Skagway: An Alaskan Time Capsule
Skagway is a small town hidden somewhere amidst the labyrinth of fjords in Alaska. Having visited it twice on my way north and back, I will attempt to provide a general description of this place based on my two visits.
Wild West in the North
The town has only about a thousand permanent residents, and during the summer, a few hundred seasonal workers also arrive. The buildings resemble something out of a Wild West movie, with two-story wooden houses. However, instead of saloons and taverns, the buildings house mostly restaurants and souvenir shops for the cruise tourists who visit.
A mountain stream runs along the town, and by early September, one can expect the annual arrival of salmon and the local bears lured by this event.
The main attraction of the town is the historic railway, built during the gold rush by British engineers invited to the region. America did not possess the technology to build railways in such northern conditions at that time. The railway has been restored and transformed into a tourist attraction, offering various circular routes that throws tourists like boomerang deep into the mainland , on a circular route.
The railway is partly owned by cruise companies, so it is not surprising that they try to lure as many tourists as possible to it. I think the views from the train are quite impressive, but I opted for a bus tour that went higher and further than the railway tracks, providing a wider panoramic view.
Our guide was quite amusing and reminiscent of a character from another era, someone similar to Jacques Paganel emerging from the vortex of time from the pages of Jules Verne. He had been working here for ten seasons, starting with a summer job, but eventually settling permanently in Skagway, adding to the town's atmosphere with his colorful cowboy hat.
Due to the shortage of available housing and the lack of hotels in the town, the company that invites temporary workers for the summer provides them with modest accommodation that resembles something between a dormitory and a slightly worn-out countryside boarding house, consisting of scattered small, warm but unpretentious wooden houses.
The guide was proud to announce that due to his volunteer work at the local historical society (as an exhibit?), he had been granted the right to reside in the oldest building in the town. And of course, we made an unplanned detour to see his home. But it was worth it. The house looked truly unique.
Close your eyes and imagine a building that you would associate with the phrase "haunted house," not the image of a large, stone house, but rather something wooden in a deserted village. That very structure appears before us, or rather, a miniature replica of it. The house must have had some grace to it at one point, resembling an old lady under a veil and lace umbrella, with occasional glimpses of a wrinkled eye's smile, giving an idea of its lost beauty with the passing years.
This two-story log cabin, as if only thanks to some dark magic, still stands unconsumed by woodworms and termites, with slanting shutters and ominously lit windows that bring similar thoughts of ghosts to most of our group.
As we made our way through the winding roads of Skagway, we couldn't help but feel the eerie magic that seemed to linger in the air. Perhaps it was the way the clouds hung low in the sky, or the creaking sound of the old wooden houses that gave us the impression we had stepped back in time.
Our journey continued beyond the town limits and towards the Canadian border, not far from Skagway. Our first stop was an attempt to capture a slow-moving tourist train as it crossed a mountain creek via a bridge. However, the enigmatic magic of this town still lingered, and at that moment, a veil of white fog draped the scenery below us like the old lady's veil, effectively hiding the train from view.
Nevertheless, the stunning scenery surrounding us managed to captivate our attention, even through the mist. On the other side of the road, a powerful waterfall drowned out the sound of the occasional passing car.
Our initial excursion plan included several waterfalls, but our guide, who doubled as the driver, had other ideas.
We traveled further into Canada, taking advantage of the fact that the Canadian border control was located a few miles beyond the actual border, giving us a glimpse of the Yukon province. The landscape was breathtaking, with rolling hills and evergreen forests that seemed to stretch on forever. Our guide regaled us with stories of local flora and fauna, including the elusive Alaskan moose.
After a while, we arrived at the end of our journey, where the river made a horseshoe bend that created a postcard-worthy view. The landscape was reminiscent of the famous Horseshoe Bend in the Colorado River, only this time without the red and yellow rocks and instead covered in a blanket of lush green moss.
As we continued on the trail, our guide regaled us with stories of past hikers and funny mishaps.
He even told a comic tale of an old couple who had traveled all the way to this location to celebrate their anniversary and take pictures. Eager to help, he offered to film them with theirs iPad. However, in the heat of the moment, he became confused by the buttons and ended up taking selfies of himself instead. The couple was not amused and immediately stopped talking to our guide.
Our guide, realizing the gravity of his mistake, knew he had to make it right. He begged the couple for another chance and promised to make it up to them. He led them back to the same spot and helped them pose for the perfect anniversary shot. They were still a bit miffed but couldn't resist his earnest apologies and obvious remorse.
Nature's Mirrored Beauty: The Lakes of Skagway
The city is blessed with an abundance of mountain trails that offer endless opportunities to explore the stunning lakes and waterfalls in the surrounding area. So if you're up for some adventure, grab your hiking boots and get ready to embark on a journey that'll take you on a wild ride!
Ladies don't need to worry about memorizing the map because all they need to do is stand in front of the mirror and stretch their arms wide, as if to hug the whole world.
The main trail leading from the city to the mountains rises like a tummy tuck in the center of the stomach until it reaches the pass between two lakes. The round, perfectly-shaped lake on the left is a reservoir that quenches the town's thirst with its delicious drinking water. The lake on the right, known as Lower Dewey Lake, is a natural wonder that'll leave you breathless with its stunning views and serene beauty.
But wait, there's more! On both sides of each of the lakes, paths lead to other small lakes and waterfalls, like arms waiting to embrace you and take you on a journey of discovery. And if you're feeling adventurous, slip up the valley between the two lakes, and you'll find yourself on a new path that leads to Upper Dewey Lake, located under the chin. Who knows what other surprises await you there?
After attempting to follow the sound of a waterfall that echoed through the dense spruce trees near the reservoir, only to find no path leading to it, I decided to take a stroll around the right lake instead. The circular trail surrounding the lake twists and turns like a ballroom dance, weaving between the evergreen trees, scattered rocks, and small streams. But what caught my eye the most was the sheer number of different mushrooms growing all around me! They were growing right on the trail and alongside it, peeking out from under every fallen tree and popping up like little red earrings beneath the pine trees.
There were so many of them, a hidden treasure trove, an allegory for the hidden gems that are often concealed in the most unexpected places. And the best part? Many of them were edible! While boletus mushrooms were abundant, it was easy to fill up a basket with porcini and chanterelles for pickling.
As I walked, I couldn't help but notice the natural beauty of the area, a paradise for the adventurous explorer. The towering trees offered a cool and refreshing shade, while the surrounding mountains created a sense of peace and tranquility. The distant sound of birds chirping, insects buzzing, and the occasional croak of a frog provided a natural soundtrack for my walk.
The area was teaming with life, from the smallest ants crawling along the ground to the occasional deer that would appear in the distance, peeking through the trees, curious yet cautious. The combination of nature's beauty and the thrill of exploration made for an unforgettable experience. It's evident that nobody collects the mushrooms here since you can regularly come across a boletus mushroom that someone has accidentally stepped on, guilty only of growing in the wrong place. Among the multitude of familiar mushrooms, you can also notice some more exotic ones that I'm not familiar with. The area is a true mycological wonderland, with a seemingly endless variety of shapes, sizes, and colors of mushrooms growing along the trail and beyond it.
Some are tall and slender, with caps that look like umbrellas, while others are squat and fat, with caps that resemble pancakes. Some are bright red, while others are a pale, creamy white. The forest floor is a mosaic of colors and textures, with mushrooms of every imaginable shape and size popping up in unexpected places. It's like a magical kingdom of fungi!
The upper part of the lake is slightly more hilly, and scattered along the shore, like freckles on the skin, are boulders that occasionally pile up on top of each other like giants who decided to build a shelter here from the rain. The terrain is a bit more rugged here, and it's easy to imagine the giants struggling to move the massive rocks into place, grunting and groaning with effort. The result is a kind of natural sculpture garden, with each arrangement of boulders forming a unique composition against the backdrop of the tranquil water. It's a place that invites quiet contemplation, a space to sit and watch the play of light and shadow on the rippling surface of the lake.
As I continued on the trail and circled around the lake, I came across a new path leading to Icy Lake and Reid Falls. The trail wound its way through the dense forest, crossing several mountain streams along the way.
The sound of rushing water grew louder as I approached Reid Falls, which cascaded down the rocky cliffs in a series of tiered pools, each one shimmering in the sunlight. The air was cool and refreshing, mist rising from the falls and enveloping the surrounding area in a delicate veil.
As I made my way further into the forest, I couldn't help but notice that the trees were getting thicker and the light was growing dimmer. The forest floor was also changing, with fewer mushrooms and the path becoming narrower and less well-trodden. Finally, I arrived at the lake, but it was clear that there were no signs of winter or ice, at least not yet. The lake was peaceful and serene, its clear blue waters reflecting the surrounding trees and sky.
Despite my curiosity about the lake's name, I decided not to linger until winter here and instead turned back towards the ship.
As I made my way back, I couldn't help but notice the intricate details of the forest that I had missed before.
The patterns of the leaves on the trees, the different shades of green in the foliage, and the songs of the birds and insects all came together to create a vibrant and lively environment. The forest seemed to breathe with life, and I was grateful for the chance to explore it.