Cycling Through History in Skagway and Dyea

Today, I cycled through the Gold Rush ghost town of Dyea, Alaska. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Today, I cycled through the Gold Rush ghost town of Dyea, Alaska. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Today, Princess Cruises’ Star Princess arrived at our first port of call since setting sail from Seward three days ago: Skagway, Alaska.

In 1896, Skagway was nothing more than a few modest trapper’s cabins. By 1897, it was a rapidly expanding town and by 1898 it was the last frontier in a very new, and very competitive, Wild West. Sam Steele of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police likened Skagway to “little better than hell on earth” thanks to the con-men, good-time-girls and various scams and pratfalls that frequently befell prospectors looking to sail into the sunset with their winnings from the Klondike Gold Rush.

The View This Morning: a calm, quiet forward pool area as Star Princess comes alongside...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The View This Morning: a calm, quiet forward pool area as Star Princess comes alongside…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...at Skagway's Ore Dock. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…at Skagway’s Ore Dock. Holland America’s Noordam is at right. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The most notorious of these con-men was Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith, a con-man from Denver who ruled Skagway with an iron fist. In addition to running a large racketeering ring in Skagway, Soapy would “relieve” early prospectors of their earnings through a series of rigged table games held at Jeff Smith’s Parlor, a modest structure that still stands today in Skagway. Soapy even had telegraph lines that ran only as far as the wall; perfect for sending that drunken expression of love to a recipient who would never get it.

Soapy Smith was killed in a gunfight out on the wharf in July of 1898. Reportedly, his last words were a very mild, “My God – don’t shoot!”

Disembarking the Star Princess early this morning for our adventures ashore in Skagway and Dyea. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Disembarking the Star Princess early this morning for our adventures ashore in Skagway and Dyea. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Smith also reportedly had control over another place: the nearby town of Dyea (pronounced dye-ee). Built further north on the upper extremities of Lynn Canal, Dyea is but a few dozen miles from Skagway. It flourished during the height of the gold rush in 1897-98, but as quickly as it went up, it was also abandoned. Facing a shallow-water port and the lack of rail connections through the newly-built White Pass & Yukon Route railroad that ran through Skagway, Dyea was largely abandoned by 1905.

And today, I got to cycle through the remains of the town.

Leaving our bikes on the main road, we walked in to the last remains of the town of Dyea, Alaska. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Leaving our bikes on the main road, we walked in to the last remains of the town of Dyea, Alaska. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Princess offers a great “Rainforest Bicycle Tour” that spans three hours in duration. Booked through Princess either before your cruise or while onboard for a cost of US$99 per person, it picks guests up straight from the pier in a van equipped with bicycles and all the necessary gear. From there, you’re driven just outside Dyea to begin your moderately-strenuous cycle through the forested remains of the town and the flat clearings that border the ocean.

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Our Live Voyage Report from Princess Cruises Denali Explorer CruiseTour continues tomorrow from Alaska’s state capital, Juneau! Read along by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

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