Another not so short post about our Alaskan cruise and Skagway, Alaska, one of the many ports we visited during that amazing week back in May.
Skagway is known as the “Gateway to the Yukon,” as holds a a unique part in Alaska’s history as it played a key role in the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-1898.
The excursion from Skagway, Alaska turned out to be one of the most relaxing ones on our trip: White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad excursion. In short, we took a train up through Alaska towards British Columbia. We got off the train in Fraser, B.C. and then headed by bus through B.C. and into the Yukon Territory. And yes, one of the reasons why I wanted to do this version of the train excursion was so that we could knock off not only more of Alaska but get into the Yukon Territory. The other reason was so I could continually say “We’re taking the train” like Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory.
As soon as you get off the cruise boats, there is a train station. However, do not be fooled, it is not the train station the White Pass railroad leaves from; instead we went by bus to another train station. I am really glad we ended up on a different train, as the one we took was much older (looking) and more rickety feeling. The train then slowly headed up the mountain side, clacking along the partially wooden and partially metal tracks (though the wooden tracks shown below were abandoned).
I spent most of my time on the train on the platform between our car and the one behind us. Though the train’s windows were nice and clean, it wasn’t terribly cold outside and as long as I kept my photo gloves and sunglasses on I was rather comfy. In fact, I felt like I could have stayed out there forever. It was so peaceful listening to the train and feeling the fresh air on my face and running through my lungs.
The trains showed in the above and below photos were the returning trains, heading back to Skagway. The shots were captured from our train heading away from Skagway towards Fraser, B.C.
“Built in 1898 as a way to expedite travel during the Klondike Gold Rush, the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad is a 3-foot wide Narrow Gauge Railroad that climbs from sea level to almost 3,000 feet in the first 20 miles. An engineering marvel, it features 2 tunnels and travels over sky-high trestles and bridges. Fully restored, the comfortable passenger coaches features large picture windows and are pulled by vintage diesel locomotives. The 27-mile excursion is enhanced by the breathtaking vistas, waterfalls, mountains, glaciers and the unforgettable Klondike Trail of ’98, a tribute to the optimistic prospectors in search of their fortune.” (courtesy of Princess Cruise line excursion description)
When the train stopped in Fraser, B.C. the announcer warned us to put our cameras away so that the custom officers did not think we were recording them. They came and examined everyone’s passports and when they got to us, realized we were Canadian and really just scanned our documents instead of the heavy inspections they were doing on everyone else’s papers. Once everyone was cleared, they let us get off the train and reboard the bus. Oh yes, that’s right, the buses had left Skagway the same time as us and driven along the roadway to Fraser, B.C. to meet us. In fact, there are two versions of this trip, one where you take the train first and then drive back to Skagway, and the other where you drive first and train back to Skagway.
Once we were on the bus, the scenes were very similar, though it was much harder to shoot as the bus did not have platforms were I could stand and shoot like the train did. Until that is, we got to the Tormented Valley. The landscape here looked much harsher and the change was really quite sudden. Seriously, one minute we were amongst trees and green-ness and then we came around a ridge and the trees were all stunted and there were frozen lakes everywhere. It also happened to take place just as we were entering the Yukon leading to why the Canadian North is often considered to be harsher than the American North due to the significant decrease in development in the area. The lakes within the Tormented Valley is a glaciated area and the string of lakes within it make up the headwaters of the Yukon River.
Our tour guide/driver on the bus was amazing. Unfortunately I forget her name now, though I do remember that she was a red head (it also happened to be one of the ways she told us to remember what bus we were on). We stopped several times during the bus rides to take photos and to stretch our legs. The below photos are from one of those brief stops. The water was so calm it was like a mirror for the mountain surrounding it. It was breathtakingly gorgeous.
Throughout the entire Alaskan trip, Dave and I took tons of photos of other couples and families (both asked by them and offered by us), but unfortunately my camera must seem to overwhelming or expensive or something, as no one offered to take our photo with it. So we ended up taking selfies using Dave’s phone.
We also played a game while on the bus of who can see the wildlife. I promise you that there are wildlife in the below 2 photos – can you spot them?
Look for little white dots in the photos and there you will find Dall’s Sheep and Mountain Goats (in the centre of the first photo and in the second photos, from the centre go slightly towards the bottom left corner). We were told to look for the ‘moving snow’. People had a really hard time finding them as they were so far away and the mountains were so large, but thanks to my awesome and huge lenses, Dave and I became the resident sheep and goat spotters. When we stopped and were looking at the mountainsides, people would ask us to investigate certain ‘snow’ piles and we would confirm or deny the presence of wildlife and do our best to tell them if it was a sheep or a goat (their horns are different). It was a lot of fun.
Another pit stop was at Emerald Lake. Getting there took patience as there is a fair bit of roadwork being done in the area – you heard that right, even in Northern Canada there is lots of roadwork screwing up the travel plans. We had to wait to be escorted to the area by a pace car and then had only a few minutes to take in the sights as our driver didn’t want to miss the next pace car heading back out. The roads really weren’t even remotely dangerous, but the huge trucks doing the work could have been. If you left without a pace car, another car would catch up to you and return you to the pace car location. Anyway, the lake was gorgeous, such a vibrant and beautiful colour of green.
For lunch we headed to the Caribou Crossing Trading Post. We ate an absolutely delicious chicken barbecue lunch complete with all-you-can-eat homemade donuts (seriously addictive donuts). After we finished eating, we visited the Dog Musher’s Village. This was another reason why I picked this excursion over other similar ones as we got to hang out with the sled dogs and husky puppies – PUPPIES!! For an extra fee, you could join them for a dog cart ride, but we were satisfied with playing with, feeding and petting the puppies.
This one is sleepy – so many people to be petted by, it’s a hard life.
The dogs were beautiful and the puppies were oh so cute. This little guy is on the lookout for his next tourist supplied treat.
Our last stop was in the Native village of Carcross. It is on one side of Lake Bennett and Caribou Crossing sits on the other side. At one time they were both called Caribou Crossing as this is literally where the Caribou used to cross during their huge migration each year. When the mail delivery system came North, the two villages with the same name created a great deal of trouble so the one was renamed to Carcross. The village was very small but pretty, though I didn’t end up taking any photos here though because we went in, bought a souvenir or two and then enjoyed ice cream for the rest of our time there.
It was a jam-packed day but a really nice one that I won’t soon forget. I will end this post with one of the vertical panoramics I shot. It was so hard to capture the vastness of the mountains and the area in general, that I ended up taking a great deal of shots to be stitched together later. The one below shows the tail end of the train at the bottom running along the snow-capped mountainside.