Thursday, January 17, 2013

Day 14 - Skagway and 4th of July - Part 1

The ride to Skagway, Alaska was one I had been anticipating for a long time.  The group had planned a ride from Whitehorse, Yukon to Alaska to celebrate the 4th of July in US territory.  The ride would be a little over 110 miles each way and would require us to cross the border, not forgetting the password was very important.   Skagway is a popular stop for cruise ships and being the 4th of July it was bound to be a busy town, I never imagined how crowded it would be, but I'm jumping ahead.
The group met at the Yukon Yamaha dealer tent and soon thereafter we were all on the way on a cold and cloudy day.  We were promised amazing scenery and I would not be disappointed, this post is going to be heavy with pictures.

I'm not a big fan of large group rides and as soon as we passed a few nice scenic places and no one stopped I promptly left the group.  How could we pass the beautiful Emerald Lake and not stop for a few pictures.

Interactive Map:
View Larger Map

Next came Carcross, a place we had been two days before.
Carcross, originally known as Caribou Crossing was a fishing and hunting camp for Inland Tlingit and Tagish people. 4,500-year-old artifacts from First Nations people living in the area have been found in the region. Wiki
The town is at the junction of two large lakes, I take a picture of the sign and then continue to the next scenic place.  

Today would turn out to be the most scenic and beautiful ride so far on my trip to Alaska.  I come upon this beautiful lake and quickly stopped for a few pictures.  Now that I was all by myself I could take the time to really appreciate the beauty of the Yukon territory.
Do you see the black wet stuff on my front tire? that's oil that leaked overnight from my front shocks.  The previous day adventure was pretty bad and after the mud and dirt dried on the forks it managed to lodge itself in the fork seals and during the night oil seeped out and onto the rim and wheel.  I was able to clean the seals with a plastic film but during today's ride a little more came out.

I continue and the road just winds left and right through breathtaking scenery, snow capped mountains lining both sides of the road and into the horizon.  Some of the photos were taken while riding at speed.

A few more miles and another place to stop and enjoy the scenery.  As I go further south I can see the threatening clouds over the mountains.  We had been informed it would get cold over the pass.

I continue south and start the climb up to the pass.  I'm riding along when all of a sudden the scenery changes dramatically, it gets wet and cold and the landscape is something out of this world.  I never thought it would change so dramatically and so fast, looks like a landscape from another world, a beautiful rocky landscape filled with little lakes and interspersed with green vegetation.  A low vegetation that seems to grow in between the rocky landscape.

I was mesmerized as I rode further into this landscape, everywhere I looked, it's rocky terrain with pine trees growing in what little soil there is.  It was so peaceful and quite, not another soul in sight, I just stood there with a weird feeling, like I had just been transported to another planet.

I finally reach the top of the mountain pass and it's covered in fog, not good for pictures.  It's also very cold, low 40's, I change only my gloves and crank up the heat on the handgrips.   All this time I have been on the Klondike Highway and I finally see the sign at the top of the mountain.  I'm now in Alaska but the US border is still a few miles down the road.

A few more miles and I reach the Alaska sign at the top of the mountain.  There's a bus full of tourists by the sign, I wait for them to take their pictures and to get back on the bus and then move my bike closer to the sign.  The bus guide, a beautiful young lady, asks if I want her to take my picture, I say thank you, thus the big smile.  I find out from her the tourists had come up from a cruise ship in Skagway.

As I'm approaching the US border on a steep downhill, out of the corner of my eye I see a yellow/green thing speeding by on my left on the opposite side of the valley, I look again and it's the train that travels along the "White Pass and Yukon Route".  I quickly stop to get a picture.  The train was full of tourists and on the way back to Skagway.
The White Pass and Yukon Route is a narrow gauge railroad linking the port of Skagway, Alaska, with Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon. The line was born of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897 and has no direct connection to any other railroad.  
The Skagway Wiki and the White Pass Wiki

A little further down the road it's the US customs center.  There's a big line as I approach and in front of me is a large group of bicycles.  I get off my bike and find out the guys on the bicycles are also from the cruise ship, they had been taken to the top of the pass by bus and then they ride the bicycles downhill to Skagway.  Seems like a lot of fun but I prefer to have an engine under me.

I make it through customs and finally reach Skagway.  I make my way to the port and there's four large cruise ships in town.  I have been on various cruises ships and know ships this size carry at least 2500 passengers and some even more.  Having four cruise ships in town meant the population of Skagway had grown by at least 10000 people on this day.  As of the 2010 census, the population of the city was 920.  The population had grown ten times on this day and you could see it downtown.  The train had managed to beat me into town.

This little WWII Jeep was being driven around town by a young lady, I would run into her later again.

Skagway was a busy town, the local stores were busy making money and the restaurants were full of tourists.  As usual, wherever cruise ships dock, you are bound to find the diamond and gold dealers as well as multiple liquor stores.  I walked around entering a few stores and ended up buying a few small things for my wife and daughter.

I love the architecture, reminds me of the cowboy movies I saw as a kid before I came to the US.  Some of the stores in town.

One of the places I entered after hearing the loud country music was the Red Onion Saloon.  Apparently this place was a well known brothel and they now offer tours of the upstairs rooms. Downstairs it's a restaurant but the place was so packed that I only took two pictures and then left.
The outside picture was not taken by me, found it on the internet but the inside ones are mine.

A little further down the road was a museum of an old saloon with everything from the era.  It was interesting to read how the people lived and the story of the Klondike gold rush.

Found some interesting clothes and costumes in this place

Next was a visit to the Gold Digger Mine & Dine restaurant where I grabbed a cup of coffee and a few really good chocolate cookies.  Next door was the Sugar Mamas.

Next stop was by the huge 129 ton snow plow.  This train was part of the White Pass snow fleet and the funny thing is that it was built in 1899 by the Cooke Locomotive & Machinery Company of Patterson, New Jersey, about 4500 miles away.  I couldn't find any information if the train had been built in NJ and then taken to Skagway.

I jumped back on the bike but before leaving Skagway I rode to the port to go see the cruise ships up close.  I have to convince my wife to do a cruise to Alaska, she doesn't like the cold and prefers the warm waters of the Caribbean.

While in town I had run into a few of the other riders from our group and they had told me about this place they had visited in the morning.  It was already mid afternoon but the days are long here, I decided to follow their advice and visit the Chilkoot Trail and Dyea Site just to the northwest of Skagway. Wiki
I leave town and start the steep climb to get to the Chilkoot area making a stop at the top to get a glance of the town and the cruise ships.

Interactive map:

It was a little over 10 miles to get there, crossed a few bridges, went down a few dirt roads and stopped to investigate an old log house.

I make it to the valley and to the former town of Dyea, park my bike and go investigating on foot.  There's absolutely no one in the area, I seem to be the only nut in this part of the country and I'm all alone.

The Vining and Wilkes Warehouse site, not much of it is left today but this place was busy in 1898.

Next was a visit to the old cemetery.  I wonder why this poor guy was shot in the mountains

Some of the people in this cemetery died during the April 3rd, 1898 avalanche.

I had seen signs about this location being bear country and here I am walking around without any protection, my bike more than 100 yards away.  Every few minutes I would stop and stand quietly listening for any weird or growling sounds.  I head back to the bike, it was getting late and I still had a long way back.

I make my way back to the bike trying not to make too much noise, I was actually a little worried because I hadn't seen anyone all afternoon and this is really in the middle of nowhere.  My bike was alone by the time I got to her but what if a bear had been nearby? what would I do? what would be the best place to hide?  These were all thoughts running through my mind.

I will leave the return trip for my next blog entry, this post is already too long and heavy with photos.

The good thing about Google and Blogger is they make it easy to see all the pictures at once.  Other bloggers post the pictures with other sites and it makes you go out and then have to come back to the blog.


  1. words. Absolutely gorgeous. I love the panoramas. Really capture the scenery well.

    Did you run across any signage about how many of those buildings in Skagway are "original"? I loved see the photos from the past. It seems like some of those buildings were the same.

    Dyea seems so isolated! But I would also love a house on the rocks when the scenery "changed". aaahhh...

    Thanks for all the photos.

    1. Some might be original but to answer your question, no, I didn't see dates on any.
      Yea, I love the old American stuff. Dyea is really isolated, there are a few camp sites and people go down the river in rafts. Glad you liked the photos :-)

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, I hope you guys enjoy the photos, 10 years from now I can come back to these post and relive everything again :-)
      That is if I don't do another trip to Alaska

  3. Simply brilliant. This is bucket list stuff right here....

    1. You have to plan a trip over the Pacific, you will love going north to Alaska, let me know when you come over, I might go again with you.

  4. I remember the ride to Skagway as well, and your photos remind me of all that. I had a couple of beers at the Red Onion also, it was so good to see that again. Sounds like a fun time you had.

    1. Thanks, I had a lot of fun, things I will never forget.

  5. George:

    Thank you for all those photos. It's like I know the place already and I haven't been there yet. I'm no so sure about being alone in Bear Country

    I'm also worried about your shocks

    Riding the Wet Coast

    1. Worried about my shocks? it's a Yamaha, a few drops of oil is not going to affect it :-)
      Yea, I was concerned about the bears too but thank goodness they must have been somewhere else.

  6. Such beautiful pictures George. You are really making me want to ride to Alaska.

    I've never been there but have friends that have taken the cruise up there from Seattle.

    1. Ride, not cruise, you will have so much fun, the scenery is amazing and almost no traffic. A cruise should be cheap for you, I would love to take a cruise too but I also have to fly across the country first.

  7. Awesone stuff there George, what an amzing trip. Keep it coming.

    1. Alaska is getting closer, in a few days I'm heading north to Dawson Creek :-)

  8. Wonderful pictures, keep the posts coming. I'm going to keep the rides "local" this summer but I think Skagway qualifies.

    1. Thanks Richard. You will love it. By the way, have you done the Denali Highway?

  9. Breathtaking scenery ... and photos that captured the history and feel of the area. I'm enjoying your memories for sure.
    PS Looking forward to meeting with you and your wife in NYC. Plans have finalized, will be in the city March 9 through 12, hope you've got a free moment.

    1. I have it on my calendar :-)
      You can email me at george.Ferreira at gmail . com when you get to NY and which day would be better to meet.