The summer I turned fifteen, I had an adventure of a life time: a road trip that lasted thirty-two days. What began in Phoenix, Arizona took me as far north as the Yukon, and ended in Amarillo, Texas. My grandparents, professional cruise ship travelers, made sure the trip was unforgettable. For me, the most memorable and magnificent moments were spent in The Last Frontier. While I wish I’d been able to go further inland and digress from the beaten tourist path, my experience of Alaska and the Yukon was phenomenal.
Juneau: The Golden Capital
Okay, so maybe it’s not exactly golden, but it is gorgeous. Although when I was taking this picture, I wasn’t exactly thinking things were all that beautiful. This was a shot taken from out of a window. This particular window was part of a tramway, which just happened to be carrying us to the top of a nearby mountain. Heights are a heck-no-techno for me. A major heck-no-techno. That’s how I know this shot was taken the second time we went up. The first time I sat in the middle of the floor with my eyes shut tight and my head between my knees.
The view from atop Mount Roberts was worth the panic attack. Much of the town is just feet above sea level, but I stood 3,819 feet above the capitol to experience Juneau. Those moments looking out across the inside passage and the snow-capped mountain ranges convinced me that a second six-minute-journey on the tramway was acceptable.
However, I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t relieved to be on level ground. Downtown Juneau wasn’t quite as spectacular as the mountaintop, but my cousin and I eagerly took on our roll as adventurers. While my grandparents visited their typical route (Alaska is one of their favorite destinations), my cousin and I explored the shops and market places and attempted to keep away the northern chill. The weather could have been nicer according to the rest of my family. Personally, I thought the misty rain and fog was perfect. I guess sunshine just isn’t my thing.
Skagway: Doorway to The Yukon
History is a family hobby, so Skagway’s connection with the Klondike Gold Rush made me giddy with excitement. It also had a great effect on my photographs, which all ended up being mostly black and white. Sepia would have been even better, but even in color, the town had an antique feel.
The aroma of warm bread slipped out the open doors of bakeries. Famous bars and brothels–turned into museums of course–stood on nearly every street corner. Unlike Seattle, the streets were wide and quiet. The silence was occasionally broken by the hordes of tourists, but the mountain’s shadow told me stories of a time long ago. Skagway was an old relic invaded by the modern world. Somehow it constructed a perfect balance between the here and now.
However, the moment my fingers slipped around my train ticket, my modern world began to crumble around me. The steaming engine of the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad carried me up into the cloud-crowned peaks. Since 1898, this railroad has seen the faces and heard the tales of hundreds of thousands of adventurers. First the miners of gold, then the miners of ghosts.
Honestly, the trip into The Yukon still haunts me. The towering ridges seem otherworldly and the crisp air reminds me of a new creation, as if each breath I take is my first. Everything was larger, more dangerous, and that woke me up. While most of the travelers stayed inside the cars and huddled around the heaters, I stood on a tiny platform outside. A northern wind ripped at my hair and clothes. My toes and fingers grew numb. Rain, sleet, and eventually delicate snowflakes drifted around me like sparks of magic.
The land was full of hidden magics, and a handful of ancient souls stepped off the train to chase after those spells. Survivalists, campers, and backpackers turned away from the warmth of the cars and entered into a world where anything could happen. Fifteen-year-old Sierra was beyond jealous. I longed to hop from my small perch and trek across the endless fields and valleys.
Eventually, we climbed above the treeline. The Yukon’s alpine tundra is gray and bleak; it is abandoned by the sun and occupied by the stunted vegetation. I had always seen my world as conquered, but I was introduced to a world that still played by nature’s rules. Survival of the fittest still applies in these terrains. Freezing rain and declining temperatures brought pleas from my grandparents to come in where it was warm, but a wild something inside of me refused watch this world through tainted glass. I wanted live those moments to the fullest and prove that I could survive.
As the day wore on my eyes grew heavy, but I still kept my vigilant post. The longer I stood on the platform, the more I connected with my surroundings. I missed nothing, and yet I missed everything. Before I knew it, Skagway was in sight. Silly as it sounds, I cried as the last bit of untamed mountainside slipped past. I cried as the tundra gave way to wooded hills. I cried as beautiful Skagway grew larger on my horizon, and cried even harder as the strange town of relic and vision became shrouded in a curtain of rain.