Skagway, Alaska, the heart of the Gold Rush

In the first couple of years of the Gold Rush, the city of Skagway was the type of frontier town we see in western movies. It had makeshifts buildings with false fronts, gambling halls, saloons and dance halls.

We personnally do not go to Skagway to visit the now fake Gold Rush cardboard town. We go because the road between Whitehorse and Skagway is one of the most amazing roads one can drive. We go because we love to see how the landscape changes dramatically in less than 200 km as we cross over the Pass into the valley and down to sea level.

Skagway is now a cruise ship town and when we arrived, there were 3 cruise ships at the dock. The town was overflowing with tourists from all over the world, buying souvenirs by the dozen. We retreated to the Starfire, the local thai food restaurant, that felt so exotic when we lived in thai-food restaurant deprived Whitehorse. When we left, the town was empty again, the stores were closing and the locals were biking down Broadway Street again. They had their city back, until the next cruise ships...

We camped at the National Park Service Dyea campground, the heart of the ancient Gold Rush town and talked a lot about that amazing piece of history with the girls. We picked giant American bush cranberries, saw a seal playing in the sea right beside our campground in the Lynn Canal, spotted a few bald eagles and filled our lungs with the wet salty air. It reminded me of how we came to Skagway every spring, when it was still winter in Whitehorse and our bodies were hungry for the warmth of the sun, our dry skin drinking in the humidity of the Coast. 

Dyea was much less developed than its sister town Skagway. The first stampeders who arrived at Dyea Harbor found endless tidal flats stretching before them. A 2 mile long bridge was built on the flats for the stampeders to use to carry their 1,500 pounds of provision off the flats. Little remains of Dyea today, as it only existed for a single year and was deserted when the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway was completed in 1899. The upright post that you see in the sand in the next photo are all that remains of the pier that jutted across the flats of the shallow harbor. When the people left, they brought back all the wood they had used to build the houses and now, and nature has reclaimed Dyea. 

As you can imagine, standing right there in the middle of the flats sparked really interesting conversations with the girls, as we tried to imagine how busy it once was here when there were 8 000 people getting ready to leave for the gold fields. Four years ago, we briefly participated in a documentary/reality show made for TVO with the historian Gerges Hébert-Germain on the Gold Rush. We will watch it with the girls in the next few weeks, so they really get a feel of the stampeders' reality (and see their dad and themselves in it for a few seconds!).

The only real remnants of this era is the Slide Cemetery, in memory of the many  people who died in an Avalanche on the Chilkoot Trail, trying to reach the gold fields.