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Skagway

June 1, 2022 – the White Pass & Yukon Railway – Skagway, Alaska, USA

2022 Yukon & Double Denali Alaska land/cruise

I have a leisurely breakfast in the main dining room this morning: vegetable scramble (eggs) with a cappuccino. There is no rush, since my excursion doesn’t leave until 12:10PM. I have lots of time to wander around Skagway, which looks a lot like Dawson City, since the storefronts are all historic looking, but mostly modern buildings inside. The first few blocks of State Street (the main street) has all the tourist shops and services, but walk further up the street a few blocks, or divert a block or two either side, and the real town reveals itself. Dominating the town are the deep sea docks for cruise ships, which once were also used for ore loading, and the multiple railway tracks of the White Pass and Yukon railway, which run from the docks along the eastern side of town.

I tick off a long-standing bucket list item today: riding on the White Pass and Yukon railway from Skagway to the White Pass Summit. The breathtaking scenery is a counterpoint to realizing the Klondike gold miners had to struggle up this steep mountain pass mainly on foot. When they got to the top, they had to go back down and up multiple times to haul their one ton stake to the summit before the North West Mounted Police would let them into Canada to seek their fortune in Dawson City, some 500 miles further! I think the excursion description is a great summary of my experience:

“Experience an unforgettable journey along the eastern side of White Pass aboard the world-famous narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, built more than 100 years ago. You’ll pass through some of the North’s most rugged terrain on board a comfortable rail car as you retrace the original route through breathtaking scenery to the summit of White Pass at 2,865 feet. Relax on the 40-mile roundtrip journey along steep grades and cliff-hanging turns as your train agent shares stories from the past.

Back in Skagway, board a motor coach and travel the historic streets of downtown Skagway, part of the Klondike National Historical Park. Visit The Lookout, a photographer’s delight offering a panoramic view of the Skagway Valley, glacier-clad mountains, Lynn Canal and your cruise ship.

Stop at historic Liarsville, a gold rush trail camp nestled beside a waterfall at the foot of White Pass. Liarsville is named for the journalists sent here to report on the Klondike Gold Rush, whose articles included tall tales of the prospectors’ exploits. Browse the authentic camp exhibits, including antiques and garments left behind by the prospectors and those who profited from them. A cast of ‘sourdoughs’ and dance hall girls will entertain you with a hilarious melodrama and a poem by Robert Service, the Bard of the North. 

You’ll also have a chance to try your hand at the art of gold panning in the Liarsville gold fields, where you are guaranteed to find some gold to keep. Enjoy a snack, shop for souvenirs or have your photo taken with a dance hall girl.”

White Pass & Yukon Railway – Skagway to White Pass Summit route map

Would-be gold miners had a choice of two routes: the shorter but steeper Chilkoot Trail, or the White Pass trail, which promised a less steep but longer route. Both were punishing routes which lead to the interior lake region where the stampeders could begin their 550 mile journey to the promised gold to be found in the creeks and rivers of Dawson City. The White Pass and Yukon railway was built a few years later by an Irish-Canadian named “Big” Mike Henry, who built the 110 mile route over just 26 months for $15 million. He is quoted “give me enough dynamite, and snoose, and I’ll build you a railroad to hell.” 

In 1982 world metal prices plummeted, so the ore from the mines the railway transported to ships dried up. The railway suspended operations until 1988, when they reinvented themselves as a narrow guage tourist excursion train between Skagway and the White Pass Summit. The active line was later extended to Bennett Lake (1990s) and Carcross, Yukon (2007). Due to pandemic border restrictions, currently only trips to White Pass Summit are offered.

After returning to the ship, I have dinner in the main dining room with a couple from south Texas. I start with corn and crabmeat fritters, panko-crusted hake for the main course, and strawberry pavlova for dessert. The hake is really nice – a new fish for me. I see the Belt of Venus and the Earth’s shadow in front of us after sunset, as the ship makes its way slowly south down the Lynn Canal to tomorrow’s port of call, Juneau.

Skagway
46 photos, 2 videos
Sunset panorama looking west to north from my verandah
Sunset panorama looking west to north from my verandah
After sunset looking north up the Lynn Canal from my verandah
After sunset looking north up the Lynn Canal from my verandah
"We Love Alaska" sign on the bow of the Nieuw Amsterdam
“We Love Alaska” sign on the bow of the Nieuw Amsterdam
White Pass & Yukon Route train station and other shops in downtown Skagway
White Pass & Yukon Route train station and other shops in downtown Skagway
Shops in downtown Skagway
Shops in downtown Skagway
Shops in downtown Skagway
Shops in downtown Skagway
Parks Canada and US National Parks Klondike information center
Parks Canada and US National Parks Klondike information center
Historic Skagway Inn's Back garden
Historic Skagway Inn’s Back garden
Historic Y.M.C.A. Gymnasium
Historic Y.M.C.A. Gymnasium
Cute house with white picket fence, flag and snow-capped mountains behind
Cute house with white picket fence, flag and snow-capped mountains behind
Snowmobiles stored on top of a container box
Snowmobiles stored on top of a container box
Looking down Broadway to the valley from the stern of the ship
Looking down Broadway to the valley from the stern of the ship
Vintage steam engine and rotary snowplow
Vintage steam engine and rotary snowplow
A new engine pullling a White Pass & Yukon train from the Ore Dock
A new engine pullling a White Pass & Yukon train from the Ore Dock
Boarding the train
Boarding the train
Railway equpment on a siding
Railway equpment on a siding
Our train waits on a bridge over a moutain stream for hikers to board
Our train waits on a bridge over a moutain stream for hikers to board
Stove to heat the car in the winter
Stove to heat the car in the winter
Railway maintenace yard
Railway maintenace yard
Looking down the valley towards Skagway from Rocky Point
Looking down the valley towards Skagway from Rocky Point
The highway across the valley
The highway across the valley
Inside our train car
Inside our train car
The front of the train and a siding
The front of the train and a siding
The railway grade above us
The railway grade above us
The railway grade above us with wooden trestle and tunnel
The railway grade above us with wooden trestle and tunnel
Picking up hikers
Picking up hikers
Snow-covered mountain peaks
Snow-covered mountain peaks
View down the valley to Skagway and the Lynn Canal
View down the valley to Skagway and the Lynn Canal
Train passes over a bridge, through a tunnel and another train passes at the summit
Train passes over a bridge, through a tunnel and another train passes at the summit
Our train entering the tunnel to the summit
Our train entering the tunnel to the summit
The trail of '98 where miners struggled up this gulley to the White Pass summit
The trail of ’98 where miners struggled up this gulley to the White Pass summit
The simple sign marking the trail of '98 where miners struggled up this gulley to the White Pass summit
The simple sign marking the trail of ’98 where miners struggled up this gulley to the White Pass summit
Canada-USA border marker
Canada-USA border marker
North West Mounted Police NWMP replica cabin at the summit
North West Mounted Police NWMP replica cabin at the summit
A stream running through the snowy White Pass summit
A stream running through the snowy White Pass summit
The snowy White Pass summit
The snowy White Pass summit
Our train looping back at the White Pass summit
Our train looping back at the White Pass summit
Liarsville welcome sign with camp behind
Liarsville welcome sign with camp behind
Saloon tent
Saloon tent
Shopping list for 1 Ton of goods at Madam Jan's Fancy Goods
Shopping list for 1 Ton of goods at Madam Jan’s Fancy Goods
Laundry tent
Laundry tent
Robert Service skit
Robert Service skit
Robert Service skit
Robert Service skit
Blacksmith and hardware tent
Blacksmith and hardware tent
Panning for gold
Panning for gold
Press tent
Press tent
Overlooking Skagway and the cruise ships
Overlooking Skagway and the cruise ships
Venus' Belt as we head south after departing Skagway with a cruise ship ahead of us
Venus’ Belt as we head south after departing Skagway with a cruise ship ahead of us
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Fairbanks, Gold Dredge, Denali

May 25, 2022 – Fairbanks, Gold Dredge No. 8, Denali National Park, Alaska

2022 Yukon & Double Denali Alaska land/cruise

Check-in for our morning flight to Fairbanks happens at our hotel since there is no terminal building at the Dawson City airport. The security check happens on the apron in front of the aircraft before boarding. It’s a good thing the weather is clear with no rain! Apparently the runway was only paved in 2019. Our small group flies to Fairbanks aboard a chartered Air North Boeing 737-500 – a 1-hour flight.

We have a couple of hours to see Fairbanks, so our group wanders around a bit, seeing the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center museum, but Fairbanks isn’t much of a tourist city. I have a very tasty hot and sour soup for lunch at Bhan Thai restaurant (TripAdvisor) with a couple from the tour group. JoeTourist recommended!

We then board our bus and are taken to nearby Gold Dredge 8 where we first encounter the Alaska Pipeline at the site entrance. We wait around for an hour for other tour buses to arrive before we are all taken to the main site on a miniature train. They give everyone a small poke bag and then everyone (except me) pans for gold, has their flecks of gold weighed, and can take them home as-is or have it made into jewelry on the spot. I’m more interested in the history of the place, so wander around taking in all the mining artifacts on display – a big old safe, accounting machines and records, clothing, equipment, and even dinosaur bones!

The dredge is partially flooded, so we aren’t allowed to go inside the dredge – a disappointment. There are bunkhouses, machine shops, a hydro generation station – complete infrastructure to support the 24-hour a day operation this dredge was built for. This was remote wilderness, so this operation had to continue to function without much support from outside. The small town of Fox is nearby, where many of the miners and their families lived.

Later in the afternoon, we board our bus and drive Highway 3 south to Denali, a 2-hour drive. We make a stop at the hamlet of Nenana, where there is an historic train station, a grocery store, a bar, and not much else. We arrive at McKinley Chalet Resort at about 7PM. This is a resort owned and operated by Holland America, so in their usual efficient manner, they are ready for us, so we are quickly assigned our rooms.

Our group is staying in the Ridge View building, which our Tour Director tells us most resort guests ask to upgrade to. My room is very nice, with two big beds, nice appointments, and a view of the mountain. I don’t wait for my checked bag to appear before going for dinner at Karstens Public House, which is part of the resort, and the only option for meals without leaving the resort grounds. I have Rigatoni with Italian sausage and garlic toast with an Alaskan ale, which is very tasty and comes with very good service.

Denali Square is the main common area of the resort, where guests can hang out, listen to outdoor performances, patronize the small shops on the perimeter, and of course partake of the food and drink from Karstens Public House on their large patio.

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Dawson City

May 24, 2022 – Dawson City, Yukon

2022 Yukon & Double Denali Alaska land/cruise

I go over to the hotel’s restaurant for breakfast. It is a buffet, so I have some insipid scrambled eggs, toast, a bit of bacon, some fruit and yogurt, and of course coffee. The staff are still learning their jobs, since the restaurant has only been open for a few days. It costs me $29 – these breakfasts are expensive!

I spend the rest of the morning doing a walking tour of the city, taking photos as I go. There are lots of funky buildings to see – some very old and some new. Some of the historic locations include Jack London‘s cabin and the Robert Service cabin, both of which are closed, so I see them from the outside. The Klondike Mines Railway Locomotive Shelter has several steam engines on display inside, but it is closed too, so I take photos through the dirty windows. They also have some derelict tracked vehicles outside that I speculate (despite missing dozer blades) were probably used for hauling goods through the bush, building roads and moving gravel and dirt.

Robert Service cabin
Robert Service cabin

A condemned St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church – 1901 shows how a building foundation can be destroyed by permafrost heaving. The memory of the O’Brien Brewing and Malting Company is now reduced to a single beer wagon on a back street behind the Yukon Hotel. I walk back along the dyke on the Yukon River and approach the SS Keno sternwheel paddle steamer on display in a dry dock beside the Yukon River. This historic site is also closed, a recurring theme today! I pass by a former bank building where Robert Service once worked, the Flora Dora Hotel, another former “dance hall” in its heyday (Lulu Mae Johnson) and Klondike Kate’s restaurant & cabins.

The Dawson City Museum has some very interesting artifacts representing much of the rich history of Dawson City during the Gold Rush. The museum also houses an active Courtroom. The Riverwest Bistro on Front Street comes recommended by our tour director as the only place in Dawson City which offers espresso, so I enjoy a cappuccino and some lunch before resuming my walking tour this afternoon. Brown’s Harness Shop, 3rd Ave Blacksmith Shop, Red Feather Saloon, Ruby’s Place (historic brothel), the Downtown Hotel (home of the infamous Sour Toe cocktail) are all on my way back to our hotel.

Holland America arranges COVID-19 tests for the whole group late this afternoon in the hotel. We all test negative, so we are ready to enter the USA on our charter flight to Fairbanks tomorrow. Our hotel has a steak and salmon dinner buffet this evening. I avoid the steak since it looks like shoe leather, but the salmon fillets are nicely done in a light sauce. It makes a nice meal with rice and veggies.

Dawson City
51 photos, 1 video
Klondike River and the highway below with snow-capped mountains in the distance
Klondike River and the highway below with snow-capped mountains in the distance
Snow-capped mountains in the distance
Snow-capped mountains in the distance
Klondike River below with snow-capped mountains in the distance
Klondike River below with snow-capped mountains in the distance
The Klondike River from the air - final approach
The Klondike River from the air – final approach
Westmark Inn rooms
Westmark Inn rooms
Joe, our guide and others outside Diamond Tooth Gerties
Joe, our guide and others outside Diamond Tooth Gerties
Show lounge and casino
Show lounge and casino
Stage
Stage
Diamond Tooth Gertie
Diamond Tooth Gertie
Dancing girls performing the Can Can
Dancing girls performing the Can Can
Dancing girls performing the Can Can
Dancing girls performing the Can Can
Dancing girls performing the Can Can with Gertie
Dancing girls performing the Can Can with Gertie
Diamond Tooth Gerties Can Can Show
Diamond Tooth Gerties Can Can Show
Photo taken at midnight of our hotel with a bright sky
Photo taken at midnight of our hotel with a bright sky
New salmon-coloured house
New salmon-coloured house
Sign: Robert Service Cabin
Sign: Robert Service Cabin
Front of Robert Service Cabin
Front of Robert Service Cabin
Back of Robert Service Cabin
Back of Robert Service Cabin
New log-style house
New log-style house
Jack London Museum, Square and Cabin
Jack London Museum, Square and Cabin
Artifacts inside of Jack London Cabin
Artifacts inside of Jack London Cabin
Roof and log construction Jack London Cabin
Roof and log construction Jack London Cabin
Derelict home
Derelict home
Classic 3-gabled house with a front porch
Classic 3-gabled house with a front porch
Derelict tracked vehicle
Derelict tracked vehicle
D.Y.M.C.O. steam engine
D.Y.M.C.O. steam engine
No. 3 steam engine
No. 3 steam engine
No. 1 steam engine
No. 1 steam engine
Rebuilding a street with underground services
Rebuilding a street with underground services
A condemned St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church - 1901
A condemned St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church – 1901
Old beer wagon
Old beer wagon
Historic Yukon Hotel
Historic Yukon Hotel
Souveniers and cafes on Front Street
Souveniers and cafes on Front Street
SS Keno  sternwheel paddle steamer
SS Keno sternwheel paddle steamer
Stern of the SS Keno  sternwheel paddle steamer
Stern of the SS Keno sternwheel paddle steamer
Derelict Flora Dora Hotel
Derelict Flora Dora Hotel
Klondike Kate's restaurant & cabins
Klondike Kate’s restaurant & cabins
King Street with shops, boardwalk and dirt street
King Street with shops, boardwalk and dirt street
Tired-looking old house
Tired-looking old house
Dawson City Museum
Dawson City Museum
Post Office artifacts
Post Office artifacts
Active Courtroom inside the museum
Active Courtroom inside the museum
Food and drink wooden boxes
Food and drink wooden boxes
Brown's Harness Shop, 3rd Ave Blacksmith Shop, Red Feather Saloon
Brown’s Harness Shop, 3rd Ave Blacksmith Shop, Red Feather Saloon
Derelict log cabin with tin roof
Derelict log cabin with tin roof
Sign: Ruby's Place
Sign: Ruby’s Place
Ruby's Place
Ruby’s Place
Downtown Hotel
Downtown Hotel
Sign: Home of the SourToe Cocktail, Toe Hours: 7-9 Thu-Sat
Sign: Home of the SourToe Cocktail, Toe Hours: 7-9 Thu-Sat
Dawson City on the Yukon River with the Klondike River
Dawson City on the Yukon River with the Klondike River
Gold dredge tailings along the Klondike River, Bonanza Creek & Dawson City on the Yukon River
Gold dredge tailings along the Klondike River, Bonanza Creek & Dawson City on the Yukon River
Divide Mountains
Divide Mountains