For those of you following my travels, the fifth day dawned sunny and warm, only to get even warmer as the day went on. Mindful of the guidebook comments to dress in layers, I put my jacket in my knapsack and donned a short sleeve to and a wool sweater, as well as my jeans, socks, and running shoes. Big mistake! By mid-afternoon, I was sweating like a Tijuana hooker in the midday sun.
After another incredible breakfast, we left the ship prepared for the day excursion we’d planned — the White Rail and Yukon excursion, something that would eat up seven hours of the day.
As the ship approach the dock, the first thing I noticed was the rock wall escarpment covered with ads that turned out to be the logos from the various ships that have docked in Skagway, usually painted onto the rocks by resilient crew members under the captain’s command. Excuse me, but how in the world did they manage that feat? The wall is practically sheer.
We descended to the dock and watched as the original steam engine made an appearance. As much as we’d have liked boarding it now, out train trip would be a return one. Instead of going up the mountains, we’d be coming down.
On the way up, we were in an air conditioned coach, a pleasant change from the heat outside. Our driver was a musician who not only gave us an informative tour, but serenaded us as well. As the bus traveled the route originally nothing but a trail followed by those who sought to get rich quick,you could almost imagine the horror they felt at having to bring with them a ton of supplies to be admitted to the Yukon where four Mounties stood guard at the boarder, making sure no one entered the territory without the requisite grub stake. The scenery was breathtaking. At one point, we caught a glimpse of the train we’d be taking back to the town. If you look past my reflection in the window, you can see it clinging to the escarpment. Did I really want to do that? The driver explained about The Yukon Trail and the various obstacles the prospectors faced there. Amazingly, some people still try to recreate the journey by hiking it today–minus the ton of supplies. It was sad to hear about all the animals who suffered and died as a result of man’s quest for gold. We saw a cantilevered bridge over a ravine. and stopped at a look out where we viewed a pristine mountain lake. From there, we continued along our way. I was astounded by how deeply glacial water could cut into the granite of the mountains. All in all, although the bus ride was long, the scenery made the journey worthwhile. It’s interesting to note that because the border is at the top of White Pass, an area notorious for avalanches, neither the US customs nor the Canadian customs is anywhere near the actual border. In fact they are at least a mile away on their respective sides. I’d expected to enter directly into the Yukon, but instead, we were in beautiful British Columbia. The bus continued through Canada heading to the Yukon border. Again, this imaginary line is fraught with obstacles and we were quite surprised to see the sigh located not where we thought it would be but at a bus turning around spot. When the driver told us we were turning back, a lot of us were confused and disappointed, but it was a case of going back to go forward. The Yukon Suspension bridge was located in the Yukon, but behind us. I know, I thought it was strange too. The bus pulled into the parking lot where we were fed Bison chili and given a huge sourdough bun, as well as lemonade. The food was delicious. After eating we explored the area and crossed the suspension bridge.
Again, the scenery was incredible, the signs informative and I saw my second major mountain of the trip–Mount Logan, clearly visible in the bright sky. Once we’d explored both sides of the ravine, we headed back to the buses to Fraser, BC where we boarded the train for the return trip to Alaska. The train is old, so no ai conditioning and by then, it was more than a little hot out. As we settled on the wooden benches, we were informed that we couldn’t open our windows, but that there was water available at the front of the car. That was good and bad news. once the train got rolling, I was actually grateful the windows didn’t open! From my seat, I could see the engines as we took the first of many curves.
The vistas continued to awe me and the train guide told us all about the railway’s construction. Amazing that given the time and the circumstances, such a feat could be completed as it was. Take a moment to check out the link and learn more. The White Pass Railroad. We crossed wooden trestles, went along the edge of cliffs, and looked down at rapids so close to the tracks you’d think they’d wash them away.
The train stopped along the way to pick up hikers, bear bait as the guide described them. If you wanted to spend the night, there are a few fixer-uppers along the route. The ride wasn’t smooth and by the time we got back to Skagway, I was in dire need of a beer. We passed some truly unique buildings on our way to a watering hole. That meant a visit to the infamous Red Onion Saloon. I found the decor, a ceiling trim of bedpans both unique and informative. Learning about how business was conducted upstairs was eye opening to say the least. A girl didn’t get to keep much of the proceeds from her hard earned money.
After a couple of pints and a snack, we returned to the ship where we enjoyed wine on the balcony before getting ready for tonight’s show and dinner. So far, Alaska and the cruise has seriously out done my expectations. Tomorrow, we visit Icy Strait Point and see whales. See you tomorrow.