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Day 17 ak

Denali to Anchorage via Talkeentna

Day 17

    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 # 9408.

    Our 8 AM departure was delayed till 8:11AM due to several passengers oversleeping. And then we all were off on today's adventure.

denali depot

MP 347.7  Denali Depot

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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?

bridge creek

    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.


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Riley Creek.

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.


looking forward

Diner car is first car behind locomotives, the bi-level.


rt side

    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.

out diner window

We'll set this table up for you.

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cafe car

Server Jacob and a cook inside the diner's kitchen.


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What a view outside and comfortable inside.

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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.

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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 pictures.

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Going for a walk.

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Walking to Denali.

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Photo run by.


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Looking northeast.

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Photo line up on an east - west axis.

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Denali with auto on Parks Highway.

blue berrry

Blueberries. Very tender and hard to pick without falling apart, but so tasty.

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    After about 20 minutes of walking around thru the bush, we boarded our train and headed to our next stop, Hurricane Gulch Bridge.

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.

GPS: 63 00.870, -149 37.012  To see map: click the coordinates or copy and paste in browser.

    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.

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Opposite side of bridge.

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Looking up stream.

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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. 

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mt 64

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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.


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Susitna River.

    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 here.

GPS:   62 45.576, -149 41.663 
To see map: click the coordinates or copy and paste in browser.

gold creek sign

gold creek

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.

mow siding

gravel pit

    GPS:  62 41.707  -149 50.183        To see map: click the coordinates or copy and paste in browser.

loop track

front of train

Forward looking on the loop.

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Looking back to end of our train on the loop.

    After backing thru the whole loop, we then pull forward thru the loop and arrive at Curry.

curry depot

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 Railroad.
   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.

hopper cars

snow plow

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At rest next to the Curry station.

head on

Bright like four small suns.

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curry sign board

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Susitna River.

motor boat


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    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 stop.


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 Wife."
    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.

stop sign

street view

Conventioneers and local mix on Main St.

town secene


sign brewery
Love that name.


bumper sticker

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.

log shop


This pretty flower is seen in abundance in this area of Alaska.

bear stop

    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

Susitna south

    We continue passing through the wilderness and county side on the train ride.

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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.

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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 surrounding Anchorage.

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Knik Arm seen in center background.

    Then near 6:30 PM we arrive at our final stop for the day.

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.

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Alaska wildlife!

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They seem friendly though.

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Does he bite ?

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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 Inn.

    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.

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Day 18: 
A Bus ride and Hi Speed Tram to Mountain top   Wild Animals up close and glaciers too

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