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Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2019 - part 4
Japan and Alaska
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Friday 24 May

Maiden call to Skagway, Alaska

Skagway is only a short journey north of Juneau, at the end of the Lynn channel which divides with Skagway to the right and Haines to the left. Both towns are special because they have road access to the rest of North America whereas all our other Alaskan ports are only linked by sea and air. In the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897 and 1898, Skagway was one of the two routes by foot from Alaska to Lake Bennett and onwards to Dawson City. One route was from Dyea along the Chilkoot Pass, the other was from Skagway along the White Pass. The White Pass Trail was 10 miles longer but the summit was 600 feet lower and was the preferred option for many. Skagway was also a better port than Dyea with electric lighting, telephones, and more facilities including saloons, breweries, brothels and greedy merchants and thieves. After the goldrush Dyea was dismantled whereas Skegway survived, partly because it was the trailhead of the 110 mile narrow gauge White Pass and Yukon railway which was completed in 1900 to Whitehorse in the Yukon. The railway shortened the journey to the goldfields but by then it was too late. The railroad closed in 1982 but reopened in 1988 as a summer tourist operation which retraces the gold route to White Pass summit at 2,865 feet, and some trains continue to Lake Bennett. The Queen Elizabeth offered both the short and the longer journeys on the train, and the trains come to the dockside to collect passengers. Walking beside the railway lines it was not far to the railway sidings and the noise of moving trains. There are 43 carriages and 15 diesel electric locomotives. The train set we saw at the ship had one locomotive and 12 carriages; another at the sidings had 8 carriages and 2 locomotives. Standard carriages have between 52 and 36 seats depending on their length and there are 4 Luxury Class carriages which are much more expensive, with wider seat, concierge service, and refreshments.

The former White Pass and Yukon Railroad Depot was built in 1898, the depot was central to Skagway life until 1969, when operations moved to a new building. The old depot is now the National Park Service Visitor Center, where visitors can enjoy movies, walking tours and other activities during the summer. We watched their 25 minute movie which we found gave a good introduction. Next door is the White Pass and Yukon Railroad Administration Building, built in 1900, which is now the Gold Rush Museum, which also had excellent and informative displays and maps of the old routes. A place you must stop at.

As well as cruise ships, tourism has grown steadily since the regular ferry service in 1963 and then the Klondike Highway to the Yukon was completed in 1978. The town population peaks at just 1,000 residents and many summer visitors live in the RV parks. Skagway has maintained the air of a typical frontier town because much of the downtown buildings from the 1890s are preserved as part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Park. The railroad tracks used to run along the main street, Broadway. A marker on the junction of State Street and First Avenue marks the spot where the Reid-Smith Gun Battle took place. Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith and his crew of confidence men had caused unrest around the town and had been accused of several robberies. A meeting of vigilante groups had become too large for Sylvester Hall and moved to Juneau Wharf, posting guards at the entrance Hearing of the meeting Soapy walked down to the wharf and became involved in a shoot out that killed a guard, Frank Reid, and resulted in his own death. Broadway has many colourful buildings between 2nd and 4th Avenues which date from 1897 to 1900, including Jeff Smith's Parlour, the Red Onion Saloon, the Arctic Brotherhood Hall and the Golden North Hotel.

The oldest structure in Skagway is the Historic Moore Homestead which was built by Captain William Moore and his son in 1888. Moore was a frequent follower of gold rushes, and when he arrived in Skagway he was 65 years old. He saw the number of prospectors working in the Yukon and foresaw the liklihood of an imminent major gold strike, identifying the quiet valley that would become Skagway as a potential gateway to interior gold fields. When the big rush came his land was overrun, but his dock, warehouse and sawmill still saw him prosper, and he is seen as the founder of Skagway. His original single-room cabin has been preserved and the later family home next door, built by Moore’s son, is also open as a museum. Just a few streets further is the Skagway Museum and Archive. It is on the ground floor of a large building which also contains the City Hall upstairs. The native granite building dates from 1899 and was Alaska's first institution of higher education, McCabe College. Exhibitions focus on Skagway’s gold rush period with artifacts, mementos, photographs and records dating back to the early 1900s. It has a good bookshop and we purchased several books about gold mining, dredges, Dawson Falls and the White Pass and Yukon railroad.

In the afternoon we took a bus trip to the White Pass summit, along the Klondike Highway. The highway runs in parallel for the first part to the railway (and the original trail) but on the other side of the Skagway River. The two diverge a little before the summit which is is about 13 miles from Skagway and US Customs are at 4 miles, where we were obliged to stop on our return. The Klondike Highway crosses a major fault line and a new bridge was being built there. At he summit there was time to admire the views back into the USA and then continue to the Summit lakes before turning. Canadian customs are further along the road, at Fraser. It was a short but interesting trip but one which depended on having a good guide who stops at suitable viewpoints for pictures. We were returned to the ship with no time to do anything but reboard.

Saturday 25 May

Cruising past the Hubbard Glacier

The Hubbard Glacier is massive and one of the most beautiful glaciers. It is located in Yakutat Bay and Disenchantment Bay approximately 200 miles northwest of the Alaskan capital Juneau and is sourced in the Yukon. It ia a natural wonder and a breathtaking sight. Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier in North America (the largest glacier of any type in North America is Alaska’s Bering Glacier, and the largest glacier in the world is Antarctica’s Lambert-Fisher Glacier). The glacier was named after Gardiner G. Hubbard in 1890. He was the first president of the National Geographic Society and regent of the Smithsonian Institution. Of the 100,000-plus glaciers in Alaska, Hubbard holds its own records at 76 miles long and 1,200 feet deep. Where the glacier meets the sea varies between 6 and 9 miles in width.

Sunday 26 May

Maiden call to Icy Strait Point, Alaska

Icy Strait Point is a privately owned tourist destination just outside the small village of Hoonah, Alaska. It is located on Chichagof Island and is named after the nearby Icy Strait. Owned by Huna Totem Corporation, it is the only privately owned cruise destination in Alaska, as most stops are owned by the cities in which they are located. Huna Totem Corporation is owned by approximately 1,400 Alaskan Natives with aboriginal ties to Hoonah and the Glacier Bay area. Many of them are of the Tlingit people. Queen Elizabeth berthed at the only cruise ship berth which was built in 2016; another smaller cruise ship which arrived later had to anchor. Whilst pete was in the Gym the first of many pods of whales arrived and were blowing and diving right under the prow and we watched them and the sealions for much of the morning before going ashore.

We eventually decided that we ought to see what the local facilities, based in and around an old canning factory, and the nearby viliage of Hoonah had to offer. Arriving at the Adventure Centre there is a small shop then outside is the Duck Point Smokehouse restaurant, wood chip fire pit, nature trails and a beach. There is also a ZipRider, advertised as one of the world's longest and highest. Further along, the boardwalk leads to the Cookhouse Restaurant and the Crab Station Restaurant. There are lots of options for food and drink. The next large building is the Hoonah Packing Company, built in 1912, which was one of eight salmon canneries operating in the area during the early twentieth century. The cannery ceased operating in 1954, but continued to be used by commercial fishermen for storing and repairing their boats and gear until the Huna Totem Corporation bought it in the mid 1990s and began restoration. The museum has some original machinery from the cannery which was very interesting to see - it would have been fascinating to see it operating. The rest of the old cannery buildings are filled with tourist gift shops that are all owned and operated by local people.

It is 1.5 miles along the coast to the village of Hoonah, the largest Tlingit community in Alaska. There is a shuttle bus for those who can't walk. The vehicle ferry port is on the edge of town and the shops are largely centred around the town hall area. The Icy Strait Brewing Co and the Liquor Store and the Hoonah Trading Company are on Front Street as is the Presbyterian church. There were several carved canoes and totem poles and a project to carve a new canoe. Returning to the ship we saw the green and white Russian Orthodox church on a hill just above the cemetary.

Vsitors to Icy Strait are likely to encounter all sorts of Alaskan wildlife. The most common are bald eagles, humpback whales, orcas, sea otters, and sea lions. There is even a chance to see brown bears roaming the beaches. The whales are so plentiful at Icy Strait that most tours offer a guarantee of at least one sighting and we spent a pleasant afternoon on our balcony watching the whales and sea lions. As the ship departed the Captain announced there were 6 humpback whales in view over the bow and they passed quite close as a group, which was a lovely surprise. Below are just a few of the hundred or so pictures we got of whales round the ship. They made the visit to Icy Straight Point worthwhile.

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Content revised: 2nd July, 2019