Rain. Cold. Wind.
Not the best tourist day, but definitely an Alaskan day.
What is it about gold that possesses a man’s heart? To what lengths will a person go to strike it rich? Near the turn of the nineteenth century, when economic depression caused many to succumb to the dream of “easy” rich gold, a hundred thousand people from all over North America and even from other parts of the world headed north to Alaska between 1896 and 1899. It became known as the Klondike Gold Rush.
Skagway, the homestead of a former steamboat captain named William Moore, swelled to ten thousand when prospectors tried to make their way to Dawson City by means of White Pass Trail. Today, the small town with only 900 year-round residents mostly shuts down when summer businesses close up, pack up, and leave for the season.
As we watched a film at the Skagway White Pass Railway station, I was delighted to learn about the lives of several women. History often only portrays us in dance halls and brothels. But we are so much more and during the Klondike Gold Rush women held occupations of miners, business women, journalists, shopkeepers, cooks, nuns, entertainers, teachers, physicians, and hotel proprietors. Some, like Harriet Pullen, made a living transporting goods with her horse team and cooked and baked up pies for hungry prospectors. She eventually owned her own dairy farm and the Pullen House, a fancy hotel in Skagway. Mollie Brackett’s love of photography led her to documenting many aspects of the gold rush in film. These are just two of the many who struck it rich their own way during the time of gold fever.
Interestingly enough, the cruise industry has become the new “gold rush” for Skagway. Tens of thousands descend on the town every summer via cruise ships. The founder of the town, Skagway, dreamt of an enduring town on Taiya Inlet at the end of Lynn Canal and certainly his dream lives on in the new millinium.
In the morning, walked around soggy Skagway and stumbled upon Klondike Doughboy. They served up Alaskan Fry Bread, made fresh when ordered. The shop was empty when we arrived and we had the pleasure of enjoying the first fry bread of the day.
Around the corner we stoped at Corrington’s Alaskan Ivory Museum & Gift Shop where we chatted with a couple of the women working behind the counter. My husband was quite intrigued about the idea of coming to Alaska to work for the summer and I almost expected him to ask for a job application. We soon discovered that many enjoy the Alaskan beauty by working summers then leave when the season is over.
Unlike some of the other Alaskan towns, Skagway can be reached by vehicle as well as ships and ferries. Klondike Highway 2 connects the town to the Alaskan Highway. Once the railway also connected Skagway to the outside world, but now it’s used for tourism.
Despite the rain, or maybe in spite of, we took the White Pass Rail excursion. With the unfavorable weather, I mostly had the outside landing to myself. I listened to rhythmic clack of the train over tracks, creating echoes of times past. Swaying cars cars carried us past mountain tops shrouded in grey clouds and rain—what locals call liquid, albeit cold, sunshine. We rode along the river’s roaring water tumbling down rocky crags and were gifted with glimpses of waterfalls between the pines and rocks. Several times we were encompassed in the inky darkness of tunnels and the air grew colder and colder as we climbed ever upward.
We found our Skagway bear at the train shoppe.