Monday's port of call was Skagway. Skagway was the starting point for one of the two trails to the Klondike gold rush, the White Horse Trail. This trail was the longer and easier of the two, since those who climbed it could and did use pack animals to help them carry their supplies. The other trail, the Chilkoot, which started about ten miles away in Dyea, was much steeper, including stairs carved in the rock. Skagway became a town similar to what we think of as the Wild West, dominated by the saloons, the madams, and "Soapy" Smith, who ran the town in whatever way best benefitted him and died in a shoot-out.
We had signed up for the Skagway Extravaganza, a 7 hour excursion covering pretty much everything there was to do in Skagway. The rest of Jeff's family chose to rent a car and travel up the same route we would be following at their own pace. They left earlier than we did.
We got picked up by a bus at about 12:15. Our bus driver introduced himself as Mike, but said we could call him Michael, Mikey, Sweetcheeks, or pretty much anything we liked. The bus took us about a quarter of a mile to the train station; when we saw how close it was, I wished we could have met up with them there instead. However, from the pier it looked like it was a long way into town, and the shuttle buses tended to confirm that wrong appearance.
The White Pass and Yukon Route Railway is a narrow-gauge railroad built at about the same time as the gold rush. It became a tourist attraction as soon as it was completed. As it happens, we were there only two days before their current record number of passengers carried. The train climbs along gorges, over bridges and through tunnels, showing truly spectacular scenery. While there is a highway on the opposite side of the river, with almost the identical views, there is something about a train, especially an old train, that captures the imagination. Of course, I've always been a train nut. The one thing that disappointed me was that the cars were closed. Another narrow-gauge railroad I've ridden, the Durango and Silverton in Colorado, has open cars, which are much better for photography. We saw part of the trail from the train, as well as Soapy Smith's grave, an old caboose, and all the scenery.
After crossing over into Canada, the train stopped. Mike and his bus picked us up, and we drove back along the highway with a couple of photo stops along the way. At one of the stops, right by the border, we had just gotten back on the bus when I thought I saw Jeff's mother. Then he saw his brother, and we identified their rental car. We were getting underway, so we couldn't jump out to say hello, but they didn't stay much longer. Apparently the tour following ours was led by a phenomenally irritating woman. We were lucky to have Mike; he was the kind of guy who would have gotten a 30% tip if he'd been a waiter in a restaurant. Bizarre as all heck, but entertaining.
Our next stop was at Liarsville, a camp from the gold rush era. Apparently the newspaper writers came to Alaska to try the route to the gold fields and tell their readers about it. However, many of them looked at the trails, heard the horror stories, and decided to stay put in relative comfort and just repeat the stories they heard from people coming back. A year or two later, the readers who had been fascinated by the stories came up to try their own luck, found the newspaper men sitting in their tents, and promptly named the camp Liarsville, since it was all lies. We were served a lunch of grilled salmon, baked beans, coleslaw, bread, and apple pie. Then we took a look through the camp, and got treated to a little variety show. Finally, we panned for gold, with pre-seeded pans.
Following that, we got back on the bus and Mike drove us back to Skagway, to the Red Onion Saloon. We got complimentary wine, beer, or root beer, and a tour of the upstairs, which had been a brothel. Interestingly, after the official tour, we were talking to one of the girls in costume. She said that part of why she took the job was that she was bored with the men in Wisconsin, and here she could see the variety of the 300,000 tourists that come to Skagway over the course of the summer. It seems that some of the old motivations are still at work.
We left a little earlier than we had to, but still didn't make it back to the ship in time for dinner. We got the dining room menu from Aries, and considered ordering room service, but none of it was appealing. Instead, we went up to the buffet to the pizza station, which is open late. Unfortunately, the service was poor; in fact, it was the worst service we had on the whole trip. When we finally got the pizza, we took it back to our room and watched Treasure Planet on the TV. I hadn't expected much of it, frankly, which is why I hadn't seen it in the theater, but I was pleasantly surprised.
After the movie, we decided to go back down to the casino for just a little bit to see if Jeff could win his watch. This time it only took him about ten minutes, and we left quite satisfied. Between the two nights, we spent a little more than it would have cost to just buy the two watches, but adding in the cost of two people's entertainment for a couple of hours made it come out about even.