Le Chic En Rose

Diaries of an independent traveller

We’re back in Perth after a few days away in the south west region of WA, our first break since we got back from overseas last May. It was such a lovely feeling to travel again, even over a relatively short distance. So I’ll intersperse our WA travels over the next few weeks in between the historical write up of our North American trip in August 2018.

This week I want to round up the series on Skagway in the Alaskan South East (see here and here for parts 1 and 2 of our explorations of the Klondike Gold Rush town).

We intended to book tickets for the famous White Pass train following the Gold Rush route of the early prospectors. However, after talking to the local guide Chris, whom we met in Juneau (see below), we opted to try the Skagway White Pass and Dog Mushing Tour.

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We weren’t too sure if this was the right decision as it meant trusting that a tour bus would be waiting to pick us up at the quay when we docked in Skagway the next morning. However a nice luxury bus was duly waiting for us and we successfully checked in for the tour. The bus route follows the White Pass north out of Skagway but it’s a longer ride than the train taking you further into the wild countryside beyond the pass across the Canadian border into British Columbia.

Apart from the highlight of visiting husky dogs at their summer training centre, Chris told us we would be more likely to see native wildlife from the bus than the train, which frequently sounds its horn and scares the animals away. Only about 15 or so minutes out of town we were rewarded with a close bear encounter from the safety of our bus window.

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Amazingly an unsuspecting father had just got his young toddler out of their car and was walking towards the bear until the yelling of our bus driver finally alerted him to the potential danger!

The black bear seemed quite unperturbed and sauntered leisurely on up the hillside.

 

The landscape became progressively wilder and bleaker as we headed north east towards the US/Canadian border. The actual border point is situated on a major earthquake fault line so for safety reasons both the US and Canadian border patrol points are set up a few kilometres away on either side of the border. The border itself is in no man’s land.

 

We skirted the southern edges of the Chilkoot Trail Historic Site and Lake Bennett where the Gold Rush prospectors, assuming they had survived the arduous trail up the White Pass, would organise boats and supplies to float upstream to Dawson City, the central point for the Yukon goldfields.

Instead our bus took the highway leading east to Tagish Lake. This lake, 100 kms long and 2 kms wide, straddles the border of British Columbia and the Yukon. It felt very remote and somewhat desolate even in the height of summer and the wind was howling when we got out of the bus to take photos.

 

 

We reached the main object of our journey, the Tagish Lake Kennel,  in time for lunch.

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This remote husky dog training camp, run by an incredible lady called Michelle, was found serendipitously one day whilst out driving by our tour guide. Subsequently the company came to an arrangement with her to run tour parties out here. We bought sandwiches and other snacks from their cafe, purchased souvenirs and were able to mingle with the puppies and find out about their amazing lifestyle.

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Before I went to this part of the world I had no idea what dog mushing was nor had I heard of the (very famous) Iditarod Dog Sled Race (see here and here for more information). Basically mushing is a sport involving dogs pulling carts or sleds mainly on snow sometimes on dry land in summer months. There is far more to it than this simple explanation of course – more on dog mushing here.

The Iditarod is held annually in early March and goes from Anchorage to Nome on the western coast of the main part of Alaska. Michelle has competed in it several times and it involves incredible endurance and stamina plus superb animal handling skills on the part of the musher.

The dogs are treated like royalty with the best food and treatments available. The mushers sit on a tiny sled and must take care of the animals before themselves. The huskies have a complete affinity for the freezing wild terrain and insatiable energy. We’d never seen anything like it!

 

 

We were allowed into the training yard with strict rules attached. Initially the dogs seemed relatively quiet but when they got wind that there was a sled ride coming up they couldn’t contain their excitement. Don’t be fooled by the pictures – they were only docile for a short time even the puppies!

 

We were divided into groups and about 8 of us at a time got into a jeep harnessed to a large group of dogs who took us on a dry sledding ride. It was incredibly bumpy and the dogs bounded round the track at high speed.

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At one point the leader decided to take a break and they all raced over to the small lake and guzzled away enjoying the fresh water.

Back at the camp site we had an interesting talk from one of the dog handlers and learnt more about what it takes to undergo an endurance race such as the Iditarod (there is a Canadian National race too).

I was glad not to be the audience participant for trying on the equipment as it was quite warm by this point and the layers of clothing required for an Alaskan winter are extensive.

 

Afterwards we were free to wander through the kennels and pat some of the dogs. It was amazing to see them resting reasonably quietly after the excitement of the dog sledding excursion!

 

There were also retired dogs in the kennels including at least one who had become a beloved family pet. They can apparently live till 15 years or so.

 

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After making a few purchases in the shop it was time to head to the bus for the return trip into Skagway. We did head up the road for a few miles first though to pose for photos at the Yukon border sign.

 

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Once we can, hopefully,  all travel again I’d highly recommend this particular tour out of Skagway – it was a priceless experience and fascinating to hear about the way of life in this remote corner of the earth.

Copyright © 2020 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

My last post was all about our exploration of the fascinating frontier town of Skagway on our South Eastern Alaskan travels. I hadn’t realised I had a whole bunch of additional photos hiding in my computer archives so decided to include them this week as a postcript to Skagway – Klondike Gold Rush Tales From The Past! Part 1.

More detailed information is included in the link to my last post I’ve attached above.

We wandered round quaint buildings from frontier days that looked so pretty in the afternoon sun but must house plenty of lurid and colourful tales from Gold Rush times!

We passed on the brothel tour of the Red Onion Saloon but it sounds like it is pretty popular! Nowadays the one time bordello built in 1897 is a saloon, restaurant and brothel museum.

 

 

We stopped by the Visitor Centre (part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Park), which from memory had free entry. It provided an excellent insight into the town’s history and development in Gold Rush days and the characters and personalities who helped to shape the town’s heritage.

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We also found out about the traditional Tlingit names for places in the Skagway area.

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The return run of the White Pass Summit Excursion Train was just drawing into the little station as we made our way back to the boat.

 

We had headed up the White Pass ourselves earlier in the day but on a local tour by bus. We went up into the wild landscape of Klondike Gold Rush country, which took us back across the border into British Columbia, Canada and briefly into the Yukon itself. I’ve deferred that to next week’s post as I wanted to share the additional photos of Skagway that I unearthed this week!

Here, however, is a sneak preview of one of the locals we encountered en route!

 

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Copyright © 2020 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Another overnight sailing from our previous port of call, Juneau, took us to the frontier town of Skagway Alaska.

Even today the town has something of a wild west feeling to it. The population is subject to seasonal fluctuations with the summer months bringing a large influx of tourists to the region including the many, like us, who in most years arrive by cruise ship (our trip was in August 2018).

 

 

Skagway (or Skaguay as we saw it spelt on some of the signs) comes from a Tlingit word (the First Nations people of the area) for rough seas in the inlet. It is a northerly port at the upper end of the Inside Passage very close to the modern Canadian border – in fact the border between Alaska in the US and Canada was disputed for many years in the early pioneering days (see here).

 

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The history of the settlement is inextricably linked to the Klondike Gold Rush. Initially an early pioneer called William “Billy” Moore settled in the area in 1887 believing that the mountains to the north in the Klondike Region were a likely place for gold prospecting. He successfully navigated the White Pass over the coastal mountain range led by a Tlingit explorer Skookum Jim. It was the latter who first found a gold nugget at Discovery Claim on 16th August 1896 with his brother in law George Carmack though there are differing versions of this story! It appears that Carmack tried to take all the credit unfairly away from Skookum Jim at the time and in fact it may even have been Skookum’s sister Kate (George’s wife) who made the first discovery.

We actually followed the trail in reverse as later in our holiday we visited the Klondike Gold Rush Museum in Seattle (see here for more information).

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Anyway, whatever the actual version was, the word of a gold discovery led to a massive boom in the area. Thousands of would-be prospectors headed north to the small isolated town hoping to make their fortune in the goldfields. The Klondike Gold Rush National Park covers the history of this iconic quest starting from Seattle, the initial point of departure for many of the prospectors, up to Skagway.

 

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Skagway became the base for gathering supplies before commencing the precarious and treacherous journey up the Chilkoot Trail and over the White Pass towards the Klondike goldfields in the Canadian/Alaskan border region. It soon became a hotch-potch of hastily erected buildings and shops and was known for its mud and lawless reputation – characters such as conman Soapy Smith became synonymous with the place (see here for his story). White Pass also went by the chilling epithet of “Dead Horse Pass”  – no explanation needed really but it evokes the terrible suffering that people and animals endured in the desperate rush to make fortunes (most people didn’t of course).

 

 

The White Pass and Yukon Route Railway runs vintage trains up over the pass towards the goldfields, and we saw the train arriving at Skagway Station.

 

 

Although this is an excellent excursion by all accounts, we opted to do a coach trip, the White Pass and Dog Mushing Tour, which had been recommended by Chris the tour guide we met on the quay at Juneau. It was more than worth it — more about that coming in my next post!

 

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Copyright © 2020 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Courtesy of Monsieur this week – some photos he took on a beautifully clear, crisp winter’s morning walk with Winston Le Schnoodle from our local vantage point, “Top of the World”. If you look closely you can spot the kookaburra in the tree. It seemed appropriate to share them today on the midwinter solstice, our shortest day and longest night here Down Under.

 

 

Copyright © 2020 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

With Covid 19 restrictions gradually being lifted here in Western Australia we are now free to travel widely within our home state (the interstate borders to the east remain closed for the time being though).

We had a leisurely lunch today in the beautiful setting of Millbrook Winery in Jarrahdale for a belated birthday lunch for our son in law. It’s a place of sentimental memories as it was also the setting for their wedding reception six years ago (see here).

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Millbrook only reopened its fine dining restaurant this past week after the enforced break with the Covid 19 restrictions. It made booking a table much easier than usual – in normal times you need to book at least a couple of months ahead.

The quality of the food is superb and the vegetables and fruit are picked fresh from their own gardens. Often the menus are decided on the day by the chef according to the availability of seasonal ingredients in the garden. Millbrook’s wines are world class – if you don’t want a full sit down meal you can sample some wines with a light platter in the tasting room downstairs. However I don’t think wine tasting was being allowed today due to ongoing Covid 19 restrictions though the casual dining area was open for light lunches (that may change in due course).

 

 

Despite the inclement weather and heavy rain we still enjoyed the wonderful views across the undulating grounds of the winery.

 

 

There was also excitement in the form of a helicopter, which landed on the lawn apparently whisking a couple to and from their lunch (the pilot waited a couple of hours for them to eat their meal before taking them off again). The staff told us this is quite a regular happening and it certainly was very interesting for our two young granddaughters though we opted to drive there and back today!

 

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We had to abandon any plans for a walk around the grounds but it is always lovely to get out into the crisp, clear country air even on a rainy day and you couldn’t ask for a better setting for lunch than Millbrook.

 

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Copyright © 2020 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Before heading back to our boat for the evening sailing, we had just enough time to take the aerial tramway (cable car) up to the summit of Mount Roberts for some wonderful views over Juneau and the surrounding scenery.

I actually went up with my friend having left other members of our party checking out the Red Dog Saloon (Monsieur unfortunately hates cable car rides)! The Mount Roberts Tramway takes a few minutes to whisk you away from the hustle and bustle of the cruise ship quay in Downtown Juneau to the mountain station.

The top of the ride provides you with a wonderful vantage point over the Gastineau Channel, Douglas Island and on a clear day further afield towards the Chilkat Mountains to the north. It was a somewhat grey and misty early evening and the light was starting to fade but worth the ride nevertheless.

 

The facilities at the top include a fascinating nature and cultural centre. I wish I’d had more time to explore as there was a wealth of information about the environment, flora and fauna and history of the First Nations people of the region. Artwork and cultural heritage were on display including this particularly impressive totem pole.

 

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In addition there were further reminders about some of the local inhabitants who prefer to be left alone to their own devices!

 

Naturally there is also a well-stocked gift shop. Alaska is a good place to stock up on Christmas decorations – there is certainly a Nordic feel here and some very pretty arts and crafts items. More than a few made their way back home “Down Under”!

 

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Hiking trails criss-cross the mountain with varying degrees of difficulty and there is a pathway up and down from the town avoiding the need to take the tramway if you prefer.

I did explore a bit of the trail at the top section out of interest and it is certainly steep so take heed of the warnings! With little time to spare we sensibly took the tramway back down the mountain the way we came!

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2020 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Apart from wildlife conservation, which we learnt a lot about during our spectacular whale-watching tour (see here), a major theme of our Alaskan trip was discovering more about the effects of climate change.

This was especially apparent on our afternoon excursion out to the Mendenhall Glacier Protection area, a conservation area only a few miles out of Downtown Juneau. Regular shuttle buses run to and from the town centre to the park.

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A beautiful pristine section of the federally protected Tongass State Forest, there are numerous hiking trails, lakes and streams and the opportunity to see the spectacular Mendenhall Glacier. There are a number of different trails you can take – we took the shorter one as we were a bit pressed for time, but there is a longer one that takes you through the rain forest right to the glacier’s edge.

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It was a somewhat cloudy and grey day when we visited but it added to the atmosphere – the photos don’t do justice to the sheer scale of Mendenhall and the amazing wilderness scenery.

 

There is an excellent Visitor Centre, which has a wealth of information about the icefield area and the ongoing scientific research. Mendenhall Glacier, along with the other sections of the Juneau Icefield, has been monitored by the Juneau Icefield Research Program since 1942. It has retreated 1.75 miles (2.82 km) since 1929, when Mendenhall Lake was created, and over 2.5 miles (4.0 km) since 1500. This fact of course amply demonstrates that the ice has retreated far more rapidly in the last 100 years or so and this concerning trend is sadly continuing apace. 

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Humans are of course not the only visitors to the icefield. The salmon run season had started when we were there in August and hungry black bears like to take the opportunity to stock up on food supplies before the long hard winter.

There are information signs and warnings everywhere!

 

The shuttle bus from town drops you off near the creek where the salmon swarm towards the end of their annual run (see here for more information). This makes it a potentially excellent bear-spotting place. We spent a fair amount of time hanging around hoping that a bear would pop out of the bushes near enough so we could take photos but far enough away from us so we didn’t become afternoon tea!  An important point – you’re not allowed to take food with you into the park for very obvious reasons!

 

 

Despite a couple of separate sessions bear-watching we finally left disappointed – we were getting very hungry ourselves by this stage not having had any time for lunch and so took the shuttle bus back into town. Our friends, who stayed on an extra half an hour, were rewarded for their patience by the sight of a mother bear coming out of the bushes feeding salmon from the creek to her young cub. Apparently she had been darting in and out of the bushes all day but the park rangers don’t give you that information for fear of scaring the bears off with a rush of tourists. We decided that “Mama Bear” must have come out of the bushes each time our backs were turned!

We did fortunately get to see a large black bear at close quarters the following day – we were safely in a bus near Skagway though! Here is some further information about bears. We were lucky enough to see both black bears and the larger grizzly or brown bears during our time in Alaska. You’d have to go far further north up beyond the Arctic Circle to have any chance of seeing a polar bear!

Just to reinforce the point!

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Copyright © 2020 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

We booked all our tours for Juneau and Skagway (the following destination) through a guy called Chris. He had set up alongside the arrival quay in Juneau Port (see here for last post). We saved a small fortune on the advertised prices on the boat and also got to see some places that we wouldn’t have considered otherwise if it weren’t for Chris’s excellent sales pitch (I mean that kindly!). The “White Pass and Dog Mushing” was another highlight, which will be coming in the next few posts (if I can work out the new WordPress editor that is).

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Downtown Juneau nestles on the shores of Gastineau Channel overlooked by Mount Juneau and Mount Roberts. It’s a curious mixture of narrow streets and old-fashioned buildings dating from its heyday as a 19th century gold mining centre combined with modern concrete architecture. Many of these newer buildings house government headquarters as Juneau is the state capital of Alaska (not the city of Anchorage as you might expect). This last fact is somewhat surprising given that there is no access road into Juneau (unlike Ketchikan our previous port of call or Skagway the next one). We were told on more than one occasion by the locals that there are in fact only three means of access into Juneau, by sea, air and birth canal ……

The waterfront is a perpetual hive of activity in the summer months with small fishing boats and seaplanes coming and going and the large cruise ships passing through several times a week.

We had just enough time to catch the morning whale watching tour with “Juneau Whale Watch”.  Our boat, the Rochelle B, was proudly crewed by an all girl crew, Kara the captain, Tori the deck hand/assistant and Christi the tour guide and resident biologist. All of them had interesting stories and we learnt not only about the wildlife, flora and eco-system but about the history of the area. Christi’s family were several generation settlers originally from Scotland from memory and Tori came from a remote First Nations Community up in the north.

 

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We were expecting to stop in the channel to see if we could spot any whales but Kara suddenly speeded up the boat. Although we were bobbing about quite a bit in the small boat miraculously I didn’t get seasick!

 

 

We approached a wider and more open part of the channel more like a bay and the reason for the haste became clear – we were about to witness literally a once in a lifetime experience. A group of humpback whales had encountered a massive shoal of fish on an underwater ledge and, as sometimes happens, pooled their resources in a giant fishing operation known as “bubble-netting”. Rather than try and explain the intricacies of this procedure, follow the link here for more details. Basically though it is learned rather than instinctive behaviour and the “feed” is coordinated by a leader who uses sounds to indicate to the other whales when to dive and blow bubbles to trap the fish. The whales therefore dive in unison and create a huge “bubble-net” which ensures them a giant feast. As we were in Alaska in late summer the whales would have been feeding up for the breeding season in the winter months when they don’t eat at all. I am not a scientist so forgive the rather unscientific layman’s explanation.

Here is a video taken at a fair distance to give you some idea (it does come out the right way when you click on it!)

 

 

 

Naturally it is very important that the whales do not become stressed with boatloads of tourists trying to take photos. Our boat had to remain a fair distance away from the action and we had of course to be as quiet and discreet as possible. We were able to listen to the female group leader (her name was Cornucopia) through Christi’s sonogram machine. The photos therefore are all taken at a considerable distance – there were about fourteen whales in the group and it was an amazing sight to witness. Christi had only ever seen a group of whales bubble-netting three times in her life and she’s a local biologist! Most tourists would never get to see it at all.

 

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We stayed in the area for about 15 minutes before leaving to give another boat a turn.

Our final stop was a small island where a large group of young male sea lions were seeing out the summer. Apparently many of them would have been young adolescents who had been unable to find a partner in the mating season so basically they chill out on the island passing the time away. Hopefully they will have better luck next year but with the cacophony of noise and the somewhat strong smell I’m not sure of their chances.

 

 

 

 

We felt really privileged to have been on the whale watching tour and to have seen such an incredible sight as the humpback whales bubble-netting. Alaska just kept on getting better and better!

 

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Copyright © 2020 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

 

 

 

Although travel isn’t possible at present and indeed most of us will be staying close to home for some considerable time to come, it’s still nice to reminisce and perhaps dare to dream of some future trips. With this in mind I thought I’d get caught up with a past trip that I never finished writing up – our month-long travels in Western Canada and Alaska in August 2018.

I left us sailing somewhere up the Inside Passage off NW America where our last port of call was Ketchikan. For a recap of the trip so far see here for our Canadian Travels and here for the US travels.

We sailed overnight from Ketchikan and woke the following morning to a typically grey, misty Alaskan day as we approached our next port of call, Juneau. The Alaskan state capital nestles on the shores of the Gastineau Channel, a narrow inlet that divides the town from Douglas Island on the opposite side. Somehow the large cruise boats ease their way through the waters to dock at the quay. Part-shrouded in cloud with wooded hills sloping down to the channel interspersed with rocky ravines and waterfalls, Juneau has a haunting beauty.

Like Ketchikan we hadn’t pre-booked any tours on the boat so disembarked after breakfast with no particular plans in mind. We were greeted with a row of booths and stalls set up along the quayside all advertising local excursions, activities and potential shopping trips. In the end we found ourselves hurriedly booked onto a shortly-departing whale watching tour, which turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of our life! I will save that excursion for next week’s post as it really deserves to stand alone.

In the meantime here are a selection of photos taken around Gastineau Channel and the departure quay for the small whale-watching boat.

It’s been enjoyable sorting through these old travel photos and appreciating all the places we have been able to visit over the years. I know the small communities in Alaska, which rely so heavily on the tourism industry, must be going through really difficult times right now. The season is so short too – just from May to August for cruises.

Sending virtual hugs and best wishes to all the wonderful people we met on our travels up in this beautiful part of the world.

Copyright © 2020 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Some photos below taken a couple of weeks ago down at Hillarys Boat Harbour walking out along the breakwater. It was the first time we had been down to the sea for a while (even though it’s only a 5 minute drive away) as we opted to do voluntary self isolation whilst our daughter, Mlle, was doing her mandatory 14 day quarantine after arriving back from London. It was also the first day for a while that the weather changed and we had cool and blustery conditions. The waves regularly broke over the rocks and we ended up getting quite wet! It was invigorating and refreshing though.

Happily since then it has been quite warm and sunny so we’re making the most of it before rain and showers come in from the south west later this week.

 

 

We know we’re very fortunate to still be able to get out for daily walks and enjoy the wonderful Perth coastline. Earlier this week in Western Australia we had the first easing of restrictions and now gatherings of up to 10 people are permitted both indoors and outside (for friends and acquaintances not just family members).

Our borders will remain closed indefinitely so for now we are an island within an island plus we have regional travel bans so can’t venture too far from Perth.

Sending virtual hugs to everyone round the world!

 

Copyright © 2020 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

 

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