planned well and found our excursion with time to spare. After three days on the ship, it felt good to be on to some solid ground. I had booked our excursions so long ago I barely remembered the details – something about a bus ride, and a ride on a historic train, a mountain pass, history from the gold rush days… (I have since found it was this company)
What a day it was! It started out with a bus ride by a great tour guide who was full of stories and interesting facts about Skagway. She obviously loved the area and loved telling others about it. The rain soon stopped so we had no trouble seeing the beautiful area and getting some nice photos.
We ended at Carcross where we were to board the train. It was an old train route from back in the gold rush days of 1896-98, and took us at a slow rate through the mountains and along lakes until we stopped for lunch at Lake Bennet. It was a gold rush era lunch served at long tables with large pots of beef stew, bread and cold slaw for sides, and apple pie for dessert. People served themselves from the large pots and there were two selections – take it or leave it. The food was really good though and I didn’t see anyone passing it up.
After lunch we proceeded along, now going higher and higher in the mountains until we were so high that the fog became thick, and there were only lichens and small scrubby plants and pine trees clinging to the rocks. We were told that these little pines were 100+ years old. They remain so small because living here is very harsh with fierce cold and high winds. The only plants that survive spend the winter covered by snow because without the snow cover they would be blown away.
As the train descended the views became more and more spectacular. I spent most of the time on the outside platform so I could get photos without shooting through the glass. That was so fun being outside and feeling so close to the scenery that I stayed out for the rest of the ride. It was very chilly at higher elevations and a bit wet at times, but well worth it.
When we got back to town we decided to walk around. I had seen some people looking at something and taking pictures, and there were more people at the same spot so we decided to go see what was going on. It was a small stream full of salmon! We had seen people fishing in a pond and now we realized they were catching salmon, and there were many more salmon as we followed the stream down. Some guys told us that these salmon were behind schedule, exhausted, and dying, and not any good to eat. They were so spent that people (tourists) were fishing them out with their bare hands. We’ve all heard about the salmon going upstream to spawn but we don’t think about what a difficult journey it is, or how many don’t make it.
We walked around town a little more. It’s mostly tourist shops which was no surprise since our bus driver told us that the whole town runs on tourism. The salmon were definitely worth the walk into town though! What an interesting thing to see.
By now we were tired and headed back to the ship. I went to the computer library so I could plug in and watch the scenery roll by. The rain was returning as we pulled away from the dock, and the mountains were taking on that beautiful foggy, ethereal look that I love to photograph. What a wonderful day and wonderful experience in Alaska!
Good morning Skagway! (yes it is raining… again)
There is a crazy bear down there waiting to ambush you and take pictures (so you can buy them later)
We leave the ship and head out to find our tour.
Rain and all, it still is a beautiful sight!
We’re on the bus part of the tour now. This is fire weed, named because it is the first thing to come up again after a fire. The whole plant is edible, and it’s really beautiful.
This is an entrance to an old mine.
One of the many beautiful views along the way.
A fellow passenger took our photo in front of Bove Island.
It is strange to find a sandy desert in the middle of the forests. It looked like beach sand.
Emerald Lake – named for the emerald green color. It is fed by glacier water which has the green dust which gives it this color.
There was no end to the beautiful scenery!
This house belongs to the daughter of a gold rush prospector. Every Sunday she serves coffee on the porch to anyone who wants to visit, and our bus driver said she is a wealth of stories and history about the area and the gold rush.
This is an actual cabin of one of the gold miners.
This is another cabin from the gold rush days. They stuffed rags in the cracks to keep out the cold air, and those are original rags that you see today.
Joel thought maybe he needed some new head gear.
Maybe this one is better?
Back to beautiful scenery – now from the train.
We are officially in the Yukon territory of Canada.
We were told the mountains are unusually green because of both the rain, and more sun than usual this year.
The town of Bennett, where we walked around a bit after lunch.
Lunch in Bennett – grab a seat and dig in.
We thought he was crazy, but he thought he was appropriately dressed for summer.
This boat had 1897 carved inside the hull.
There were many old artifacts left by the miners scattered around the town.
Bear proof storage lockers for your food.
You can put waste water here, but no food (nothing that would interest a bear). If a bear learns that humans are a source of food, it is dangerous for humans and deadly for a bear because it will be shot and killed to prevent any future problems with humans. It is VERY important that bears get no food from humans!
Our train – the cars behind the engines bring food for the restaurant one day a week, and take their trash out on another day once a week.
Some cold looking back packers hanging around.
Later we realized the back packers were waiting for this plane to come pick them up. The only ways to his spot are train, hiking, or plane.
As we got higher, we saw more and more lichens growing on the rocks.
Beaver dams – one is visible to the right of the center of the photo. One time they got so industrious they flooded the area including the train tracks, and the train guys had to go dismantle the problem dam.
This looks like a meadow, but it’s really a swamp and you can sink to your death in it.
We’re getting higher, and there is less and less vegetation.
The border patrol is actually about 9 miles from the border because at the border the weather is too fierce.
Our train car. The blond lady with the red bandanna was one of our guides. She’s from Austin TX, but has lived in Skagway about 10 years and really loves it.
We’re really getting up there now, and the fog is getting more dense. Little vegetation grows because the climate is so harsh. These little pine trees are 100+ years old, but they can barely grow in this environment.
Old 1898 bridge (It’s no longer in use)
Another train is making its way along below us. We will be down there in a while.
We come out of a tunnel to see this!
A stream with mist rising off of it.
Back in town again – there are lots of tourists, and lots of back packers!
Walking around town
Is Joel eyeing the Red Onion Saloon?
Me, looking like a tourist 😀
This is an 100+ year old advertisement, the first to be painted on the rock face. (They touch it up every few years)
The train ran all year long, so they needed a good snow plow to clear the tracks.
We came across a lot of people fishing in this little lake.
We stopped to see what people were looking at nearby, and learned that salmon were spawning and making their way up these streams.
The water was murky but you could still see the fish.
There were a bunch of fish below this mossy rock.
Many of the fish were exhausted and easy to catch with bare hands, or a stick as Joel demonstrates.
Time to make our way back to the ship past the marina and another cruise ship docked in the distance.
As evening falls, the ship pulls away from Skagway.
It’s so beautiful in the fading light.
The other ship that was docked nearby left before us, and you can see its lights in the distance.