Musher’s Camp & Sled Dog Experience #TuesdayTravels

Tuesday Travel buttonOne of the highlights of my recent Alaska cruise was our afternoon excursion from Skagway to the Musher’s Camp for a sled dog ride and a chance to hold a puppy. Wild horses couldn’t have prevented me from going.

Our guide for the day was a young man from South Carolina named Jay, or J-dot as he liked to be called. He drove us out to the musher’s camp in a national forest outside Skagway. It’s a beautiful rural area, as you can see in this photo.

Alaska sceneWe had to stop the bus some distance from the camp. After a short hike, we were loaded into this military-style vehicle (I forget the official name) for the drive to where the sled dogs were waiting.

military vehicleFour teams of sled dogs awaited us, some of them barking madly, apparently ready to run! Now if you’re expecting to see photos of beautiful purebred Siberian or Malamute huskies, you’ll be disappointed. The dogs used for sled racing in Alaska are mixed breed. The mushers breed huskies with other breeds that are bred for speed, like greyhounds. What they get is a Heinz 57 of mixed breeds of various colors, including some with blue eyes, though the body type is typically long and lean. (Huskies are good for expeditions where strength is more important than speed.)

sled dogsThis one had green eyes, though I never could get him to look into the camera lens to prove it.

white sled dogWe piled into four golf carts, each one pulled by a team of eight dogs.

mushers campIf you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.

sled dog team

Each team was made up of an experienced sled dog paired with a younger dog, typically about eleven months old. The dogs are harness on either side of a trace that runs down the middle of the dogs to the sled. Once they got started, it wasn’t difficult to figure out which ones were the newbie. One of them jumped a little too high and ended up straddling the middle trace. He didn’t look too comfortable.

sled dog team

At one point, the vehicle slowed a bit and I saw that one of the dogs had paused to do his business. Others just lifted their leg out to the side, and not always the outward side! I imagine they had to be hosed down at the end of the day. We were all laughing during the run. The kicker was when one of the dogs jumped over the middle trace to hump the dog next to him. That had everyone laughing. What can I say? Dogs being dogs.

Jay and friends

J dot (on the left) and friends

When we got back to the camp, we watched a short presentation about running the Iditarod. Then came the high point of the trip for many, esp. the children (of all ages) in the group. We got to hold two-week old puppies. Charlie Brown was right: Happiness is a warm puppy.

brown puppy

Linda cradling a two-week-old puppy.

Another litter was taking a nap. I love the way they sleep all piled on top of each other. They really are pack animals from birth.

puppiesWhen we got back to the cruise ship, we saw that another musher had brought a group of older puppies on board for people to hold. It was a fun day for all.


Skagway, Alaska & White Pass Summit #TuesdayTravels

Ships Docked at SkagwayOur second stop in Alaska was Skagway, where we took an early morning bus ride up to the White Pass Summit. We boarded a small motorcoach (about 20 passengers) and drove first through “downtown” Skagway. The weather was cloudy, but you can see see a snow-covered mountain straight ahead.

downtown SkagwayIf you’re familiar with Skagway history, you know that it was the jumping off point for the Klondike Gold Rush circa 1896-99. Skagway was the closest port city to the gold fields, but it wasn’t remotely close. To get to the gold, prospectors had to climb over the coastal mountains to the interior. There were two trails–White Pass out of Skagway and the Chilkoot Trail out of nearby Dyea–that had to be climbed. Because the Klondike is in Canada’s Northwestern Territories, the Mounties got to make the rules. They knew a thing or two about Canadian winters, so they wouldn’t let anyone in who didn’t have six months worth of provisions. Problem was, you couldn’t haul that much stuff in one trip. It took a number of roundtrip hikes up and back down the mountain to collect enough provisions. Then, in order to get to the gold fields, the prospectors had to build rafts to float down the Klondike River. Of the 100,000 who set out, only 30,000 arrived in the Klondike. About 4,000 actually found gold. But when asked later, most people who had set out said it was the adventure of a lifetime and they would do it again! People can be so interesting. has some facts about the Gold Rush.

Our bus stopped periodically for photo ops, including the pics of this spectacular suspension bridge. The scenery was beautiful, though the clouds were low and sometimes obscured the view. It was chilly up in those mountains, even in June.

A narrow gauge railroad, the White Pass & Yukon, was started in 1898 and completed in 1900. By then the fields were mostly played out. The train still operates, though, carrying tourists to the summit. If I go again, I’d like to take the train.

White Pass old Train

White Pass old Train,

We crossed into Canada for a few minutes, then on the way back stopped at the border to have our photos taken.

welcome to AlaskaBack in town we had time to wander and grab a bite of lunch at the Skagway Brewing Company. I ate a nice salmon salad accompanied by a glass of their delicious Spruce Tip Ale. Skagway is a very small town and it doesn’t take long to walk around. We did some shopping and I snapped a bunch of pictures. I think this is my favorite of the ports we visited. I love the Old West feel of the town.

I got a kick out of the young women from the Days of ’98 Show, dressed up like old-time saloon girls. Here we see two of them soliciting customers in an age-old fashion. A fun way to spend the summer. I’d like to see the show next time I’m in town.

Skagway working girls

We had time to pop back to the Crown Princess to drop off our packages and get ready for our afternoon excursion to the Musher’s Camp. Check back next time for a report on our sled dog adventure.


Crown Princess