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All Aboard the McKinley Explorer!

Posted October 31, 2017 By admin


The McKinley Explorer.


July 20, 2017 

At 8 a.m. we arrived at the Anchorage Depot and boarded our car on the McKinley Explorer. It was a picturesque sunny day as we looked forward to our 237-mile adventure to Denali National Park. We would ride in custom-made dome cars with 360-degree views. The cars were made by the Colorado Railcar Company for Holland America and pulled by Alaska Railroad locomotives.

Before we departed the depot, Rodge and I explored our double-decker train car. The lower level contained a kitchen, a dining area, a lounge, two lavatories, a spiral staircase which reached to the upper level and an open-air viewing platform. The upper level was the sitting and observation area that accommodated eighty passengers. The front of the car was equipped with a bar/snack preparation area.

All Aboard! At 8:15 a.m. the journey began. Rodge and I joined Kayli and the thirty-eight other people in our tour group. The diverse group consisted of people from all over the United States, as well as Holland, New Zealand, Canada and St. Martin. A little north of Anchorage we chugged by Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and saw paratroopers jumping out of an Air Force C-130 plane. We were also able to glimpse the triangular peak of Mt. Denali shining brilliantly over the landscape.

We passed by Eagle River, the small tribal town of Eklutna and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. The last is known for its record-sized vegetables that are made possible by the long hours of summer daylight and fertile soil. Just past the town of Willow, we started following the Susitna River. The silty, muddy, brown river fed by silt from melting snow and glacial ice flows 313 miles from Susitna Glacier in the Alaskan Range to the Cook Inlet twenty-four miles west of Anchorage. We would shadow this diverse river for eighty miles.

Throughout our journey we were briefed and entertained by our train tour guide. He provided lots of information, facts, local color stories, and jokes. At noon we headed down to the lower deck for lunch. We were seated with another couple, David and Pam. After thirty years in Seattle they had just moved to Chicago. They were on another Alaskan tour with some of David’s high school friends. We also found out that David had attended the Naval Academy. So, we had a great lunch with conversations of Annapolis, our families and Alaska.

We arrived in Talkeetna midway through the trip and stopped to pick up some passengers. The small town is a jumping off point for mountain climbing expeditions to Mt. Denali. All climbers have to register with the National Park Service at Talkeetna before taking a thirty-minute flight to the Kahiltna Glacier Base Camp. Since we mistakenly left our climbing gear at home, we were forced to remain on the train for the second half of the trip to Denali National Park.

All Aboard! We continued north past the ghost town of Curry. Along the way we saw homes inhabited by people living off the land and not connected to civilization by wire or road. The railroad was the only communication/transport available to them. The Alaska Railroad is the only “flag stop” railroad in the United States. Residents along the tracks can flag down a train anywhere along the route. Conversely, the trains will stop on demand to drop off passengers.

As we rolled along the tracks Rodge and I made multiple trips to the open-air viewing platform on the lower level. There we were one with nature at 30 mph. As magnificent river views, mountains and forests passed by I made an attempt to capture the beauty in pixels. My camera could never record the immense beauty I saw and the feelings I felt.

Thirty-eight miles past Talkeetna we said goodbye to the Susitna River. Twenty miles later we crossed the longest bridge on the railroad, Hurricane Gulch Bridge. The trestle bridge built in 1921 spans 918 feet across the gulch and is 296 feet high. The train slowed down to 10 mph while crossing the bridge to prevent overstressing it. Due to the slow crossing we had terrific views of the gulch below.

After riding through Broad Pass and the town of Cantwell, we started shadowing the Nenana River. The river originates from the Nenana Glacier in the Alaska Range and flows north along the east side of Denali National Park. We followed the river twenty-three miles to the Denali Park Railroad Station. After the magnificent eight-hour train ride we were ready to retire to our lodging in the McKinley Chalet Resort.




The luggage from several tour groups waiting for a ride to Denali.


Rodge standing at the front of our car.


Houses outside Anchorage.


All aboard the McKinley Explorer.


A lone hill on steroids.


Chugging along the Susitna River.


A photo-op from the open air viewing platform.


Beautiful mountain scenery.


Riding through Broad Pass.


Kathy enjoying the beautiful scenery.


The glacier fed Nenana River.


A nifty train track photo-op.


Our lodge at McKinley Chalet Resort.


Kathy checking out the scenery in our lodging at McKinley Chalet Resort.


Our sitting area in our lodging at McKinley Chalet Resort.

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Anchorage Here We Come!

Posted October 31, 2017 By admin


A decked out moose greets us at the Visitor Center.


July 19, 2017

It was 8:15 a.m. (PST) and we were ready to board our flight to Anchorage, Alaska. After spending five days exploring beautiful Seattle we were ready to start our two-week Holland America Alaska Land and Sea Journey. In 2013, we embarked on a week-long cruise along Alaska’s Inside Passage and vowed we would return.
It was a beautiful sunny day as our Alaskan Airlines flight taxied the runway and then soared into the air for our three-hour flight to Anchorage. It was a smooth flight — just a few minor bumps as we flew low over the mountains ringing Anchorage. When we arrived in Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport we met up with Holland America representatives who took charge of our luggage and whisked us off to a comfortable coach bus for our ride to our hotel.

At the hotel, we met our journey guide, Kayli, a Vanderbilt graduate from Wisconsin in her late 20’s. It was Kayli’s third year leading an Alaskan Land and Sea Journey so we knew we were in good hands. After an introductory briefing, she handed us our first information packet of the tour. It was filled with our itinerary for the next day and information on exploring Anchorage.
Rodge and I checked into our room, donned our rain slickers and ventured out into a sixty-degree rainy day. We headed for the Visitor Center, a large log cabin with a sod roof covered in flowering grasses. There we jumped on a trolley for an hour tour of the city. The red car rolled through historic neighborhoods and by the famous Alaskan Railroad. We watched seaplanes splash-land and take off from Lake Hood and traveled through Earthquake Park. We were on the lookout for moose along the way.

The route took us over many streets that were devastated during the 1964 earthquake. Over the course of four minutes, on Good Friday the 9.2 magnitude quake split roads, uprooted trees, and started a landslide that sent many houses into the waters of Cook Inlet. In Earthquake Park you can still see the earth ripples left over from that singular event. In the area there is no evidence of any residential housing, only hilly landscape covered in forest.

After the trolley car tour, we headed to the State Visitor Center. Since it was connected to a Federal Courthouse we had to go through a security screening similar to what takes place in an airport. The center was excellent with displays about Alaskan wildlife and geology. Lots of taxidermy skill was on display including a huge polar bear. We ended our stay watching a 45-minute film about the Klondike Gold Stampede. After dinner, we retired for the night to rest up for our eight-hour long train ride to Denali National Park.




We arrived in Anchorage on Alaskan Airlines.


On the red trolley for a tour of the city.


Our view inside the trolley.


Hood Lake where seaplanes land and take off.


Anchorage. Air crossroads of the world.



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