Eagles and Glaciers
After Ketchikan we headed through the Inside Passage to Juneau, Alaska's capital Juneau is a very strange city. It is not connected to the rest of the state by a direct road - you can only get there by air or water. Cars and trucks get to and from Juneau by barge or the Alaska ferry system. This is the state capital, folks!
One thing Juneau does have is eagles. There are bald eagles all over the place! Linda and I thrill when we see one of our few eagles fly over Lake Conroe. Around Juneau they are as common as mockingbirds or robins. During the 30 minute bus ride to Mendenhall Glacier I counted at least 25 and missed a bunch.
The glacier is a part of an incredibly large ice field that contains multiple glaciers. The glaciers tend to form along the edge of the ice field and they flow, acting as a drainage system for the ice field. Glaciers have cycles, growing and receding over time, and the Mendenhall Glacier has receded 2-1/2 miles since the mid-1700s. The recession has created a beautiful glacial lake.
Now Skagway is a totally different kind of boom town. Every tourist season the town doubles in size with seasonal workers. Cruise ships come in every day, and sometimes there will be as many as 8,000 visitors to this little town, all of them visiting Skagway gift shops.
I don't know what these folks do during the winter, but during the summer months they work in the government museums or they have gift shops. As a matter of fact, all of the main street seems to be nothing but a string of gift shops. Shops where you can find Alaskan musk ox wool ($95 an ounce) and buttons made from moose antlers (2 for $14). Enjoy our town, and please exit through the gift shop.
Steps were cut in the ice of the Chilkoot Pass, and the stampeders would trek up carrying anywhere from 50 to 75 pounds at a time. Once at the top they would stow their load and slide back down the pass on the blade of their shovel! It typically took 25 to 35 trips to get their entire kit to the top.
Imagine pulling all of that on a sled through rough trails of snow and then carrying it bit-by-bit up the steps of the Chilkoot Pass! You really had to want that gold.
Going to Alaska and knowing we were going to be in Gold Rush territory, caused both Linda and me to reread the James Michener book, Alaska. Michener was a great researcher and his novels were very accurate and always included a number real people. The size of a Michener book can scare you, but they are incredibly readable. After reading Alaska I think it is time for me to revisit some other Michener books. Try one yourself.
White Pass & Yukon Railway
While in Skagway we went for a really neat scenic ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route, a narrow-gauge railway built during the Gold Rush. It was built in an unbelievable 26 months. They told us the project cost $10 million and used 450 tons of explosives. It was known as “the railway built of gold,” and essentially it eliminated the dreadful trek up the Chilkoot Trail and Pass. The only real problem was that the rush was about over when it was finished. Still it was the primary route to reach the Yukon and stayed in business until the 1980's. The WP&YR doesn't connect to any other railroad; it depended solely on the port at Skagway for goods and passengers.
The railroad is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark because it was such a remarkable engineering feat. Today it is a tourist railroad with fantastic scenery. We took so many photos during this trip that it was difficult to choose a few to include here. All of these photos were taken out the window of a moving train, so they may not be the best, but I hope show the beauty of the area.
While writing this post, I learned that there was a derailment on the railway this past Wednesday, July 23. There were 19 injured, but none seriously which is good because the nearest hospital to Skagwag is Juneau - you know, the city you can't drive to.