Tuesday found us docking in Skagway, which was essentially founded during the time of the gold rush, when prospectors from countries across the world arrived there, and struck out for the Yukon and the promise of easy money.
Skagway is a quaint little place. During it’s wilder days, Skagway was home to well over a dozen brothels. Now it is populated primarily by jewelry stores and tourist souvenir shops. Almost depressing really. Not that I would prefer brothels, but all of the commercialization really detracts from the place, in my opinion.
No matter, our plans for the day included a mining tour, panning for gold, and then a ride on The White Pass and Yukon Route narrow gauge railroad!
First we learned the finer points of extracting gold from the earth, including panning, using a sluice box, right up to the enormous gold dredge.
Then we got a quick lesson in how to properly pan for gold from our knowledgeable instructor before it was our turn to try our hand at it.
Everyone got a pan of dirt, and we swished and dipped and swished some more.
272. Pan for gold
I believe that Mike and I collectively found around $30 worth of little gold flakes. Ben was the most determined and panned for the longest and beat the rest of us out, finding something around $34. It was great fun. Really neat to try.
Then it was time for the train ride! We got to ride the White Pass & Yukon Route, with our awesome tour guide who was a wealth of knowledge, and had a great sense of humor.
Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, this narrow gauge railroad is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, a designation shared with the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.
The WP&YR railway was considered an impossible task but it was literally blasted through coastal mountains in only 26 months.
The $10 million project was the product of British financing, American engineering and Canadian contracting. Tens of thousands of men and 450 tons of explosives overcame harsh and challenging climate and geography to create “the railway built of gold.”
The WP&YR climbs almost 3000 feet in just 20 miles and features steep grades of up to 3.9%, cliff-hanging turns of 16 degrees, two tunnels and numerous bridges and trestles. The steel cantilever bridge was the tallest of its kind in the world when it was constructed in 1901.
The 110 mile WP&YR Railroad was completed with the driving of the golden spike on July 29, 1900 in Carcross Yukon connecting the deep water port of Skagway Alaska to Whitehorse Yukon and beyond to northwest Canada and interior Alaska.
White Pass & Yukon Route became a fully integrated transportation company operating docks, trains, stage coaches, sleighs, buses, paddlewheelers, trucks, ships, airplanes, hotels and pipelines. It provided the essential infrastructure servicing the freight and passenger requirements of Yukon’s population and mining industry. WP&YR proved to be a successful transportation innovator and pioneered the inter-modal (ship-train-truck) movement of containers.
The WP&YR suspended operations in 1982 when Yukon’s mining industry collapsed due to low mineral prices. The railway was reopened in 1988 as a seasonal tourism operation and served 37,000 passengers. Today, the WP&YR is Alaska’s most popular shore excursion carrying over 360,000 passengers during the 2010 May to September tourism season operating on the first 67.5 miles (Skagway, Alaska to Carcross, Yukon) of the original 110 mile line.
39. Ride on an actual train
We crossed the border into Canada and had a champagne toast at the top of the mountain. It was a gorgeous and scenic journey all the way up, and all the way back down. I really liked getting to stand on the platform between the cars to take photos.
When we stopped back in town, the whole family sort of scattered. Mike and I went to shop for some souvenirs before supper time. We browsed a lot of shops, and picked up some things for the kids and some salmon jerky to try later on the boat. At one of the jewelry stores we looked at some beautiful ammolite rings and Mike surprised me by selecting one for me as a birthday gift. It was extremely sweet of him, and I couldn’t wait to wear it! We left it with them to be sized while we wandered through some of the other shops.
While we were doing that, Ruth and Bill spotted some harbor seals and were lucky enough to catch some photos of them! It’s too bad we didn’t get a chance to see them ourselves, but I am glad to have pictures at any rate.
We picked up the ring from the jewelers on the way back to the boat, and then hurried to get dressed for dinner. As per usual, the food was fantastic and the company was even better.
After supper, we hit the hot tub and finished up the night relaxing and having a few drinks. It was the perfect ending to a great day! I was so sleepy by the time we headed for bed, it was lovely to crawl under the covers.