The Desert Rat Meets the Rainforest

  Skagway, Alaska, is a unique place. As many as twenty of the historic buildings are maintained and preserved by the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (KLGO), but the entirety of the town does not fall under National Park Service (NPS) jurisdiction. A typical walk through Skagway can lead you through portions of the park, but you’ll also wander through town streets to get to them. On a typical summer’s day, you will find more tourists than locals. The Skagway population size is about 900, but there might be up to 10,000 people in Skagway on any given day. Most people come to the town on a cruise ship and many also make the drive down from Canada.

View from the seaplane taking me from Juneau to Skagway.

The draw to this town is the delicacy with which history has been preserved. The rangers are all passionate about their work, which can range from the archaeological finds around the park, to historic talks regarding Buffalo Soldiers, and even shorebird surveys. There is not a single NPS person in KLGO unwilling to answer questions, and they are all willing to help you understand the history of this town and its surrounding areas.   My first week in Skagway was spent getting over the initial shock I experienced when I arrived. I knew Alaska had temperate rainforests, but I had no idea I would be moving into one of them. Coming from a part of the country where there is no humidity and the average rainfall takes place 52 days of the year, the constant rain, wind, and greenery took some adjusting to. I spent several hours bird watching, hiking, and familiarizing myself with the foliage in the area. I was no longer in the desert, and everything seemed foreign to me.

Yakutania Point–one of the trails near Skagway

Rainy days mean rainy pictures.

Even the days were different. The sunset occurred around 11:00 PM, and the sun would rise around 3:00 AM. My first few days, I would wake up around 4:00 AM, thinking I had slept in and it was midday, only to realize my error. I would force myself back to sleep for a few more hours, because even though it was sunny, I had no desire to wake up so early.   During the day, I shadowed the interpretive rangers and learned about the history of the gold rush. It was astounding to me how much of it seemed familiar. I grew up in a part of Nevada with a rich gold rush history, and it seemed to me that both Alaska and Nevada (and even some boomtowns in California) had much in common. Next week, I will play a more active role on the KLGO team, and hopefully I, too, can help visitors learn about the wonders of this area.  

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