Thursday, August 6, 2009

Whitehorse to Skagway and the Ferry to Juneau

Pictures from the ferry
Mendenhall glacier and Juneau top right

views, orcas and sun deck

Leaving skagway.
Brown whale gets a ride on a ferry

camp shots

Road to Skagway-glacial valleys and volcanic rocks

sand dunes where you would not expect them!

Emerald lake and Andy climbs like a monkey to get a good view

Skagway in the evening and early morning. Looks the same

skagway harbor shot

Whitehorse to Skagway and the ferry to Juneau

Whitehorse is a strange combination of a frontier town/urban center, both sad and depressed looking yet with some very new stores and malls. Lots of homeless people and empty stores downtown. The Yukon Territory seems ambivalent about how they want to portray themselves, the crusty old territory who holds one of the true wilderness areas or the upcoming vibrant center of the vast Yukon Territory. There is a cartoon in the local paper in which two YT guys are hiking and talking, the first one says "Well, it looks like 'The Magic and the Mystery' followed by the 'Larger than Life' tourism slogans haven't attracted all that many visitors" and the second guy says, 'Maybe they should just tell it like it is, "Yukon, Gateway to Alaska". While the YT seems to promote its Alaska Highway link, I sense a sort of resentment toward the tourists and travelers who hurry through on their way to a "real" vacation spot.

Whitehorse is the largest town in the YT and has a population of about 25,000 people and that is over 3/4ths of the population of the Yukon Territory. So large in land, so small in human population (bears and mosquitoes seem to be thriving though).
The Yukon Territory IS a nice place. It is not a Province but a TERRITORY and the difference between a Province (10 of those in Canada) and a Territory (a sad 3 of those) is that Provinces are jurisdictions that receive their power and authority directly from the Canadian constitution, whereas Territories derive their mandates and powers from the federal government. Territories are created by Federal Law and they are all primarily North of the 60 degree latitude mark. While the Territories make up 40% of Canada's land mass, they only have 3% of the Canadian population. 'Frozen northern wasteland' is a phrase that comes to my mind. Poor Territories. Why does Canada divide them up like this? It seems so discriminatory. One of the biggest differences is that the provinces get to vote on changes to the constitution but the territories do not. I see it more simply; The difference between a Province and a Territory is...Territories don't get cell phone coverage or as much government money or any say in political change. I had seen an article in the YT Gazette stating their animal shelter was not given the funds the shelters in the Provinces were and as a result they did not have the money to spay and neuter the pets they were getting in which is one of the main functions of any animal shelter. All throughout Canada we had not seen a single stray dog, whether that is because they control pet overpopulation or the strays never live through the winters. We made a point of stopping by the YT Animal Shelter in Whitehorse and donated some money to them and were given the tour; seventeen dogs (all pretty rough looking) filled their small shelter but the dogs were kept clean, volunteers walked them, somebody cared whether they lived or died which is more than I can say about many other shelters I have seen.

The 109 mile drive from Whitehorse to Skagway (the end of the 'Alaskan Highway') is a really unusual and beautiful drive, unlike any I have ever seen. I am surprised that area is not a National Park, it rivals any park I have seen for the variety and beauty of landscapes along the route. The Highway moves from the YT in and out of BC and every time you enter or exit BC a giant sign welcomes that says "Super. Natural. British Columbia!" and when you exit and enter the Yukon you don't get any signs. Maybe they can't afford them? Or maybe they are trying to keep it on the down low. "We're. Broke. Screw you guys. Yukon Territory!". Finally a few miles from Skagway you enter Alaska and the U.S. again with easy going customs guys (note to Canadian Customs: try to be more like us would you?). The road from Whitehorse has everything; dramatic cliffs and mountains, fantastic lakes and waterfalls, sand dunes (yes, that is correct and they are in the middle of NOWHERE), volcanic deposits and lakes surrounded by volcanic rocks, bright green lakes that are a brilliant emerald green color because their bottoms are calcium carbonate left over from when that area was once a tropical coral reef. The variety is a true testament to the changing land forms and conditions that area experienced over its history. If you ever get the chance, drive from Whitehorse to Skagway or visa versa. As we dropped down the steep, steep mountain (with the edge of the cliffs close enough to make you pee your pants if you looked down) we came to Skagway. I had never been to Skagway and it is really kind of a crappy place, I certainly would not recommend going there other than to get on the ferry.

Skagway is a cruise ship stop so they have one or two main streets with shops set up to look "frontier like" and they have dozens of shops to cater to the cruise ships. The rest of the streets have some fairly poor and junky houses and trailers interspersed with a few well kept homes. I am beginning to think the cruise ship lines are sort of like the mafia; they set shops and shopkeepers up to peddle wares to the tourists off the boats and most of the shops have the same shit you find in any cruise ship port. While it makes sense Alaska might have cheaper GOLD, there are also diamond and tanzanite jewelry stores that looks suspiciously exactly like the stores I saw in the Bahamas, Barcelona, etc. etc. One man who ran a camera store told us that the cruise ships would not recommend him because they told him they wanted 10% of his profits to recommend him to cruise ship patrons and he declined. A person who was running a fur store told us his merchandise was out of New York City. In Juneau we found out that much of the art sold as Tlingit art (local Alaskan tribe pronounced 'Klink-it') in the 'Alaskan' art stores was really commissioned in Bali. Next male Corgi I get I'm naming him Tlingit.

We spent the night in the RV in the ferry parking lot because we had to get on the ferry at 5:30 am and didn't see getting up that early and driving there (technically we were not supposed to 'camp' there but you were allowed to 'wait for the ferry' so we just did our own interpretation of the rules). The whole reason we were driving to Skagway was to catch the Alaskan Marine Highway vessel, aka 'the ferry', to Juneau. Like most towns on the inside passage, Juneau is not connected by any other road to the outside world. The Brown Whale costs us $450 to take from Skagway to Juneau and it took about six hours, plus we had to pay for the Honda and each person was $50. If you look at just the price for a person it is really a great value for the trip but the Brown Whale's fee made it a little pricey. The dogs stayed in the RV for the six hour trip with one potty break in Haines. The ferry has a cafe, a sun deck, lots of comfy booths and tables and chairs to sit in as well as plenty of great places to stand outside and take in the amazingly beautiful journey. We saw Orcas (Killer whales), Humpback whales, sea otter, and sea lions (as well as lots of glaciers) as we traveled through the passage. Andy seemed to love it all; it was his first trip to Alaska and I hoped he would love it as much as we did.

Juneau was much more beautiful and cosmopolitan then I thought it would be. They have a branch the University of Alaska there and the downtown is thick with shops, art galleries, restaurants, food vendors, theaters, etc. The harbor had at least six huge cruise ships in it and they cruise people swarmed and buzzed all over downtown Juneau (which ALSO had the same stupid stuff as Skagway but also had several of unique shops). The city itself sits in the shadow of major mountain ranges that surround it on every side; it is a stunningly beautiful city in my eyes but I am a sucker for Alaska. I lived in Anchorage and Soldotna for over two years and grew to love Alaska and it's crazy weather and seasons as well as the independent people I met there. All over Juneau the cars are plastered with bumper stickers that say "Build the Road" and when I asked someone what it meant they said the people of Juneau have been told the government was going to build a road to Haines, Alaska and they had been waiting ten years. There has also been a movement to make Anchorage the capital rather than Juneau and the people in Juneau seem to want that as well. I think them being the 'capital' is in name only, their capital building looks like a small town courthouse. Once Juneau is connected to Haines both locals and tourists will be able to drive into Juneau from the rest of the United States and Canada, making getting goods in and out a lot easier and cheaper. People in Juneau jokingly refer to outsiders as 'people from the United States'; in their mind they are a small kingdom unto itself. I understand, that is how I feel about the Brown Whale.


You're such a yankee

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