Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Alaska Ride, Day 17

Summer of 1896, along the Klondike River, north of Dawson City, way up in the Yukon Territory, three men discovered gold. When word reached the States, it started the Klondike Gold Rush.

People from all over the United States, and even some in other countries, heard that gold was so plentiful in the Klondike, it was like picking up nuggets off the ground. At that time, Americans were hitting on hard times and news of easy riches sent them packing for the Klondike Gold Fields.

The problem was that getting to the Klondike was difficult. There were no roads there, no railroad, no stagecoach. The only way was to take a boat from San Francisco or Seattle north to Skagway Bay.

Once at Skagway Bay, they could either land in Skagway or Dyea. At Skagway, you took the White Pass Trail north, while at Dyea you took the Chilkoot Trail north. Both landed you at the headwaters of the Yukon River, and from there you took rafts for 500 miles to Dawson City.

They were called "Stampeders", because they caught gold fever, and feverishly stampeded up through mountains of ice without realizing the harsh winters that awaited them.

Stampeders arriving at Skagway, AK

And when they got to Dawson City, they discovered that every square inch of land in the Klondike Gold Fields had already been staked. There wasn't even a spec of gold dust a stampeder could lay his hands on. Several of them turned right back around and headed home. But many others stayed in Dawson City and helped build it into what it is today. They constructed railroad tracks that lead south to Skagway. They helped build the river boats, install electricity, started businesses of their own, and at the time built Dawson City into one of the largest cities in all of Canada.

And once the railroad opened up, the town of Dyea died, while Skagway's future was secured.

Today, the stampeders continue to arrive into Skagway by boat. Except they're stampeding for souvenirs, photographs, fine dining, and entertainment. And they're still making the long journey up to Dawson City, except by tour bus.

Funny how things change but still seem to remain the same.

Having spent my day in Skagway, I understand how closely tied it is to Dawson City. Neither city would be what it is today if not for the stampeders.

Today, stampeders still arrive at Skagway by boat.

It rained all night long at Dyea Campground, and it poured. The region around Skagway is mountainous, and the tall mountains force the ocean air high upwards where it cools down, condenses, and forms clouds. And these clouds seemingly have nowhere to go, but rain back down on Skagway.

Next morning, I thought about waiting out the rain inside my tent, but realized that was a bad idea. Still pouring down, I packed up my camp, and headed back into Skagway on my Honda ST.

The fuel gauge said I only had 30 miles left in the tank. I asked a local on where the gas station was. She pointed me in the direction. As it turns out, Skagway has only one gas station, and that station has only one pump. I mean, hardly anyone drives around here; 90% of the people are from cruise ships, another 9% are locals who just walk everywhere, and the other 1% drove vehicles in from out of town.

In fact, considering the hordes of people walking through downtown Skagway, parking is plentiful. You can find a parking space just about anywhere.

I had breakfast at a cafe called "Corner Cafe". There I ran into a couple on dual sports I had met several days ago at Big Creek Campground, off the Alaskan Highway. We updated each other on our travels, and then bid each other farewell.

Corner Cafe, Skagway, AK, 4th Street & State

I managed to walk through the entire town, and made good on my promise to buy my wife a souvenir.

It was still raining hard, and the temperature felt like mid-40s all day long. I tried to warm up at a Starbucks shop, but they wouldn't accept the Starbucks Card as payment. I thought that was ridiculous. I mean, why have a Starbucks Card if some stores are not even going to take them? So I walked out on them.

I was told the public library has free Wi-Fi. So I went there. I found about 15 people crammed into a small room set up just for Wi-Fi users. I tried to get on, but for some reason my netbook couldn't communicate with the library's network.

So I left town, and headed back to Whitehorse.

Downtown Skagway, in the rain

In Skagway, you can buy bacon-flavored toothpicks

A taxidermy grizzly watches over the Corrington Museum of Alaskan History

"I don't always smoke, but when I do, I prefer salmon"

Stampeders placed these harnesses over their dogs to carry their supplies.
Originally they used horses, but horses could not endure the frost.
Pack dogs became so valuable, stampeders stole them from each other.

Jewelry is the hottest commodity in Skagway.
Every second or third store in Skagway is a jewelry store.

You can buy all five Alaskan Harley dealer t-shirts in one place.

I don't know why, but this building seemed strange.


  1. Brings back memories reading your story too. I didn't see any bacon flavored toothpicks though ;-)

  2. Starbucks REALLY sucks...and that rhymes too!


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)