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Rowdy Skagway, sedate Haines; they're history-rich Alaska neighbors, 13 miles apart by ferry or plane, 360 spectacular miles by car.

They're history-rich Alaska neighbors, 13 miles apart by ferry or plane, 360 spectacular miles by car

From the start, these two Alaska towns were as different as a dance-hall girl's petticoat and a lieutenant's dress grays. In Skagway, argonauts from five continents stomped muddy streets on their way to the Klondike's gold fields. Across the Lynn Canal, Haines was a bastion of Army tradition; recruits drilled on the parade ground, and inside clapboard houses officers' wives served tea. Even today, Skagway and Haines remain very distinct. Skagway is a popular mix of history and tourist to-do. Haines is quieter, a haven for artists and craftspeople--though increased cruise service is bringing more visitors here, too. Only 13 miles apart by plane or ferry (or 360 spectacular miles by car), the towns exemplify qualities that make Alaska like nowhere else.

"Little better than hell on earth"

"Where are you from?" asks the master of ceremonies at the Skaguay in the Days of '98 Show. "Munich!" someone shouts back. "Sydney!" cries another. Skagway (from the Tlingit Indian Skaguay, perhaps meaning "place of the north wind") has always lured the hopeful from all corners of the globe. When, in 1896, gold was found in the Yukon to the north, Skagway's natural harbor made it a jumping-off place for gold seekers, gold diggers, saloonkeepers, and bunco artists. One Canadian Mountie put it bluntly: Skagway was "little better than hell on earth." Ruling the town with a mix of bonhomie and strongarm tactics was "Soapy" Smith, con man extraordinaire. Soapy would probably recognize Skagway today. Unlike many Western boom towns, it never burned down. And over the last 15 years, private citizens and the National Park Service have restored the gold rush-era buildings. Visit today and you'll find Skagway not hellish but--as Soapy himself could be--charming. However you arrive (see next page), introduce yourself to town at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park headquarters, Second Avenue and Broadway. It's open from 8 to 8 daily; (907) 983-2921. Films and displays recount the gold hunters' trek from Skagway over the Coast Mountains via two nightmarish trails, the White Pass and the Chilkoot. Park Service walking tours lead you up Broadway past landmarks including the Golden North Hotel and the Arctic Brotherhood Hall--the latter a driftwood-faced building that looks to have been built by beavers. You can also see the town by private bus tours (check at hotels) or by livery (just hop aboard on Broadway). Or walk on your own: pick up the pamphlet Footsteps into the Land of Gold at the Skagway Convention and Visitors' Bureau, in City Hall, Seventh Avenue and Spring Street. The bureau can also advise on lodging. Other Skagway highlights: Days of '98 Museum. Housed in Skagway's granite City Hall, the museum contains important gold rush artifacts including mining equipment, household goods, newspapers. At Seventh Avenue and Spring Street, it's open 8 to 6 daily; admission is $2, $1 students; 983-2420. Skaguay in the Days of '98. This garter-snapping production makes a comic melodrama of Soapy Smith's rise and fall. Where else will you hear lyrics like, "It's the tundra that tears my heart asunder/Moonlight, the Yukon, and you"? At the Eagles Hall, on Broadway between Fifth and Sixth avenues, shows start at 9 P.M. daily. Tickets are $10, $5 ages under 12; 983-2545. White Pass and Yukon Railroad. As miners flocked over the White Pass Trail, financiers saw that a railroad might be profitable. To build it, workers dangled from cliffs and braved winter temperatures of -60 [degrees]. Now the narrow-gauge train hauls tourists along its vertginious route, starting the 3-hour round trip daily at 9 and 1:30. Fares are $69 for adults, $34.50 for ages 12 and under. Write to White Pass and Yukon Route, Box 435, Skagway 99840, or call (800) 343-7373 or (907) 983-2217. Chilkoot Trail. This competing route to the gold fields began in Dyea, 8 miles north of Skagway. Now nearly 3,000 hikers a summer follow the trail 33 miles to its end at Bennett, British Columbia. Allow at least four days for this trek, and prepare for summer weather that can veer from sun to snow. For necessary trail information, write to Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Box 517, Skagway 99840. To return, you can board a track motorcar that runs between Bennett and Fraser, then take the train back to Skagway. Write or call the White Pass and Yukon (address above).

Haines: where eagles and artists dare

Where Skagway was born of gold fever, Haines enjoyed a more pious start. The Presbyterian Church established a mission to the Chilkat Indians here in 1881. The U.S. Army followed in 1903, building Fort William H. Seward to serve as regimental headquarters for all Alaska. Today, 1,800 strong, Haines takes as much pride in its sedate past as Skagway does in its bawdy one. Stand on the parade grounds at Fort Seward and you may hear a ghostly bugle echoing across the blue waters of the Lynn Canal. Here, stop first at the chamber of commerce, at Second and Willard streets. It's open 8 to 8 daily; (907) 766-2202 or (800 458-3579. The chamber has walking-tour leaflets for Haines and Fort Seward. Fort Seward. Many of the fort's colonial revival buildings have been imaginatively converted to other uses. They include:

The Hotel Halsingland. Officers' and captains' quarters were joined to make this 60-room hotel. Rooms ($62 to $67) are simple but comfortable, and the dining room's way with fresh salmon may become one of your fondest memories of Alaska. Write to Box 1589, Haines 99827, or call (907) 766-2000 or (800) 542-6363. The owners also run the neighboring Officer's Inn Bed and Breakfast. Rates here range from $65 to $70 double. West of the parade ground stands a handsome line of detached houses that once was officers' row. One is now the Fort Seward Bed and Breakfast, with rooms from $52 to $62. For reservations, write or call the bed-and-breakfast at Box 5, Haines 99827; (907) 766-2856. Alaska Indian Arts. Housed in the old fort hospital, AIA hosts a number of native artists--Tlingits from southeast Alaska and Inuits and Aleuts from elsewhere. Watch them working in indoor studious or carving totem poles outside. Jewelry, carvings, and other works are for sale. Hours are 9 to 5 weekdays; Saturday hours vary. Totem Village. Totem poles created by carvers from Alaska Indian Arts stand beside the Raven Tribal House of the Chilkat Raven clan. In summer, the house hosts the Hotel Halsingland's salmon bakes nightly from 5 to 8 ($17.50; 766-2000). Next door is the Sea Wolf Gallery, with Alaskan-inspired contemporary art. Chilkat Center for the Arts. This barn-like building is home to the Chilkat Dancers, who perform traditional Tlingit dances at 8 P.M. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Call 766-2160. Downtown Haines holds a number of art galleries; the Sheldon Museum, at Main and Front streets, has an excellent collection of Tlingit artifacts. It's open daily from 1 to 5; admission is $2 adults, free for ages under 18; 766-2366. Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. Another highlights lies along the Haines Highway 20 miles northwest of town. Warmed by hot springs, the Chilkat River freezes over later than most area rivers. That means a late salmon run--which attracts bald eagles. As many as 4,000 of them congregate here between October and January, with 300 or so staying year-round. View them from the road or--better--from a raft; Chilkat Guides runs four-hour trips at 9 and 2 daily. Cost is $55; call 766-2491, or write to Box 170, Haines 99827.

Getting to Haines and Skagway--and getting between them

Most cruise lines sailing the Inside Passage stop at Skagway. Starting this year, five stop in Haines. Alaska State Ferries serves both towns; you should have no trouble booking deck space now, though cabin and vehicle space may be full; call (800) 642-0066. Air flights run from Juneau to Haines or Skagway, and there are also frequent, 10-minute flights between the two towns. If you have time and a car, the drive between Skagway and Haines is as scenic as any you can find. From Skagway, follow Klondike Highway 2 north 100 miles to the Alaska Highway, south of Whitehorse. In another 10 miles, you reach the Yukon capital, which makes a good overnight stop. One point of interest is the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site, near the Robert Campbell Bridge at the south end of town; this Yukon River stern-wheeler is open from 9 to 6 daily. At First Avenue and Steele Street, the MacBride Museum features Yukon history (open noon to 5 daily beginning May 15, 10 to 6 July and August; $3). From Whitehorse, go northwest 100 miles on the Alaska Highway to Haines Junction; stop here at the headquarters of Kluane National Park, open 9 to 9. Then drive south 150 miles on Haines Highway, skirting the meadows and mountains of Kluane National Park, to Haines. To make a full loop, you can take the ferry between Haines and Skagway--there's normally space on this short run. It's often possible to rent a car in one town and return it in the other, but do expect a drop-off charge.
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Date:May 1, 1990
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