The small notice on the bulletin board described an opportunity for a summer in Alaska. The successful applicant would direct a summer recreation program for kids in the small community of Skagway, at the northern terminus of the inland passage. That passage is a stretch of protected ocean approx. 1,500 km long, that runs from Puget Sound in Washington State, USA, along the British Columbia, Canada coastline, to Skagway, Alaska, USA. It is a popular cruising area and marine transportation route, due to its absence of open ocean swells and its relatively flat and calm waters. It also a great place for setting shrimp traps and pulling them up for a feast on the boat. It is also now a passage for cruise ships.
Living in New Jersey, Alaska seemed far away but I was eager for a cross country trip and a summer in the north so I bought a new VW, found a friend who wanted a ride to Seattle and off we went. I left the car in Seattle and then flew from Seattle to Juneau where I boarded a float plane bound for Skagway. As we taxied on the water for take-off I was sure we were about to crash into the bridge ahead and instead we flew underneath it as we lifted off the water headed north. We landed in the water just short of the runway at the airport and then taxied up out of the water onto solid ground. The plane was a Grumman Goose, an amphibious aircraft which along with the PBY made up of most of the planes of the Alaska Coastal Airline, which became part of Alaska Air later.
Skagway’s name derives from the Tlingit word skagua, meaning “place where the north wind blows.” Skagway was founded in the 1890s as the gateway to the Yukon and Klondike goldfields, and it was incorporated as a city in 1900. It is surrounded on three sides by mountains and incorporates the unique Taiya River delta as it passes through a number of different ecosystems over a short distance. From alpine tundra to temperate rainforest a variety of fauna and flora reside in the Taiya River and its valley. The Taiya River valley and the synonymous Taiya River watershed are actually confined to a very small area as the valley is a very steep-sided glaciated valley (as a sidenote, because of glaciation, the valley is also experiencing post-glacial rebound). The Taiya River delta is quite expansive and makes the adjacent portion of the Taiya Inlet very shallow. We took many hikes in the hills around Skagway and we were required to be wary of bears and take appropriate caution as well as being provided with a 30.06 rifle.
There are numerous attractions that bring boatloads of tourists to Skagway not the least of which is the White Pass & Yukon Railway (affectionately known locally as the WP&YR, Wait Patiently and You’ll Ride). It’s a narrow-gauge railway that climbs up and through White Pass to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. At the end of the summer I took the train to Whitehorse where I transferred to a bus that went on to Fairbanks. A friend in Skagway, Dave Pepper, worked for the railroad and I had several opportunities to learn more about it from him. From Fairbanks, I took the Alaska Railroad through the interior all the way to Anchorage going by Mt McKinley, renamed Denali in 1975.
That summer in Skagway, Alaska created numerous, fond memories of friendly people and a place that could only be reached by air, sea or train. There was no highway in or out, just planes, boats and a railroad. I loved working with the kids, flying with a bush pilot, boating in the inlet and farther south, hiking, several trips to Carcross (Caribou Crossing) on the WP&YR and playing softball at midnight on July 4, when the sun didn’t ever quite set, land of the midnight sun, summer of 1961.