On Saturday, August 11th, we drove 145 miles on the Haines Highway from Haines Junction, YT to Haines, AK. The beginning third of the drive was on the smoothest asphalt we’ve driven on in months. Most of the rest was on chip seal but was still pretty easy driving. However, we hit an eight-mile construction zone when we were almost to Haines that required us to follow a pilot car over some extremely rough sections. We made several stops along the highway to enjoy the scenery which was outstanding.
We stopped at a turnout and hiked a half-mile each way up Rock Glacier Trail. Rock glaciers are the result of mountain permafrost creep. The initial part of the trail was along a boardwalk that was quite steep in places. Then we climbed along a rock trail to the summit.
Another stop was at Million Dollar Falls, a Yukon provisional campground. The turnout to the falls was down a narrow road and we had some initial concerns that we may have gotten ourselves into a jam. Fortunately we found room to park and turn around when we reached the campground. We hiked a short distance to a boardwalk that took us to the waterfalls which were quite impressive.
On Sunday we spent the day visiting Juneau. We took the fast ferry that departed Haines at 8:45 am. We traveled down the Lynn Canal which connects Skagway and Haines to Juneau and the rest of the Inside Passage. It was misnamed by Captain Cook, as it is not really a canal. It is actually an inlet formed by the deepest fjord in North America and one of the deepest in the world. During our trip south to Juneau, we saw about 100 bald eagles.
We arrived at Yankee Cove at 11 am and boarded a motorcoach that took us 23 miles to downtown Juneau. Our driver was a long-time resident of Juneau and shared a number of stories about the city. Juneau has a population of 32,000 and is the only state capitol that cannot be reached by road. The major industries are government, mining, tourism and fishing.
When we arrived downtown, there were three massive cruise ships at the wharf, as well as a mid-sized one. We strolled along Franklin St. and visited many of the shops. We stopped for lunch at the Red Dog Saloon.
In the afternoon we climbed the steep hill to the older section of Juneau and saw some of the historic buildings such as St. Nicolas Russian Orthodox Church (built in 1894), the Governor’s Mansion and the Alaska State Capitol. Some of the older streets are so steep that there are long staircases that connect houses that are built on the hillsides. The weather was overcast with a light drizzle all day but we were thankful that is was not as bad as forecast.
The motorcoach picked us up at 4 pm and took us to Auke Bay where we re-boarded the ferry for our return trip. On the return, we came across a humpback whale and followed it for about 20 minutes. We were close enough to see the barnacles attached to its tail.
We also cruised beside an island with a pile of about 100 Steller sea lions. Later we saw sea lions sleeping on one of the channel buoys and saw a number of harbor seals on the shore.
As we neared Haines, we passed Eldred Rock Lighthouse. This lighthouse was the last of 10 built in Alaska between 1902 and 1906. It was manned for two-year terms by teams of two Coast Guard lighthouse keepers until it was automated in 1973. We arrived back in Haines at 7:45 pm.
On Tuesday the rain stopped and we did an enjoyable 2.5 hour hike. We had intended to hike the Battery Point Trail near Haines but lost the trail a couple of times. Instead, we ended up walking down the rocky shoreline of Lynn Canal for much of the hike. It was interesting to see the distinct line in the inlet where the gray silty glacier water meets the teal ocean water. We took a rest in a large hut that someone had constructed from driftwood.
On Wednesday we took the fast ferry for a 45-minute ride from Haines to Skagway. When gold was discovered in the Klondike in 1896, Skagway became a very important destination almost overnight. Beginning in July 1897, thousands of hopeful miners arrived in Skagway and prepared for the 500-mile journey to the gold fields in Canada. The population of the general area increased to 30,000, making Skagway the largest city in Alaska. Between 1897 and 1898, Skagway was a lawless town. Fights, prostitutes and liquor were ever-present on Skagway’s streets and con man “Soupy” Smith, who had risen to considerable power, did little to stop it. By 1899, the stream of gold-seekers had diminished and Skagway’s economy began to collapse. Fortunately, much of the history of Skagway was saved by the early residents.
Today, Skagway is largely dependent on tourism. The year-round population is about 1,000 but this doubles in the summertime to deal with more than 900,000 visitors (3/4 of which arrive on cruise ships). The White Pass and Yukon Route is a narrow-gauge railroad that was constructed beginning in 1898 during the gold rush but is now in operation purely for the tourist trade. Upon arriving in Skagway, our first stop was at the Skagway Fish Company where we each had halibut fish and chips for lunch. Then we spent a few hours strolling the historic streets of Skagway and visiting the many shops and historic buildings. There were four large cruise ships docked at the wharf.