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Skagway, Part II: Dead Horse Trail, Liarsville and ancient art
Skagway, Part II: Dead Horse Trail, Liarsville and ancient art
by Rev. Barbara Allen, CMP - SGN Staff Writer

From a distance they looked like an endless stream of tiny ants struggling ever upward, carrying huge burdens, one directly behind the other, slowly ascending a steep snowy mountain trail. At the top, they left their burdens, then, traveled back down the slippery slope as quickly as possible to fetch another load. Many died of exhaustion, starvation, or froze to death. It was the "White Pass Trail" a.k.a. (Dead Horse Trail), 1898, in the early days of the Klondike Gold Rush.

"Entrepreneurs" began selling pack horses to the prospectors for a significant profit. They might buy them, near death and decrepit, from the slaughter house for a few dollars, and then sell these sad specimens to inexperienced gold seekers. So many horses died on the trail and were left there that it became known as Dead Horse Trail.

Before long, a narrow gauge railroad was built across the pass, which came to be recognized as an "Historical Civil Engineering Landmark", a designation shared with the Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, and Panama Canal. You too can ride one of the most scenic railroads in the world: The White Pass & Yukon Rail Road (WPYR), each spring and summer, departing from Skagway's century old station and ascending 2,865 feet, in the comfort and safety of historic railroad cars, pulled by historic engines. (All trains are wheelchair accessible.) The shortest adventure takes three hours, 'round trip and is fully narrated, for under $100. Where once the tracks ran down Broadway, then the main street in the middle of town, they were moved two streets over as Skagway grew, and tourism increased.

The irony of the Klondike Gold Rush is that the first prospectors there made fortunes, those who came later usually did not.

Now, when tourists travel inland from Skagway, they pass Liarsville, which offers great turn of the 19th Century entertainment and an excellent outdoor salmon barbeque, with live fiddler, rain or shine. The name Liarsville came into existence when reporters were sent to cover the gold rush, but perceiving that going up the mountain could be fatal, sent their "first person," "creative," stories via telegraph from the safety of a camp here which offered "amenities". Of course, they were, at best, rumored tales, often fictitious, but submitted as fact that fueled the gold rush. Local residents named the place "Liarsville" because of the scurrilous members of the press who hid there. At one point, it was a large tuberculosis sanatorium. Now, it's just good food and great fun, which may include an opportunity to pan for gold. (To get to Liarsville's entertainment, make reservations in town and ride the mandatory yellow school bus from Skagway. The drivers are charming.)

One evening at dusk, I heard the sound of singing and live music coming from Skagway's primary ship's dock where two huge passenger ships had disgorged thousands of tourists earlier in the day. The passengers were now returning for dinner aboard and their next cruise destination&but that wasn't the source of any music. It lured me to find out more; so I drove over, put my trusty camera around my neck, and got closer.

As I approached the party on the dock, congenial strangers immediately offered champagne, hor douvres, and pastries. It was an impromptu celebration because one of the beloved local tour guides was awarded for the second or third year in a row, a Best Tour Guide award. "Dawson Dolly" was in full turn of the century lusty costume, reminiscent of Mae West, only more so. In spite of the darkness, I got a decent photograph, and was introduced to some of her friends and colleagues whose livelihood in season is the tourist industry. Most of them remain in Skagway during the winter. I didn't recognize Dolly out of costume when we ran into one another in the photography store in Skagway, until she re-introduced herself (and the largest nuggets in the Klondike). Seriously, she's got a good sense of humor, in addition to being a devout Christian, who the creator well endowed. She's got her own website: www.dawsondolly.com

When not driving tour busses, Bruce Schindler successfully hunts Wooly Mammoths. (Not live ones, they've been extinct since the Pleistocene era, over 10,000 years ago.) He finds their bones and tusks in remote Alaskan and Yukon areas while hanging off newly exposed cliff faces or delving deep into abandoned mines. The mammoth and walrus fossilized ivory he hunts are 500 to 50,000 years old.

He packs these treasures out to his studio, in the woods near his home, where they are carefully crafted into wonderful small statues, sculptures, and other items. Google "Bruce Schindler Skagway" or visit his website: www.aptalaska.net/~schindlr/sculpture.htm

Bruce wrote about his work: "For centuries the native people of Alaska's Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea carved walrus ivory for survival and adornment. When roughing out a shape they'd hammer chips off the tusk which collected in a pile at their feet. 500-5,000 years later, these chips were uncovered from the frozen arctic soil and made available" for bookmarks he creates by carefully finishing and polishing the original form by hand, then flat braiding special sinew to connect two of them together. I was fortunate enough to come home with one of these soft, smooth, sensuous treasures; delightful to touch. Each piece is carefully carved making use of inherent color and characteristics. Bruce also serves as an elected Skagway city official. Christmas is coming, and he might just have something wonderful, beautiful, sensuous, and unique for you.


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