Magazine article Sunset

Rowdy Skagway, Sedate Haines; They're History-Rich Alaska Neighbors, 13 Miles Apart by Ferry or Plane, 360 Spectacular Miles by Car

Magazine article Sunset

Rowdy Skagway, Sedate Haines; They're History-Rich Alaska Neighbors, 13 Miles Apart by Ferry or Plane, 360 Spectacular Miles by Car

Article excerpt

They're history-rich Alaska neighbors, 13 miles apart by ferry or plane, 360 spectacular miles by car

From the start, these two Alaska towns were as different as a dance-hall girl's petticoat and a lieutenant's dress grays. In Skagway, argonauts from five continents stomped muddy streets on their way to the Klondike's gold fields. Across the Lynn Canal, Haines was a bastion of Army tradition; recruits drilled on the parade ground, and inside clapboard houses officers' wives served tea. Even today, Skagway and Haines remain very distinct. Skagway is a popular mix of history and tourist to-do. Haines is quieter, a haven for artists and craftspeople--though increased cruise service is bringing more visitors here, too. Only 13 miles apart by plane or ferry (or 360 spectacular miles by car), the towns exemplify qualities that make Alaska like nowhere else.

"Little better than hell on earth"

"Where are you from?" asks the master of ceremonies at the Skaguay in the Days of '98 Show. "Munich!" someone shouts back. "Sydney!" cries another. Skagway (from the Tlingit Indian Skaguay, perhaps meaning "place of the north wind") has always lured the hopeful from all corners of the globe. When, in 1896, gold was found in the Yukon to the north, Skagway's natural harbor made it a jumping-off place for gold seekers, gold diggers, saloonkeepers, and bunco artists. One Canadian Mountie put it bluntly: Skagway was "little better than hell on earth." Ruling the town with a mix of bonhomie and strongarm tactics was "Soapy" Smith, con man extraordinaire. Soapy would probably recognize Skagway today. Unlike many Western boom towns, it never burned down. And over the last 15 years, private citizens and the National Park Service have restored the gold rush-era buildings. Visit today and you'll find Skagway not hellish but--as Soapy himself could be--charming. However you arrive (see next page), introduce yourself to town at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park headquarters, Second Avenue and Broadway. It's open from 8 to 8 daily; (907) 983-2921. Films and displays recount the gold hunters' trek from Skagway over the Coast Mountains via two nightmarish trails, the White Pass and the Chilkoot. Park Service walking tours lead you up Broadway past landmarks including the Golden North Hotel and the Arctic Brotherhood Hall--the latter a driftwood-faced building that looks to have been built by beavers. You can also see the town by private bus tours (check at hotels) or by livery (just hop aboard on Broadway). Or walk on your own: pick up the pamphlet Footsteps into the Land of Gold at the Skagway Convention and Visitors' Bureau, in City Hall, Seventh Avenue and Spring Street. The bureau can also advise on lodging. Other Skagway highlights: Days of '98 Museum. Housed in Skagway's granite City Hall, the museum contains important gold rush artifacts including mining equipment, household goods, newspapers. At Seventh Avenue and Spring Street, it's open 8 to 6 daily; admission is $2, $1 students; 983-2420. Skaguay in the Days of '98. This garter-snapping production makes a comic melodrama of Soapy Smith's rise and fall. Where else will you hear lyrics like, "It's the tundra that tears my heart asunder/Moonlight, the Yukon, and you"? At the Eagles Hall, on Broadway between Fifth and Sixth avenues, shows start at 9 P.M. daily. Tickets are $10, $5 ages under 12; 983-2545. White Pass and Yukon Railroad. As miners flocked over the White Pass Trail, financiers saw that a railroad might be profitable. To build it, workers dangled from cliffs and braved winter temperatures of -60 [degrees]. Now the narrow-gauge train hauls tourists along its vertginious route, starting the 3-hour round trip daily at 9 and 1:30. Fares are $69 for adults, $34.50 for ages 12 and under. Write to White Pass and Yukon Route, Box 435, Skagway 99840, or call (800) 343-7373 or (907) 983-2217. Chilkoot Trail. This competing route to the gold fields began in Dyea, 8 miles north of Skagway. …

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