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|Audi Alaska Adventure - Page 5|
|Written by Rich Truesdell|
|Friday, 31 January 1997 18:00|
Page 5 of 7
WEEK 3 - Talkeetna to Prince George
From Talkeetna, the next destinations were the coastal cities of Valdez, Haines and Skagway. They provide a striking contrast to interior Alaska. Having already visited the northern terminus of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, stopping at Valdez, the site of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, seemed natural. Valdez is the home of The World Extreme Skiing Championships, held each spring since 1990.
From Valdez, it is necessary to drive back north to reach the seacoast towns on Alaska's southeastern panhandle. This required a return visit to the crossroads town of Tok where we met Donna Blasor-Bernhardt, the owner of the WinterCabin B&B. Known as the Tent Lady of Tok, Donna is a published author and over the years the WinterCabin has served host to celebrities like Charles Kuralt.
The following day, we arrived at the seacoast town of Haines. We inquired if there was a direct route to Skagway since it was our next stop. Unfortunately, other than the next night's ferry, the only way to cover the 13 miles north to Skagway was to traverse almost 350 miles of road back up and down the peninsula. There were many old logging trails that were great for four-wheeling, but none went all the way through to Skagway.
The next stop, The Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, was another of the trip's high points. Also known as The Valley of the Eagles the preserve is located between the 10 and 26 mileposts on the Haines Highway. It provides an unparalleled opportunity to view bald eagles in late fall and early winter.
Hundreds of eagles were perched like bats in the trees. Most seemed intent on lunch, likely a tasty salmon flopping in the Chilkat River below. Viewing these majestic creatures was a breathtaking experience. Using the 30 to 1 digital zoom of a Sharp Digital ViewCam provided an unparalleled opportunity to capture the sights and sounds of the eagles. Getting it on tape justified all the planning and sacrifice that went into making this trip. At one point, 20 feet was all that stood between the lens and a particularly bold eagle before he went after his next meal.
From Haines, we looped north and back south again to arrive in Skagway after 7 PM on Election Day. The Golden North, Skagway's only year-round, full-service hotel was our destination. That night we received a rundown on local history from Teri Whitehead. A true multi-tasker, she not only served as on-duty manager, but staffed the bar, cooked and served dinner as well.
The Golden North, the oldest hotel in Alaska, serves as a time machine, a transporter to the turn of the century Klondike Gold Rush. Similar in concept to the Alaska Hotel in Dawson Creek, each room is uniquely furnished with period items from the days of '98. Most have private baths, except for four rooms on the third floor. Some rooms on this floor have a special history. In the Golden North's cozy bar, local resident Dan Crum, served up a great 4th of July story. It involved a wayward Canadian sailor who got too friendly with another guest. That is until her husband returned. Encouraging her paramour to climb out the window, naked as a jaybird, she convinced him a ledge was just below his feet. Releasing his grasp from the window sill, he fell three stories, rupturing his spleen while knocking himself out cold until he was discovered two hours later by an extremely inebriated local. If you visit Skagway, look up Dan. He will be happy to tell you more and Teri verifies that this story is 100% true.
On day twenty, before leaving Skagway, we visited the White Pass & Yukon Route, one of three remaining narrow gauge railroads in North America. Completed on July 29, 1900, it transported stampeders the first 110-miles to Whitehorse and then to the gold fields in the remote reaches of the Yukon Territory north of Dawson City.
It was noteworthy that Skagway is one of the few Alaskan Gold Rush settlements not to have been ravaged by the scourge of fire. It retains original examples of Gold Rush/Klondike architecture from the turn of the century. Through the efforts of the City of Skagway and the US National Park Service, this slice of Americana has been preserved for future generations to enjoy.