The real jewels of Skagway
A Summer 2015 Yukon Prospector Web Extra
“Is it always this windy in Skagway?”
That’s the current question I’ve been using to torment my American hosts. The answer, every time, is “Yes.” “Yes it is.” “Yes, why are you asking that.” “Yes, occasionally I feel like it will drive me mad.”
That last one might just be me. In the last three days I’ve gone through phases where it feels like I will start foaming at the mouth if I don’t get a minutes respite from the gale. The ceaseless howl can take on the properties of water-drip torture, but for all that, the place is horribly beautiful. Great, craggy cliffs burst with green all around. A constant mist swirls through the inlet, turquoise ocean laps at shores of sun-bleached boulders.
About 1,000 people live here, but it’s a massive tourist hub. Annually, Skagway sees over 900,000 visitors. The vast majority of them between 10am and 5pm. During the day behemoth cruise ships dock, and thousands of people stream into the streets. Pouring over boarded sidewalks into the shops, restaurants and pseudo-brothels of the city. The rest of the time it’s quiet and empty-feeling.
The inhabitants of Skagway are incredibly good natured.
Aesthetically, the place looks a bit like Dawson City, the buildings are historically minded; big square structures made of board, and meant to look 'original'. However, here the streets are paved; in Dawson they’re dirt.
An abundance of jewelry shops permeate the main drag. Every display, a sterile monument to sparkly, expensive things. The proprietors of these shops stand in their doorways, striking up conversation with passersby, casually mentioning their wares inside. They do not make eye contact with transient, long haired journalists who live in vans.
Neither do the wait staff in town - at first. Strolling into any of the four bars after 6 pm usually meant a small wait in a not-too-busy environment. A server later said they spent the day catering to people who have been exceedingly catered to for the last x weeks. People who expect to have everything now. So perhaps there is a small sense of satisfaction in taking an extra minute with non-ship visitors.
The inhabitants of Skagway are incredibly good natured anyway. And familiar. If you do enough travelling you eventually develop a persona akin to many the other travelers around the world. You’re likely to share a similar sense of humour, and desire to never be in one place for too long. It makes bonding easier. Being that a lot of people in Skagway are hospitality-based, and seeing as it’s not hospitable in the winter, you get a lot of transient people working in the seasonal-service industry.
If you want to rub elbows with them, a good place to start is the Red Onion. They’ve got a popular local dance night, and the gorgeous girls dress like the harlots of old during the day.
Originally a brothel, now just a bar, the Onion gives daily tours of the rooms once used to make sweet love to prostitutes. The legend (OK a piece of paper on the wall) says the place is haunted by more than its former-clientele’s bad decisions. It’s a bonerfide paranormal spot according to Stones River Paranormal.
Also, you can get drunk and dance there!
If none of that sounds like fun, you’ll have to console yourself with the gorgeous natural landscape around town. Pretty much the only outdoor place in Skagway not screaming with wind is Yukutania Point. It’s a quick walk from a trail-head beside the airport. If you want to impress the person you’re hiking with, there’s an aerobic workout system along the trail. You can bust out a few chin-ups in front of the ocean.
Since you’re dying to know by now, yes, there is weed in Skagway. But even though it’s legal, no one is able to “sell” it yet. The government is still working on a regulatory system for that. However, if you travel far enough down the main strip you’ll eventually run into someone willing to “donate” to your cause in exchange for the purchase of a knick-knack. That’s right folks, they’re just giving weed away in Skagway.
There’s also a “weed-tour” that’s popped up. I hadn’t a chance to go, but I heard it’s an enlightening experience. Basically, you’re lead through a hydroponic garden while smoking weed and learning about its cultivation. My high school experience bets you won’t retain much.
After you get all buzzed out (or, not) you can head over to the Days of ’98 Show. A vaudevillian performance detailing the life of Soapy Smith — a notorious Gold Rush swindler. You’ll know the show is about to start when can-can dancers cat call you from the windows above the theatre. The show has old-timey music, high kicks and laughs. Just like the time I tried out for the football team.
While there’s plenty to do in town. One thing you shouldn’t miss is the journey in/out. Driving from Carcross the pass is an incredible sight. Steep mountains and waterfalls are everywhere in the lush green summer. If you’re coming from the sea it’s much the same, except you get the pleasure of seeing coastal mountain ranges spew their murky brown water into the turquoise ocean. It’s about the most beautiful panorama I’ve seen.
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