Skagway Up Close Contest Entries

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Daniel Molina

Essay Entries

  • Author: Isaac Yuen
    Theme: My Best Skagway Adventure

    Zaandam tender ferries me to shore. I chat with Teresa and Kathy from yesterday’s hike in Juneau. Our guide today for the Chilkoot hike is also named Matt. To distinguish the two in my head I name him Oliver for my friend in Williams Lake. When one gets old the mind begins to print existing faces onto new ones.

    On the drive to Dyea the road curves around a tidal flat. The sun is out and the tide is high. Bald eagles perch on drowned trees rising out of the shallows. Atop the crowns and trunks washed down from last week’s storm. Canopies like bared lungs twisting out of the water for breath. Five thousand people once lived in Dyea during the Klondike Gold Rush. Nine still reside here year-round. Oliver mentions that he met one of them the other day. I want to ask if he asked what it’s like to live in a world with nine souls. Amid the silence and the ghosts and winter’s dark heart.


    At the trailhead Oliver stands by a sign. Six hunched silhouettes shown in sequence like a poster depicting the ascent of man. Except their backs remain bent under the burden they bore up this pass curving into a cliff face. I try to envision what a year’s supply of food would look like. I try to imagine hauling it up a trail too steep for wagons or horses. All the dreams turned nightmares for those who took this Tlingit route to reach Dawson City five hundred miles away. I leave my pack in the van because we are coming back.


    We hike into a forest that seems so familiar yet different. Instead of my beloved cedars the prickle spines of spruce. I lag behind the others to snap macro shots of this space, of that space. Of the lichen and moss that carpet every inch and surface. To capture the beauty of these miniature forests residing within another.

    Oliver spouts mushroom facts as we spot them left and right. He points out one that looks like a white Christmas tree. He recites its Latin name but it slips straight out of my head. The part where he says it’s edible because he tried some this morning and hasn’t keeled over stays and sticks. There are more mushrooms and more stories. Mushrooms that can make one person hallucinate and another dead. Mushrooms a Facebook friend later notes resembles the ruffles of a petticoat or a tutu. Soon there are more mushrooms than there are stories. I snap pictures of them so that I can fit them with new tales, another day.


    We walk on. The forest changes from spruce and hemlock to cottonwoods and alders. I forgot my old Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast guide in the van, but under Oliver’s advice I pop a red orb into my mouth. Tart juice bursts like a balloon with a pit at its center. I spit the seed out and look around. Suddenly there are highbush cranberries everywhere.

    By the river we watch for the last of the pinks to return. The turquoise water shields their living and dying from our gaze. On branches along the bank hang the spent frames of fish that fulfilled their quest and fish that failed. I think I see the soft wimple of a fin breaking out of the water but it’s just a twig stirring in the current. I think of the final salmon that comes up this river. Striving against nature and time with all its life’s purpose. Alone with its weary dignity.


    Oliver preps the raft while we throw our gear into a dry bag. Sit and swivel is the best way to board. “Floating down the Taiya is your reward for finishing the hike.” Oliver says this while spinning us around a gravel bar. Unlike him I can only focus on one thing at a time. A harlequin duck nonplussed by our yellow boat. An eagle’s nest up a tree the size of a small car. A stand of alders gold against an evergreen backdrop. A faraway peak keen and free of glacial scars. We watch a raven do a barrel roll in the air. Photos are not enough. I put my phone away and try to focus on the thing happening right now. How the wind carves around my face. Now. The quality of the light.


    On our drive back after shoreline coffee and home-baked cookies, Oliver tells us how he met his wife in Seoul while teaching English, how they had decided to get married here last summer. He points out to the Dyea flats and the spot where they spoke their vows. The late afternoon sun is low and the tide is out. I think of how the soft marsh grass would yield to the footsteps taken of a new beginning. How my promise was made in this very hour beside this very ocean. Far away and a lifetime ago.


    Oliver drops me off in town near the Alaskan Fudge Company. I take a picture of the first RadioShack sign I’ve seen in god knows how long. The day dims as the sun falls behind a mountain. In Pullen Creek piles of pinks rest. By the grass mounds of mushrooms grow. As I walk towards my cruise ship I look back at the town and the day. In the harbor two salmon swim with one trailing the other. Seemingly lost but journeying together. I hope they find their way and also hope they don’t. That they follow their dreams but never reach the end.

  • Author: Kylie Campbell
    Theme: My Best Skagway Adventure

    Camping like a Childhood Dream

    Choo-choo-choosing to camp in an old red caboose in the middle of the largest US rainforest near Skagway, Alaska was certainly very wet but an experience I certainly won’t forget.


    When I visited Skagway  over the May long weekend, I took the White Pass & Yukon train to the White Pass summit. On the way, they mentioned a little red caboose cabin that sits at the base of the Denver Glacier trail. Of course hearing this information meant that I had to organise a trip in the summer to experience this once in a lifetime experience.

    So the week before, I organised with newly made friends from Atlin music festival and hiking to rent the cabin for the weekend. Six of us went, meeting at the Whitehorse “must do” Thai restaurant.

    The drive looked very similar to May, fog, cloud and rain and I’m certain Skagway never gets sun.

    We headed to the Thai restaurant in town Starfire, the food was good , however, the pain and hurt of the Canadian dollar to the US meant for a very very expensive meal.

    During dinner we discussed a camping spot and we found online mention of a brush dump site. Outside of Skagway town to the dump and pitched our tents and attempted to make a fire with wet wood (let’s say there was no fire). However, we had a few drinks and stood around a non-existent fire and chatted until it was well past midnight.

    We awoke with everything wet, as the rain hadn’t stopped all night, but our tents weren’t needed for the second night. So we packed away and headed to the train station to board our train.

    We had our own hiker’s cabin and enjoyed our short 9km journey. The caboose is red and pretty old (discovering it was first set up approximately 1994), with a few refurbishments. The cabin is $55 US ($75 CA) per night, fitting up to 6 and the train is $34 US ($43 CA) return.

    We settled our things and chose our beds and decided to head to the glacier. The walk was through a thick rainforest and I have never seen anything so green. The tall trees and large leaves protected us from the drizzling rain while we hiked an almost flat trail.

    We arrived to the second viewpoint and  what we believe may be the main trail end. This is where you would see the glacier. We did not see the glacier. The fog and clouds prevented any view, with only the base of some snow and water visible. However, we thought this must continue on as the path indicated so.

    This part of the trail turned into some slippery boulder-like sections followed by bush-whacking through devil’s club. If you don’t know what this is, it is an evil plant. It has beautiful large green maple leaves and underneath lies stinging spikes that seem to strike in every direction.

    Many were too sore and tired from slipping on the unseen rocks and itching from the evil devil’s club plant so we turned around.

    The hike took us around 5 hours or so and upon reaching the caboose, it was a welcome shelter to sit and relax. We began to make a fire. It took some time, with the wood, although under the caboose and protected from direct rain, was still damp from the humidity. But with a kerosene bottle left, we were able to get one going.

    Our enjoyment for the afternoon was as the trains passed and we would wave probably more eagerly than the tourists on board. We would hear the train whistle and come running out of the caboose to say hello.

    A few hours of us sitting around a welcome hot fire, attempting to dry our boots, socks and ourselves, it was time to get inside as the drizzle started.

    Only minutes later, while inside, did the heavens open and the monsoon begin. The dry red caboose was our saviour and we started our evening of many hours bonding as a group. Dice, cards and drinking ensued and it was a thoroughly entertaining evening. One of the most interesting aspects is most certainly the notebooks that previous guests have written in. Dating all the way back to the early 90s!

    Somehow a bunch of Canadians who only just met, and me, had a great evening filling the time as though it was a century ago without electricity.

    In the morning the rain dissipated but the cloud and fogs still ensued. However, it was time for us to board our train back to Skagway. Although we never left the States, we still had to get immigration checked. It’s always lots of fun being the only foreigner amongst a group of Canadians.

    The overall White Pass & Yukon train company were pretty good. It was a novelty and I am happy to say I can check off my To-Do-Life-List – slept in an old red Caboose!

  • Author: Lisa Morris
    Theme: My WOW Moment

    Wonderfully, much of Skagway is within Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, which entails the Chilkoot Trail, the White Pass Trail corridor and the visitor center. It really is a charming place to explore. Within half a heartbeat of visiting Skayway, you’ll find yourself in the Klondike Gold Rush National Park Historic District. The Gold Rush era meets the old West, where upon the Klondike stampede for gold brought tens of thousands of people to Southeast Alaska.

  • Author: Lisa Morris
    Theme: My Best Skagway Adventure

    Along the few streets that comprise Skagway, there are only four bars: The Red Onion Saloon, The Bonanza, The Pizza Station, and The Skagway Brewing Company. Splendidly, there are no franchise restaurants in Skagway. There’s a cafe that “Proudly Serves Starbucks,” but isn’t actually a Starbucks. And in winter, only one restaurant stays open per week, and they rotate which one that is. Tourism really is the only industry in small town Skagway.
    Absolutely, the sweetest part of my Skagway adventure!

  • Author: Lisa Morris
    Theme: My Happiest Place

    Mayhap the sweetest spot in Skagway for me: A decade before the Klondike Gold Rush, William Moore and his son, J. Bernard (Ben) Moore, settled in what the local Tlingit natives called “Shghagwei,” which means rugged or windy place. To make money on this pending gold rush, the Moores industriously began homesteading 160 acres. In 1897, Ben and his wife, Minnie Elizabeth Moore (from a prestigious Tlingit family), built a one-and-a-half story wood frame house directly in front of their original log cabin. The growth of the house and the family symbolically mirrored the growth of Skagway. To my mind, a historical site not to be missed on our rich tour of the town.

  • Author: Mandy Ramsey
    Theme: My Happiest Place

    The apricot begonias glowing on my front step would never have been planted had it not been for a very special woman, Charlotte Jewell. She was the queen of begonias. Actually, to me, she was the empress of flowers.

    Charlotte was not only my friend; she was one of my teachers.

    Her knowledge of plants was expansive and her enthusiasm for all things floral, inspirational. She shared her joy of plants, the scientific names flowing effortlessly off her tongue as if Latin were her second language. On many occasions I would follow her around her beautiful gardens with my notebook in hand, taking notes wildly as she named plant after plant.  Her enthusiasm and wisdom motivated me to learn. Her extensive variety of plants at Jewell Gardens made me want to go out and plant these beauties in my garden. I did. Begonias, Arctic Willows, Anise Hyssop and Weeping Larch are just a few of the plants that entered my garden all because of Charlotte. Her passion spread like wildflower seeds. 

    She was kind and generous with her time and knowledge. She welcomed our Haines garden group for our private annual tour. We were sisters of the plants from opposite shores.

    I ‘ve always admired Charlotte’s canvas, the jewel of Skagway, Jewell Gardens.

    This is my Skagway happy place. It is like a pilgrimage for me, to stroll though the gardens, past the tall purple delphinium reaching towards the sky. Poppies sway in the wind. Begonias light up the shady canopy under the trees. Hand-blown glass sculptures delight and surprise those lucky enough to stroll through the garden. A train circles through the landscape of shrubs and bright flowers. There are nooks to just sit and take it all in. One can find benches for solitude and gazebos to gather. Jewell Gardens is a place of beauty. A place of learning. A place to connect. 

    To top it off, there is Poppies, the restaurant at Jewell Gardens. I always feel so special when I get to dine there. The atmosphere is light and airy. I feel fancy just sitting sipping a mimosa and looking out at the lovely landscape. Many laughs have been shared with friends and family gazing out through those windows. The most memorable were times with Charlotte in the elegant atmosphere she created. I am so appreciative to have known such a bright, shining, strong woman. I am equally grateful she created a happy place for all of us to enjoy, learn, and be inspired.

  • Author: Mandy Ramsey
    Theme: My Wow Moment

    My Wow moment in Skagway happened at the North Words Writers Symposium,

    an interactive, informative and inspirational event. Skagway’s unique and historic setting infuses the conference with an Old West, fun, small town vibe. The itinerary is beautifully interwoven with activities that enable the participant to connect with the panelists as well as each other. The early morning writing sessions, the panel discussions, the activities such as the train ride and hike to Laughton Glacier, as well as the final banquet at Jewell Gardens, all make this event a unforgettable experience.


    Though intimidated about attending my first writer’s conference, from the moment I arrived and picked up my nametag, I felt welcome. My wow moment occurred at the campfire writing session, when I was brave enough to stand up and read in front of the entire group. I felt inspired to share with the support and encouragement of the staff and my colleagues. It was a powerful moment for me as an emerging writer. The feedback I received from the authors was,“ You need to share. Your story is important and your voice must be heard.” This was an eye-opening and heart-opening moment for me.

  • Author: Marta Keller
    Theme: My Best Skagway Adventure

    The hike to the summit took us three hours on nature’s meandering staircase through
    the tall forest. It seemed like I was catching my breath and stretching my leg muscles
    every ten minutes the further we climbed. The people passing us on the trail at a swift
    pace convinced me it must be a regular routine for them. It was a hot and sunny coastal
    day. Droplets of sweat trickled down our faces despite the shade of the forest canopy.
    Accessing the tumbling creek near the trail was welcome relief to wash our faces and
    soak our hair in an attempt to cool off and energize.
    Together with my hiking friend, we had an adventure-driven mission: a six mile round
    trip to Upper Dewey Lake and time permitting, another two and half miles to and from
    Devil’s Punchbowl, a small alpine lake.
    We reached what I thought was the top, but it was only a small opening in the forest.
    The expansive view of the surrounding white-capped mountains was exquisite. I took a
    moment to sit on a rock, cross-legged to take in the beauty. I breathed in the fresh air
    deeply, grateful for the sun’s warm rays on my face.
    We continued to climb through the forest. Our destination was near and confirmed by a
    couple from the southern United States we briefly stopped to chat with. Filled with a
    rush of inspiration, I started to run up the remaining steps of the trail until I reached an
    opening into a muskeg meadow. There was a creek with a bridge to the right leading to
    a small cabin and an occupied cabin to the left.
    Upper Dewey Lake greeted us with its clear, green-tinted, glacier-fed waters. The lake
    was enveloped by mountains painted with verdant vegetation, snow in its hollows and
    exposed rocky peaks. A quick test of the temperature of the lake with my right foot
    persuaded me to stay on land. To my astonishment, my friend took the opportunity to
    swim in the icy water. She explained she had developed a tolerance to cold water after
    spending her childhood and adult years swimming in the Atlantic Ocean.
    While she swam, my adventurous spirit called me to cross a log that led to a large rock
    protruding from the lake. It was here I further marvelled at nature’s artistry, reflecting at
    how fortunate we were to have this experience on one of the best summer days near
    When I was ready to join my friend for lunch, the log I had so easily crossed to get to
    the rock now slightly wobbled with each step I took and the shore seemed far away. I
    backtracked and decided to venture through the chilly water instead of risk falling off.
    Gently sliding into the lake, my eyes widened as goosebumps veiled my entire body and
    I let out a small shriek. I knew the water would be cold from my earlier foot test, but I
    didn’t expect it to be this intense. I reached the shore as fast as my numbing legs could
    move. A long-sleeved sweater and at least 10 minutes of sitting in the full sun worked to
    warm me up.
    After lunch, we followed the narrow footpath up the ridge and past boulders to Devil’s
    Punchbowl. The sun beat down on us with such a ferocity that despite the heat, I kept
    my sweater on to avoid sunburn. The view of the mountains lining the Lynn Canal and
    Skagway were magnificent and well-worth the effort.
    Devil’s Punchbowl required a descent on loose rocks. Unprepared to spend the night
    and knowing we had a distance to return, a cursory view from above of its greenish-grey
    waters was sufficient for us.
    The climb down took us half the time. The day had exceeded my expectations. My
    visual, auditory and olfactory senses were overwhelmed. I smiled when we reached the
    end of the trail, my heart full and serene from what I could only describe as my best
    Skagway adventure.

  • Author: Marta Keller
    Theme: My Happiest Place

    Yucatania Point is my happiest place. I didn’t know it existed until my second or third
    time in Skagway. It’s slightly out of the way near the airport. Since discovered, it’s a
    magical spot calling for my attention and I never dare to skip a visit.
    A footbridge over the Skagway River leads to a trail through the forest. The hike is an
    easy one, well-marked, mostly flat in the beginning, and with two or three outdoor
    fitness equipment stations along the path. If it’s not raining or too windy, I usually
    engage in a few repetitions for fun. When I start stepping over large tree roots and pass
    by a wooden outhouse and a sheltered area, I can just begin to see the opening to
    Yucatania Point. There is a slight descent and then the magic begins.
    Yucatania Point consists of numerous sized rock formations that disappear into the
    waters of the Lynn Canal. They are decorated in part with plant life from the ocean while
    others are exposed with dramatic crevices. There are even a few small bold trees
    attempting to grow among the rocks. Harding Glacier overlooks the area in the distance.
    There is always a fresh coastal scent in the air.
    I often sit on the furthest smooth rock by the water, wrapped in joy and mesmerized by
    the views. Sometimes I spend a few minutes enjoying while on other days hours.
    It’s the place where I first discovered the surf scoter – a diving duck – swimming by on
    the water. Not just one, but at least three dozen of them. They were mostly males with
    dark plumage and bold white markings on their forehead, sides of the beak and back of
    the neck.
    I’ve experienced Yucatania Point when the sky is thick with clouds, light drizzle, strong
    winds, eerie fog and those glories sunny days. I’ve also visited when it’s crowded with
    people or alone with a friend or two. Sometimes there are boats on the water;
    helicopters and small airplanes flying overhead are common. There is magic in the air
    no matter the weather or who is in the area. It may be the only place in the world I feel
    this way.
    There’s the option to keep walking further past Yucatania Point. A meeting place just to
    the right exists where I often see people gathered. Following the more rugged forest trail
    leads to a second more private spot – Smuggler’s Cove – where fires are permitted.
    Yet, it’s Yucatania Point with its prominent rock formations and picturesque views that
    captures my heart and fills me with happiness each and every time.

  • Author: Monica Aguilar
    Theme: My Happiest Place

    I did the horseback riding tours all summer in Dyea and the tidal flats never ceased to amaze me. We would ride out and the world would come to life! Birds soaring in the air, Salmon meandering upstream, the horses breathing underneath you, the fresh smell of the air, the breeze coming off the ocean, the awe in everyone else’s face as well as they experience it for the first time. 

  • Author: Monica Aguilar
    Theme: My WOW Moment

    Hiking around Skagway became a pastime during my days off and free time. By myself, I decided to search for Lost Lost Lake. I traversed up the steep incline to get to lost lake, harvested berries when I was at the top; one for me, one for the bag. Then, hiked up and down the steep, narrow trail, through high greens and bushes. My legs and shoes soaked! Finally to the silence, lost bog. Not a soul, not a creature. Only quiet, murky water.

  • Author: Jason Spafford
    Theme: My Best Skagway Adventure

    Skagway is a compact and bijou city in Southeast Alaska, set along the popular cruise route: the Inside Passage. It’s home to Gold Rush era 19th Century structures and buildings, now preserved and beautifully restored as part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. I couldn’t and wouldn’t have missed this place on my Southeast Alaskan adventure.

  • Author: Jason Spafford
    Theme: My Happiest Place

    Skagway has all the charm of a small town that time forgot. It has a year round population of less than 1,000, where the closest stoplight is over 100 miles away in Whitehorse, Canada. And beautifully, that is also the location of the nearest MacDonalds.

  • Author: Jason Spafford
    Theme: My WOW Moment

    Without question, Skagway for me is unequalled in scenic splendor: it invites your eyes to dance with it. Situated at the head of the Taiya Inlet within a glacial valley, it’s a thriving little city steeped in Gold Rush history. Its nearby trails, the iconic White Pass and Yukon Railway, coupled with tasty dining choices, made Skagway a very worthy place to visit. Make of it what you will but pop it on your travel itinerary, and see for yourself.