Tag Archives: Haines AK

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 37

Haines, Alaska

Sunday, July 22, 1973

Our second day in Haines, we discovered what it’s like to explore roads that just peter out and end.

I’ve never lived on an island, or anywhere else that isn’t connected by road to the wider world.  When I went to Alaska in 1995, one of the things that really disconcerted me when I rented a car in Juneau (it was the only way at the time to get out to Mendenhall Glacier without hiking for miles since the bus didn’t go that far — I’m not sure why I didn’t just take a taxi because I know there are taxis in Juneau) was that all the roads out of town just ended.  All four of them.  Not at any sort of destination or anything.  The pavement would go for a few miles and peter out into gravel, which gradually changed over to dirt and then just stopped, out in the middle of nowhere.  It was extremely disconcerting.

I remember in Ketchikan, too, asking a lady in one of the shops along Creek Street how she liked living there.  Her response burned into my brain:  “Oh, it’s okay as long as you can get off the rock once in a while.”  It was right then that I realized I could never, ever live in a place I couldn’t just drive away from.  Ferries are all well and good, but they’re expensive and require reservations and run on their own schedule, not mine.  I need to know I can get away when and as often as I need to.

Anyway, except for the Haines Highway that we’d come in on, all the roads in Haines did that, too.  Just petered out.  Ended at nowhere.  All the roads in all of the panhandle of Southeast Alaska still do that, except for the White Pass Highway out of Skagway and the Haines Highway.

In the morning of this day we drove on the Lutak Road out past the ferry terminal where the pavement ended, and on to Chilkoot Lake.

Chilkoot Lake

My diary says it was very pretty, and this picture bears that out.

On our way back from the lake, we stopped at a place where the road fords the river, and my father rinsed the car off.  I suspect it needed it pretty badly by that point.

We also stopped at the ferry terminal and made walk-on reservations to go to Skagway for the day the next day.

In the afternoon, we drove out the Mud Bay Road, which my diary says wasn’t so great, but not why.  But possibly because it started to rain yet again.  We went back to the trailer after that and played more cards.

Oh, and this day was my mother’s birthday.  My diary says that we would celebrate it after we got home.

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 36

Haines, Alaska

Saturday, July 21, 1973

On this day we drove back into Alaska for the last time, not north or west, but south from Yukon Territory into the panhandle.

It was still wet, but at least we were off the gravel for the last time.  Although, as my diary says, “the pavement was worse than the gravel.”  I’m presuming because of more permafrost heaves.  One thing about the Alaska Highway, it was very well maintained.  Which basically meant that they were maintaining it all the time.  Or so it seemed, mainly because there’s only a window of a few months in the summertime when they can maintain it.  The rest of the time it’s covered with snow and frozen solid.  The roads in Yellowstone National Park have the same problem, with the road construction and tourist seasons being almost identical.

Haines was where we caught the ferry south, but it wouldn’t be our turn to sail south until the 24th, so we spent three nights in Haines.

We spent our first afternoon there at a performance of the Chilkat Dancers, a group of Tlingit native children (my diary says the youngest was about eight or nine, and the oldest about nineteen — I don’t know if I was guessing or if I was told that or read it in a program).  They don’t appear to have a website — I hope the organization still puts on performances.

A Tlingit dancing troupe from my visit to the Alaska Panhandle in 1995, in Sitka.

I remember enjoying both performances that I saw.  And being quite amazed at the beautiful costumes and the talent being displayed.  And the stories that were told.  There was a Northern Exposure episode one year, that told the Winter Solstice story from the Native American point of view, that also featured a performance like these.  I liked Northern Exposure just on general principles, but also because the writers did things like that.

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