Whitehorse, YT, CA
Saturday, August 17, 2013
Overcast, cleared in pm, high 60s

This was a work and "catch-up" day.

Sandy got a good, long sleep-in while Bill got started on the log for the website and on assembling the newsletter for Sandy's Lancaster Celiac Support Group.

Later, Sandy got started on the laundry and then headed downtown to resupply our larder with groceries.

With all the chores put to bed we celebrated with a dinner of sautéed shrimp with garlic, corn on the cob and a nice, fresh salad.

Whitehorse to Skagway, AK
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Partly sunny, high 50s, some rain showers

Getting on the road about 9:15, we headed out the Alaska Highway and then down the South Klondike Highway towards Skagway. Skagway would be the launching point for our eventual exit from Alaska via a series of ferry-ride destinations through Southeast Alaska. But that hardly meant that our Alaskan adventure was over, beginning with today's drive, which was beautiful!

One of the first eye-candy treats was Emerald Lake. Blessed with crystal clear water, the lake also has a white, marl bottom formed from the remains of ancient corals. Unlike most lake bottoms, the marl is a good reflector of light making the lake water appear multiple shades of beautiful blue-green.

Sunlight Reflects off White Marl Bottom of Emerald Lake

Then there was the Carcross Desert. Claiming it to be the world's smallest desert, it actually seems pretty much like Sleeping Bear Dunes along Lake Michigan. Sand is carried to Lake Bennett by the Watson River. Low, spring water levels allow the wind to blow the sand onto the beach, eventually forming sand dunes. Only a few square miles, it sure looks like a desert!

Lake Bennett Unlikely Source of Desert Sands near Carcross, YT

The small town of Carcross, once known as Caribou Crossing, lies at the north eastern end of Lake Bennett. It was on the route of Klondike-bound gold rush prospectors who came off the Chilkoot and White Pass trails on their way to the Yukon. Carcross later became a mining center and an early Alaskan tourist destination with the construction of a railroad. It then fell into relative obscurity when roads finally passed through the area and on to Whitehorse and beyond.

Today the small town is experiencing a rebirth. Restoration of many of the old, downtown log structures is underway. Other, new tourism facilities have been constructed and there are very nice historical displays. The rejuvenated railroad carries many cruise ship passengers up from Skagway. And Native Americans, who own the land in the area, have constructed a first-class series of mountain bike trails that attract riders from far, far away. One entrepreneur even offers heli-bike tours! Bill was especially interested in the unusual method used to construct local log cabins. Instead of making corners with overlapping logs, they simply nailed logs to corner-boards. It seemed to Bill to be a poor construction method but there are still quite a few of the structures remaining after more than 100 years so it can't be all bad.

Corner Post Style of Log Construction Seen in Carcross is Unusual

Parts of the rest of the drive to Skagway were unique and it was all very scenic. First came a series of long lakes including Lake Bennett, Tagish Lake and its extension, Windy Arm, followed by Tutshi Lake. Then we got into the area called the Tormented Valley.

Tortured Valley a Maze of Rocks and Ponds

Faded Fireweed Shows up over Tutshi Lake

Tormented Valley looked like a moonscape. It is the transition zone between lower elevations, with trees, and the true alpine area, above the tree line. But, in this case, the area extends through a long valley pocked with tiny lakes and ponds and is populated with twisted, small, Alpine firs called mop heads. Mop heads are shaped by combination of heavy snow, that buries and protects the lower branches, and raging, winter winds that beat up and sculpt the upper ones. Altogether it is a crazy but beautiful area.

Cairn Building is Popular along Tortured Valley

Beginning to descend through the coast mountains towards the sea, the traveler crosses the unusual, William Morris suspension bridge that spans a deep, 110 foot-wide gorge. There are waterfalls everywhere including another Bridal Veil Falls and falls named Pitchfork.

We finally reentered the US and Alaska, clearing customs a few miles outside Skagway. It was there that we encountered a couple of downhill bicycle tours. Operators carry bikers up through the mountains and they coast back down. There was a group of about twenty of them in front of us at customs. Fortunately, clearing customs was expedited for the group instead of clearing as individuals. Whew!

We checked out the area camping facilities and chose the Garden City RV Park. It was quiet, had Wi-Fi, hookups and showers and was in town but away from the downtown cruise ship crowds.

Heading for town, our first stop was the Visitor Center which is housed in the historic, Arctic Brotherhood Hall. (The Arctic Brotherhood was a fraternal society of old-time Alaska veterans.) The building was artfully decorated by covering the entire front with driftwood more than 100 years ago. All of the thousands of pieces were recently removed, cleaned and refastened. Nearly all of the original driftwood is said to remain.

Arctic Brotherhood Hall, now Skagway's Visitor Center, is a Great Example of Rustic, Decorative Art

We cruised past the many shops that cater to the cruise ship crowds. We'll save the shopping for ourselves for later. We did walk along a tiny, tiny creek that winds through town. No more than two or three feet across, it was crowded with spawning salmon. It was hard to imagine that fish that big could actually navigate up that tiny stream.

We opted to have dinner at the Skagway Brewing Company in town. The place was crowded, even though the cruise ship folks had long departed. The burgers were outstanding. The beer very tasty. Both are recommended!

The wind came up that night and the temperatures dropped. Hmmmmm?