TOK & DESTRUCTION BAY:
We left Valdez and drove northeast around the Wrangell Mountains, following the Copper River to the town of Tok. The air was getting colder and the trees started turning a pretty yellow. The next day we connected onto the Alaskan Highway running in and out of Alaska across the Canadian border multiple times. We followed permafrost black spruce forests to Destruction Bay for a quick overnight stop. The only redeeming quality to Destruction Bay was a stop at Buckshot Betty’s for her cinnamon rolls.
Skagway erupted from a homestead to a full size city during the gold rush winter of 1897-98, along with the building of a railroad in 1898-1900. Skagway has around 1,106 residents but that total fluctuates from about 700 in January to more than 2,500 in July with the influx of summer merchants selling items to the cruise ships passengers. Skagway is in a classic U-shaped glacial valley. Elevation ranges from sea level on the coast to peaks reaching nearly 7,000 feet. The most interesting building in Skagway is the Arctic Brotherhood Hall. It was built in 1898 using thousands of pieces of local driftwood to cover its façade.
Soapy Smith Vaudeville Show was an interesting portrayal of Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith. Soapy was a notorious con man during the wild days of the Klondike Gold Rush. He sold wrapped soap bars containing $5, $10 and $100 bills to the crowd but his own cronies somehow always ended up with the money. Soapy and his gang robbed a stampede of their gold dust. When Soapy refused to return the gold a Committee of 101 gathered to decide on justice. Soapy Smith died in a gunfight and was placed in an unmarked grave.
Our group went on The White Pass & Yukon Route Train ride on vintage railroad cars. It is a narrow-gauge railway that parallels the trail followed by the gold seekers in 1898. During the first 20 miles, the diesel powered train climbed from sea level to 3,000 feet. We had panoramic views of Skagway and Lynn Canal.
We had a great day on our Lower Dewey Lake hike with our Adventure Caravan friends. We started out from downtown Skagway and climbed up steep trails that treated us to wonderful views overlooking Skagway town and Skagway River.
Gold miners founded the Capital of Alaska, Juneau and today has a population of 32,000. We did some shopping along Franklin Street shuffling with the cruise boat passengers for a bargain. The Alaskan Brewery Store had a great selection of t-shirts and baseball hats for Christmas gifts.
Our group boarded a bus in Juneau for a 13-mile ride to visit Mendenhall Glacier. We waved to Sara Palin at the Governor’s House while we looked across the waterways for Russia. Our bus driver was very chatty and a self-proclaimed expert on local mushrooms. He pulled the bus over to pick some mushrooms for our communal potluck dinner. When he asked for a show of hands to receive his mushrooms, no one responded!
Mendenhall Glacier is about half a mile wide at its face and rising 100 feet from the water. Mendenhall Glacier ends at iceberg-strewn Mendenhall Lake. We walked the trail to Nugget Falls a steep waterfall over sheer granite walls, next to the Mendenhall Glacier.
On the intercostal waterways boat ride back to Skagway, we were treated to a humpback whale flipping his fins. A chorus of sea lions loudly bid us adieux.
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