July 20 – Of all the varied tours and activities that have sprung up in Skagway (most of which are geared towards tourists who want to sit on a bus and look out a window), there was one that Stacie really wanted to see – a tour of the brothels above the Red Onion Saloon. We had tried to go on the tour on our first day in town, but by the time we got there they were done for the day. We had been assured that since there were cruise ships in town today there would be tours. We arrived at 10 am when the first tour started but were told that they were short staffed and not offering tours (the saloon was quite busy). With little else on our schedule for the day we drove around the entire town and got a feel for life in a town of 700 (Dave paused by houses with for sale signs, but none were boarded up so he wasn’t interested). The infamous Soapy Smith had owned a saloon of his own and we found it while driving around (surprisingly, no one is using it as a tourist attraction). We were taking the ranger guided hike of Dyea, but it was several hours away so we decided to drive the Klondike highway which connects Skagway to the rest of the world (it was completed in 1978). The route uses the White Pass summit, but takes a different path than the railroad. While there were many great views along the way, there was also an ‘engineering marvel’ – the Moore Bridge. The bridge spans an active fault and had to be specially designed. The bridge is cantilevered and all the weight of the bridge and traffic is on the south end. The north end of the bridge is just resting on the road. When the fault shifts all they have to do is patch the pavement at the end of the bridge.
We finished our driving trip in time to arrive at the Dyea townsite tour. The two hour tour went along paths that had been made along what used to be the roads of Dyea. It had been laid out in a city pattern with streets and avenues in a block format. In some places you could find lines of trees (now very big) that had been planted along the streets to make things look better (the city was on the delta of a river and had no trees at the time). The false front of one building is still standing (oddly enough it was a realtor’s office). In order to make customers think they were entering a large and established business facades were built in front of tents and small wood shacks (in fact all of the original three story buildings in Skagway are really only 2 stories tall). Continuing on the walk we also saw the remains of the warehouse where all stampeder’s goods arrived. The ranger that guided the hike encouraged us to hike a little bit of the Chilkoot trail, saying that the first hill was bad, but then it leveled out. We tried it and hiked about 2 miles in before turning back. The first hill, which today has stairs, wasn’t too bad and from there it was easy (they say at around 10 miles in it gets tough again). We returned to camp around 6pm, grabbed a snack and then attended the ‘nature talk’ given at the campground. The subject was medicinal uses for the plants in the area. The most surprising thing we learned is that the new growth on Sitka spruce is loaded with vitamin C (although we were also told it tastes awful). After the talk we had a late dinner.
July 21 – Determined to see the brothels of the Red Onion Saloon, we started calling them at 9 am. At 10 someone answered and said they wouldn’t know anything until 11. At 11 they knew there would be tours, but didn’t know when. We went into town and staked out the place, waiting by the door until they offered a tour. The tour was informative (apparently the owner of the building is fascinated by the subject as done lots of research). Back then it was five dollars for fifteen minutes at a brothel. You could get a better deal by going to the shacks in the red light districts, but they weren’t classy.
The only other thing on the schedule today was a 4:15 ferry trip to Haines. The trip would only take an hour, but we had to be in the line up area 2 hours early. We had lots of time to kill so we wandered out by the airport where we found a trail that ran along the shoreline and into a nearby hill. It was nothing special although it did kill an hour. We arrived at the ferry terminal around 2:00 and parked and waited. They did a little better at loading this time – we were actually on the ferry at departure time, but they didn’t get everyone on until 4:25 and we left 15 minutes late. We both enjoyed hot showers and to our surprise this ferry was equipped with laundry facilities (although the trip wasn’t long enough for us to use them). As we pulled into Haines Stacie saw a random rainbow and ran off with her camera. Once in Haines we grabbed a few groceries and trekked out to our campground and found a site.