Week Three to Alaska
The first 18 days was about getting there. Since then, it’s been about seeing the beautiful Inland Passage of Alaska. We decided to forgo the 100 miles out of the way to Whitehorse and make a 320 mile drive straight to Skagway. We arrived in Skagway after a harrowing 3000 foot descent down into Skagway from Carcross in the Yukon. I’ve had a fear of cliffs while driving since we took our kids up to the Russian River for camping and headed home via Highway 1 through Carmel. I kept having visions of my foot going off the brake and onto the accelerator, and my heart was pounding so hard that I had to go into the back of the VW Vanagon and try to make myself calm. I’ll never forget it, and every time I’m in that position, the same thing happens. Mind you, Dave doesn’t like those cliffs either, but he plays strong to allow me to completely freak out!
Our RV reservation was at Garden City RV, operated by the town of Skagway. A nice enough campground, but mostly gravel with grass barriers on each side of each unit. Yet, there were no picnic tables upon which we’ve been cooking, so we decided to enjoy our 2 meals a day eating out.
We were about 1 mile from city center, so we decided to make our walks there every day around seeing new things. The problem with the dogs, especially Steph, is that she barks and lunges when dogs are near her because she wants to play. We had to determine what a bear might think when Steph makes her aggressive introduction, so we’ve opted to stay on the main roads and not take the chance of encountering a bear. There’s really good walking in the 3 towns we are visiting in Alaska. BUT, many people would consider this a cop out to the real deal which is great hiking in Alaska. I’m taking the conservative approach and opting to keep our dogs and us safe. I guess we could ditch them for a few hours and go discover on our own, but that’s not what we all signed up for.
We first went to Skagway Fish Co., across from 2 of the FIVE cruise ship landings. The town has about 1500 people in the spring/summer tourist time. When all five cruise ships are in, it can result in visitation of 20,000 people!! The streets are crowded. Skagway Fish Co was my first attempt at fresh halibut, and I was disappointed and have been the 2 other times since. It’s been significantly over cooked. Halibut should be flaky. The salmon, however, has been cooked properly, possibly because of its high fat content.
Starting that afternoon, we realized what my nephew said ages ago when he was single. Dogs are chic magnets!! Not that either of us would still be in that category, but virtually everyone with a lab at home HAD to come up and tell us about their dog and how much they missed him/her. Steph and Willie were stopped nonstop for a pet and a story.
Another highlight for us was the Skagway Elks Lodge! I’ve been a member for 8 years in San Francisco, and we’ve had wonderful experiences visiting Elks Lodges across the country. Skagway was no exception. We sat through a Warriors game in their great living area. Drinks are inexpensive, and the locals have a sense of camaraderie not normally felt at a regular dive bar. Turns out the bar manager, Dustin, grew up in Santa Maria, just 25 miles from Lompoc, my home town!
Bites on Broadway was a good breakfast stop for us. Dogs and restaurants don’t necessarily get along in Alaska. Their rules are that dogs can be on a deck where no food is being served on it. We had a similar experience on our 2015 trip to Canada. There are workarounds, like benches outside the restaurant or hanging the dogs leashes outside of the eating area. Any way, the dogs didn’t mind. They know they’re in for some grub when they’re out to eat with us.
The first day ordered breakfast, I saw a Cubano on the menu, one of Dave’s faves. So I ordered myself a breakfast sandwich, easy eating on a park bench, and Dave a cubano. The counter waiter asked if I wanted another coffee. I told him, no – just the cubano and breakfast sandwich. Turns out a Cubano there is a coffee drink – double espresso with ‘pressed’ sugar which is what Dave got before I went back to order him what I was having. The counter person teased me every other time I saw him about the ‘cubano’. (A Cubano is a Cuban sandwich on a large burger bun with all kinds of meats, an egg, pickles, jalapeño, mayo, salsa sometimes. If you’re ever looking for the REAL DEAL, go to It’s It at 22nd and Mission in SF’s Mission District. You’re in for about 2000 calories of glorious sandwich made to order in the middle of a liquor store!)
There’s a tertiary braking safety device for a tow car required by the state of California. The problem is it drained the battery by the time we got to Skagway. We tried for a few hours to use our roadside assistance to no avail and went to ask the office person for ideas. As we’ve found to be the case with everyone we have met in Alaska, she pulled her truck up, pulled out jumper cables and saved the day.
Our ferry departure from Skagway to Juneau was at 8:30pm on Monday. The queue is permitted to line up starting at 12:30pm. Boarding is a 6:30pm. We got all of our tickets and placed the rv in the queue and took the dogs and the Jeep out for a late lunch. We found what would be the best seafood we’ve had so far at Hoadie’s, an all outside food truck like space featuring all types of Alaskan seafood. It’s the only place we saw Dungeness crab in all of Skagway. Delicious.
We had to get supplies at the local market, and man are the prices expensive. Most stores, from Dave’s experience working with Matson, blame the transport companies for the high cost of food. Back in the day, a Hawaiian food store would post a sign in front of the empty milk case – “No milk today. The Matson ship is late.” Others blame it on the high cost of the requirement to use American laborers on American ships. That’s partially true, but also true is the store’s desire to make hay while the sun shines. Skagway is a very lonely place during the winter, another reason its citizens flock to the Elks Lodge during that time.
To save the cost of 2 extra feet on the ferry, we dismantled the tow bar and drove the RV and Jeep onto the ferry separately. That saved us $1500 for the entire 3-leg journey!! It was a piece of cake getting the cars on. We were able to sit with the dogs for a few minutes and then had to head up top.
The Columbia is a 45-year old beautiful ferry in the Alaska Marine Highway service. We reserved a room which consisted of a outside view, 2 bunk beds, a desk, a shower and toilet. The entire ship was immaculate.
They have a cafeteria and a fine dining establishment. They do NOT allow tipping as hard as we tried. We headed to the fine dining facility to have a small bite to eat. We shared a clam chowder – yum – and a Caesar Salad. The Caesar was the best I’ve had in 10+ years. The salad was super fresh and crisp, and the dressing was tasty but not overdressed. That was about the end of my early bird day. Dave stayed up to take the dogs out at the stop at Haines and grabbed the top bunk for the night. The sleep was surprisingly good, and we were probably among the least tried, since we already wake up at 3-4am every day. Our debarking was at 4am, and the sun was already on the rise. We hugged the puppies and grabbed our mutual vehicles and headed the 5 miles to our campsite. We got early check in, so at 5:30, we tried our hardest to be quiet and back into the site – getting better at that I must admit.
We were pretty tired and opted for some food to cook from the local Super Bear, whose food we were quite impressed with. Flank steak with zucchini, onions and mushrooms and enough for leftovers. Delicious.
Mosquitos are huge here. We have a number of remedies, including for the dogs, and I’m vigilant about that. A good natural spray is one part vanilla and 3 parts water. I swear it works. There’s also mosquito bands and tabs, and the dogs have a vet approved spray, although they hate it! I have only one bite so far, and judging from the size of these monsters, my remedies are working!
I’ll leave you here in Juneau at the Mendenhall Glacier. What a beautiful site just 3.5 miles from our campsite, which is beautiful by the way! The access to the glacier is a mere quarter mile away, and coming over the top of a hill to witness it is breathtaking. We were able to take turns going up the 4 flights of stairs to the Visitor Center to review the history and observe the beast from a higher level. Frightening to me how much the glacier has receded and how so many people are still unwilling to recognize that we are destroying our earth – man is. There’s so much we can do if we just take even baby steps.
The next week will cover Juneau and our landing in Ketchikan and what’s waiting for us there. We have fishing here on Monday, although we’re told it will be mostly rock fish and maybe some halibut.
All in all, happy to be here, and happy to check off a bucket list item. Carpe diem my friends!!