Alaska: Port of Call Skagway


The  tiny town of Skagway is a very popular port of call for cruise ships. Its main draw is its historical district of about 100 buildings from the gold rush era and the White Pass and Yukon Route that runs its narrow-gauge train during the summer months, mainly for tourists.

Instead of taking the most popular White Pass Train Ride, we opted for the bus tour to the White Pass and Yukon territory because I thought it would provide lots of opportunities for pictures. We drove through the Klondike Highway, which paralleled much of the Gold Rush Trail of 1898. We saw an amazing panorama of mountains, glaciers, gorges, famous waterfalls like the Pitchfork Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and many other smaller waterfalls, historical places like the Moore Creek Bridge, and views of the White Pass & Yukon Railroad along the route.

Our driver/guide did a great job of retelling the history of the Gold Rush, how stampeders or prospectors struggled to climb the trail carrying tons of goods during the winter. The trail became clogged with mud during the wet fall of 1897, making the trail virtually impassable. People and their pack animals were stuck along the trail and many ran out of supplies. It is estimated that 3000 horses died along that trail that the trail earned the name “the Dead Horse Trail”. This tragedy led to the development of a wagon road followed later by the construction of the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad.

We drove through never-ending breathtaking scenery, views of the alpine tundra of the “Tormented Valley” with its icy lake before our first photo stop at the Summit Lake with the unique rock piles.

Our guide was very good at pointing out how the type of trees and scenery changed as our elevation changed.

Our next photo stop was at the William Moore Memorial bridge built over a fault-line. However, the pile of construction materials prevented our driver from stopping. (We stopped again upon our return and had a better view of the gorge and the Sawtooth Mountains).

Yukon Suspension Bridge. 

Our last stop was at the Yukon Suspension Bridge in BC, Canada.  While the rest of the group went to the coffee shop and gift shop, I ran to take pictures of the suspension bridge before the crowd. After taking pictures, I just took in the beautiful expansive landscape.

We then headed back to Skagway with the opportunity to take more pictures on the way back.
Our guide continued to narrate the history, describing the living conditions the prospectors encountered in their trek to Canada. It was hard listening to the sordid story while looking at the beautiful landscape.

Avalanche Terrain with waterfalls
We heard tales about the early pioneers like Molly Welsh, who arrive in Skagway in 1897 and quickly became popular both as a waitress (courted by the two men at the same time) and for her participation in the humanitarian activities of the Union Church. Her work with the church did not fare well with the Skagway gangster Jefferson “Soapy” Smith. She feared retaliation and moved up the White Pass Trail to a point near the North West Mounted Police post at Log Cabin, where she erected a grub tent. Sadly, her story did not end there. She was murdered by her husband. The other suitor was really in love with Molly that he built a statue and named a park in her honor.

Our guide encouraged us to visit the Molly Welsh statue in the park in Skagway, and the cemetery where Soapy Smith was buried. We stopped at the Liar’s village for salmon bake before returning to Skagway.

I was impressed by our guide’s knowledge of the whole place. He even treated us to a poem by Robert Service, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”.

Our guide dropped us off downtown so we could walk through the historic downtown streets and see the statue of Molly Welsh and visit the Gold Rush Cemetery where the infamous outlaw, Soapy Smith, was buried. However, the rain picked up again. We ended up taking shelter from one souvenir store and jewelry store one after another and returned to the ship with big holes in our pockets.


All photos by the author



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