Monday, May 14, 2012

Skagway May 9-14

Wednesday: We stopped at the Visitor Center as we left Watson Lake. Lots of good pictures on the building of the Alaska Highway and some good dioramas. Also a good movie describing the highway construction. The Visitor Center is set at the edge of a signpost forest. People bring signs from their hometowns and post them here. I did see Boulder CO and Plano TX. We didn't bring a sign.

We planned to drive to Carcross, formerly Caribou Crossing, and spend the night there before heading across the border to Skagway. We headed toward great snow covered peaks with frozen rivers and lakes near the highway. We seldom see anything open and no animals, except a guy had stopped his car to take a picture of a marmot. The guy was getting too close even for the marmot's comfort and it was scurrying up the cut-bank.
We stopped at the Carcross Desert (Dunes) to read the display. The sand came from a lake deposit caused by glaciers. Looks like a lot of people do go tramping across the fragile dunes.

 Heading toward the snowy mountains

William at Carcross Desert

At Carcross we are told the RV campground will not open until June when the ground unfreezes. The cashier will sell you chips or gas however.

So up the mountain to the border we head. Good thing it stays light really late. Snow is blowing off of snow drifts at the side of the road. Snow is actually blowing into drifts on the road. The road is poorly built so melt water drains onto the road and refreezes, nice. White Pass became almost a whiteout.

At the US border we are stopped and asked to pull over and come inside. Luckily the agent decides we are harmless and tells us that the stop was just random (total lie) and we are free to go. We just say fine and scurry out.

Finally we check into a nice RV park on the waterfront. The wind is fierce enough to rock our little RV, but I make minestrone soup for dinner and we snuggle into the Hungarian goose down for the night.

Thursday: The next morning we set out for town bundled up so we look like bears only to find that most businesses in town are closed because there is no cruise ship in town. We wander around town and patronize the businesses that are open.

The Park Service Visitor Center is closed, but there is a great photo display with stories about the Klondike gold rush. But they have the heat set on about 80. I took off four layers. Back outside William offers to take my heavy coat back to the RV as he forgot his camera. It feels slightly warmer, but the wind is gale force. Once when we are walking a couple of blocks right into the wind, I feel like the skin on my face is going numb.

We ate lunch at the highly rated restaurant Starfire. I was not sure I wanted Thai, but the assortment of appetizers we chose as our lunch were superb. We brought home the large scoops of rice that came with the soups and I made fried rice for dinner.

We highly recommend the Starfire, the Hardware Store and the News Depot.

Friday: We get up early and make it to the Train Depot for the 8:15 excursion up to the White Pass. The first two cars are reserved for the Skagway Reunion crowd. Once a year for 60 years a group of people who have ever lived in Skagway gather for a reunion. This is the first time in a number of years they have actually come back to Skagway. Most recently they had been gathering in Seattle.

The third car is for cruise ship people and miscellaneous people like us. The other cars are for people who have taken tour buses down from Whitehorse.

The tour narrator on the train tells a story about President Harding's visit in 1923. Supposedly he brought both his wife and girlfriend. His wife found out and went for a walk to calm down. She was seen picking flowers. Monkshood grows around here and is a plant that poisons and causes death by imitating food poisoning.. Harding came down with food poisoning and died upon arriving in San Francisco a few days later. This is a story that apparently is just told here in Skagway.

Even though it is windy and rainy the trip is great.
Bridal Veil Falls

 The intrepid traveler
 The end of the train through a rainy window
 The heater

 the caboose the Forest Service rents as a cabin.

Another train tour had gone about 1/4 hour ahead of us intending to go to Fraser. The engine had a plow on the front, but it ran into too big a drift and got stuck. So our train had to stop at the top. They set the brakes and our engine went up to take the passenger cars off of the stuck engine and attach them to our train.
When the train stopped in front of the disembarkation point for the cruise ship passengers, we rushed off as soon as the conductor put down the stairs. We wanted us to be the first ones at the wharf restaurant, The Fish Company. We were. The place was packed eventually. But we were served first. Great food here.

The wind and rain were fierce after lunch, so we thought to just go by the RV to regroup. We stayed in.

The original Tlingit name for this area was Shgagwei or Skagua meaning whitecaps on the water or windy place. The Tlingit village was at Dyea, the protected arm of the inlet, with a shallow harbor and less wind.
Skagway harbor 

Saturday: The day was lovely, misty with NO wind. The stores are all open for the cruise ship today and more museums are open. Some highlights were the Mascot Saloon (Museum) and the Benjamin Moore house (Museum).
 The Mascot Saloon
 The Moore House
More Moore House

We visited the Sarah Palin Store. Everything was marked BOGO. I asked and was told it meant buy one get one.
Me and Sarah

The Days Of 98 Show about “Soapy” Smith had already begun their only show for the day. Their mock gambling house was deserted. We will have to stay over for the next show Tuesday the 15th at 10:30. We have tickets for the ferry to Haines in the afternoon.
 Soapy's gambling house

The Statue Garden was most certainly closed, but a back gate had been left open and we toured it anyway. No one was around to tell us to leave. Whoever runs this had a different story to tell about the notorious con-man “Soapy” Smith. We learn he was quite the philanthropist for homeless dogs and burros and even donated to help build a church.
Statue Gardens

We found a giant rhubarb plant on our way to the Bombay Curry where we planned to have lunch, but it was closed. The cook's daughter's wedding was the posted reason.
Alaskan Rhubarb

Sunday: Happy Mothers Day. The Visitor Center is open today and running walking tours. No cruise ships come in on Sundays by agreement with the cruise ship companies. We have a private walk about town with a park service ranger. William gets to ask endless questions. One of my few questions was what is the stuffed animal on the cigar case in the Mascot Saloon. It is a rare blonde raccoon from West Virginia. Someone higher up in the park service thought this was a good idea years ago. Our guide thought that it was not. But I liked it.
Blonde raccoon

We also went to the McCabe Museum. This is a town museum. Well organized displays and with a good movie about the impact of WWII on Skagway. The military essentially ran the town for a few years, 1942-1946, in the push to protect Alaska from Japanese invasion and to get the Alaska Highway built. They took over the railroad and ran it at a huge rate to take supplies to the road.

Lunch today was back to the waterfront to the Stowaway Cafe. Great food here. Not an extensive menu. But each item was delicious.

Monday May 14th : Happy Birthday to William. We will hike up to “Soapy” Smith's grave today and head to the Brewing Company for lunch. Windy and overcast. I am getting tired of this gray sweater. But Annie Hall, born 1870 in Nevada City, CA, and a pioneer to the Klondike, said a woman only needed one good dress in her gear.

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