“GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!” In the history of eye-catching newspaper headlines, this Seattle Post Intelligencer attention getter from July 17, 1897 did its job. Gold fever hit the nation right between the eyes. Suddenly everyone knew about such places as the Klondike River, Canada’s Yukon Territory and one small, soon-to-be-very-busy Alaska town: Skagway.
Located at the base of White Pass Trail—declared one of the “easier” treks to the Yukon gold fields—Skagway became a boomtown for many stampeders and other opportunistic businesses. Preparing to trek through the rough, tough, freezing and unforgiving wilderness wasn’t easy; neither was the trip itself.
Many gold seekers—and their animals—didn’t make it. Some managed to find their way back, whether or not they found gold. By sharp contrast, my recent trip up the pass was a lot easier…
Looking for a relaxing way to enjoy the mountain scenery, our cruise group of travel companions chose the White Pass Summit Excursion. How exciting to ride in an actual vintage train car! We boarded not too far from our ship, and began our own climb up to the pass. Along the way, we were treated to gorgeous views and brought up to speed on the train’s features—and its original purpose…
In that first year of attempts to reach the Klondike, and with soooooo many would-be miners struggling for a safer way over the pass than by foot, railroad companies and their tycoons soon found their way to Skagway.
Making our way through tunnels and along the rugged terrain, our train conductors and staff shared details of the train’s history along with fun facts about the flora and fauna visible just outside our cars.
The thrilling part for me was standing on the platforms between the connecting cars—one amazingly unobstructed view after another! I tried to imagine the views had by the construction workers all those years ago…
Just nine months after the infamous GOLD! newspaper headline hit the streets, the new White Pass & Yukon Railroad Company began construction. And about nine months after that, the main track reached the summit. It would be another year before the tracks made it all the way to the Yukon—about the time the gold rush came to an end.
Crazy working conditions for the thousands who built this engineering marvel, but appreciated by all who dared brave their way to—and from—their would-be treasure. And for the WP&YR, there was plenty of life after the gold rush.
From my perch on the platform, I loved seeing the train itself make its way along the bends and trestles of the track. The spectacular waterfalls—and trees growing from rock—were breathtaking.
But our own trip hit a bit of a snag; technical difficulties with one of the switches caused us to make a stop near the summit. We had to turn back before reaching our destination: White Pass.
The conductors and crew handled it all professionally, even assuring price discounts—and free swag—for all passengers onboard. Heading back down the tracks, I thought briefly of those hopeful miners and critters hiking up the freezing trail who had to turn back too. Only they wouldn’t have been issued a refund…
Ready to stretch my legs after our train ride, I made my way along the boardwalks and sidewalks of Skagway in search of souvenirs. And coffee. And a pastry. In general, such items aren’t terribly difficult to find in your average tourist town, except my family back home requested game meat. Um… okay…
I’d already located my java beverage at the White Pass Coffee Bar, but wanted to check items off my souvenir list first before enjoying my treats. As luck would have it, I found such gamey gifts—and my pastry—at Klondike Doughboy. Hurray! What a fun, clean adorable store—and the fry bread is amazing! They had a good selection of vacuum-sealed cured meat treats too; perfect for my shopping quest.
I doubled back to the coffee bar for my iced latte, then found a park bench to rest and refresh with my delicious fry bread and caffeine goodness. Ahhhhhhh…yum…
As I made my way back to the ship, I happened upon placards, statues and old time photos honoring the many people, businesses and events that put this boomtown on the map. For the very few fortunate enough to find gold, their claims and names would make the record books.
For everyone else, well… some are forever captured in the many sepia photos showcased throughout the town. I think it’s pretty cool of Skagway to remember and honor those who dared to dream; to reach those fields of gold. J💰