Today we woke up in Haines, Alaska, having driven down the Haines Highway from Haines Junction, Yukon Territory, yesterday. The weather forecast for our entire stay is rainy, so we decided not to try any ambitious hikes, but rather to focus on the town of Haines itself. We found there was more than enough to fill a day just hanging around Haines.
The most prominent thing about Haines is its harbor, situated on Chilkoot Inlet, just below Skagway. Chilkoot Inlet is part of the Inland Waterway adjoining the Gulf of Alaska, with Juneau to the south and Valdez and Anchorage to the north. Ferries connect Haines with the other cities and towns.
It's not surprising, then, that the town's sign is located at the marina and has a fishy theme:
The marina itself is not large. It emphasizes fishing boats - both commercial and sport - but mainly sport fishing. There are a few sailboats, but these are in the minority. The marina was smaller than we expected, because the fishing industry has really bypassed Haines now, so there is little need for docking space for many commercial fishing boats.
Here is a view of town looking from the south, near our bed & breakfast and Historic Fort William H. Seward. Bright red and purple fireweed graces the green areas. and orange, yellow and purple seaweed graces the rocky beaches:
Most of the town's buildings are quaint and historic, but unpretentions, and the entire community is nestled below the Chilkat and Chilkoot Mountains:
Haines grew as the port terminus for the Chilkat Trail, an alternate trail for gold rush sourdoughs headed for Dawson City north in the Yukon. The Chilkoot Trail ran north from Skagway, further up the inlet, but this was an alternative that was promoted by Jack Dalton, a famous explorer, trader and entrepreneur who was responsible for much of the early development of this area. Unfortunately, Skagway and the Chilkoot Trail overshadowed the Haines-Chilkat Trail because of the construction of the White Pass & Yukon Railway, which made trekking overland obsolete. And, further, because the Gold Rush only lasted two years, what business there was faded quickly. Haines survived for a number of years on logging - which has faded away - and fishing - which has also faded with over-fishing by commercial fishermen - leaving Haines with the slimmest of lifelines through tourism. An average of one cruise ship stops here once a week, but even in that respect Haines is overshadowed by nearby Skagway, which can have as many as five cruise ships a day! As a result, Haines, while very tourist-friendly, does not have the wealth - or the honky-tonk atmosphere - of other tourist traps. It's a very quiet, attractive town, and, due to its other assets, is one we enjoyed.
Our B&B was built relatively recently, but in a style compatible with that of other buildings in this historic district of Fort Seward. It in fact is built around and adjoins the concrete powerhouse for the old fort:
Fort Seward was not constructed until the early 1900's, but during the period between World Wars I and II was the only U.S. military fort in Alaska. It thus served an important role in staging other military efforts in the rest of Alaska.
Another claim to fame that Haines has is for having been the location for the Disney film, "White Fang." The movie set for the Dawson City and Skagway of the 1890's was built by the filmmakers just outside Haines. After the filming was completed in the 1990's, Disney turned the set over to the town, which arranged for the set to be moved to the Fairgrounds, which are in the northern part of town:
This brings us to another claim that Haines has, which is as the site of the annual Southeast Alaska State Fair. We just missed the festivities, which are due to start next week.
Another claim to fame of Haines, but one we had to pass by for lack of time, was the road to Porcupine Creek. This is the area made famous by the Discovery Channel's reality TV series, "Gold Rush." Parker Schnabel is a real person, as was his grandfather, and their claim is also real. One of the local museums happens to have a photo of local community leaders which included the grandfather, John Schnabel. If we'd had a Jeep, it might have been fun to drive up and see the gold mine workings.
Something we did NOT miss was the thimbleberries! Not just bears love them. We love them too, having discovered them in Glacier National Park and then munched them again in Sault Ste. Marie right next to Lake Superior. We can't tell you how sweet and luscious these fragile little red berries are:
The town boasts three museums aside from its Visitor Center. One is the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center, which was founded by the family of Stephen Sheldon, has the mission of collecting, preserving and interpreting the history, art and unique blending of diverse cultures within the Chilkat Valley region.
Mr. Sheldon, the son of a wealthy vice president of the New York Railway, went to school in England and, when he returned to the United States, started west looking for work, as the "panic" of the early 20th century was going on. He worked in hay fields in Oklahoma, and orange groves in California, eventually finding his way to Seattle. Steve managed to get a job as a storekeeper on the Alaska Steamship "Northwestern" and made seven trips to Nome. During one of his trips, the ship was held fast in the ice in the Bering Sea for a time. Intrigued with Alaska, he applied for work with Michael J. Heney who was building the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad out of Cordova. The winter between his two seasons there, he was a storekeeper in a remote supply station far up the track. When that railroad was completed, some of the crew members went with their boss, John Rosene, to Haines to work on the survey for the Alaska Midland Railroad which was to connect Fairbanks with the deep-water port of Haines. When plans to build the railway failed, he stayed in Haines and established a series of businesses, becoming, with his wife, one of the most influential members of the Haines community.
Another museum-type facility in Haines is the American Bald Eagle Foundation, an organization dedicated to educating and inspiring guests from around the world about the American bald eagle and interconnected species through its natural history museum and raptor center. The foundation and center are well located in Haines because the community lies just south of the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, located on the "flats" of the Chilkat River along the Haines Highway between miles 18 and 24. The preserve is the main viewing area for eagle watchers and considered critical habitat for bald eagles in western North America. Bald eagles are attracted to the area by the availability of spawned-out salmon and open waters in late fall and winter. In mid-late November, thousands of bald eagles can be seen hunting for Coho salmon as they make their late run up the river to spawn.
The center contains numerous exhibits on the natural history of the area, and includes a 100-foot mural depicting the area's natural resources, one segment of which is in diorama format and depicts bald eagles nesting near the town of Haines:
The center includes information on Alaskan wildlife other than bald eagles and raptors, including these moosey friends of Kathy's:
The aviary is home to a number of birds that, due to injury or other reasons, cannot be released into the wilds. One resident is this red-tailed hawk:
Another pair of residents are two female bald eagles who spent our whole visit watching activities outside their home in the aviary, occasionally commenting with their high-pitched calls:
The third museum was Kathy's favorite - the Hammer Museum - yes, that's just what it is - a museum devoted to and displaying thousands of hammers of all types, both historic and modern. Here, Kathy's demonstrating that the Hammer Museum was a hit with her:
This photo gives you an idea what a wealth of hammers the museum has. Also included in the museum are some very interesting sculptures of artisans using hammers, which the museum acquired from the Smithsonian Institution:
The museum was filled with quirky hammers, including this "Little Man With the Hammer," a trademark of the Western Exterminating Company:
Another quirky hammer is a piece of driftwood, naturally shaped like a hammer, that a local resident happened to grab from the river bank to break open the window of a car that had driven into Chilkoot Bay, saving the life of a poor dog trapped inside the sinking car:
Haines also has an excellent brewery, Haines Brewing Company, which we visited both nights we stayed in Haines, to sample their excellent brews on tap.
This just about exhausted our time in Haines. This is an area we'd like to return to. Besides its drop-dead gorgeous scenery, some good restaurants, the brewery and some diverting cultural and historical sites, Haines is a center for outdoor activities. Numerous hikes were available, had the weather been better, and people here enjoy fishing, kayaking and other water sports.
Apparently, bicycling is also a passion. We passed numerous bicyclists on the Haines Highway, who were patiently pedaling over the Chilkat Pass, along the eastern border of Kluane National Park, toward Haines Junction and Whitehorse. In fact, one couple of young bicyclists from Vancouver stayed at our bed & breakfasts one of the nights we were there, getting some well-needed bed rest after 6 weeks of cycling, before heading over the mountains into the Yukon interior. We spent some extended time sharing stories with them over breakfast. Eventually, however, they had to excuse themselves to hop on their bikes and pedal up the highway:
We hope to see them tomorrow as we drive back up to Haines Junction. We promised to honk. They assured us they would be very jealous of our mode of transportation.