Friday, July 29, 2016

All Aboard the Alaska Railway...

This was an opportune morning to get a wake-up call from the front desk. Our luggage had to be outside our room by 6AM. We did not take time to eat breakfast before leaving Grizzly Bear Lodge on Sunday morning, June 5th. There would be ample time to eat in the dining car after we boarded the Alaska Railway in Fairbanks at 8:15AM. Oh, and by the way, the purchases we made at the Fred Meyer store the day before needed to go with us. They would remain on the bus and be available for us when the bus picked us up at the train station upon our arrival in Denali.

We left Fairbanks, Alaska’s second largest community, behind us at milepost 470 on the Alaska Railway, the northernmost railroad in North America. Fairbanks marks the north end of the main line. We traveled past the Museum of the North, milepost 466.3. The Alaska Railway, to some degree, parallels the Parks Highway and the Tanana River.

Wilderness Express Railcar

The Wilderness Express railcar is 85 feet long and 18.1 feet high, with a weight of 100 tons. The name on this car is “Eklutna”. The name is printed on the white under the blue color at the far side of the car.

Wilderness Express Railcar 
First thing we did when boarding the train was to find our seats in the Dome car. Signs were mounted under the window with the corresponding seat numbers.

A picture to help us remember our seat numbers
It was important to remember which seat we occupied, because everything we purchased was correlated to our seat number, i.e. food, souvenirs, and refreshments served in the dome car by hostess/waitress. Each person received a tally to verify purchases, and paid their tab upon reaching our destination.

One of the items I purchased while on the Alaska Railway was a “Ride Guide to the Historic Alaska Railroad”. As I read it, I learned more about the name on the car and how it got its name. The Alaskan owned and operated company who owns Wilderness Express has been doing escorted tours for over 20 years. During this time, it became a tradition that they name each vehicle according to categories. Motor coaches are named after local mountains and vans after various fish found in Alaska. The theme for the railcars is names of glaciers since they are large, white, and slow moving.

Only 616 of an estimated over 100,000 glaciers in the state of Alaska are named. After much thought, four glaciers located near the rail belt were chosen. The glacier names are Yentna, Kahiltna, Eklutna, and Tokositna, all of which were named by Native Alaskans who first inhabited the area. Eklutna Glacier is located in the Chugach Mountains northeast of Anchorage. It is also the name of one of the original Native villages, as well as the name of the lake into which the glacier feeds.

Dining area on the lower level
The lower level platform was 8 feet by 10 feet. Dining capacity was 36 seats (10 tables). This meant we had to eat in two shifts. Fortunately, we had the 8:30 seating, rather than the 10:00 seating. I ordered one pancake with my meal just to taste Birch Syrup. All was delicious.


Some of the wilderness areas we traveled through had Birch trees, so I took this photo to remind me how good the Birch syrup was.

Birch trees in this wilderness area remind me of the Birch Syrup.
“The Fisherman” made of fossilized whale and walrus bone is by Kent Heindel, Native Alaska Carver. It occupied a countertop on the upper level near the spiral stairway that ascended from the dining car.

"The Fisherman" by Kent Heindel
Wilderness areas with pine trees and mountains in the background were typical scenes. Without warning as we were riding the rails, small bodies of water appeared in the landscape as we passed.

Wilderness area with pine trees and mountains in the background
Small body of water appeared without warning in the landscape.
Parks Highway, Tanana River, and the two-span Parks Highway bridge came into view as we approached Nenana, which could be seen across the river. The dark strip at the top of some photos is the dome of our railcar. We also see St. Marks Church, milepost 411.8, one of the oldest churches in interior Alaska near the Nenana Depot.

The Nenana Depot was one-tenth of a mile further, but I did not get a photo. This was an important stop on July 15, 1923, for US President Warren Harding. He drove the golden spike to signify completion of the Alaska Railroad.

Just a reminder that you can click any photo to enlarge it, and simply close out of it by clicking the x.

The Parks Highway and the Tanana River on our right

Two-span bridge for Parks Highway to cross the river

Nenana can be seen across the river.

Distant view of Parks Highway two-span bridge

St. Marks log church, built in 1905

Dome car had 80 leather seats with power ports and was great for viewing.
Nenana Flats, mileposts 395-410, is considered swampy and prime habitat for moose and beavers.

Swampy area
This area with beautiful mountains appearing in the distance could be some of the area where abandoned telegraph poles can be seen along our route. It was next to impossible to get any picture of even one of the telegraph poles. All poles we saw along the tracks had some of their parts missing. By the time I would see a pole, trying to zoom in to get it in sight with my camera amidst wilderness growth around it before it disappeared did not happen. They are what is left from a telegraph line, known as WAMCATS (Washington-to-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System), the US Army began to build at the beginning of the 20th century. Twenty-five hundred miles of telegraph lines were established by the summer of 1903. As of 1926, the poles were no longer needed as radio communication with antennas and electronic signals replaced the telegraph.

Water, mountains, and wilderness

Snow-capped mountains in view as our train rounds a scenic bend

Two scenic waterfalls flowing from the rock
Photo Progressions of an Awesome Canyon

For ten miles, the railroad follows a beautiful canyon that the Nenana River has carved north of Denali. This is such a beautiful area, that I took a number of progressive photos as we continued toward Denali.

Our rail car travels very close to the rock on the side of the cliff.

With the Nenana River flowing below, the engine is about to turn right around the next bend.

As the engine curves to the right, I take this photo on the left showing
 the Nenana flowing left and soon to the right at the next bend.

The view from our Dome car continues to show the scenic curves made by
the Nenana River as well as the long curves the train follows along the rock wall.

Just ahead, the trees left of the river begin to disappear.

We have a nice view overlooking the river with mountains in
the background as our dome car travels along the rock wall.

Close-up of the beautiful canyon carved by the Nenana River
A majestic view of the mountain with the canyon,
and river below as our train winds through the canyon.

Mountain with the Nenana River below
The Parks Highway Bridge is 174 feet tall and 900 feet long. I think this is the same as the Moody Bridge (Windy Bridge) at milepost 353.2 that crosses over the Nenana River.

Moody Bridge, milepost 353.2

Beautiful snow-covered  mountains come into view as we wind around the canyon.

Looking back to see where we wound around by Moody bridge.

Moody bridge takes on a whole new perspective against the mountain backdrop.

Bridge is dwarfed by the beautiful mountain and flowing waterfall.


Downtown Denali at milepost 349
Everything… hotels, restaurants, gift shops, etc. …not run by the park service has to remain on the far side of the Nenana River, which is the eastern border of Denali National Park. This area is popular during summer, but even the stoplights close down in winter.

I am so glad I had this opportunity to take this photo of awe-inspiring Denali National Park because during our visit, it rained…in the next post you will see it did not stop me from taking pictures.

Awe-inspiring Denali National Park

Denali Depot as seen from our dome car
It was time to get off the train. It surely did not seem like we had traveled 122.1 miles on the Alaska Railway!

How did I fall off the train?

Well! All I can say is it all happened so fast! They put a portable step on the ground. I was the first one to exit the train. I stepped on to the portable step, but getting from the portable step to the ground was another story. My knees landed on gravel, and my fists were clenched as they hit the ground, so my middle finger on both hands plus my knees got the brundt of it. Thankfully, I was okay, but the area below the bend of my knees stung, so I asked for a pillow to put my knees on to get up. Two employees at the step took their jackets off and put one on top of the other to make a cushion for my knees. In spite of each knee having two scrape marks from the gravel, my slacks were not damaged in any way. One tiny spot the size of a pin hole on my right middle finger below the knuckle was bleeding a lot for the size of it. The tour guide and I walked to the bus where he got the antibiotic cream and a bandaid from the first-aid kit to patch me up. The left middle finger had two scrape marks and turned lightly black and blue across the knuckle. Other than that, I was a little stiff and very, very lucky.

Thank you everyone for visiting and following my adventure. Feel free to make comments. Next post will be our Alaska adventure in Denali National Park, and even if it rained, I’d do it again! If you would like to be notified when a new post is published, put your email address in the box at the top right of this blog and be sure to go to your email to confirm your subscription. We respect your privacy and do nothing with your information.

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