Monday, January 31, 2011

A Full Day in Skagway, Alaska

Wednesday July 31, 1991

Arrived in Skagway, Alaska 7 a.m. We had breakfast at 7 a.m. Our train ride up White Pass left at 8:30 a.m. for 3 hours. It was pretty along the Skagway River.

When we returned we had a buffet lunch on the ship. Excellent! Our helicopter ride to the Valley Glacier left at 1:30. We rode in a very small 4 passenger helicopter in the back one way and in the front on return flight. He took us to the glacier and dropped us off where we met a guide who explained all about glaciers. We're there about 25 minutes. Then our helicopter picked us up and flew us all around the area. It was wonderful.

When we returned we shopped the small town of Skagway. Our ship departed for Haines at 4:45, a 1-1/2 hour trip. When we arrived we took the tender to shore where we took a bus to the little town.

On board we laughed so hard at Country Western night skit and games and learned cotton-eyed Joe dance again.

I had no idea what a cotton-eyed Joe dance was, so I did some research and it looks like a combination of country western line dance and square dance. I'm sure Mom and Frank felt right at home participating in the dancing that night.

Skagway, Alaska, was the gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898, much like the 1849 gold rush in California, but under much harsher conditions. Ships would arrive with prospectors from Seattle and points south and before they could begin their journey over the mountains the prospectors had to buy a mule and several months of provisions. Many mules died on that journey as well as many of the men seeking their fortunes. White Pass was called "dead horse trail" prior to the arrival of the railroad in 1898. In that same year the population of Skagway boomed to 10,000 residents. As with the California gold rush, very few made a fortune except the vendors who sold supplies at exorbitant prices.

Now Skagway is a very small historical landmark with a population of only 800. 750,000 tourist arrive by cruise ship every summer and completely take over the town. When we visited by ferry in 2001, 2002 and 2004 we enjoyed the quaint community and the railroad trip through White Pass, as well as the breathtaking scenery, but when the cruise ships arrived, we would leave town to avoid the throngs of tourists. 4 or 5 cruise ships at dock meant 8000-10,000 tourists in a town of 800. The residents, of course, appreciate the tourists because they provide them with their income for the year.

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