MONDAY, JULY 9, 2012 – ANCHORAGE, AK – DENALI
Sadly, this is where my trip notes end. But, I’ll do my best to finish the rest of the story now – 8 years later.
We checked out of the hotel and arrived at the Alaska Railroad depot by 7:30 am to check-in with the Gray Line/Holland America representative for our seat assignment. The blue and gold McKinley Explorer luxury dome train departed the Alaska Railroad depot at 8:15 am.
The Alaska Railroad main line extends 470 miles from Seward to Fairbanks. The railroad was completed in 1923 after nine years of construction. It’s one of the last ‘flag stop’ passenger rail lines in the United States, meaning the train will stop wherever and whenever a passenger wants to get off or on.
While reviewing my research materials in 2020, I learned that the Alaska Railroad tour guides are local high school students who have studied the history of the railroad, geography of the area, and interesting stories of Alaska. The students are trained through school/business partnerships and often move on to higher positions in the tourism industry.
We got settled into our seats on the upper level of the glass roofed double-deck rail car. The views were magnificent. We went to the lower level for lunch.
The conductor kept us posted on points of interest along the way:
– Talkoneeta – the location/inspiration for the village of Sicily from the TV show Northern Exposure
– Mount McKinley
– a beaver lodge
– two eagles nests
– trumpeter swans
– Panorama Peak (Mt. McKinley is five times higher)
– Mushers Mountain
– copper wiring on its way to Canada
– Longhorn Saloon – where legend has it that Cantwell residents noticed the local bartender on America’s Most Wanted, reported him to authorities, and he was subsequently arrested
We were able to go out on the open observation deck but had been strictly warned to keep our limbs within the perimeter of the guardrails. That warning went in one of my ears and out the other. I was hanging over the side of the railing taking photos of the beautiful scenery. I stepped back after getting a few nice shots, and we passed by a tree inches away from the edge of the train. I could have been beheaded! To say it kind of shook me up would be putting it lightly.
I didn’t have much time to dwell on that diverted calamity, though, because within a minute or two, T.J. came down and informed me of another tragedy that really occurred – while reviewing some of the photos on his new camera, it completely turned itself off. When he turned it back on, all of his photos from our trip were gone. I was sure we’d be able to get them back somehow. Sadly, we never did.
I was fascinated with being able to see the opposite end of the train.
We arrived in Denali National Park, 237 miles north of Anchorage, at 3:45pm. We claimed our luggage and took the Denali Park bus to the McKinley Chalets. Our wooded cabin was on the second floor.
After getting settled in our cabin, we went for a walk around the park (not the entire 6 million acres) and made arrangements for a wilderness tour in the morning. We may have checked out the working sled dog kennel and/or watched a sled dog demonstration, but I don’t remember for sure.
We walked across the highway and ate dinner at Prospectors Historic Pizzeria and Alehouse. I don’t recall what else we ate, but we did get an order of Mozzarella Bricks. Being from Wisconsin, we are very familiar with fried cheese, but this was unbelievable. The hand-cut, breaded mozzarella sticks were each almost the size of a stick of butter – WOW! Delicious!