Skagway & White Pass

The drive over to Skagway was extremely beautiful all the way to the grade down to Skagway, then it turned into an 11% grade for 14 miles into town.   But the views out our huge windshield were probably the best we had ever seen in the 60,000 miles of travel in our motorhome.  I really had to concentrate and only peek at the views, not wanting to drive off the cliff, and to keep these 40,000 pounds of bananas from wanting to go 100 mph down that steep windy narrow road.

About halfway down the mountain we encountered the US border checkpoint (Skagway is back in Alaska).  There was another long line; but after a little bit and not moving ahead very much, we could see a guard waved us up to the front of the line in a lane to the right that had been blocked off.  Little did we know they were pulling over motorhomes for food searches this time.

After answering all the questions, we were asked to pull out and over to the right out of the traffic lanes so a border guard could come inside to inspect our food.   When I saw a new guard approaching with a 5 gallon bucket, I knew we were in for something…

He ended up taking two dozen eggs, 2 lbs. of deli lunch meat, a tomato, and a bell pepper, saying you couldn’t bring them into the US due to bird flu in Canada.   I was really wondering how cooked turkey lunch meat could spread bird flu, not to mention eggs, but they were already gone.  I bet those guards have a great “free” breakfast of Denver Omelets each day, and turkey sandwiches galore.

After driving downhill for a few more steep miles, we got down to sea level and into the town of Skagway.    We had a reservation for 5 nights at Pullen Creek Campground, which was located just a few hundred feet from the harbor with all the big ships that are docked on the southern berths and with a close view of the ships.


The railroad was just on the other side of the small park between us and the town, so we got a rude awaking the next morning at 6 am from a train horn at a road crossing about 100 feet from us.  The train horns went off numerous times a day.  This campground turned out to be the noisiest place we had ever camped, but it was fun nevertheless, and the best people watching since everyone from the cruise ship walked by our campsite.   We could even hear the loud speakers from the ships’ PA systems some mornings.  You couldn’t really make out what they were saying, but it wasn’t quiet.

The town is a Hoot!  Lots of shops, bars and restaurants to experience.  And more jewelry stores than seemed warranted, but I guess the throngs of cruise ship folks need to part with their money as quickly as possible.  We wandered around for a long time and then started looking for  a restaurant with a patio where we could eat dinner that would allow dusty.  We tried Skagway Brewery as they had a large patio, but pets could only be out there when the kitchen was closed for that area.. (odd)  But they said we could go upstairs and order take-out and bring it back down there and eat in there.  I believe they were still selling beer on the patio, just not food during doggie access hours.   We ended up finding the Skagway Fish Company  (SFC), but it had just closed for the evening, so we headed back to our wheeled homes for dinner “in”.

The next evening we walked over to the SFC for dinner and sat outside watching the throngs of people heading back to their cruise ships before they shoved off and left them there.   The restaurant had pretty good food, but our waiter was an ass.  His tip suffered as he continued to have a bad attitude for the whole dinner.  Never experienced that before, especially at a pretty high priced meal with several alcoholic drinks.

At noon on Tuesday we had a reservation for the Skagway & White Pass railway to ride it to the top of White Pass.   Some of the rail was on very narrow ledges with drop-off cliffs.   The railway tracks were narrow gauge, which means the tracks look way too close together.   Narrow gauge is 36″ wide and regular tracks are 54″ wide.  It almost seems like the cars should topple over sideways with a slight breeze.  But, fortunately for us, they only looked like that might happen, but they don’t.

During the summer the trains run constantly from 6 am till about 5 pm, lots and lots of trains coming and going.  They only do tours, it doesn’t seem like they are used for freight, but I am not sure of that.  We did hear whistles a few times late at night, but I figured they may be moving trains over to the maintenance yard.   They had lots of new engines. They looked brand new to me.  I imagine that was a huge capitol investment.  I guess they only have a finite window to make money while the cruise ships are in port and they didn’t want a broken locomotive to potentially stop the revenue “machine”.


The train ride was fun and the views were breathtaking.   I don’t know how many trains are on the tracks at the same time, but there were at least 6 trains that passed us going the other way during our trip.   There were at least 4 areas where they could pass you and seemed to be timed well so very little time was spent stopped while another train went past.   All the passenger cars looked in very good shape, meant to look old, but well kept.

Tuesday evening  during happy hour we started talking about the drive out of Skagway on that steep grade, but this time uphill.   Lightening the load seemed to be a good idea.   We eventually decided the gals would drive the cars up instead of us pulling them (they are an extra 4,000 lbs. each)  We also used up most of the 100 gallons of fresh water, lowering that weight from 1,000 lbs. to about 150 lbs.   Dumping the other tanks was a no-brainier as they were probably weighing in around 1,100 lbs. of unneeded weight.  So all in we jettisoned around 6,000 lbs. of weight for the trip up the mountain.

We drove off in the morning and of course we got stuck behind a double tanker truck struggling with a full load of fuel to get up the grade.  It never really got above 20 mph till it hit the top, where it disappeared quickly leaving us in its dust while we hooked up our cars for the rest of the trip to Teslin Lake.   We stopped for the Canadian border station not far from the top of the mountain, which was a bit different than the norm, as the guard was up in a window much higher than the normal border stop windows.  He was actually a bit higher than us, so we were looking up at him,  We had not seen that before.  No issues at the Canadian border again.  Apparently only US border guards are problematic and very picky about the food.

We drove on for a while and stopped at a pull-out overlook of Nares Lake and Bove Island just about 1/4 mile from shore for lunch.  This is probably one of the best parts of traveling, being able to pull over anywhere we want to stop for lunch and walk around a bit before traveling on down the highway.

Not but a few miles after we got back on the highway, we came around a downhill curve at speed and there was a car stopped in the middle of the road.   Assuming there must be some large animal in front of him, I slammed on the brakes, and at that moment wondered what might be hurtling toward our heads from behind due to that.   Larry was a bit closer than normal and I worried that he could plow into us, but he was paying attention and was able to stop too.   Turns out the Clown had stopped in the middle of the road there on this  downhill blind corner to watch a bear over near the tree line.   I cannot imagine if he had done that in front of that fast moving double fuel tanker we had followed up the hill.  I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have been able to stop fast enough and this bozo was smack dab in the middle of the highway.

The rest of the drive to Teslin Lake was thankfully uneventful.  We camped overnight at the Yukon Motel and Campground right on the lake and next to the long bridge they are replacing.  Lots of noise (pile driving)  in the morning.