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Glacier Discovery Grandview

Alaska Railroad Glacier Discovery Grandview Train

June 22, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Richard Elgenson

June 21, 2005, I find myself at Long Beach Airport for the first flight of the day to Seattle and an evening time flight to Anchorage, Alaska.  Even with the 75 minute delay due to a broken fuel gauge, Alaska Airlines made up some of the time and I spent the day in Seattle walking around the wharf and visiting the Space Needle.

The next morning, Wednesday June 22, 2005,  I am aboard the Glacier Discovery train which has left Anchorage Alaska southbound at 10 o’clock sharp.


Our tour guide, Brianna, is narrating the ride telling the overflow crowd of 227 passengers that Anchorage was established at Tent City, later renamed Anchorage.  This is one of the longest days of the year with sunrise at 4:15AM and sunset at 11:45PM.  Brianna explains the “midnight sun” concept over the train’s public address system.  Not all of Alaska has 24 hours of sun or darkness.  North past certain latitude, in places such as Barrow, will get 84 straight days of sunlight or darkness.  For the first sunrise of the year, Barrow hosts a “sunrise celebration.”

Our consist today features GP-38 diesel locomotive number 2002, a baggage car, dining car number 353, the "A" coach with extra large picture windows, three other coaches and a rail diesel car (RDC), number 711, which allows bidirectional operation of the train.  For the first year, the Glacier Discovery has a dining car!  Since Montana Rockies Rail Tours did not operate in 2005, the Alaska Railroad leased some of their eqiupment.



As the train makes its way to the southern outskirts of Anchorage, a neighborhood called “Ocean View” is noted for its airstrip.  In other words, homeowners have access to an airport adjacent to the railroad and some houses even have hangars attached to them.  This airstrip was established 40 years ago and the homes 35 years ago.  The municipal code no longer allows this, but the Ocean View neighborhood was grandfathered in to allow its airport to stay.  The photograph two row down and right depicts the Glacier Discovery southbound through Ocean View with planes visible on the left side of the Alaska Railroad track.



The train next passes Potters Marsh, now a bird refuge.  In the 1970’s the city of Anchorage was going to make this area a sanitary landfill, but due to protests from school children, teachers and environmentalists writing letters, the city reversed its decision and thus one has Potters Marsh complete with elevated walkways.  The marsh is known for the Arctic Tern which migrates from Alaska to Antarctica.  It spends its summers in Alaska and winters in Antarctica.  This bird also has a unique split tail.  Artic terns also inhabit other areas up and down the Turnagain Arm.  While on the subject of the Turnagain Arm, it has some extreme tides sometimes up to 40 feet between high and low tides.  This is a salt water body of water and connects with the open Pacific Ocean some 300 miles distant.  At low tide, “mud flats” of glacial silt are exposed.  One can walk on these areas, but it is not recommended as the tide rushes in very fast.  Drownings do occasionally occur.  The silt accumulates to depths of 2000 feet.  Bald eagles scan the exposed glacial silt flats looking for fish trapped in pools left by the outgoing tides.



The Glacier Discovery train slows down and stops to meet another Alaska Railroad train, the Grandview, which takes cruise ship passengers to and from Seward and Anchorage’s Ted Steven’s International Airport.


Later, the train slows and stops to give passengers a view of Dall sheep, known to inhabit steep cliffs above the Seward Highway and the railroad.  The Dall sheep are the only wild white sheep in the world.  Next is McHugh Creek, which has a trail which connects to Potters Marsh.  Both points are in the Chugach National Forest.  The Seward Highway and the Alaska Railroad track parallel the shore of the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet.  A favorite destination of Anchorage residents is Beluga Point.  Beluga whales are routinely spotted offshore here coming in and out with the tide.


Prior to the Girdwood station stop, a mother moose and offspring are frightened by the train and run away.

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