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North to Alaska - Abridged Version - Day 40 (June 25)

Friday - We got up early for the 40 minute, water-ferry ride to Skagway through part of North America's deepest fjord. After a short walk from the dock to the railroad station, we took the amazing "Skagway to White Pass Summit" train ride. During the trip a very articulate young lady gave a running commentary about what we were seeing. The railroad, built in 1898 shortly after gold was discovered in Bonanza Creek (back near Dawson City), was intended to facilitate travel from the sea to the interior, replacing the grueling trek over the Chilkoot Trail. The White Pass and Yukon Railway project was designated an International Civil Engineering Landmark in 1944. (Other designees include the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty and the Panama Canal.) The builders overcame many difficult and hazardous obstacles; design challenges, granite mountains, steep grades, cliff-hanging turns and unimaginable weather conditions. "The Railway Built of Gold" climbs from sea level in Skagway to almost 3000 feet at the summit in just 20 miles, and features steep grades of almost 3.9%. The tight curves of the White Pass called for a narrow gauge railroad with rails three feet apart on a 10-foot-wide road bed, leading to lower construction costs, while giving work to 35,000 men.

On our trip we saw Gold Rush Cemetery (where gangster Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith is buried near Frank Reid, who died with Smith in their final shootout), the Denver and Harding Glaciers, 6000 foot Bridal Veil Falls, a 675-foot tunnel, Dead Horse Gulch (where 3000 pack animals, victims of overloading and neglect, met their end during the gold stampede of '98), visible remains of the famous trail (which once was the primary route from Skagway to the goldfields), and, at the top, the U.S./Canadian border (where the RCMP border guards let through stampeders who had brought their ton of supplies but turned others back). There the engine was transferred to the other end of the train and we were instructed to flip our seats so we could face forward on the return. We walked around Skagway checking out gift shops and being tourists for 4 hours until ferry return time. That evening back at our RV park, as we relaxed, Margaret saw a "huge mama moose" with a set of twins walk along the street at the end of the camp. They crossed an intersection and vanished into the forest. She hollered for Ben to come and look, alerting several camping neighbors who all came rushing out, but Ben didn't get there in time. Margaret said, "They were so big I was shocked."