People > Gold – (Southeast Alaska)

Looking off the top deck of the Malaspina at Auke Bay (the port to which the Alaska Marine Highway services near Juneau) I marveled at the wisps of mist frosting the mountains. There was a light rain for our departure, but despite this I felt as though I were seeing the true Juneau; the Juneau that Juneau’s residence see for a good portion of the year – misty, mysterious, grey, yet cool and refreshing, alive with life, fueled by the water cycle.

Rain also brought us something new. A form of transportation that is certainly as old as its parent yet of seemingly infinite more value and intrigue, though likely more dangerous. Hitching hiking 2 miles back to Adams house the day before with our bags of grocery was fun, quick, and we got to meet some friendly locals. It only took two tries to step out of the damp rain and into the dry comfort of a car. This departure day however, on our way to the ferry terminal, it was not as easy. As the time drew on and our bags became increasingly wet, we wondered if hitch hiking was really as hard and unlikely as I had once thought. Judging looks from passerbys made me feel sketchy and I wondered if we should just call a cab for the 9 mile trip to Auke Bay. While such an activity is often frowned upon on the east coast, here in Alaska it is indeed far more common, and especially safe with a guy-girl duo, speaking to the small-state community feel of this massive and often wild place. Finally, we jumped in back seat of a Toyota Tacoma and headed down the road with two young chaps, about our age, home for the summer from school.

Upon arriving in Haines, our original departure point, where we left our Jetta behind, we were sad to leave the inner passage. Leaving the boat we asked about our original request to grab the car in Haines and bring it aboard for the short, 1hour trip to Skagway, which would save us 6 hours of driving. Contrary to the matter-of-factness and procedural directness of the booking agent last week, the Haines terminal staff said ‘Sure…”  And so we grabbed Jetta and re-boarded the Malaspina for the gold minning town of Skagway.

Once a bustling urban center of Alaska, today Skagway is but chintzy mock up of the gold miner’s boom site of the Yukon Gold Rush. Skagway and sister city Dyea – currently referred to as a ghost town, though more accuratly described as a small pile of rotting lumber amidst a stand of mid-growth temperate rain forest – once boasted a population of 30,000 people at the height of the rush during the late 1890’s which stamped out the relatively small (in comparison) population of Tlingit Alaska Natives. A few years later, with the hills mined of the extrinsically valuable gold, Dyea was deserted with many of the buildings moved to Skagway or sold away as valuable lumber.

This Boom/Bust narrative is not unusual for Alaska, but on the contrary the cause of it’s American coming-to-be. First gold, then timber and fish, and finally oil, Alaska is a colony for export, making rich men and displacing indigenous culture and wisdom in its wake. Every boom will have it’s bust – It doesn’t take long to draw parallels and conclusions between the gold boom, bust, and current states of Skagway and Dyea; and the industrial story of the State at large. I hope for Alaska’s sake the bust comes sooner than later, riding the land of those who do not appreciate her for what she is, instead wishing to dismantle and objectify her majesty.

One Response to “People > Gold – (Southeast Alaska)”
  1. casey4peace says:

    Thanks for sharing. I dig the detail and the historical lens. Can’t wait to hear your comments about the American Rockies. 🙂

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