Monday, August 2

Skagway


This was one cruise destination I was rather dubious about. However, it turned out to be a hidden gem on our itinerary. Skagway is a small town of less than 800 people, nestled at the head of a stunning 90-mile deep-water fjord called Lynn Canal. This small town was once the disembarkation point for more than 40,000 men heading inland to strike it rich during the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush.


In the century since its founding, most of the town’s old wooden buildings have been carefully preserved. The result is a showcase frontier town where you literally feel the gold rush years come alive as you stroll its battered, creeping boardwalks. Highlights include the Wells Fargo bank where you can see five classic brass teller grills since in place and the driftwood-clad Arctic Brotherhood Hall. I particularly loved the Red Onion Salon’s clever little display. Downstairs it was once one of 70 lively bars in town, while upstairs a local brothel operated. Today, two mannequins continue to taunt passer-bys from the upstairs windows.


Incredibly, the town is connected to Whitehorse in Canada by train and road, the only such town in all of Alaska. The famed White Pass & Yukon rail route runs from the town waterfront and up to White Pass, sitting 2885 feet above sea-level, in less than twenty miles. Trains still operate a tourist run several times a day during Summer. The rail tour was booked out well in advance so we elected to have a quiet day in town. However, while we were there we were fortunate enough to see Skagway’s classic steam engine pull into the local station. It was a truly postcard moment.


We booked a two-hour Skagway Streetcar tour several months ago and came expecting very little in return. However, as I’ve noticed earlier, we were pleasantly surprised. We were initially greeted on the dock by a gregarious guide in period costume. She also drove our bright yellow 1920’s bus. Our guide processed to show us the town, offering up the most entertaining stories and anecdotes, including that of lawless gang-leader Jefferson Randolph ‘Soapy' Smith.


Soapy is a local legend. He was a con artist and swindler who initially captured the hearts and minds of locals until his devious schemes were brought to light. He subsequently died in a dramatic gun fight on the town's dock, but not before fatally wounding his killer, Frank Reid. Both men are now buried in the Gold Rush Cemetery located on the wooded outskirts of town.


Our tour finished with a visit to the Skagway Outlook, a scenic spot overlooking the town and Lynn Canal. Here the small, compact town and its glorious location unfolded below us in another postcard perfect view. The stunning views continued after we departed Skagway. As our ship returned down Lynn Canal we sat on our suite balcony watching one awe inspiring snow-clad peak after another glide by. Today was definitely a highlight of our entire cruise.


And one last parting picture...

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