I’m currently on a 4-day tour of what is marketed as the “Golden Circle Route”, from Whitehorse to Skagway, Haines, Haines Junction and back. With me is Julie Odell, Program Administrator for Road Scholar, a tour company which some of you may remember as Elderhostel. They are returning to the Yukon and Alaska in a major way this year, and have 15 programs set up, of which I’m guiding two of 15 days each. My job on this 4-day tour is to show Julie what a tour will look like day-to-day.
After a day of talking about the programs with Julie, 2 admin people from Ruby Range Adventure, who has the contract to run many of the tours, and one of the other guides, Julie and I headed to Skagway at 5:30pm. Our first little bit of wildlife was at the Bove Island viewpoint, where we met this Gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis), who really thought that we should have brought a little something for him to eat.
At Dail Peak, seeing Dall sheep and/or mountain goats isn’t at all unusual, but seeing a herd of almost 20 mountain goats is!
As we descended to Tushi Lake, I explained that this is one of the the places where we see black bears first in the spring, and as if on cue, there was this very healthy-looking fellow beside the road.
Nearing the White Pass summit, we stopped for a couple of minutes to watch a very impressive snowmobile stunt with a Sled Porn crew filming it from a helicopter. After the usual quick and friendly crossing into Alaska, we found another black bear (a much skinnier one) grazing beside the road.
We checked into the Westmark Hotel, and I went for dinner at the Skagway Brewing Company and then for a wander to get some photos of Skagway getting ready for the first cruise ship of the season which would arrive early the next morning.
I haven’t seen Skagway at night in many years. I really like the experience.
Some of the stores worked late into the night – this was shot at 9:35.
I was down on the dock just after 05:00 yesterday morning, as the cruise ships often arrive that early despite most of the itineraries saying that they arrive at 07:00. The tug Le Cheval Rose was already warming up. This was shot from the new breakwater at 05:20 as a light rain fell.
Thinking about the best place to shoot the ship’s arrival from, I decided that with a very low tide, the beach at the mouth of the Skagway River would work, so I walked out the Yakutania Point trail and climbed down to the beach.
It seemed funny to be greeting a cruise ship when the mountains had gotten a fresh dusting of snow overnight!
I saw the Carnival Spirit when she was still miles down Taiya Inlet – this was shot at 06:22.
As the ship got tied up, I chatted with one of the guides for Chilkoot Charters who was waiting for his group.
The first cruise passengers of the 2012 season – let the games begin! The last 2 ships of the year will leave Skagway on September 25th.
Julie had some business to take care of so we didn’t get started touring until 11:00. One of the first stops was the Pioneer Cemetery (of course!), and from there we took the short walk up to Lower Reid Falls.
As one of the programs that Road Scholar is doing is hiking the Chilkoot Trail I offered to show Julie the first mile or so of it. On the way, we stopped to watch these Trumpeter swans on the Taiya River.
The trailhead for the Chilkoot Trail, at the Taiya River bridge.
Hiking the Chilkoot Trail. The smell of these forests in the spring is so wonderful after a long Yukon winter!
Although we had perfect hiking weather, the weather forecast had called for showers, and this halo around the sun showed that rain was indeed coming.
We were back at the ferry dock in Skagway at 1:15 for our 2:30 sailing to Haines on the little Alaska state ferry LeConte. The 235-foot-long vessel can carry 300 passengers and about 34 vehicles and makes the crossing to Haines in a hour at a cost of $111 for our van and 2 people.
Vehicles have to be backed on to the ferry. While that’s no problem for a car or van, some of the RV drivers with toads or trailers must have an “interesting” experience
Leaving Skagway in a cold, strong wind.
On a warm summer day the solarium and back deck are crowded, but they were almost deserted yesterday. The view was superb but it was just too cold and windy – even for me!
Whenever I go down Taiya Inlet, I marvel at how highway engineers could possibly think that building a highway (and keeping it open!) was reasonable. For visual reasons I’m really glad that the Skagway-Juneau highway project was killed.
Reaching Haines at 3:30, I decided to drive to Chilkoot Lake, as bears can sometimes be seen fishing along the river. Even if there are no bears, it’s a beautiful drive.
From the spot where the photo above was shot, I spotted 4 brown bears up the river. I took some “insurance” shots, then drove up the road to see how close we could get.
We were able to get very close, and spent about 20 minutes with them.
They were very successfully fishing for eulachon, a little smelt-type fish that’s usually called “hooligan” in Alaska.
There were two sows with their cubs from last year or perhaps even the year before. With food abundant, there was no need for aggression to protect a pool as is sometimes seen when times are lean. I’ve also posted a 1-minute video of the experience at YouTube.
Pulling ourselves away from the bears, we continued on to Chilkoot Lake, but it started to rain quite heavily so it was a very short visit.
At the mouth of the Chilkoot River, thousands of gulls were also feeding on the eulachon.
By 7:15 we were settled in our rooms at the Captain’s Choice Motel. We went for a short tour of Haines, then for an excellent dinner of mixed seafoods at The Lighthouse.
This is the view from my room at the motel. Ahhhhhhhh…
It’s almost 6:00am now, and the day is starting off cold and wet. Today we’ll be driving up the Haines Highway, doing some hiking if the weather cooperates, and spending the night in Haines Junction. It’s been an amazing trip so far – it’s hard to believe that we’ve only been on the road for 36 hours!