Alaska Part Two - Fairbanks to Skagway

29th August, 1997
30th August, 1997
31st August, 1997
1st September, 1997
2nd September, 1997

Friday, 29th August, 1997

Wharf photograph

Discovery Wharf, Fairbanks, Alaska

Drop Cap oday we had an enjoyable morning on board the MV Discovery III, a stern paddle wheeler of three decks. The day was cool, but got progressively sunnier as we went along. We sat outside and got a little sunburnt. We went along the Chena River to its junction with the Nenana, seeing the melding of the clear waters of the Chena with the glacial, silt filled Nenana, like cream swirling with coffee. We passed carefully orchestrated shoreline events, like an Indian Fish Camp, where an Indian lady gutted and cleaned a salmon in seconds. We saw a beaver lodge on the river bank and had the luck to see the beaver himself, swimming across the river with some freshly cut greens which he was apparently stockpiling for the winter when the river freezes.

Chena photograph

Discovery 1 on Chena River, Alaska

Drop Cap ur wildlife count is getting quite impressive. Talk about All Creatures Great and Small. There is a large field in the middle of Fairbanks which the airport management ploughs each year and sows with attractive bird seed, and it is the meeting place for huge groups of geese and cranes as they get ready to fly south for the winter. The airport does this to stop them landing on the runways. Heads up thinking!

Drop Cap ut back to the river! We called in for an hour to an Indian Village unused now but authentic, it dates from when the whites started having an impact on the Indians and they stopped their nomadic hunting and gathering and turned into herders and farmers. It was very interesting and well presented by young women descended from the tribes (who are now at University in Alaska).

Goldmine photograph

Mac at Eldorado Mine, Fairbanks, Alaska

Drop Cap e returned to the hotel, where we ate three cookies and some apple juice left over from yesterday's box lunch, then went to spend the afternoon at the El Dorado Mine. This is a real gold mine, run for the tourists during the summer and for real the rest of the time. Here we rode through a mine tunnel in a steam train, having dialogues with miners etc. We saw a demonstration of their gold cradling techniques, then had a go at panning. We got a few flakes, they guarantee everyone will. They weighed it up and it was about $6 between us. Some of the others got $15 and $16 worth. They don't however, buy it back from you!

Pipeline photograph

Part of the Alaska Pipeline, near Fairbanks, Alaska

Drop Cap e made a quick stop on the way back into Fairbanks to see a section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline which pumps crude oil from the field in the Arctic Circle in Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, where it is shipped out. It is quite impressive although the Green Movement has made them commit to removing the whole thing after the oil is finished.

Drop Cap ut tonight for our optional salmon bake and show at Alaskaland. This is in an old village, moved and reconstructed here in the manner of the Australiana Village. We had an outdoor meal of barbecued ribs of beef, and salmon, and baked or deep fried cod and halibut. Fish is big in Alaska. but there were lots of salads and vegs. Then we saw the show at the Palace Theatre and Saloon. "The Golden Heart Revue". It was fun with lots of singing and old jokes. We have to get up at crack of dawn again tomorrow so I'll end this here. So to bed.

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Saturday 30th August, 1997

Roadhouse photograph

Rikas Roadhouse, Alaska

Drop Cap p at 5 a.m. this morning to put out the bags and have an early breakfast. Today's journey was some fourteen hours including stops for food etc. We drove down the Alaska Highway till we got to Delta Junction where there was a comfort and coffee stop at Rika's Roadhouse. This is a historic site and quite interesting, being a turn of the century overnight stopping place for sledding travellers. Something like a modern day motel. We had hot chocolate and "bear paws" here (large, freshly baked cinnamon bun pastries, sinfully delicious) then went on. Rika's giftshop had what they called "mosquito traps". They were miniature rabbit traps about an inch and a half long. Alaskan mosquitoes are legendary. They also sold Australian Clothing Co. Drizabone type jackets for $190, less 30%. We resisted both, then went on.

Drop Cap he scenery was spruce forest with the occasional lake or river and mountains in the background. We stopped for lunch at Tok. Mac and I shared a BLT and chips and had a soft drink each. I understand Tok used to be a trading centre for the Athabascan Indians but there is nothing there now but a couple of cafes, gift shops and gas stations.

Drop Cap fter this we seemed to drive forever through quite spectacular scenery. Mostly tundra with some stunted spruce. The tundra is changing colour as autumn approaches and the hills are an impressionist picture all in shades from pink to purple, red, orange, russet, even yellow and green. Absolutely beautiful - if you didn't know it was plants you could believe the colours were those of the Red Centre of Australia.

Chicken photograph

Chicken, Alaska

Drop Cap n the mid afternoon we came to the seething metropolis of Chicken, Alaska. This consists of four shops, gas pumps and outhouses and makes Aussie outback towns seem positively sophisticated. Apparently its name (which I thought was a recipe, like bombe Alaska) came from the peculiar spelling of ptarmigan, which is a game bird and the state bird of Alaska. They intended to call the town "Ptarmigan" but when the messenger mushed through to the State Capital to register the name, he had forgotten how to spell it, so said, oh hell, let's call it Chicken!

Casino photograph

Diamond Tooth Gertie's Gambling Saloon, Dawson City, Yukon Territory

Drop Cap nyway, some hours further on we came to the border of USA (Alaska) and Canada (Yukon). We all got cutesy stamps showing a prospector and a donkey in our passports. Then on, past gold claims both working and derelict, and finally the ferry across the Yukon River! And into Dawson City, scene of the Klondike Gold Rush. The town has changed very little since then, since Whitehorse became the state capital and Dawson practically became a ghost town. However, it is being restored by profits from Diamond Tooth Gertie's Gambling Saloon (the only legitimate casino in Canada) and is a registered historic site.

Drop Cap ur hotel is too. Very western movie, you expect John Wayne to erupt from the balcony and have a slugfest in the mud of the main street (no tarmac. here, just elevated wooden sidewalks). We are here for two nights so hope to see a lot more of Dawson City.

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Sunday, 31st August, 1997

Drop Cap fter a relatively late morning sleep (compared with others recently) we had a very longwinded breakfast (not our fault, very slow service). We then had a tour of Dawson City. We saw the Yukon River, The Klondike River of golden reputation, Robert W. Service's cabin and Jack London's cabin (he wrote "Call of the Wild" which Mac read at school) the museum, some old steam engines, the fire station, the steamer "Keno" and lots of brightly painted old wooden cottages (they use bright colours to cheer themselves up when the sun doesn't come over the mountain all winter) one of which had the first cat we have seen on this side of the world sitting on the front step wearing a bell. We saw the bank where Robert W. Service worked. It is made of wood covered with metal cladding (precaution against fire) painted to look like decaying stone (only because the paint was peeling) It actually looked surprisingly like stone.

Dredge photograph

Dredge No. 4, Bonanza Creek, Yukon Territory

Drop Cap hen we went up to Bonanza Creek to see Dredge No. 4. This enormous structure dug itself a pond, anchored itself in it and chewed up everything in wide sweeping arcs, separating the gold and spitting out the rubbish the other end. It was abandoned in the fifties and has been half sunk in frozen silt ever since. It has been restored after 30 years of this by the Canadian army engineers on behalf of Parks Canada and is a very interesting site.

Bonanza photograph

Discovery Claim, Bonanza Creek, Yukon Territory

Drop Cap e then moved on to the site of the to Discovery claim, where George Carmacks, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie first found the Bonanza Gold. There is nothing there now, really, but a commemorative plaque, but we looked at it anyway.

Cabin photograph

Robert W. Service's Cabin, Dawson City, Yukon Territory

Drop Cap e returned to Dawson for lunch, then spent the afternoon in Yukon cultural pursuits. We watched the beginning of the 20th Annual Grand International Outhouse Race, which had teams of idiots pushing a decorated mock dunny with someone inside, around the pubs, then we walked up the hill to Robert W. Service's cabin where an elderly actor tells the story of Service's life interspersed with recitations of his work. We had "Dan McGrew" and "Sam McGee" and several others, he was very good. Mac walked around the town, saw a bit of a baseball game, walked through a park with a small field gun and a howitzer, saw a couple of skidoos (a sort of motorcycle without wheels but one tractor type track.) then came to pick me up.

Drop Cap e walked back to the hotel to hear the news of Princess Diana's death in Paris. What a tragedy - talk about hounded by the paparazzi to her death!

Drop Cap fter dinner we went to the Palace Grand Theatre for the Gaslight Follies. This was typical vaudeville, but quite entertaining. They picked two of our group who were in the front row as "victims" to help with the jokes (they have been rechristened "Mo and Gus" for the duration) and we all had a ball.

Drop Cap here appear to be about five hotels in the town, which with a population of about 2000, seems a little excessive. Tomorrow, off to Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon and HQ of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Monday 1st September, 1997

moose photograph

Mac's Moose at Moose Creek Lodge

Drop Cap long drive today through some very beautiful scenery. This country is so big and in general so beautiful (except where gold dredges have turned the ground inside out). We stopped for coffee at Moose Creek Lodge, full of peculiar statuary made with antlers etc. We drove through State Parks with picnic areas and had lunch, a packed box lunch picnic by the Yukon River.

Yukon photograph

Five Finger Rapids, Yukon River, Alaska

Drop Cap fter this we drove to a lookout over Five Finger Rapids, which was a sinister bend in the river which regularly trapped people and wrecked the boats. It was very picturesque but looked very peaceful this afternoon. After this we dozed through admittedly scenic areas but really it is like travelling in Australia - lots of very similar country for hundreds of miles. We watched a video of some of Robert Service's poems in action and then reached the "Marge of Lake Labarge" where he cremated Sam McGee. It is lovely. Then on to the Alaska Highway and Whitehorse.

Steamship photograph

PS Klondike at Whitehorse, Alaska

Drop Cap fter dinner we walked several blocks to where the paddle wheel vessel Klondike is in dry dock being restored. She was the last of the riverboats on the Yukon River. We have been trying to phone Geoff but getting no answer for a couple of days. Hope he is OK.

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Tuesday, 2nd September, 1997

Drop Cap ell, we know now why we haven't been getting any response from Geoff. We had to get up before 6 am today so took the opportunity to call home. Neil answered! Apparently Geoff has been in hospital since Sunday with gastroenteritis leading to diabetic complications. Neil was contacted by the Pearces and is holding the fort. Oh boy.

Drop Cap e set off in the general direction of Skagway but made an early stop at Beringia, a new exhibition just out of Whitehorse, which showcases archaeological and palaeontological discoveries in the Yukon and Alaska. Beringia is the name given to the land bridge that used to exist and is now the Bering Straits. They had skeletons and mockups of mammoths, giant bears and sloths and all these ancient creatures which used to roam here and of which they have found evidence in mines and caves. It was very interesting.

Bear photograph

Mac and Friend at Heritageland, Yukon

Drop Cap e headed off again towards Skagway, pausing for coffee and pitstops at Heritageland, which has a largish exhibit of stuffed animals, bears and things as well as some live Bighorn sheep and a family of lynxes. The lynx was very attractive, really, very catlike with large flat feet.

Lake photograph

Emerald Lake, Yukon Territory near Carcross, Canada

Drop Cap e passed another lovely Emerald Lake, (lack of originality is distressing) Gorgeous though, then drove on through Carcross, an Indian Village where the Indian friends of George Carmacks, the discoverers of the Bonanza Creek lode lived until their deaths.

White Pass photograph

From the train, White Pass and Yukon Railway

Drop Cap hen we caught the train, the White Pass and Yukon Route, down White Pass from just beyond the summit at Fraser, down to Skagway. This was a wonderful run, the best of all the lovely train trips we have done on these tours, with hugely scenic deep gorges, waterfalls, and other natural wonders and a glimpse of the old Trail of 98, which the horde of men and some women struggled up through terrible conditions. They had to carry a ton of provisions (literally) to see them through at least a year and had to carry it on their backs, as much as they could carry in one trip, single file, hanging on to a rope, toiling upwards, then had to turn around and go back for another load. It is almost inconceivable. I decided that I would have stopped in Skagway and opened a saloon and dance hall. There's an easier way to get the gold from them there hills.

Skagway photograph

Streetscene, Skagway, Alaska

Drop Cap eaching Skagway we were released to our hotel and turned loose on the town. We wandered over the town, a very picturesque old place with wooden boardwalks and false front buildings like a western movie set. Like Dawson City but in better repair. We met again at 4 o'clock to have a quick historical tour which included the Pioneer cemetery of the gold rush days featuring the grave of Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith and the vigilante who shot him. He is a bit of a Ned Kelly, folk hero type.

Skagway photograph

Skagway Museum, Alaska

Drop Cap fter a good dinner (and I must say Globus and Princess are doing us well, all the dinners have been a la carte, and most have been supplied) we went to the Eagles Hall to see the "Days of 98 show with Soapy Smith". It was also included. Our original itinerary only gave it as a suggestion but it has turned into a provided feature. I'm sure we have had more meals than the original itinerary laid out as well.

Drop Cap omorrow we have a couple of hours to kill, then we board our cruise ship the "Regal Princess". She isn't in port yet, but I'll bet she will be when we awake. We will arise early to phone home. I hope things will be OK.

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