We disembarked the ms Zaandam and climbed into the famous narrow-gauge vintage rail car. Being as we were the first ones on board we took the best seats beside an old fashioned pot bellied heater.
This 116 year old railroad is truly a world wonder and an international historic civil engineering landmark. It shares the honor with the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.
The tour guides announced the points of interest including Bridal Falls, Inspiration Point and Dead Horse Gulch. They told stories of the Klondike Gold Rush, some were sad, some were funny and most were tales of a hard life in the search for gold in the northwest of Canada and Alaska.
On July 17, 1897 the Seattle newspaper had broadcast the headline Gold! Gold! Gold! The news spread like wildfire and the country in the midst of a depression went gold crazy and tens of thousands people headed north to Alaska to make their fortune. The gold-crazed men and women steamed up the Inside Passage waterway and arrived in Skagway to begin the overland trek of 600 miles to the Klondike. The travelers found passes and trails filled with hazards and harrowing experiences. Some were not prepared for the weather and some saw the opportunity to make their fortune by making and selling warm clothes, medical supplies and other misc. necessities along the way to the unprepared stampeders. Many sideline opportunities rose to the occasion; ie: they needed tools so a tool business was formed. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police stood guard at access points to ensure that each traveler brought enough staples of food, tools, firearms and warm clothing to help ensure their survival in the wilderness for one year. Each and every person had to have at least 2000 lbs. of supplies or they couldn't go. That's when horses became involved and eventually it became known that 3000 horses had died that first year on the White Pass. The stampeders were inexperienced and many had never owned a horse before. They loaded their horses too heavily and the weight broke their backs while other horses broke their legs on the narrow jagged trails.
The workers reached the summit, ten million dollars worth of gold was found and removed in the first year. Two years later another 38 million dollars worth of Klondike gold had been recorded; the result of the largest gold rush the world has ever known.
The White Pass &Yukon Railroad used to run year round in it's freight hauling days but when metal prices plummeted in 1982 it closed until 1988. It then reopened to operate as a narrow gauge excursion railroad that runs early May through September to coincide with the cruise ship season.
If our excursions to Alaska are an example of experiencing a great trip....our last visit was the first Alaska cruise of the season in early May 2010 and we had perfect weather with no rain at all. Now in 2014 this was the Zaandams last Alaska cruise for the season and it was perfect timing as this day was also perfect. We were lucky with our travel time once again.