Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Coral Princess Northbound Cruise and Land Tour Day 5

The Coral Princess Northbound Cruise and Land Tour
Skagway, AK

Skagway was perhaps the smallest of all the towns visited on coastal Alaska, but its historical significance is quite large. At one point in Skagway's history, when Alaska still belonged to Russia, it was the gateway city to one of the biggest gold rushes in history. The city of Skagway, in its heyday, boasted over 80 saloons, prostitutes included naturally, and dreams of striking it rich. Today though, what once was a rambunctious and spirited frontier town is listed as an Alaskan borough and largely entertains tourists. 

I loved the history behind this wee boom town and originally I think I was most excited for this port on the cruise portion of my Alaskan tour, that is until at least I got off the ship. After my excursion, which I'll get to shortly, I walked around the wide streets and noticed that roughly half the town's buildings were owned and operated by the standard cruise industry shops. High end jewelry stores and cookie cutter gift shops lined the first few blocks of this historically important town, but thankfully some of its historical character remained thanks to the National Parks Service whose efforts to restore a solid section of the "historic district" I'm now thankfully aware of, but I digress.

Trying to stay on budget I opted to not take the ever popular train ride on the White Pass Scenic Railway as it was a bit too expensive for me and I instead chose a bus ride to the summit. I wish I splurged on the train.

Through very thick fog and a bus full to the brim with what seemed like a group of octogenarians, our guide drove us up to the summit of the Yukon as the rain poured steadily down. We had a few stops after crossing the Canadian border to snap some photos as we learned about the area and brazen gold miners who tried to make a go of it in the Alaskan/Canadian wild.

Pitchfork Falls

Rock formations called inuksuk

These road markers (left) are used in the winter to mark the side of the road for snow plow drivers.

After our tour was over and we descended back down the mountain to Skagway, we were given the option of hopping off in town or being dropped off at the ship. I chose to be dropped off in town, right near the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, where I got a ticket for a free walking tour led by a park ranger a short while later. The walking tours that the park service runs are completely free and incredibly informative and I highly recommend doing one over taking a ship excursion tour, especially if you are on a tight budget. To take one, just go to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park Museum and ask to take a tour and you'll be given a choice of time slots and then a ticket for your chosen/available time.

After getting my ticket I decided to walk about town for a bit, and walked over to the White Pass and Yukon Route depot for the White Pass Scenic Railway just as a train was leaving to ascend the mountain pass.

Before I knew it, it was time to hop on the tour for the Skagway historic district. A park ranger with a microphone and pocket amplifier led us around the museum briefly telling us the story of the typical gold rush miner and his journey to the Klondike in search of gold and glory.

After that, it was time to explore the streets and imagine how this one time seedy boom town looked  and how it was to live here. Eventually, our tour ended at the Moore Homestead, where we learned about Captain William Moore, the man who bought and founded Skagway and his descendants.

We passed another bank of phonebooths on the tour, something I thought unique in a world of cellphones.

Having lived around and visited many National Historic Sites, I found it odd and a little funny to see a sign prohibiting the use of and possessing a firearm.

The original cabin that Captain Moore built on first arriving to Skagway.

The not yet restored interior of Captain Moore's cabin.

The Mascot, a National Park Service owned building, is open to the public. The building is restored to look like an original saloon and features many artifacts from the time. A neat stop, and budget travelers you'll love this, it's free!

Don't you wish the Red Cross still had a Whiskey cure?

After completely nerding out on history, I stopped by the Skagway public library to check my email and make a quick Facebook post with the complimentary wifi. I should mention that about 20-30 other cruiseship travelers also had the same idea, thusly the wifi was painfully slow, so off I went to walk about the streets of Skagway. It didn't take too long to see the main parts. Like most towns we visited, it was so small that there wasn't even the need for a single traffic light.

Among the other places to stop and see are Kirmses's, one of the first businesses of Skagway and now an antique shop, the Skagway Brewing Company, where you can have a spruce tip brewed beer (go early they sell out), and of course you must stand and marvel at the Arctic Brotherhood hall where over 8,000 pieces of driftwood were used to create its iconic facade.

They sell a spruce tip brewed beer here that is apparently excellent as it was sold out before I got there and sadly didn't get to try any.

Infamous con artist Soapy Smith's former place of business is in the process of being restored. Smith was shot dead a few blocks from this building.

A close up of the Cooke Rotary Snowplow train.

I couldn't ignore the grumbling noises coming from my stomach any longer, and with that I had to make the somewhat long walk back to the ship for a very late lunch.

Next up will cruising through Glacier Bay National Park.

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