Cruise through Alaska, June 2001

You may wonder what can top riding a jet-powered helicopter to the top of a glacier, and I gotta tell you, not much can. Even though a train ride doesn't sound like it would be as exciting as the helicopter, I assure you, the views were awe-inspiring. Our weather was once again- Incredible. No rain and 60 degrees in the valley.

-Skagway, Alaska: Day Three Part I-
"The Train Ride"

Skagway is a little town that probably holds about 345 people in residence. Residence, I would have to assume, means you tough it out during the winter. There was a welcome sign with population, but I don't remember it, now. This was the launching place for the Alaskan gold rush. I have to confess, I didn't even know there was a gold rush before our visit, but that's the reason we like to go places we've never been- To learn something.
For the railroad trip, we were advised to get a car near the end of the train because of the smoke and fumes are strong at the front. We were also advised to sit on the left side for the view. This is a must for the trip up. This was good advice for good pictures of the train, and there weren't many fumes on the way up. But on the trip down.. Whoa, boy. Read on.

The White Pass & Yukon Route railroad was started to get the gold-hungry settlers over the treacherously cold mountains and on their way to Gold. Had the picture above not been taken from a that very same track, I may have gotten all of the sign.

Today, the railroad trips up the mountain are about the only thing Skagway has to offer the thousands of tourists who see the town for the first and last time in their lives each day. It made me wonder what living there must be like and how one manages living in a place and being friendly every day to new people during only one season each year.

That thing is a snow plow locomotive. That red scoop up front holds a huge spinning set of blades that carve our train's route through the snow. You'll see the snow in pictures below.

At the base of the mountains, everything is very green and beautiful. It's so serene, and the air is so pure you could swear you're in a storybook. This is the river that we follow all along our trek up the mountain.

Like any good, American boy, I was as intrigued by the train as anything else. You'll see lots of pictures of the train, and you may even catch that in some of them at least, I was really going for the scenery.

An innocent feeder stream- just one of those thing you never see lining in the flatlands.

A view of the valley- our starting point. That spec of white dead-center in the water is our cruise ship. This is ten minutes into the train ride.

You loose a little something when you can't hear the jet-like rush of the water in these pictures. These are class six rapids- no one has ever navigated them and lived to tell about it. Yikes!

Yes, the train. But ya gotta admit that it's cool, don't you? I mean look at it- it's just cut right into the side of this mountain and churning all of us up to the top.

Skagway tries to feed a lot off of it's violent gold miner history. The tell you about this guy that has one of those names like "Scruffy McGoldhandler" or something and how he shot people until he got shot himself. Whatever. Just let the view sell itself.

To the right is a pretty incredible bridge. These are the things that you only really see in model railroads. You miss out on the true effect of seeing this monster in real life, but maybe I can help you out if you look at the picture a bit more closely.

See how at the middle of the bridge starts a huge upside-down "Vee"? That's the two football field span that the bridge covers. Even more impressive? With the possible exception of some steam power, mules and men did it all.

As a passenger on the train, you have two choices: You can either stay inside where it's not warm, but it is warmer, or you can camp out as I did on the end of your car and just repeat the word "wow" to yourself about a hundred thousand times. There is only room for two or three people on the platform at a time, and only one corner where you end up actually seeing the view instead of the other side where there is only a mountain side. Inside the train, your tour guide will tell you about the trees, the rivers, the this, the that. I missed out on a bit of information, but it's really fun to just sit back and let your senses enjoy themselves.

On the left side of this picture, you see the track that we were just on. Ever climbing, it's getting ever colder. Notice the snow just a few hundred feet above the track? Yes, I was still standing outside. To me, the view is worth any chill. My wife was inside, she gets chilled easily.

This is a smaller bridge leading into a tunnel. For a one time model railroad nut, this was another great part of the trip. Tunnels, bridges into mountains, rivers running underneath. Wow, it would be fun to make a model railroad like this.

Well, once you get to the summit, things are outright chilly. It's still worth hanging around outside because of all the snow and the really cool border flags. When you get there, you'll see two sets of tracks. The locomotive uses the second set to run around the cars and hook back up for the trip down. This is when picking a car at the end of the train becomes the second best choice: You end up at the front of the train on the way down. You also learn about the hinges on the seats of the cars. The seat backs shift around so that you can ride facing front rather than back on the way down. Here's where sitting on the left side is not such a great idea. It follows logically that the folks on the right side of the car now get the best view. Ahh well, to the platform, then.

When I saw snow, I mean snow. This is the path that the snowplow locomotive makes. The snow is almost as high as the cars. Remember, it's June!

These are the flags showing the border crossing into Canada from the US.

The trip down is just as pretty, and just as much fun. Here is another picture of the couple we traveled with, Jim and Gladys. They have been married forever and are still just goofy over one another. We really like hanging around them.

We had to get back for my second excursion: A bicycle ride from 4,000 ft elevation down to sea level. It was fun and I did things I never have on a bike. See Part II for more on that.

On to Part II
>>Day 3<<
Skagway, Alaska