Alaska 2019 – Part 2, Juneau to Skagway

Part 1 described the first two days of our trip. Day 1 was spent traveling from from LAX to Vancouver BC. Day 2 was an “At Sea” travel day towards our first stop in Juneau.

This post chronicles the next two days as we visit Juneau and Skagway.

Monday 24th – Juneau and Whale Watching

We started the day still at sea heading towards Juneau. The scheduled time of arrival was 1:00 pm. My morning was similar to yesterday, with an early morning start to take pictures and drink coffee. This was followed by formal breakfast in the dining room with the rest of the family at 7:30 am.

After breakfast, we were back in the Hudson Room with SAS until we docked at Juneau. We spent the morning going over Alaskan history with a focus on Juneau.

We squeezed in a quick lunch on the Lido deck before we docked. Gretchen took a picture of me enjoying what she describes as the first lunchtime “double dessert” of the trip. It was not the last, and double desserts were enjoyed at both lunch and dinner most nights.

Double Dessert

The ship arrived in Juneau right on schedule and we disembarked soon thereafter. All of us were dressed for Alaskan weather, when we should have been dressed for southern California. I was way too hot for most of the day. The sun was out, and when we got back, I read that Alaska was (is?) in the middle of a sustained heat wave.

Since this is our first port, I will describe the usual harbor scene. The towns of Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan rely on the cruise ships to bring a steady supply of people and money. There are always multiple cruise ships in the harbors, and the population of these towns swell every morning with the influx of passengers as they disembark. I will say that the towns were not my favorite parts of the trip. The excursions outside of the towns were more interesting to me.

Now that I have that off my chest, the town of Juneau was interesting. It is the capitol of Alaska and has a rich history dating back to the good rush days. We had a good time walking through the town, visiting shops and stopping off at the town museum.

We eventually split up with Axel, Megan, and Darwin going off to visit a local brewery, and Gretchen and I heading back to the ship to get in a quick nap before the whale watching trip. We all regrouped in town around 3:15pm to catch a bus to our whale watching excursion.

Juneau and the Orca Point Lodge

The description from the SAS brochure describing our afternoon as follows. I didn’t think I could improve on it.

JUNEAU – Whale Watching in Auke Bay & Salmon Bake 
In the wildlife rich waters around Juneau, we’ll search for humpback whales and other wildlife. The extraordinarily productive waters of the area support several dozen resident humpback whales that stay in the area all summer. Through our journey in Auke Bay we pull into the Orca Point Lodge on Colt Island to enjoy a genuine Alaska-style salmon bake. You’re welcome to wander the island after dinner.
Axel and Megan enjoying the balmy weather on the way to the Orca Point Lodge

Our whale watching catamaran was waiting for us when the bus arrived at the dock and we were quickly boarded and on our way. First stop was an early dinner at the Orca Point Lodge. The lodge is located on a small island about a 30 minute boat ride from the dock. The weather was beautiful and it was fun being out on the water on a sunny afternoon.

Once we arrived at the island we were ushered into an informal dining room for our early dinner of grilled salmon, green beans, salad, and bread. The food was well prepared and plentiful. I’m sure there was some kind of dessert (there is always dessert) but I can’t remember what it was.

After lunch we roamed around and checked out the beach, napped on the lawn, or visited the touch tanks maintained by the staff.

View from the Ocean Orca Point Lodge beach

Then it was back to the whale watching boat and we were off in search of whale sign. Soon we were sighting the tell-tale exhalations of the whales as they surfaced, the backs rising and falling as they “grazed”, and periodically were treated to the sights of whale tails rising and disappearing beneath the surface.

The bus got us back to the cruise ship docks around 9 pm and the ship let go lines soon thereafter. We were officially on our way at 10 pm heading to our next destination, Skagway.

Tuesday 25th – Skagway and the Klondike Gold Rush

We woke up to the views you see in the two pictures below. The plan today was to learn about, and visit the town of Skagway. As usual there were other cruise ships sharing the harbor and town with us. The other picture was of the train being set up to haul us to the top of Chilkoot Pass.

The town of Skagway was the site of one of the United States biggest gold rush events (the other being the gold fields of California). It is the beginning of the legendary Chilkoot Pass, one of the 2 passes that miners took to the gold fields. I’ve pulled the following description of the Klondike Gold rush from Wikipedia:

The Klondike Gold Rush was a migration by an estimated 100,000 prospectors to the Klondike region of the Yukon, in north-western Canada, between 1896 and 1899. Gold was discovered there by local miners on August 16, 1896, and, when news reached Seattle and San Francisco the following year, it triggered a stampede of prospectors. Some became wealthy, but the majority went in vain. It has been immortalized in popular culture, e.g., in artifacts, films, games, literature, and photographs.

To reach the gold fields, most prospectors took the route through the ports of Dyea and Skagway, in Southeast Alaska. Here, the Klondikers could follow either the Chilkoot or the White Pass trails to the Yukon River, and sail down to the Klondike. The Canadian authorities required each of them to bring a year’s supply of food, in order to prevent starvation. In all, the Klondikers’ equipment weighed close to a ton, which most carried themselves, in stages. Performing this task, and contending with the mountainous terrain and cold climate, meant those who persisted did not arrive until summer 1898. Once there, they found few opportunities, and many left disappointed.

from Klondike Gold Rush, Wikipedia

We barely had time to eat our usual breakfast in the dining room and get to the docks in time to board our first excursion this morning. We were scheduled to embark on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad train out of Skagway and up to the top of Chilkoot Pass. The train left the station on-time at 9 am and we were soon moving steadily up the tracks that closely parallel the old pass trail itself. In fact, there are places where you get a glimpse of the trail as you roll along.

It was another beautiful day in Alaska, and there were many opportunities to take pictures along the way. I had learned my lesson the day before and was dressed more appropriately for the weather. Even at elevation it was not too cool for just a light jacket.

Downtown Skagway showing NP Historical District Boundaries and Buildings

The afternoon plan was to visit the Klondike Gold Rush Historic National Park, and then wander around site-seeing in town for awhile.

The picture on the left shows the park boundaries, and buildings that are part of the NP, those that are privately or city owned historical structures, and everything else.

You can see that the historic District Boundary encompasses most of the downtown of Skagway. I think this mixed use arrangement is relatively special within the NP holdings.

It made the experience somewhat unique. Each time you ran across a NP building, you could go inside for a lesson on the historical use of the building. And then walk next door to a local art store. Walking downtown was a fun experience.

All of that walking, and the beautiful weather, had made us thirsty and we wandered into the Skagway Brewing Company to quench our thirst. It was right down the street from the NP visitor center. I can’t name the beer selections that we tried, but I can report that we all thought that the beer was good and that we could recommend it to other travelers.

Arctic Brotherhood Building – now an information center run by the city
Axel and Darwin at Dewey Lake

At this point, our group went our separate ways for the rest of the afternoon. Gretchen returned to the ship to hang out, Axel, Megan, and Darwin went on the hard hike up the side of the mountain to the east of town to Dewey Lake. I chose to take the easier hike to Smugglers Cove.

Sockeye Bicycle Co. hat

The trail to Smuggler’s Cove started on city streets and went past the landing strip where I got a couple of good pictures of the mountains and clouds north of Skagway. One of a nice bush plane, and the other stream running nearby.

On the way back from my walk I took a tour through the other end of town that we had skipped earlier. I was in search of a new cap and found one at the Sockeye Bicycle Company. They had a fun logo with a Sockeye Salmon riding a bike. I found a nice green cap to wear for the rest of the trip.

After that we all convened back on the ship, and got cleaned up appropriately for our dinner at the Tamarind. One of the fancier places to eat while on board, the website describes the restaurant like this:

Praised by Condé Nast Traveler for cuisine “that rivals the top restaurants on land,” Tamarind is the perfect place to explore the culinary traditions of Southeast Asia, China and Japan. The menu, which honors the elements of water, wood, fire and earth, features such exotic fare as wok-seared lobster, barramundi (Asian sea bass) in banana leaf and sushi, accompanied by chilled or heated sake. And, try our specialty sushi created in collaboration with Culinary Council member and Master Sushi Chef, Andy Matsuda.

from the Holland America website

So dressed in our best, we made our way to deck 11. I had brought a navy blue blazer for the occasion and some nice dress shoes. Everybody else in our group had also brought something nicer to wear this night.

The restaurant was pretty quiet, but maybe that’s because it was only 5:30 pm. We all thought the food was good, and the service exceptional. I’m sorry to say that there are no pictures.

We all went outside and enjoyed the views after dinner as the ship slipped lines and headed out of Skagway towards our next destination, Glacier Bay. The official departure time was 9 pm.

Leaving Skagway behind – heading for Glacier Bay

The adventure continues. Part 3 takes you to Glacier Bay. Part 4 covers the time spent in Ketchikan and the last travel day before Vancouver. Part 5 is the last post covering our time hanging in Vancouver before heading home.

Hope everyone is having a great summer.

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