Tag Archives: Alaska Marine Highway

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 41

forty miles east of Prince George, British Columbia

Thursday, July 25, 1973

We left Alaska for the last time sometime in the wee hours, and drove off the ferry in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, at seven in the morning.  Except for a stop along the way to buy groceries at a supermarket which was having a sale on fresh fruit, my father drove all day long, almost 500 miles.  I slept all morning in the back seat of the car, and my mother slept there all afternoon.

I’m not quite sure how my father stayed awake to drive that far on so little sleep, but he did.  It wouldn’t have been the first time he’d done something like that.  When we went to Louisiana a few years before, my three older sisters were still living at home, and it was the first time my parents had left them home alone for any length of time.  My oldest sister was in college at the time, and my other two sisters were almost out of high school.  Anyway, while we were in Louisiana, my sisters called my grandmother’s house to report a peeping tom.

We promptly climbed in the car and headed for home.  The first day we drove from northern Louisiana to El Paso, Texas (about 950 miles).  The second day we were going to spend the night just outside of Phoenix (~500 miles from El Paso) , but my father decided to keep going.  We finally arrived home in suburban Los Angeles in the wee hours of the morning, after over 800 miles and what my mother refers to as “our midnight ride through Palm Springs,” due to a closure of the Interstate because of a sandstorm and a rather out-of-the-way detour.  I don’t remember it because I was asleep in the back seat at the time.

The peeping tom turned out to be our next-door neighbor’s mentally disabled son, but nothing worse.

At any rate, my father managed this day’s drive to a campground forty miles east of Prince George, and, as my diary says, “we are sleepy.”  I do remember it, it was quiet and wooded and we were just about the only people camped there.  A perfect place to catch up on one’s rest.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 40

aboard the MV Taku, on the Alaska Marine Highway on our way to Prince Rupert, BC

Wednesday, July 25, 1973

Our only full day on the ferry was spent going from town to town.  First the ferry stopped at Juneau, “early this morning, so early that the street lights were still on.”  In 1995, I spent three days exploring Juneau.  Here’s a picture I took on that trip:

Juneau, from Douglas Island, in 1995

We arrived in Petersburg about 1 pm, and Wrangell late in the afternoon.  I’ve not been back to them.  We didn’t go to Sitka.  Not all of the ferries do.  When I went to Sitka as part of my 1995 trip, I took what I thought of as the “milk run” ferry, a smaller vessel from Juneau, which sailed in the morning and stopped at several small settlements along the way — Hoonah, which was a Native village, Tenakee Springs, which was sort of counter-cultural and didn’t allow cars, and Angoon, another Native village — before arriving at Sitka at about four in the morning the next day.

The settlement of Tenakee Springs — classic SE Alaska.

We got to Ketchikan around 11:30 pm, and as my diary says, “I don’t remember Ketchkan very well.”  I do from my 1995 trip, however, because I spent several days there going through the totem pole park and visiting Creek Street, which is so named because it is basically a series of walkways directly over a creek, with buildings on stilts on either side that used to be brothels until the 1950s, and are now touristy shops, one of which was where the woman told me Ketchikan was fine as long a you could get off the rock.  Here’s a picture of Creek Street, and one of Ketchikan’s waterfront from 1995:

Part of Creek Street in Ketchikan
Ketchikan’s waterfront.

And that was our whole day on the ferry.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 39

aboard the MV Taku, on the Alaska Marine Highway between Haines and Juneau, Alaska

Tuesday, July 24, 1973

“On the ferry, headed for home.”  Which sounds rather like we were all glad to be on our way.  As my diary says, “we didn’t do a thing all day except wait for the ferry,” which didn’t leave until 10 pm.

I don’t think I was terribly impressed with the ferry, even though the ships of the Alaska Marine Highway are large, almost cruise-ship-sized vessels, and on my 1995 trip, I rather enjoyed riding on them.  On that trip, however, it was just me, I was prepared to camp on board (which we decidedly were not in 1973), and I got off the ferry and spent several days in three different places along the way instead of staying on for a straight shot through.

The MV Taku, the ship we rode on from Haines to Prince Rupert.

The real problem is that there are far fewer staterooms than there is room for passengers, and if you think getting reservations for our car and trailer was hard, getting a room was impossible.  You’re not allowed on the car deck while the ship is underway, so sleeping in the trailer, which otherwise would have solved the problem easily, was right out.

It only takes a bit less than 30 hours to sail from Haines to Prince Rupert, but because of the schedule, we had to spend two nights on board.  We moved from the observation lounge to the outdoor deck in back, and back.  As I recall, I got the most sleep of the three of us, and I remember getting about five hours total for both nights.  A story my mother still tells about being awake all night on the ferry was how foggy it was in the wee hours, and how she heard someone on the loudspeaker ask in a whisper that carried all over the ship (obviously whoever it was hadn’t realized the speaker was on), “Where are we?”  Not terribly reassuring [g].

Still, the ferry was an adventure — the only other time I can remember riding one before this was going from the town of Tsawassen, near Vancouver, BC, to Vancouver Island, then from Victoria, BC, to Port Angeles, Washington, on a trip we’d taken several years before.  When I made my Alaska ferry trip in 1995, one of the best parts of the trip was seeing what we’d missed on this trip in 1973.  It was something I’d always wanted to do, get off and explore those little towns we’d stopped in just long enough to whet my curiosity because we couldn’t get off and see what was really there.

Now I’d like to go back again someday and see everything again in terms of what Karin saw.  Except, of course, that she made most of the trip stuck in the hold of a grungy old steamer…

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 38

Haines, Alaska

Monday, July 23, 1973

On our last full day in Haines, we went shopping in the morning.  My father bought a foot-tall sticker of a totem pole to put on the trailer, to add to one of a Dall sheep that he’d apparently bought earlier in the trip.

In the afternoon, we took the ferry to Skagway.  The trip takes an hour, according to the Alaska Marine Highway website, and at the time, the ferry and the railroad were the only way you could get to Skagway, back in the days before the highway to Whitehorse was built and there were so many, many cruise ships the way there is now.  But it was still two more ways than you could get to Skagway back in True Gold‘s heroine Karin’s day.  During the Klondike gold rush, the only way you could get to either Skagway or Dyea was by boat, and not the clean modern ferries that make the run today, either.

Skagway, Alaska, as Karin would have seen it in 1897.


And Skagway, Alaska, today

Karin arrived in Dyea, which is just across the head of Lynn Canal from Skaguay, as it was spelled back then for a Tlingit word meaning home of the north wind, in August of 1897.  She spent over two months there before heading north over the famed and snowcovered Chilkoot Pass, where she spent a long cold winter on Lake Bennett with several thousand other people, building boats and waiting for the ice to break up on the long chain of lakes and rivers feeding into the great Yukon River leading to Dawson City and the Klondike.

We, on the other hand, spent our afternoon poking around the town, population 900 at the time, visiting a museum, and  seeing the infamous con man and city boss Soapy Smith’s grave.  The Klondike National Historic Park, another unit of which is in Seattle, did not exist yet in 1973.   We did some more shopping, too.  My mother bought a set of cufflinks, and I bought my last souvenir of the trip, another set of miniature bone china Dall sheep to add to my collection:

Which I promptly dropped on the seat belt buckle in the Chrysler’s back seat when we got back to Haines.  Which broke the hind leg off of the papa sheep.

Bone china Dall sheep from Skagway.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 34

Kluane Lake, Yukon Territory

Thursday, July 19, 1973

We stayed put on this day.  I didn’t realize it back then, but basically what we were doing at this stage was waiting for it to be our turn to take the ferry from Haines down through the Alaska panhandle to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, from which point we would drive home.  The Alaska Marine Highway (as it is called) is very popular, and was even back then, and you couldn’t just get there, wait your turn and drive on.  In 1995, when I took the Alaska ferry north from Bellingham, Washington, to Ketchikan, Juneau, and Sitka, then back to Bellingham, I had to make my reservations months in advance, and I simply walked on, with no vehicle, on that trip.

With a car and twenty-foot travel trailer, and no reservations when we left home, I suspect we were really lucky, even back in 1973, to be able to get on at all.  I do remember my father making calls to the ferry offices several times during our trip, but it didn’t seem that big a deal to me at the time.  I don’t know if the reason we didn’t make reservations before we left home was because my parents had planned to drive the Alaska Highway both ways, or if they just hadn’t realized that you had to make reservations in advance.  One doesn’t normally think of doing so to ride a ferry, normally.  But then ferry routes don’t normally take several days to traverse and cover hundreds of miles per trip, either.

I do know we were twelve days out from the date my father had to be back to work, and still a very long way from home.  I suspect my father might have underestimated the sheer amount of travel time it took us to get to Alaska in the first place.  It would have been a very Daddy thing to do (see my mother’s claim that my father’s idea of the perfect vacation was driving as far as he possibly could before he had to turn around and come back in order to get back to work on schedule).

Anyway, it was a pretty day, and we walked the beach and collected more driftwood and fed bread to the sea gulls on the lake, and met up with a very large family (eight kids? ten?) from eastern Canada who were traveling in a converted school bus with a canoe on the roof.  One of the girls was my age, and we hung around together a bit.  I remember she told me they were having sausages for dinner, which I now suspect were brats or something like that, but which I thought was odd at the time, since to me sausage meant breakfast patties.

And that was our second day at Kluane Lake.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords