National Geographic : 1965 Jun
He borrowed a 16-foot outboard, and Lucille, Mike, Kenny, and I launched another Society "expedition" into Yakutat Bay. After two hours of pounding through the icy water, we stopped at a small cabin along the wild shoreline. George told us this was a home he was building for his family. He was returning to hunt ing and fishing for a living. I couldn't question the beauty of the location. Salmon were running up the nearby streams. There was plenty of food and fur-bearing game in the area. But Mrs. Ramos was a nurse, and George had worked for seven years with the U. S. Public Health Service. I couldn't understand why they would want to raise their family in such a remote spot. "Won't it be lonely out here?" I asked. George thought a moment before answering. "Last New Year's Eve I was in Times Square in New York City," he said. "I've never been more lonely." Where Glaciers Spawn Icebergs We picked up extra fuel cans and continued northward past the Malaspina Glacier. It is as large as Rhode Island, yet we could see Mount St. Elias's 18,008-foot peak behind it. As we approached the head of the bay, faint thunderlike rum bles sharpened into distinct detonations. Seventy-five years ago Professor Israel C. Russell, leader of the National Geographic Society's first expedition to this area, heard just such sounds as he neared the glacier he named in honor of Gardiner Greene Hubbard, then the Society's President. The Hubbard face loomed 200 feet above our tiny boat and stretched a couple of miles on either side. We were too close for safety, but the awesome sight and sounds were compelling. As we watched, huge chunks of ice plunged into the water. Each collapse was followed by a wave which bobbed our boat. One of the ice slides grew larger, and its rumble rose to a roar. Hundreds of tons fell in a seemingly slow slide to the sea. A cloud of ice crystals boiled up like smoke from a bomb blast. We sped away ahead of the outrushing impact wave. Though it was partly spent by the time it reached us, it gave our little craft a powerful shove toward the mouth of the bay. From Yakutat we flew south over Glacier Bay National Monu ment to Juneau to continue our interrupted journey. Once again we took the marine highway north, this time to the end of the line at Skagway, gateway to the Yukon. The town had grown in one year, 1897, from a single settler's cabin into the biggest, toughest city in Alaska. The location at the head of the Inside Passage and at the foot of the Chilkoot Pass (preceding page) and White Pass Trails attracted a transient pop ulation of 15,000, including several thousand opportunists who fed, housed, entertained, and often robbed the gold seekers. Today only 750 people live in Skagway. We were to find the town much the way the rush left it. Board walks and old saloons still line the dusty main street which is kept, for the benefit of tourists, in its original unpaved state (opposite). Featureless frame houses face the waterfront. Our ferry docked late at night. We drove through town and parked our home beside Skagway's Trail of '98 Museum. Next day we met Mrs. Jeannette Hillery, receptionist in the museum and a resident of Skagway for 66 of its 68 years. I asked Mrs. Hillery how the community had survived. 802 Ta-ra-ra-BOOM-deay! Skag way residents put on a "Days of '98" show for visitors to the gold-rush community. The frolic also features a re enactment of "The Shoot ing of Dan McGrew": "Then I ducked my head, and the lights went out, and two guns blazed in the dark, And a woman screamed, and the lights went up, and two men lay stiff and stark." False-front buildings and board sidewalks flank Skag way's unpaved Broadway. Roadrunner finds no park ing problem here.