Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tourism Day Eight: Skagway and the White Pass Rail

Monday, 2 June, 2014: a day I had been anticipating for months and months – ever since my seester had sent me enough money for my birthday to pay for a train trip. It was, in fact, the one thing she informed me I must not miss.

There had been two separate excursions available – at 9:30, and then again, at 11:45-ish. Knowing how likely it was that I'd be up late every night, I didn't think it wise to book the earlier trip, so I'd booked the lunchtime run up the hills. That gave me plenty of time, once I woke at an indecently early hour, to have a leisurely-paced and luxurious breakfast with a view of the train I would be taking,
My chariot awaits
followed by an easy fifteen-minute stroll from the pier to the town of Skagway.

I really did feel welcomed

Well, easy for most people. For me, it was a challenge, especially as it was sort of drizzling, making the footing faintly slick. But, since it was cool and damp, I was in heaven.

Along the path beside the road, the city had posted a sign encouraging people to enjoy everything Nature has to offer, there. I had to take a pic…mostly for the spelling error (or, was it deliberate?).

Pedal/peddle… It's nice to see that they encourage 
salesmanship over bicycling
I walked past most of the little shops, but I did, actually, stop in to see what postcards they had at the WP&YR book store and gift shop…besides post cards.
They had quite a bit of history
I found a book for Pop, a set of magnets for The Bat, and a couple of other items (plus, of course, some post cards), and, having had a pleasant chat with the store manager, I took my bag and wandered out to see the town.

I guess the early-20th-century architecture didn't really blow me away, and they had yet to open, that morning, the Red Onion Saloon and Bordello (which the boys were bound and determined to visit), I didn't take pics of the town itself. Well, not the buildings. Just the stuff which piqued my interest:
You know you're in trouble when this is your snowplow
I confess to being a foamer. Of sorts. I can't afford to follow my impulses very often, but give me the opportunity to put my grubby paws on a locomotive, or spend a night in a caboose, and you have me at "choo."
Seriously, cut through your snow in Virginia or Texas with this. Ha!
Well, after all, isn't the big draw for tourism today in Skagway that they have this rail excursion? The ships can't all be coming for the Red Onion…

Okay, well, maybe the scenery has a little to do with it.

Which is my other reason for booking the rail excursion. Besides being a train ride.

It wasn't cheap – it ran to $129 per person, when I booked. And, for a three-hour tour (a three hour tour!) that seemed a bit steep, initially. But my seester had told me it was a can't-miss, and she had paid for it, so, there I was, biding my time, hoping the weather cleared up enough to warrant the trip. After all, if the clouds are low and dropping drizzle the entire way up the slope, blocking my view of the landscape, there isn't much point to following my seester's instructions. 

But I was hoping I wouldn't need a refund. I wanted to brown-bag my lunch and see more of Alaska. 

And I wanted to ride that train.

Into the heart of town I went, to window shop some more, and to pick up the freebies and otherwise affordable items I could find for presents, now that the stores were finally opening for the day.  For the record, the people who work in those gift stores are well-informed, well-trained, very friendly, and, in a couple of cases, from Illinois. It was a lot of fun chatting with them, although I'm sure it would have been more fun for them if I'd brought them some hefty commissions. Instead, I brought home about $30 in stuff, not including the postcards and gear I'd picked up for the parents.

By 10 a.m., the clouds seemed to be breaking up, but so did much of my energy. I was shopped out, and needed to get back to the pier, to catch that train. I stopped in at the office of tourism and asked about procedures and costs for the local buses. The ride around town and to the end of the pier was a couple of dollars, easily accessible right out the front door to the office, there, and, at that hour, all mine. A few people were riding inbound, but most were still just strolling into town. I chatted with the young woman who drove the bus – she, too, had come up from the lower 48, for a summer job, and had been considering staying to become a permanent resident.

Small towns, no matter where they are, have a certain appeal.

Now we're rolling
Well, I made it back to the ship in time to get a little lunch at the buffet, then catch my train. The next three hours were a magical ride, punctuated by narration from the loudspeaker, giving snippets of history of Skagway, the Alaska/Yukon gold rush, the trail, the rail, and the geology. (Click on any picture to embiggen.)

Here are a few impressions from the ride:

There were many, many locomotives built, used, and, occasionally, lost on this rail run. Some of the best, classic ones have been rescued, and are either already restored or are in the process of being restored. # 52 was in progress as a restoration project.

Steam Engine 73 had already been run, this particular morning, and was cooling down in the yard as we went past.

Yonder lie locomotive parts. You may detect a trend, here

Just a reminder: my locomotive had a diesel engine. It's slightly less sooty.

We started our ride at sea level, where the stream widens out

gradually climbing

and climbing…

Well, that escalated quickly…we're nearing the mules' & horses' point of no return.
When they fell off the higher trails, there was no rescuing them.
Oh, good. A trestle bridge. That looks sturdy.
Unless Clint Eastwood is nearby with Eli Wallach.
And a lit cigar.
Please don't let me fall please don't let me fall…

And how darling! it comes with a tunnel!

Yippee. Another, bigger trestle bridge. 

Gulch. No foolin'. But that bridge…it's literally 100 years old!

Yeh, we're not crossing that.
We get another, newer bridge. And, oh, joy! another tunnel. 

We're nearing the top.

Small glacial lake. Rumor is, some tour guides skinny dip here in August.
I'm betting they don't have kids in May. Unless they're Scotsmen.

The pass narrows

Finally at the end of the line. White Pass station. Technically still in US, but semi-functioning RCMP/customs station.

The train's locomotive disconnected at the end of this line, turned around, and reattached at the other end of the train, so it could lead us back downhill (brakes on the front end! I like the logic of that!). We were given instructions on how to flip the backs of our seats, so that we could reverse our own positions, and still be facing the direction the train was heading, instead of being left to Look Back in Anger (see what I did there?).

At the same time, the pair of docents switched positions, too, so that the young woman who had been taking tickets and handing out leaflets on the way up, did the narration over the public address system on the way back down. Meanwhile, the young man who'd been talking all the way up, was now offering free bottled water and selling video, hats, and other souvenirs on the way downhill. I wouldn't have minded being able to get video or hat – or both – but I was saving my money for tea and memorabilia at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, come Thursday.

So I just continued to enjoy the view and take my own pictures.

Looking back downhill…

Heading back downhill…
Getting back downhill…

No horses or mules buried in the old city cemetery…
but maybe a coupla dawgs (wink wink)
Bit of the best graffiti…
there was plenty to see, near the shoreline
When I got back to the ship, there was enough time for me to get to my cabin & dress for dinner, but not much time to stretch out on the bed and relax…well, I'd have had to move this little guy that Adi left for me, anyway.

I moved it eventually. 
We set sail again from Skagway around 6 p.m., and we moved outward until sometime just after dark (somewhat past midnight), when we turned up into Tracy Arm Fjord, heading for a glacier.

Geology lesson: the round-topped mountains were
severely eroded away by glaciation.

The pointy-topped (sawtooth) were too tall from their uplift
for the glaciers build up enough to scrape them down.

Or so I'm told.
I was asleep for that turn. But I'd set my phone alarm clock to wake me by 5 a.m., so I could be up topside when we arrived at our great honkin' slab of ice. 

I was a little excited, so my sleep was fitful.

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