XVII. TOURIST TRIPS
There are three Alaskan trips that can be especially recommended to tourists from the stand-points of time, expense, and attractiveness. The Inside Passage from Seattle to Skagway is the best known, the shortest, and most largely followed. The Prince William Sound and the Yukon-Nome trips, though longer, an; more thoroughly comprehensive and desirable. The attractions of these routes are here set forth. To intending tourists Gannett humorously says:
If you are old, go by all means; but if you are young, wait. The scenery of Alaska is much grander than anything else of the kind in the world, and it is not well to dull one's capacity by seeing the finest first.
The Inside Passage is the local name applied to the coast and sheltered water ways connecting Seattle and Skagway. Emerging from Puget Sound the steamer skirts the west shore of Vancouver Island, crosses Queen Charlotte Sound, again seeks the quiet inside waters as far as Dixon Entrance, whence it passes into the inland channels of Alexander Archipelago. Save in two stretches of forty and twenty miles, respectively, there is no opportunity for an ocean swell. This extraordinary comfort of navigation is enhanced for voyagers by a continuity of fascinating landscapes, of the most varied and novel character. John Burroughs tersely describes it as a thousand miles "through probably the finest scenery of the kind in the world that can be seen from the deck of a ship the scenery of fiords and mountain-locked bays and arms of the sea."
Nine fortunate voyages in regular steamers, which are scarcely less comfortable than the excursion boats, have made the writer familiar with external aspects and local topography, without, however, giving him power adequately to describe or correctly to classify its moods and brilliancy, its majesty and beauty. Suffice it to say, that during each of these four-day voyages his attention was steadily engrossed in the varied and magnificent landscapes which are best likened to a moving panorama of nature s masterpieces.
Though occasionally touching at Vancouver, the regular steamer ordinarily makes but one stop, Port Townsend, in the 720 miles from Seattle to Ketchikan. Thence to Skagway, Wrangell is the ordinary, Juneau and Treadwell the regular, port of call. The excursion steamers, which carry no local passengers, make the round trip in eleven days, stopping also at Metlakatla, Taku Glacier, Sitka, and occasionally at other points of interest, as may be scheduled.
To me the landscape has never been twice alike, with its shifting lights, changing seasons, and varying weather, affording the same pleasure for study and observation as a beautiful woman in tier capricious moods. Along the Alaskan coast the elements of sea and mountain, of glacier and forest, of crag and vegetation, take on such subtle qualities of beauty and tenderness, of grandeur and picturesqueness as to be wilder the traveller when he pauses to analyze and compare.
Yesterday, the Gulf of Georgia entranced with its displays of form and color. To-day, the rocky shores, the jagged reefs, and swirling currents of Seymour Narrows appall. To-night, the Greville Reach seems most fascinating of all. To-morrow, the beauties of Naha Bay will seem to excel. Then with crescendo emotions one absorbs the perfection of Wrangell Narrows, the unsurpassable views of Frederick Sound, only to find later some aspect of nobler character at Taku Glacier or in Lynn Canal. Description is beyond the powers of the writer, who asks attention to a few words from gifted lovers of nature.
Mrs. Higginson, in her interesting "Alaska," writes:
Of the fiords tributary to Millbank Sound, innumerable cataracts fall sheer and foaming down their great precipices, the narrow canons are filled with their liquid, musical thunder, and the prevailing color, the palest green, reflected from the water underneath the beaded foam.
These fiords are walled to a great height, and are of magnificent beauty. Some are so narrow and so deep that the sunlight penetrates only for a few hours each day - eternal mist and twilight fill the spaces. Covered with constant moisture, the vegetation is of almost tropical luxuriance.
John Burroughs, in the "Harriman Alaska Expedition," says.
A scene such as artists try in vain to paint and travellers to describe; towering snow-clad peaks far ahead of us, rising behind dark blue and purple ranges, fold on fold and all aflame with the setting sun. The solid earth became spiritual and transcendent.
Miss Scidmore, one of nature's keen observers, says:
Of all the lovely spots in Alaska commend me to the little land-locked Naha Bay, where the clear, green waters are stirred with the leaping of thousands of salmon, and the shores are clothed with an enchanted forest of giant pines, and the undergrowth is a tangle of ferns and salmon-berry bushes. Of all green and verdant woods I know of none that so satisfy one with their rank luxuriance, their beauty, and picturesqueness.
Again Mrs. Higginson describes a notable reach:
In Finlayson Channel the forestation is a solid mountain of green on each side, growing down to the water. The reflections are so brilliant and true on clear days, that the dividing line is not perceptible to the vision. The mountains rise sheer from the water to a great height, with snow upon their crests and occasional cataracts foaming musically down their fissures. "We are so close to the wooded shores that one is tormented with the desire to reach out one's hand and strip the cool green cedar needles from the drooping branches.
In the narrow pass beyond Clarence Strait [says Miss Scidmore] the waters reflected in shimmering, pale blue and pearly lights the wonderful panorama of mountains. The first ranges above the water shaded from the deep green and russet of the nearer pine forests to azure and purple, where their further summits were outlined against the sky or the snow-covered peaks that were mirrored so faithfully in tie long stretches of the channel.
Miss Scidmore was as much charmed with Wrangell Narrows as was the writer, for she says:
It was an enchanting trip up that narrow channel of deep water, rippling between bold island shores and parallel mountain walls. Beside the clear, emerald tide, reflecting every tree and rock, there was the beauty of foaming cataracts leaping down the sides of snowcapped mountains, and the grandeur of great glaciers pushing down through sharp ravines and dropping miniature icebergs in the sea. Touched by the last light of the sun Patterson Glacier was a frozen lake of wonderland, shimmering with silvery lights, and showing a pale ethereal green and deep pure blue in all the rifts and crevices of its icy front.
Through Wrangell Narrows one emerges from scenes of quiet beauty into a domain of impressive grandeur. The attention of most tourists is here drawn entirely to glacial wonders (see Chapter XVIII), to the exclusion of the more general features of this region, which present in unique harmony high peaks, deep fiords, great mountain masses, extended sweeps of ocean, and vast ice-caps. Burroughs simply says:
We sailed under cloudless skies along Frederick Sound, feasting our eyes upon the vast panorama of encircling mountains." These interwoven elements of mountain and sea, of fiord and glacier continue until one passes the serrated cliffs of Lynn Canal and reaches Skagway, the end of the Inside Passage.
The present commercial importance of Skagway, the terminus of the Inside Passage, depends almost entirely on the operations of the White Pass and Yukon Railway, which has there established its headquarters, repair shops, etc. The town has a population of about 1,200, is provided with cable, telephonic, and telegraphic service, is electrically lighted, has good schools, churches, well-stocked stores, attractive homes, and good gardens. Picturesquely situated in an amphitheatre surrounded by high and usually snowcapped mountains, Skagway is the best-known town in Alaska. It will live in history as the base of operations for thousands of adventurous prospectors during the Klondike excitement of 1897-1898. Skagway is a pleasant base for excursions for the lover of the picturesque, the admirer of scenery, the student of natural history or ethnographical subjects. Reasonably near are the Chilkat and Chilkoot villages, with their native hats, baskets, and blankets. Over the White Pass, by rail, through scenery of beauty and grandeur, and along the way once marked by scenes of human misery and courage, one reaches in a few hours the lake sources of the Yukon. Near by also are the glaciers of Davidson, Mendenhall, and others, which will richly repay a visit. Along the foaming rapids of Skagway River, with its flowery banks, or up the winding paths to the mountain forests, the flowery glades, and sylvan lakes, there is surprise upon surprise at the delights and beauties that hourly break in on one, while wandering in the delicious summer weather of the Alaskan wonderland.
PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND
The Inside Passage is wonderfully attractive, but it yields in grandeur of beauty to the Prince William Sound route, which should always be taken, via Juneau, unless want of time absolutely forbids. One thus sees the best of the Inside Passage, from Seymour Narrows to Juneau, branching westward from the last-named town to Sitka, and thence along the incomparable Fairweather Range to the crowning mountain glory, St. Elias, and westward, from Yakutat Bay to Valdez, the wonderful Columbia Glacier and its sisters of Harriman Fiord. Thence to Resurrection Bay, the Kenai Peninsula, and Cook Inlet, is the end of this voyage, which can be extended to the westward by another steamer.
With comfort and clearness one views from Cross Sound to Cook Inlet a series of lofty mountains, extensive snow fields, great glaciers (the Malaspina skirts the sea for nearly seventy miles), and forest-lined cliffs, such scenery as cannot be elsewhere matched in the world in the same area and distance.
The writer's experiences were akin to those of John Muir, who says.
The sail down the coast from St. Elias along the magnificent Fairweather Range, when every mountain stood transfigured in divine light, was the crowning grace and glory, and must be immortal in the remembrance of every soul of us.
St. Elias Alps, and Disenchantment Bay.
Of Yakutat Bay, Mrs. Higginson says:
To the very head of Russell Fiord supreme splendor of scenery is encountered, surpassing the most vaunted of the Old World. Within a few miles, one passes from luxuriant forestation to lovely lakes, lacy cascades, bits of green valley; and then of a sudden, all unprepared, into the most sublime snow-mountain fastnesses imaginable, surrounded by glaciers and many of the most majestic mountain peaks of the world.
Of Prince William Sound, to the west, John Burroughs writes:
Our route was a devious one: past islands and headlands, then over the immense expanse of the open water, with a circle of towering snow-capped mountains far off along the horizon; then winding through arms and straits, close to tree-tufted islands and steep spruce-clad mountains, now looking between near-by dark-forested hills upon a group of distant peaks white as midwinter; then upon broad, low-wooded shores, with glimpses of open meadowlike glades among the trees.
The striking features of the Sound region are set forth in the chapter on glaciers, the wondrous splendor being that of Harriman Fiord. This fiord indents the northeast shore of Kenai Peninsula, a land of 9,000 scjuare miles in area that is a sealed book to the ordinary tourist. To the Cook Inlet visitor, however, its thousand miles of bold coast present magnificent scenery high mountains, rugged summits, deep-cut valleys, and. numerous glaciers. Invaded for fur, for fish, for coal, and now for gold, its chief charm lies in its mountain fastnesses, with their abundant game and opportunity of adventure.
Writing of the scenery of the interior of Kenai, Colonel Caine, the English sportsman, says.
The view was sublime. To our right the enormous glacier, from which this branch of Indian River issues, filled up the whole of the head of the deep valley, the precipitous sides of which fell almost perpendicularly to its foot in cliffs a thousand feet high, till it met the skyline ten miles away. Beyond the gorge mountain after mountain stretched away as far as eye could reach, with a glimpse between two peaks of another glacier.
The extension of the Copper River Railway also bring within tourist reach the glaciers of the lower Copper, and the fascinating wilderness of volcanic Wrangell and the adjacent mountains.
THE YUKON JOURNEY
The journey of fullest interest is the trip from Seattle to Skagway, Dawson, Fairbanks, Nome, and back to Seattle by sea. One thus sees the Inside Passage, the Canadian Klondike, the great valley of the Yukon, the Fairbanks mines, the Nome gold fields, views of McKinley, and, if fortunate, a glimpse of the volcanic peaks of Unimak. The only drawback is the time, from thirty to forty days, for the journey is made with comfort, safety, and at moderate' expense.
The lakes of the source of the Lewes, the great gorges and rapids of the upper Yukon, the elaborate mining plants of the Klondike, the midnight sun of Fort Yukon, the grand views of the Alaskan and McKinley Ranges, the Indians' village of Nulato, and others, the mission of Holy Cross, the Esquimaux of the Yukon Delta, the darkless and genial days as one glides down the Great River, the glimpses of Nome and its environs, are unique scenes which impress even the least sensitive, and remain long in the memory.
Nor is the scenery of the delta country entirely devoid of beauty to the writer being most impressive. Mr. A. H. Brooks, in his valuable "Geography and Geology of Alaska," thus describes it:
The mighty river, with its dark yellow waters, is not without its grandeur, and the rounded valley slopes, dotted with spruce and deciduous trees, are not without picturesqueness. . . . Inland, the moss and grass covered lowlands stretch almost unbroken to the horizon, except for distant, rounded highland masses, while seaward there is no break in the lowland and its smooth surface merges with the plains of the sea.
Nowhere else does there seem to be the same immensity of space and sense of quietude, which bring one near to God and to the heart of the universe.