Shrouded in the darkness before a gray dawn, the
alarm goes off and a new day starts in Alaska. I gather my things
and head out to my shuttle stop, "Bear Stop." The wait in the chilly
darkness was short and no bears were heard or sighted. I boarded the
shuttle to find others riding up to the main lobby. It was 6:40 AM
when our bus left for the Denali Depot. And at 7:00 AM, I had found
a seat in car 521. It is a Budd Dome-Coach built in 1954, rebuilt
1988, and came to ARR in 2000. Seats 24/38 and was Amtrak 9486, re #
Our 8 AM departure was delayed till 8:11AM due to
several passengers oversleeping. And then we all were off on today's
MP 347.7 Denali Depot
MP 347.4 Riley Creek. Barton Jennings said "This is an
impressive way to leave Denali National Park." and I agree. The
railroad crosses Riley Creek using a curving bridge consisting of
five 30-foot spans and seven 60-foot spans, and deck plate girders.
The Riley Creek bridge is the railroad's second highest; it was also
the next-to-last bridge completed on the railroad. Attached to a
manual siding switch were a shovel and broom. A snow removal kit?
The Riley Creek Bridge, manufactured in
Pennsylvania and shipped north on 24 rail cars loaded with 600 tons
of steel via the Panama Canal, consisted of seven steel towers
decked with 30-foot and 60-foot steel plate girders, When finished,
the creek crossing would measure 900 feet in length.
In the first week of January 1922, despite blizzards, subzero cold
and limited daylight hours, workers installed the first steel
"bent." Less than a month later, a steam crane crossed the bridge
from south to north. Reports indicate that the track on the bridge
was completed by February 5, 1922.
Riley Creek is a 22-mile long stream that flows
into the Nenana River just east of here. The stream flows in
from the southwest. A second, Hines Creek, flows in from the west,
The creeks flow together almost directly below the railroad trestle.
A trail on Hines Creek led west toward to Denali Park.
MP 345.1 Parks Highway - The Alaska Railroad and Parks Highway
meet at grade. To power the crossing signals, the railroad uses both
solar panels and wind (glow-and-blow) generators. There are a lot of
these through the Denali Park area.
MP 344.7 Hines Creek Strand Denali Fault - The railroad
crosses part of the Denali Fault system.
Diner car is first car behind locomotives, the bi-level.
As we left Denali Depot, it was announced that
breakfast serving is being started. As nobody had eaten before
boarding the dining car crew would be utmost busy.
It was near 9 AM, when I ordered my breakfast. My
server was Jacob of Salt Lake City and I ordered the Sunrise Skillet
with Alaska reindeer sausage and it was excellent as all the food on
the railroad was this week.
We'll set this table up for you.
Server Jacob and a cook inside the diner's kitchen.
What a view outside and comfortable inside.
MP 325.0 McKinley Strand of Denali Fault. The railroad
crossed this fault at a slight angle. This large and active
fault starts in Canada, follows the crest of the Alaska Range to
near here, then turns southwest and continues through Foggy Pass and
down the Alaska Range toward Bristol Bay. On November 3rd, 2002,
there was an enormous earthquake that ran along the fault, for 200
miles, the largest inland earthquake in North America in centuries.
MP 323.0 South boundary of Denali National Park. The
Alaska Railroad exits Denali National Park by crossing Windy Creek.
Windy Creek starts to the west with many forks draining the area.
One of the main forks flows out of Foggy Pass.
MP 319.5 Cantwell. It is 9:15 AM as we travel through
Cantwell. Cantwell is 210 miles north of Anchorage. Alaska
natives who live in Cantwell are Ahtna people, with ties to the
Copper River Valley. Cantwell is the western starting point on the
Denali Highway. This is a 135-mile long road that follows along the
south side of the Alaska Range, and links Paxson, on the Richardson
Highway near the Trans Alaska Pipeline, to Cantwell, on the Parks
Highway. Mostly unpaved to this day, the Denali Highway follows a
traditional migration route. It is said that perhaps the oldest
evidence of human habitation in America - 10,000 years - is on the
Denali Highway. The trail became a highway in 1957 and people began
to drive across it to get to Denali National Park, which until then
could be reached only by railroad until the Parks Highway was
completed in 1972. The highway is paved for five miles near
Cantwell, and 20 miles at the Paxson end.
Today's Cantwell began as a flag stop on the
Alaska Railroad in 1922. There is a 6200-foot siding to the east and
the railroad has an office and locomotive barn located here at an
elevation of 2,190 feet. Also here is the first of six new Section
Maintenance Facilities (SMF) that the railroad is building along the
line. The SMF here was completed in 2006.
MP 312.5 Summit. This location was first known as Summit
Lake when it was a construction camp in 1919. It was known as Summit
Broad Pass Station when the railroad opened. The summit of the
Continental Divide (located two miles south of here) is at 2,363
feet and is the lowest rail pass in the Rocky Mountain chain. Summit
is the beginning of a short flat area which was truly the summit for
trains fighting uphill from the north. There is a 2867-foot siding
to the west at this location.
Heading south, the railroad first passes Edes
Lake and then Summit Lake. Summit Lake is truly at the summit
of the hill as it eventually drains both into the Pacific Ocean to
the south and the Bering Sea to the north. Here are great views of
the Alaska Range to the west and the hills to the east.
MP 310.1 Summit of Grade - This is the actual top of the grade at an
elevation of 2,363 feet above sea level.
It is now about 9:45 AM and need to start getting
read for our first run by of today. We are near MP 307 in the Broad
Pass. This is the southern end of the broad, treeless pass that is
the lowest traveled pass at 2,300 in the Rocky Mountain chain from
Mexico to Alaska.
Board Pass was formed when the south branch of
the Nenana Glacier moved southwest to join other glaciers in the
area. Broad Pass also serves as a spillway for weather. Large
low-pressure systems moving into the Gulf of Alaska bring heavy
precipitation and develop strong winds north of the pass. During
long periods of intense cold in the Tanana Valley, a pressure
gradient develops, and cold winds spill through the pass from the
north. These winds can last for weeks and exceed 40 mph.
Our train slows to a stop on the line in the
middle of the wilderness. Soon Bart J. gives the OK to climb down
off the train. We had to walk thru the brush stepping on a mushy,
carpet of undergrowth. I am so glad I wore my hiking boots on this
trip as there were hidden puddles of water to surprise you. This is
the location that the Alaska Railroad takes a lot of their publicity
Blueberries. Very tender and hard to pick without falling apart, but
After about 20 minutes of walking around thru the
bush, we boarded our train and headed to our next stop, Hurricane
MP 284.2 Hurricane Gulch Bridge. One of the line's best photo
vantage points, the bridge spans 918 feet, the longest bridge on the
railroad and some 296 feet above the creek. The rail line curves to
the west at the south end of the bridge. Built by the American
Bridge company in 1921, it is made up of one 150-foot deck plate
girder, two 120-foot deck plate girders, one 384-foot arch span,
three 60-foot deck plate girders and two 30-foot deck plate girders.
It contains more than 100,000 rivets.
The stream at the bottom of the gulch flows into
the Chulitna River less than a mile to the west.
Around 11 AM our train stops on the Bridge with
the locos parked on solid ground.
Opposite side of bridge.
Looking up stream.
Working by the railroad on the bridge.
MP 279.7 Parks Highway. This is an at-grade crossing with
solar collectors used to power the crossing signals. Denali is
visible to the northwest, only 46 miles from this point, the closest
the railroad gets to the mountain. The railroad heads southeast
while the highway heads southwest. There will not be a road crossing
for the next fifty miles. To serve this area, the Alaska Railroad
runs a regular summer train, stopping anywhere that is needed. The
Hurricane Turn leaves Talkeetna at 12:15 PM and arrives at Hurricane
at 2:15 PM and departs at 3:30 PM with a 6:00 PM arrival in
Talkeetna. Heading southwest, the railroad starts down a 1.75% grade
that runs to near Canyon at milepost 271. While the steep grade is
not desirable, it was necessary to avoid several additional major
river crossings and other construction projects.
MP 264.1 Susitna River Bridge. The railroad uses almost 800 feet of
bridge to cross the Susitna River - a 504 -foot though truss, two
70-foot through plate girders, a 60-foot through plate girder, six
14-foot timber spans and one 10-foot timber span. The bridge is on
the National Historic Register since the main span was once the
longest single span west of the Mississippi River, and it was the
first steel bridge built north of Anchorage in 1921.
The Susitna River heads in the Susitna Glacier in
the Alaska Range between Mount Hess and Mount Hayes. It flows 260
miles to the southwest into Cook Inlet. Susitna first appeared on
Russian maps in 1847.
It was now lunch time and time to find the "Lunch
Princess" to pick up my box lunch. After finding Sarah J. I returned
to my seat and then to eat and watch the scenery pass by.
MP 263.2 Gold Creek- Gold Creek is a 5223-foot
siding to the east and was named for the stream here. Between Gold
Creek and Curry was the Gold Creek Mining District, an old placer
mining region dating back to 1903. A section house was once located
MP 248.1 Curry Loop - Today the railroad is developing a
10-acre quarry site located within its Curry Reserve. The quarry
will provide ballast, riprap, armor stone and other rock materials
for construction and maintenance of the railroad's track. The
project includes a 1 1/2 mile truck access road. The access road was
constructed in 2005 and 2006. In 2007, new facility track were
constructed and the site prepared for mining. The facility includes
an entire loop so trains can be turned as they load.
South of here at milepost 246.7 is the former
Curry rock quarry. Located to the east, the old quarry involved the
large granitic intrusion that rises 1,200 feet above the valley
floor. Reports indicate that all of the granite material in the area
is of excellent quality, but the height of the granite wall creates
some safety problems.
It is near 1:00 PM when our train stops and backs
into the loading loop. This is definitely a rare mileage trip as
everyone from the railroad agreed that this is the first passenger
train to travel on this loop.
After backing thru the whole loop, we then pull
forward thru the loop and arrive at Curry.
MP 248.5 CURRY - Welcome to Dead Horse Hill,
named because a team of horses ran off a cliff near here when they
became frightened at seeing a bear. Today a ghost town, Curry
recalls a bygone era when a rail trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks
involved two days of travel and an overnight stay in the hotel.
Exactly the journey we conventioneers are taking with a hotel
overnight at Denali. Curry served as a planned hotel stop for the
train. However, Curry effectively died on Tuesday, April 9, 1957,
when a fire burned the 75 room hotel to the ground, killing
three people. Reportedly, "all that remained of the historic
structure were smoldering ashes,two tall chimneys and a tangle of
pipes." The rest of the buildings were torn down almost immediately
by the railroad. Today, all that remains is a large meadow and a few
interpretive sign boards.
Curry was founded as a maintenance -of -way
section station. In 1922, A.E.C. Chairman Fredrick Mears named the
station after Congressman Charles F. Curry of California. Curry was
then the Chairman of the Committee on Territories and was a major
supporter of the railroad in Congress. Because Curry was halfway
between Seward and Fairbanks, it presented an ideal spot for
travelers and rail workers to spend the night during the two day
steam train trip. Furthermore, a stylish new resort would hold the
potential to draw additional passenger revenue. Billed as "a place
in the wilderness where accommodations are modern, inviting and
comfortable and the cuisine of highest order," the Curry Hotel
opened in 1923. As the popularity of the resort grew, so did its
offerings. A 537 foot long suspension footbridge across the Susitna
River was built in the summer of 1924. Across the bridge, atop a
2,600 foot mountain, a shelter house was erected for the benefit of
tourists and others. By 1925, Curry was already becoming a very
popular resort. In 1926 a two-story annex 36 feet by 72 feet,
connected by a 65-foot covered balcony to the hotel, was
constructed, and tents erected to take care of the increased tourist
business. The hotel grounds were improved by clearing and removing
stumps from a small additional area in view of the hotel and
three-hole golf course, a tennis court and a small swimming pool
were constructed. In 1927 a chicken house, hog house and barn were
built. With the Curry Hotel being turned into a resort it was
proving to be one of the best attraction along the entire railroad.
A creamery was also constructed at Curry in 1927.
This created a market for milk produced in the Matanuska Valley.
Most of the butter was sold through hotels operated by the Alaska
With the construction of the McKinley Park Hotel
in 1939 and faster train service later on, the popularity of Curry
began to decline. After World War II, the railroad began marketing
weekend excursions to Curry. These proved to be very popular so a
ski slope and jumping area were cleared and a cabin built. In 1948,
army-type barracks were assembled at Curry as well as Anchorage,
Healy and Fairbanks. Also that same year, the railroad began
promoting a "Fisherman's Special." Fisherman could catch a train
from Anchorage to Curry. They would leave on a Saturday, return on
Sunday. Fisherman could get off any place, along the line and were
picked up on the return trip.
Each year, the Nordic Ski Association of
Anchorage operated the Nordic Ski Train to Curry. The train provides
access for "Alaska back country skiers, telemark skiers and
snowshoers" to "hundreds of acres of untracked snow and the sort of
virgin Alaska wilderness we all search for." The train stays at
Curry during the day selling meals and providing a warm place to
sit. The bar car is generally considered to be one of the most
popular sports of the event.
After traveling on the loop, our train comes to a
stop for 45 minute smoke break and an opportunity to explore the
ghost town of Curry.
Shortly after 2PM the locomotive's horn sounded.
Get back to the train now and board or be left behind till the next
train in four days.
Riddle: How many sleeper cars does the Alaska
Railroad have ?
Continuing our journey south, we reach out next
MP 226.7 Talkeetna - Welcome to what legend says
was the inspiration for the television show Northern
Exposure. It is also base station for assaults on Mount
McKinley. The Talkeetna and Chulitna Rivers join the Susitna River
at Talkeetna. Originally the site of the Tanaina
Indian village, Talkeetna was established as a mining town and
trading post in 1896, before either Wasilla or Anchorage existed. A
gold rush of the Susitna River brought prospectors to the area, and
by 1910, Talkeetna became a riverboat steamer station. In 1915,
Talkeetna was chosen as the site for the Alaska Engineering
Commission, who would build the Alaska Railroad, and the community
peaked near 1,000.
A post office opened here in 1916 and a railroad
station officially opened here in 1920. Several of its old log
buildings are historical landmarks, and Talkeetna was placed on the
National Register of Historic Places in April 1993. Having come
downhill since the summit of Broad Pass, Talkeetna is at an
elevation of 346 feet.
Adventures in Talkeetna - Talkeetna may seem like
a typical small Alaska town. But, beyond its laid - back
personality, there are an extraordinary number of adventures you can
have here. Besides flight-seeing, you can go fishing on a wilderness
lake, jet boating and rafting on the rivers, pan for gold, zip down
a zip-line, take guided hikes in boreal forest, and just wander the
town, reading the historical signs, looking at the old log cabins
and railroad buildings - or learning about how to make syrup out of
birch trees in Alaska.
Home Base for mountaineers - First and foremost,
Talkeenta is the place where mountaineers from all over the globe
assemble every spring. The main climbing season runs from late April
to early July. During those month, ranger and volunteers live on the
mountain in tent camps. They provide assistance to climbers. Rangers
come off Denali in early July, when the summer snow becomes soft,
and it becomes dangerous to cross the crevasses. Nowadays, every
year about 1,200 people try to climb Denali. About half of them get
to the summit. Meanwhile, only about 30 people a year try to climb
nearby Mt. Foraker. In Athabascan, name for Mt Foraker is "Denali's
There are 30 possible routes up Denali, but 90%
of the climbers take the West Buttress. This route was first mapped
out by Bradford Washburn who was looking for a safer route to the
top in 1951. Getting to this route requires flying into the Kahiltna
Glacier in a small plane. By 1954, Don Sheldon, a famed local
Talkeetna pilot, had perfected the glacier landing on Kahiltna
Glacier. Most climbers now fly that same route, from Talkeetna to
the 7200 foot level of the glacier, which is known as Base Camp.
In July, the Moose Dropping Festival gives
contestants a chance to see how far they can throw a moose "chip."
After stopping, we exit the train for an
adventure in a small Alaska town.
Conventioneers and local mix on Main St.
Love that name.
My sentiment also and I'll drink to that.
GPS location: 62 19.386
-150 06.732 This is my further most west point in my Alaska visit.
To see map: click
the coordinates or copy and paste in browser.
This pretty flower is seen in abundance in this area of Alaska.
After hearing the train's horn and re-boarding,
we leave our last stop till Anchorage at 3:45 PM. Once under way the
talk was all about the cinnamon rolls.
It seems that there is a well kept secret about where to get the
best cinnamon rolls in this here the good old U S of A. Those in the
know made a bee line for the shop. Unfortunately, they had a small
limited supply on hand and those disappeared quite quickly. So a few
got the goodies but rest were left empty handed. Then there are us
who were completely in the dark. So if you are interested in knowing
the name of this cinnamon roll mecca, when you run into "Million
Mile Man." Chris G. on one of his trips around the country, ask him
to share his info about the best cinnamon rolls in Talkeenta.
Riddle: Who is the mayor of Talkeenta ?
Scenic views on route south.
Susitna River south of Talkeetna
We continue passing through the wilderness and
county side on the train ride.
MP 159.8 Wasilla. It is about 5PM as we pass thru the
bedroom community of Wasilla. It is world famous as being the
headquarters of the famed Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Taken about 30 minutes south of Wasilla
MP 139 - Between here on 137.5, the railroad parallels the south
shore of Knik Arm, an estuary of Cook Inlet. Cook Inlet branches
into the Knik Arm and Turnagain Arm at its northern end, almost
Knik Arm seen in center background.
Then near 6:30 PM we arrive at our final stop for
MP 114.3 Anchorage. We are greeted by some
cheerful local wildlife on the Anchorage station platform. I find it
hard to believe that it was just 4 days ago to the hour that I
arrived in Anchorage at The Ted Stevens Anchorage International
Airport after my non-stop flight from Los Angeles.
They seem friendly though.
Does he bite ?
Three Hundred, Fifty six miles in two days on the Alaska Railroad.
I then go inside to look around and to find my
luggage that was shipped by truck from Fairbanks to Anchorage to the
Hilton or to the station. As I was not staying at the Hilton my
luggage was at the station. I elected to stay at the hotel that
Chris P., Chris G., Elizabeth A. and Bob R. were staying at and it
worked out great. I walked outside and decided to walk to the hotel,
about a ten minute walk but also up a serious steep hill. It was a
warm walk and arrived to the hotel as the others pulled up in the
hotel shuttle. We registered, received our room keys and then went
to settle in for bit before going to dinner. Chris P. and Bob
R. and I decided to go next door the Mexican restaurant that was
highly recommend, one of several by the great hotel clerk lady. Once
inside La Cabana, you could be in any nice Mexican restaurant in So
Cal. Bob R. had a steak, Chris P. had a salad and I had the combo.
An enjoyable dinning experience, great food, good
talking. Afterwards it was a quick trip thru the parking lot,
across the alley and then we were back at the Guesthouse Anchorage
Back in my room I tried to get it organized as
this was going to be home for the next 5 nights. Shortly after it
was lights out.