We’ve all been to wonderful places that bring memories flooding back to us. Places of awesome beauty, like the Canadian Rockies. Places of great excitement like the Grand Ole Opry. Even a quiet spot under a tree at Grandma’s house. Here’s one of the places I remember from my own past.
You can’t help but enjoy a vacation when it starts out with a couple of thousand people waiting to serve your every need—make your bed and clean your cabin and bathroom, feed you, entertain you, answer your questions, and much more. Nobody does it better than Holland America, and the good ship Zaandam is as good as it gets.
Our ship docked in Skagway early in the morning, giving us a full day to spend in this storied old town. A Holland America bus took us around town and out to the local cemetery. As the primary landing for people heading to the Klondike to seek their fortunes in the gold mines, Skagway had its share of colorful characters, most of whom were buried here.
While at the cemetery, we followed a walkway up to a beautiful waterfall. It was unseasonably hot that late August day, almost as hot as back home in Texas, but the falls somehow tempered the heat on that trail.
After the bus dropped us back at the hotel where we would stay for the night, we spent the rest of the day walking around and looking at the countless tourist-oriented shops. We discovered lots of lore about this town’s place in history and the people who created that history.
My favorite Skagway story concerned Soapy Smith, an outlaw who came here after building legends about himself and his gang of con-men in Denver and Creede, Colorado. Smith opened a saloon when he came to Skagway and could have made plenty of money operating as a legitimate businessman, but that wasn’t his way.
He set up a “telegraph” station in his saloon—or at least a semblance of one. The “telegraph” lines went nowhere, but he managed to keep that knowledge to himself. One of his many rackets was to print up “telegrams” addressed to the successful miners who came through town on their way back to the States with their gold. These bogus messages would inform the miner about financial tragedies involving his loved ones and that they needed his immediate help, ending with a plea that he “wire” money back home. By the time the miner got home and discovered the fraud, it was too late to do anything about it.
After spending the night, we boarded the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway for a trip up the beautiful and historic White Pass. The venerable steam engine pulled cars replicating those of the Klondike era, and the route followed the pass out of Alaska and into a neck of British Columbia.
We went up a rugged gorge with a river flowing down below us and a paved highway across on the other side of the river. Joyce Kilmer said he’d never seen a poem lovely as a tree, and I’m certain I’ve never written words as lovely as this canyon. It was truly a breath-taking experience.
Until this railroad was completed, would-be miners had to travel the rugged path up through pass on foot or horseback. They couldn’t enjoy the scenery like we did, because of the ever-present danger of ambush by outlaw gangs operated by Soapy Smith and others. The bones of many miners ended up at the bottom of the gorge, while the fruits of their labors in the Klondike ended up in the pockets of the outlaws.
If you go on an Alaska cruise, I strongly recommend debarking at Skagway and taking this train ride. Better yet, debark at Anchorage and do the land trip in reverse, because you won’t find any more breath-taking scenery than along the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway, and that way you can save it for last.
Ø What are some of the places you remember from childhood—or maybe from last year?
Ø Think about what those places mean to you.
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