Friday, June 27, 2008

Alaskan Idyll, Day 9 – Skagway Train Ride

Today’s touring activity was a ride on the White Pass & Yukon Railroad (WP&YR), round trip from Skagway to the White Pass summit.

White Pass & Yukon Railroad Locomotives

Made famous by the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, Skagway is today a tourist and cruise boat Mecca, where opportunities for retail therapy abound. Gateway to the Yukon gold rush territory near Dawson City, Skagway grew from one cabin to a population of 20,000 in the winter of 1897-1898. During this winter, thousands of hopeful prospectors hauled a minimum of 1000 pounds of supplies each over the 3000 foot Chilkoot Pass, ascending a 35% grade near the summit using steps carved in the ice. By February, 1899, 35,000 laborers had carved a narrow gauge railway from bare rock over the White Pass. This railroad was extended to Whitehorse by Summer 1900. From Whitehorse north to Dawson City, the primary transportation mode was by steamboat on the Yukon River. The WP&YR hauled ore and concentrates to boats in Skagway for most of the twentieth century. During WWII, the WP&YR was the chief supplier for the US Army’s construction of the Alaska Highway. The WP&YR suspended freight operations in 1982 when world metal prices plummeted, then resumed operations as a narrow gauge excursion railroad in 1988. The WP&YR was designated an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1994. Fueled by the cruise boat trade, the WP&YR excursion has grown to a first class attraction.

The WP&YR excursion begins at the downtown railroad station and gift shop. The train passes through the back side of town, then commences the arduous climb up the mountain. Along the way are views of several bridges and trestles, two tunnels, a brief glimpse of the 1898 “Trail of Tears”, and numerous breathtaking mountain views. There is a large horseshoe bend where with excellent views of the track on the opposite side of the canyon. At the summit, the train pauses while the three locomotives are switched from one end of the train to the other for the descent. The AAA tour book rates this ride a “Gem”, and for good reason.

The WP&YR Train Crosses the East Branch of the Skagway River

East Branch of the Skagway River, near Skagway

Another Train Climbs the Horseshoe Curve

World’s Tallest Cantilever Bridge, When Abandoned in 1969

A Beautiful Mountain Stream

Skagway From the Train

A Bird’s Eye View of the Klondike Highway

1898 Trail of Tears

Lakeside at the White Pass Summit

Glacial Scoured Rock at the Summit

Conductor Checks the Brakes for our Descent

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

Wow! What a train ride that must be. It's so beautiful. I'll show L the cantilever bridge. She loves to build them with her blocks and keeps her eyes peeled on the highways to alert us to them on some of our outings.

Your photos and descriptions make me wish to visit!