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Saturday, June 12, 2010


Our train ride on the White Pass Railroad takes us up to White Pass--the beginning of the continuing trek to the Klondike; we're only miles from Skagway, Alaska, and the gold sought by the miners of '98 (that's 18) is somewhere more than 550 miles from Skagway. Our adventure is different, and when we reach White Pass, we board a coach to travel the Klondike Highway—average snowfall—17 feet. We ride to the William Morris Suspension Bridge, named after the first steamboat captain to come to Skagway.

William Morris Suspension Bridge, Alaska

This bridge is 180 feet across and 80 feet down. This area suffers two or three minor earthquakes a day. Honestly, I missed them. Honestly, that made me happy. Want a hint about the terrain surrounding the bridge? Mountain goats here have five cloves in their hooves that move independently. Even goats need special equipment. Yes, I had a tough time letting go of the side of the bridge.
William Morris Suspension Bridge, AlaskaWilliam Morris Suspension Bridge, Alaska

There is also a museum about the plants and animals in the area, some information on the native people, and a lot of souvenirs. That’s where I picked up my book of Robert Service’s poetry about Alaska. Also I took some photos of some marvelously clever and very Alaskan t-shirts which I will share at a later post.

The road we now ride will take us back to Skagway, and we appreciate how far things have come. On the other hand, we drive over a bridge that is only anchored on one side. That accounts for the earthquakes. Before they decided to do it this way, the anchored bridge was often destroyed during the quakes.

This road is so steep that there are truck escape routes cut in all along the way down. We pass Pitchfork Falls which supplies hydroelectric power for all of Skagway.

Along the way, we seem to pique the interest of a bear, and that was a terrific moment.

We stop for lunch at a phenomenal spot—Jewell Gardens Restaurant and Tea Room. Here we are in one of the most challenging environments the world has to offer, and Jewell Gardens began life as a show garden! Yes, because of the 120 day growing season and the long 18 hours of sunlight, one can do wondrous things with the right plants, and the people here do. Even the sweetener for the teas, stiviet, is grown here. The garden furnishes the restaurant with delicious fresh vegetables that the talented and creative chef uses imaginatively.

The building in which we dine is used as the greenhouse when the growing season begins, and as the weather warms sufficiently for plants to be moved outdoors, the restaurant opens to the delight of the tourists.

We dine on focaccia bread, a lovely vegetable soup, fresh, crisp salad, a choice of salmon or mushroom quiche (we each chose one), and for dessert, a biscuit with strawberry/crabapple topping and whipped cream accompanied by coffee or tea. Divine.


We also take a tour of the garden, including the delightful miniature railroad. The vegetables and flowers are huge. The record size cabbage is 105 pounds; the biggest at Jewell Gardens is 46. As we saw in Anchorage, Alaskans seize every moment of sun and make the most of it. Jewell Gardens really is a rare gem.

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010


Let's switch back to Alaska for a bit. Time for the Coral Princess to dock at some really cool Alaskan towns. Our first port of call is Skagway at the northernmost point of the Inside Passage. Birthed in a wild labor of gold-crazed miners, Skagway began as a boom town full of barrooms, crowds and train whistles. Men sought their fortunes in gold or in commerce born of gold. To fully enjoy the Skagway adventure, do as we did and find ways to see the White Pass and Chilkoot trails that 30,000 men used as their pathway to riches. For those who never made it up to the Klondike fields, relive their adventures in the brothels (not literally) and barrooms of Skagway for the downtown area, a seven-block-long historic district is part of the 13,191 acre Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park where turn-of-the-century shops and saloons are open for business.

Rob and I took a 7 ¼ hour Klondike Scenic Highlights tour. This was my first challenge of the vacation as I’d heard of the harrowing moments of the railroad ride aboard the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad. It’s known as the “Scenic Railway of the World,” and it is outstanding as it climbs the White Pass Trail. It also hugs the edge of mountains and overlooks the valleys below reminiscent of the mule rides down the Grand Canyon!
White Pass Railroad

While it’s sometimes difficult to stop staring at the beautiful scenery, I tried to imagine this route from a climber’s point of view. The rise from Skagway to White Pass is 3000 feet. Imagine. Parts of the trail are still visible, and its narrowness attests to the single file line one sees in photographs of the men making this climb. It seems impossible to come up these mountains, packs on backs, men to the front and to the rear, some falling by the wayside, some barely making it to the top. That was the beginning of the trip. Dawson City on the Yukon River, their destination, is 550 miles north of Skagway. In this photo, I am shooting down from our train to the one following us. This shows the steep mountains the miners had to climb.
Heights of the White Pass

We pass some spectacular waterfalls, and our train goes through tunnels and makes cliff-hanging (and very scary) turns. We pass historic sites—like the cross on the huge boulder. It marks the spot where two railway workers were crushed beneath a boulder as it came down the mountain. There was no heavy-duty equipment to move the boulder, so a cross was painted on this unusual tombstone, and it remains there to this day.
Railroad Bridge

on the White Pass
There are hikers who get off at Glacier, a stop on the route. There is a saying one might heed, “If you get off here, you become part of the Alaskan food chain.”
Glacier, Alaska

The thin green path in my photo is the ten-mile long White Pass Trail of ’98 that the miners climbed single file to reach the crest at White Pass before heading on to Dawson. Imagine.
White Pass

As we cross into Canada, the topography abruptly changes. We see rocks and glacial ponds, tiny spruces, red lichen, and delicate white flowers called caribou moss. This beautiful but hard land, too, had to be crossed. This valley is known as Tormented Valley.
Tormented Valley

Then this rough, rocky ground gives way to moss and then to grassy, almost Alpine fields. The miners had to cross this area in order to get to White Pass!

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