Since I’ve been back in the Midwest after my second Alaska stint, I’ve had more time to think about all those amazing experiences and the crazy world of Alaskan tourism. Sometimes I forget that Skagway wasn’t always a city filled with jewelry shops and cheap souvenirs, it was a booming Gold Rush Town.
There are several sides of Skagway. The tourist side complete with vendors and tours that promise Alaskan excursions and really just nudge you to the gift shops after a few picture stops. And then there are the Skagway mountains, the trails, and rivers frequented most often by summer workers on their days off. That such kitsch could stand side by side with the Alaskan scenery, is a bit of paradox.
Are those hungry tourists so different from the hungry adventurers from 100 years before? It was the desire for gold that made Skagway the town it is in the first place. A port town like Skagway was a jumping off a point for prospectors and adventurers hoping to strike it rich. One look at that White Pass Trail from the comfort of your car and you are struck dumb by the thought that people walked with few hopes of getting anything but a cold, frostbite or a tumble off the side of a mountain. All wishing to striking it rich. At least one Madame or barkeep back then must have found it a bit strange that next to such un-tampered beauty and majestic mountains were those adventurers ignoring the perils and landscape to get the gold.
When you look at Alaska’s tourism industry, you have to at least admire that not a whole lot has changed. Sure those cruise ship passengers aren’t walking the White Pass Trail and their vacations are only a few weeks instead of a quite a few years, but like those prospectors being duped by Skagway’s less than reputable salesmen, the tourists of today walk the streets in hopes of finding something worth bringing home. More often than not that something is a t-shirt.
Alaska always had and always will be a kind of mystical place. An enigma of unfettered beauty and wild unsettled territory. And I always say that it was a one of a kind experience and everyone should go. If it takes a couple of t-shirt stores and fudge shops to get some tourists to look around and be caught off guard even if it’s through the lens of a bulky Nikon camera, who am I to judge?