24 Aug 2010
|It is kind of sad to realize that the tour is 80% over with. We will be home before you know it.
Today was a free day until after supper. When I got up I took a short walk to the harbor side [maybe 100 yards]. I was surprised to see 4 very large cruise ships at the docks. I knew right then that downtown would be a zoo. Right next to the docks the White Pass Train’s diesel engines were churning out smoke waiting for their first load of passengers. There were lots of tour coaches doing the same thing. Plus the ships’ engines were running to provide their passengers electricity and hot water. I felt as if most of the oxygen had been removed from the air.
We did our chores and then walked into town. We walked on the same street to get there [1/4 mile] as the cruise ship passengers. It was pretty crowded. Once we hit the main street the sidewalks were packed. We went into the NPS Visitors’ Center. They had some interesting information posted along the walls. We noticed that they had a ranger led walking tour. We tried to get on the next one but it was full. I decided to take tickets for the last one at 4:00 PM.
We walked along the street and stopped in some of the stores. We met some friends who said that the ice cream was very good at a particular store. Evelyn decided that she wanted a cone for lunch. We both got one and headed back to the RV. The bathrooms here get a lot of sand tracked in. They get cleaned from 12 to 1 and we wanted to shower while the floor was still clean.
The walking tour was nice but complicated by the fact that it started to rain just before the start. The ranger started off in the NPS museum next door. She talked about the stampede to the Klondike gold fields and how that had shaped the town. She told us that many of the first miners had starved because they were not properly prepared. The Canadian Government passed a law that miners had to have enough supplies to last 1 year. They dictated just what each man must carry and that load turned out to weigh 2,000 pounds.
She showed us a display where all of the required goods were stacked. She also showed us on a three-dimensional map where the trail went. It required transporting these goods over a high mountain pass. Since most of the stampeders had spent all of their money buying supplies they could not afford to hire any transportation and they had to carry everything up and over by themselves. Since they could only carry about 50 pounds at a time, they had to make as many as 40 trips. It was hard work. The snow was feet deep and the temperature was below zero. A lot of them were not properly clothed. Then when they got to the Canadian border the Mounties weighed each load. If you were short even ten of your 2,000 pounds you had to go back and purchase more.
Once they got over the pass they had a water route available to Dawson City. It was still 500 miles distant. The miners had to stop and build boats or rafts to get themself and their goods to Dawson. At least half the people who started the trek never made it to the Klondike. After a while the late comers could pick up missing supplies right out of the snow. Then others caught on and started gathering the left goods and opening stores to sell them to the stampeders. It was a rough life.
There was a different group of people who were also getting off the steamships in Valdez. These were the people ready to mine the miners. They were the prostitutes, the saloon keepers, and the scam artists, etc. One of them was known as Soapy Smith. He and his gang had been run out of most of the states in the lower 48. He came to Valdez determined to run the town. He fleeced the unsuspecting using all sorts of interesting scams. He also got involved in the local politics and managed to gain a lot of favor.
After only two years of the good life his empire tumbled. Some of his gang rolled a miner for all of his gold dust [$2,500 in that day’s economy] and did it right in front of many witnesses. One of the local citizens demanded justice. He formed a vigilante committee. The short of it was that the two eventually had a showdown and shot each other to death.
The subsequent walking portion of the tour went to Soap’s Saloon and to the spot where the first log cabin in town now rests. It was after 5:00 at that point and we had a 7:15 meeting time so we split and went back to the RV for a quick dinner. Then we walked back into town to the theater. All the cruise ship passengers must have gone back to their ships for dinner. The streets were not busy at all.
The evening’s entertainment started with a Monte Carlo Night. As we walked in we were given $1,000 in funny money. We could play black jack, roulette, Texas hold’em, or craps. The person who came away with the most funny money was to receive a prize. I wanted to play black jack but I was busy taking photos when the dealers arrived and I didn’t get a place at the table. They really needed two tables because many wanted to play. Eventually everyone squeezed together and let me edge in sideways.
I did fairly well. They gave a $1,000 bonus for five under which I got once. I was up to $2,700 when they called last hand. Everyone bet all of their chips in hopes of hitting it big. Our 95 years youngster managed to win and win big. She ended up with over $16,000 and was the biggest winner. I was clean wiped out.
Following that we went into the theater for the Soapy Smith Show. Our dealer was the only male and played Soapy. There were two young ladies who played dance hall girls and an older woman who played Soapy’s girlfriend. They told the tale of Soapy’s life in Skagway in word and song and dance. They interspersed other items – first Ollie got a certificate as biggest winner. Then Darold was the highest bidder and got to remove a garter from one gal’s thigh and wear it home. Then two of our gals were selected to go up on stage and help dance the Can-Can.
I think Earl was the biggest hit. He was selected to go up on stage. The two young ladies proceeded to fight over his affections. They took him backstage and implied that he was busy making love to each of them. He came back dressed in a fools cap and gown. They played around until one declared that she had this tremendous desire to take his clothes off. She took off the cap and gown and led him back to his seat. It was funnier than it sounds.
When the show was over we walked back to the RV park. I guess everyone else had driven over. The streets were totally deserted. The lighting was good and it didn’t feel dangerous, but I did wonder. We got home without incident.