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Skagway Harbor

Skagway Harbor

We arrived in Skagway around 6:30 a.m. and were cleared to go ashore by 7:00.  Our family excursion on the White Pass Railroad was not until 12:30.  So while the other slept in and then had breakfast aboard, I was among the first passengers to leave the ship.

One thing that consistently impressed me was the small boat harbors in every one of our ports.  I grew up in a Lake Michigan town and have spent much of my life on and around small boats.  I have a natural draw to boats and harbors and find them photogenic.  Skagway harbor was no exception and was one of the most photogenic I have ever seen.  The clear flat water, colorful mix of pleasure and working boats, and the snow capped mountain background stimulated me to spend some time.  The harbor was on the way to the downtown.  I wanted to see the town (and I had learned that there was a Starbucks there!  Coffee on board was mediocre at best, so I was suffering from serious withdrawal symptoms by this time).  So I went downtown first, with a plan to spend some time down in the harbor on my return to the cruise ship.  On the way back to the ship, I spent an hour or so down on the docks in the harbor.

Skagway Harbor


The White Pass

White Pass, Near the Top

White Pass, Near the Top

Black Bear on White Pass

One of the objectives of the trip (for me) was the White Pass Railroad ride.  Every piece of research I did for the AK cruise highly recommended this excursion.  My wife, wisely, found a variation, which involved riding the railroad up to the top in Fraser, B.C., and then boarding a bus and riding the bus back down the highway.  On the way back we stopped at Liarsville and finished with a short tour of the Red Onion brothel.  This was a little light, fun, entertainment, which included a meal, panning for gold, and a beer at the Red Onion.  Liarsville was an encampment near Skagway which was the last point of civilization before entering the White Pass and the Yukon territory.  The story is that it gained its name because reporters who did not want to do the difficult trip into the Yukon, stayed and interviewed returning miners, as if they had actually gone up into the gold mines.  Hence, “Liarsville.”

Skagway River

But the White Pass railroad is definitely the draw for the photographer.  Again, the weather gods were in a charitable mood.  We had mostly sunny skies with lo

ts of blue.  These railroad cars have a balcony on either end, and as soon as possible, I “camped” out on the one closest to our seats.  I never got back in my seat until we neared the top and they required us to go back.

I shot nearly 400 images (hey, its digital, we were moving, and I’ll probably never be back 🙂 ).  If you are as impressed as me by the photographic views, you might agree that it would be worth hiking this pass and spending perhaps a week there!

White Pass


Downtown Skagway, AK

Downtown Skagway

I don’t mean this in a bad way.  But Skagway is all theatre.  It is a theme park.  But it really comes by that naturally.  But for the Klondike Gold Rush in the Canadian Yukon, there would be no Skagway.  It was essentially a tent town which was the starting point for the trek into the Yukon for gold seekers.  It lasted 2 years.  After that, there was really no reason for Skagway to be.  It appears to have been reborn as a cruise ship tourist attraction.

Today, it is again, a starting point for some of the most spectacular landscapes Alaska and Canada have to offer.  Our primary purpose for including Skagway on the itinerary was the White Pass Railroad.  Perhaps the most fun explanation of the White Pass and Skagway’s place in history comes in James Michener’s novel epic, “Alaska,” in which he chronicles the requirement of the Canadian Mounted police that in order to enter the Yukon territory, a person must have a one-year supply of food, etc, for each person.  Before the White Pass railroad was built, every miner carried his one-year’s worth of supplies up over the pass, making several trips.

The current town is a series of bars and shops (including, remarkably, a number of diamond stores).  Some of the buildings are remodels of original buildings; notably the Red Onion Saloon, which was the local brothel.  As these photographs show, the architecture is an eclectic mix of influence from Russia and the American West.  Next:  White Pass, Spectacular Scenery and a surprise wildlife shot.

Downtown Skagway

Minnesota’s “North Shore”

Split Rock Lighthouse - July, 2010

Some of you are thinking (mercifully) he’s finally done with the Alaska stuff.  I’m not.  Still some of the best to come, photographically.  But I thought it was time for a little intermission.

A few months back, I dedicated a Blog to a “farewell” to my good friend, compatriot, and fellow photographer, Rich.  Earlier still, I attempted to “wax philosophical” (I know, terrible grammar – but I think it’s a quote) about whether internet board acquaintances were really friends.  One of these folks is photographer, teacher and writer, and my good friend, Al Utzig.  Al’s work can be seen at GoldImages.

I “met” Al some 5 years ago on the Scenes of Vermont (SOV) foliage forums and we immediately found much common ground in things other than photography.  Over that period, we have been saying we need to get together for a shoot.  Well, we made that happen on the weekend of July 30, and as an added bonus, Rich joined us for a great photography weekend on the Minnesota North Shore.  It was a real pleasure for me to meet Al in person and spend some time shooting with him.

Al Utzig - July 2010

Rich had moved to the Twin Cities and Al already lives there.  We were looking at dates, and Al discovered that the Split Rock Light was celebrating its centennial this summer and was scheduled to be lit Saturday night, July 30.  So we planned around that.

Arriving Friday afternoon in a gray drizzle, we used the time to scout several proposed photo locations; most importantly, Split Rock State Park.  This light is particularly photogenic and can be shot from many different vantage points.  If you are like me, and don’t especially like people in the photo, that may be the only real challenge, photographically.

We arrived back in the park in the pre-dawn hours on Saturday morning, to more gray skies and overcast.  But photographers are eternally optimistic and we “hung around,” waiting for something to happen.  It did.  I got some really nice silhouettes, The unexpected, but very pleasing result was this starburst image.

Split Rock Light - July 2010

Later, we headed out for some breakfast and shooting some of the many North Shore waterfalls (more at a later date on those).  Returning to the park in the mid afternoon, we were surprised to find 12-15 tripods lined up on the beach south of the Light.  We met a number of photographers that afternoon and learned, to our delight, that not only would the light be lit at dusk, but fireworks were coming after dark.

What a “right time, right place” opportunity!

The afternoon light is nice from this vantage point and there is a rock island in the foreground with some wonderfully colored yellow-orange streaks.  The only thing that “marred” this afternoon was as the “golden light” developed, a rather ugly (think buccaneers) sailboat motored in and anchored right in the foreground of the shot.  Too bad, because the late afternoon light created some gorgeous reflections of the rock on the water.  But alas, for another time, I guess.

Split Rock Light

As dusk approached, the light was lit as advertised, to applause from viewers on the beach (by this time, the tripods numbered closer to 35-40!).

There’s an old, near-hackneyed– photographer’s saying: “f8 and be there.”  So, as darkness approached, I set my camera to manual, f8 and waited.  It was well worth the wait and couldn’t have more accurately underscored the saying!

Split Rock Fireworks Finale