Today, we traveled a short distance from Carcross, Yukon Territory through British Columbia to Skagway, Alaska on the coast of the Chilkoot Inlet. The border crossing at this point included a very steep 11% downgrade into the city. Our group had some reservations about this route but all our concerns were unnecessary since the road was stepped into smaller sections and we traversed the course without any problems.
The coastline in this region of Alaska is very mountainous, with many fjords and great harbors. Skagway caters to all the cruise ships that come in to their harbor, so there are shops galore!!! We did some exploring and shopping but figured we would wait and do more later. Sunday the town was dead and half the shops were closed because there were no ships in port. Everyone told us to wait – there would be five ships in port by Tuesday!!!
Monday we took the catamaran sightseeing boat to Juneau for the day (Juneau can only be accessed by boat or airplane). We had a smooth sail and were able to see eagles, harbor seals and many waterfalls from the glacier melt. In Juneau, we walked around downtown, had lunch at The Hanger on the Wharf restaurant (best fish & chips), stopped by the Red Dog Saloon and shopped!!! From downtown we went out to the Mendenhall Glacier, just a 20 minute drive out from town. How would you like to say you have a glacier in your backyard? It was beautiful and massive. There were bears nearby but too many people prevented us from seeing them.
From the glacier we boarded our boat for the return trip to Skagway, but first we headed south because the captain had heard there were whales sighted in the area. When we got to the location, we watched humpback whales performing a ritual called “bubble-netting”. There 12-15 male whales gathered together to herd a school of herring by swimming around the outside of the school while blowing bubbles. This confuses and frightens the fish into forming a very tight ball. When ready, the dominant whale will signal the others to swim at the same time through the ball of herring to the surface. They swim with their mouths open ingesting the herring as they pass through the ball. We got to see them do it three times. The captain put a hydrophone in the water so we were able to hear them and the seagulls on top would fly off right before the whales came up to feed (they didn’t want to be part of the meal). It was absolutely the most fantastic thing we’ve seen.
Tuesday, the town was packed with tourists from five cruise ships so we took the White Pass & Yukon Route train to the top of the pass. It was quite a climb but the scenery was beautiful and the narration was excellent. At the top everyone switched seats so that those who saw the east side going up got to see the west side going down. The scenery was spectacular but again we’re noticing signs of autumn and it made us think of heading south before too long.