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  • Frank DeArmas

Skagway/Juneau, Alaska

Gold Rush boom towns

Downtown Skagway


When you think of Skagway, your thoughts go back to the 1800’s and the gold rush. The area was originally inhabited by the Tlingit, and its name derives from the Tlingit word skagua, meaning “place where the north wind blows.” Skagway was founded in the 1890's as the gateway to the Yukon and Klondike goldfields.


It owed its importance to its role as the Pacific coastal terminus of the White Pass through the Boundary Ranges and of the White Pass and Yukon Route narrow-gauge railway (the first railway in Alaska) from Whitehorse, head of navigation on the Yukon River in Canada.


You may recall I wrote about Whitehorse as part of our Alaskan Highway blog, found here https://www.ddsi.com/post/the-alaskan-highway . Back in the day you could board the train there, and go over the White Pass, and be in Skagway where you could hop on a ship and go anywhere you wanted.


Today service does not go all the way to Whitehorse, but the train still runs from Skagway up the White Pass to just over the Canadian border. We took that ride and I’ll talk more about it in a little bit.


Today, if you want to get to Skagway, you have three options.


Option 1 is by sea; you can take a cruise or the Alaskan Marine Highway ferries. That’s how we came last time on a cruise.

Option 2 is by air, it has one runway and is very windy, I don’t recommend this.

Option 3 is by land. Yeah, I did not know that was a thing but guess which one we did this time? Uh huh.

 

White Pass


Ok, let’s set this up. RV weight 25,000 lbs. Jeep, let’s say another 5,000 Lbs. Oh, and Jan does not like driving in the mountains.


There is a steep (11 percent grade) 11.5-mile stretch, let’s focus on that, not for a few hundred feet, 11.5 miles, between Skagway and White Pass were going to Skagway you’re going down, and leaving, yeah, you’re going up. It’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but I’m pretty sure Jan did not breathe the whole time going both ways. Going down was maybe the hardest part because I was always wanting to make sure I did not overheat the breaks, but we did it. So, we set up the RV and walked into town to grab a pizza!



 

Juneau Ak


Artwork in Juneau


The next day was not about Skagway as we boarded a boat that took us to the state capital of Alaska, which is Juneau. After the great wildlife watching we had out of Valdez, the boat trip to Juneau was more subdued. Don’t get me wrong, there was beautiful scenery, but not a lot of wildlife. Still, we were grateful for what we did see and a really nice ride. Once we got to Juneau, it was a day full of shopping and a bar or two.


This is when we were introduced to some Alaskan, um culture I think you would call it. Of course, I am talking about that most interesting of drinks, the Duck Fart. If by chance you don’t know what Duck Fart is then please, let me let you in on this popular pastime and drink.


First let’s talk about how to make them. In a shot glass consisting of three layers, you first pour in the Kahlua. The Next Layer is Bailey’s Irish Cream. And the final layer is whiskey (We prefer Jameson Irish Whiskey).


At this point you have a lovely shot in your hand then along with everyone who like wise has said shot, you raise the glass, drink it in one shot, and then pronounce in a loud voice, “Quack, Quack”.


Quack Quack




And that my friends is how you make and drink this Alaskan original. After several of these and other liquids, we drug our butts back to the boat for our trip back.


So yeah, we found the bars

Click on pictures to see full image

 

Downtown Skagway

The next day we were able to explore Skagway. I liked the character of Skagway the first time I saw it when we came by cruise, but you guys know that on a cruise you come in, do a day’s worth of stuff, and get back on the ship.


This time we would be here for a few days which meant we would be there when the 3,000 people from the ship go home. And man was that strange. The town had a quite feel to it as we walked along the streets absent of crowds. The restaurants were not crowded (Though reservations for some of the fancier places are recommended) and we got to take part in a Monte Carlo night and see a show based on the life of Soapy Smith. Soapy was, how to say this nicely, a con man.


Soapy gained notoriety through his "prize soap racket," in which he would sell bars of soap with prize money hidden in some of the bars' packaging to increase sales. However, through sleight of hand, he would ensure that only members of his gang purchased "prize" soap. And thus, Soapy!!


There are many articles written about him and if you want to get to know him better I’d start with his Wikipedia entry and maybe watch the history channel show about him. Oh, Spoiler alert, he was shot and killed, shocker.


Why look, it's old Soapy himself!

Click on pictures to see full image

 

Riding the White Pass Railroad

Click on pictures to see full image


Ok, there’s a train, so of course I need to ride it. Our RV spot was right in front of the cruise terminal and right downtown. That meant that the White Pass train station was also just feet away.


So, I was ecstatic when I learned that we all had tickets to ride up the White Pass and back. I guess if Jan has a thing for Moose and Bear, my thing is trains, though Moose and Bear are cool too.


I’m going to let this video do most of the talking as it was really a fun trip. I see a lot of people who are going to Skagway ask is it worth riding this train. I can only say that if I find myself back in Skagway, you bet I will again.



Click on pictures to see full image



White Pass Rail Road Video

 

Jan's Fun Fact Skagway – The Northern Lights


A magical illuminating evening


Norther lights as seen from Skagway


My fun fact for Skagway is more of a quote then a fact.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” (Robert the Bruce, king of Scotland, is said to have told his troops this shortly before walloping the English at Bannockburn in 1314)


That is exactly what we did chasing the northern lights. It took us 4 tries at different places to finally see them in Skagway. I have to say it was fun trying and it was definitely worth the wait.


The first time I already talked about on the blog from Fairbanks.


The second time we had a chance was in Homer. Frank talked about our mountain adventure in the Homer blog. As he said, we all had a great time even though no northern lights.


The third time we were In Tok. The KP index looked good, and the sky looked like it was going to be clear. If it happened, we would be able to see it pretty clear right from the RV park, so we didn’t have to drive anywhere. We all just said if we see it, we’ll text everyone. Little did we know a few of us would be out around the same time between 1:00 and 2:00 am. When Teresa was out, she thought she heard a bear and freaked out and went in and woke poor Bob up telling him there’s a bear outside. Come to find out it was another one in our group Tom checking the sky out. She will never live that down. Lol.


When I went out, the sky was beautiful, so many stars, I didn’t want to go back in until I heard something behind me. It was so dark you couldn’t see a thing, so being a chicken, I too went in but I sat in the passenger seat of our RV, opened the window and just sat for a while and enjoyed all the beautiful stars. I found out the next day that Rob was out around the same time I was, so it was probably him I heard. Unfortunately, no northern lights, fortunately no bears, but I have to say it was an awesome night for star gazing.


The fourth time was the charm, we just got out of the “Soapy Smith Vaudeville Show” and Teresa showed me the KP index. The sky was clear the weather was perfect, so we all decided while walking back to the RV park that we would try again.


We all gathered in the parking lot of the RV park and just hung out. We started seeing some colors, but it wasn’t the northern lights. Then suddenly it happened, slow at first but then it started dancing across the sky. I’m not sure how long it lasted but it left as fast as it came. It was amazing!


Another item off my ever-growing bucket list, but I have to say, once you seen the northern lights you want to see them again and again. So, I’m not sure I can tick this one off quite yet.


 

Our next blog will be a short one as we go back to sign post city to put up the BucketQuestRV Sign near where we had earlier placed the Caravan sign. After that we get to Hyder Ak, bear central. As always we hope you enjoyed the blog and until next time, we will see you on the road!



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