Thursday, July 22, 2010

Part II. Whitehorse to Skagway, Alaska

We spent our last night in Whitehorse at the local Walmart where we free camped with 35 other RV rigs.  It was a bit like an RV rally of people driving to Alaska and points north. Met one traveler who was developing a bear alarm for tent campers to warn them if a bear was too close while they were sleeping.  A fairly simple device with a nylon line rigged around the tent so that a pocket sized alarm went off if something disturbed it.  He showed me the prototype and it looked good to me. For the previous five nights we have stayed at the Hi Country RV Park which provided a rest bit and a chance to catch up on the internet, collect mail, take a long shower, do laundry, and explore Whitehorse on foot. But now we are set to embark on Part II of our adventure...driving to and experiencing the real Alaska!

The road to Skagway from Whitehorse is called the South Klondike Highway and is the most scenic route into interior Alaska (or so I was told). It's another journey into the beauty of the natural world with snow capped mountains, emerald lakes and glacial rivers presenting one spectacular view after another.  Only 110 miles in length, this is a great side trip off the Alaska Highway either continuing by ferry to Haines and other southeast Alaska points or returning back to Whitehorse to continue on to Tok, Alaska. 

Yahoo! Our first entry to Alaska was near the outpost of Fraser, British Columbia.  The border crossing was easy with one lone patrolman asking us a few casual questions about where we had traveled and future destinations in a cheery manner. This was in contrast to the Canadian border patrol who have been stern, uptight, and all business on our previous crossings into Canada. I commented to my wife..."What's their problem?" On the other hand, I wonder how the American border patrol treats the Canadians. On this trip I have heard horror stories about Europeans entering the USA by air and grilled up to 30 minutes, not once but several times as they move from one area of the airport to another. As a result, I have met several German and Swiss travelers in B.C. who told me they refuse to travel to the USA now and confine their North American travel to Canada. The last time I traveled from Istanbul, Turkey to New York, I was questioned four times with accompanying baggage search before I was allowed to enter the airplane. I asked the Turkish authorities about the redundant searches and one officer replied that it was demanded by the American authorities. It's a sad time for world travel and the air industry as compared to the hey days of Pan Am and TWA when air travel was great fun.  After more than 50 years of flying around the world many times on business and pleasure, I rarely travel by plane anymore and much prefer to drive our motorhome or tour by recumbent bicycle. 

One of my goals on this trip was to experience the days of the Klondike and get a feeling for what it must have been like to search for gold in the frenzy of the Gold Rush of 1898. No better place to begin this side adventure than camping at Dyea Campground and possibly hiking the Chilkoot Trail over White Mountain Pass and relive the stories and days of yesteryear. We entered Dyea Junction in the late afternoon of June 8th about ten miles prior to reaching Skagway; left the tarmac and traveled eight miles on a twisting, gravel road to the former town of Dyea.  We were at the starting point of the Chilkoot Trail and the former site of a city that contained a population of over 10,000 people in 1898 that rivaled Skagway in size at the time.  Now a National Historical Park, all that's left are remnants of a wharf that received supplies and gold seekers traveling up the inland passage, a few scattered buildings, a cemetery, and a campground for present day visitors. 

We were very fortunate to meet the campground volunteers, Judy and Jim Finses of California, who took us on a personal tour of Dyea and learned that there were over 40 graves in the Slide Cemetery many bearing the date of the Palm Sunday avalanche. After viewing the waterfront remains, the Taiya River where pink salmon swim upstream in July pursued by brown and grizzly bears, and the remains of Slide Cemetery, we were ready to hit the sack and dream about the Gold Rush of 1898.  Jim left us with one admonition, "Beware of the grizzly bears in camp!"


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