From Anchorage, Alaska to Fairbanks by Rail… A Perfect 10

One of many views we had of Mt. Denali as we rode the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Fairbanks.

One of many views we had of Mt. Denali as we rode the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Fairbanks.

The conductor told us we were a 10, or I should say he told us we were among the 10% of people who travel by rail from Anchorage to Fairbanks and get to see Mt. Denali. Normally it is covered in clouds, or maybe you get a teasing glimpse. Having lived in Alaska for three years, I know how special it is to see the mountain.

Once, I was camped out at Wonder Lake, which is way out at the end of Denali Highway. I’d been backpacking in Denali National Park dodging grizzlies and had a small backpacking tent that I had pointed in the direction of the cloud-hidden mountain. I woke up early with the sun (in summertime Alaska, that’s really early). A huge mountain had appeared out of the clouds. “Wow! I said to my friend. You have to see this.” And then a larger mountain appeared behind it. As we sat there in awe, the clouds parted and a third, even larger mountain appeared, a massive mountain, Mt. Denali. At 20,310 feet, is the tallest mountain in North America.

Denali has only recently reclaimed the name it was known as for centuries by the Athabaskan natives of the region. It means big mountain, or the tall one. In 1896, an Alaskan gold miner named it Mt. McKinley in honor of the man he hoped would become president. McKinley won and the name stuck. Alaskans have been lobbying for years, quite rightly I would argue, to return the name to Denali. Their efforts had been continually blocked by a small contingent of politicians from Ohio, McKinley’s home state. On August 28, 2015, President Obama renamed the mountain Denali on the basis of a recommendation by the Alaska Geographical Society. I suspect the Ohio politicians are trying to impeach the President because of his action.

The sky was clear on our whole 350 mile trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks and we had several views of the Mountain. The engineer would stop the train each time we saw it. In fact, the engineer stopped the train several times to point out other things of interest as well, like moose for example. There’s a reason why the trip took 12 hours! Alaska is a state of great natural beauty, and we were privileged to see much of it on our trip. Following are a few of the many photos that Peggy and I (along with grandsons) took along the way. Enjoy.

I used this photo earlier on another post but you are getting to see it again because I like it so much and feel it is symbolic of our trip.

I used this photo earlier on another post but you are getting to see it again because I like it so much and feel it is symbolic of our trip with the train, mountains, rivers and trees.

Another photo of the train. I liked the perspective, and the trees.

Another photo of the train. I liked the perspective, and the trees.

My nose was glued to the window for the whole trip. (Except of course to eat and pay attention to the family.) Many of the views, like this one, were right beside the track.

My nose was glued to the window for the whole trip. (Except of course to eat and pay attention to the family.) Many of the views, like this one, were right beside the track.

Snow, trees and shadows provided interesting compositions.

Snow, trees and shadows provided interesting compositions.

I thought these birch trees deserved a black and white look.

I thought these birch trees deserved a black and white look.

Numerous rivers dot the Alaska landscape we found several along the tracks.

Numerous rivers dot the Alaskan landscape. We found several beauties along the tracks.

Another example.

Another example.

Homesteaders living along the railroad give a new meaning to 'off the grid.' Most live several miles apart and all depend on the railroad to provide access to the outside world. The conductor/guide told us they stood along the tracks and flagged the train down when they needed a ride out.

Homesteaders living along the railroad give a new meaning to ‘off the grid.’ Most live several miles apart and all depend on the railroad to provide access to the outside world. The conductor/guide told us the homesteaders stood along the tracks and flagged the train down when they needed a ride out.

While bears hibernate during the winter, moose operate year around, this open, ice covered river provided a moose highway as indicated by the trails.

While bears hibernate during the winter, moose operate year around. This open, ice-covered river provided a moose highway as indicated by the trails.

We were there long enough to see them moving along at the upper end of the small lake.

The engineer had stopped the train on the bridge over Hurricane Canyon when we spotted this family of moose following a trail.

I liked the shadows they cast in the bright sunlight.

I liked the shadows they cast in the bright sunlight.

Looking the other way across Hurricane Canyon provided this magnificent view of the canyon and the Alaska Range.

Looking the other way across Hurricane Canyon provided this view of the canyon and the distant Alaska Range. (Click on this for a larger view.)

Much of our time was spent admiring magnificent mountains. A different kind of animal made the tracks in this photo, people on snowmobiles, a primary form of transportation in backcountry Alaska.

Much of our time was spent admiring magnificent mountains. A different kind of animal made the tracks in this photo, people on snowmobiles, which are a primary mode of transportation in backcountry Alaska. I think these guys was playing.

More impressive mountains...

More impressive mountains…

Mountain Scene on Alaska Railroad between Anchorage and Fairbanks.

And more.

And a final view of Mt. Denali in the distance.

And a final view of Mt. Denali in the distance.

Our son Tony and his family talked us into the railroad trip and other great adventures we had on this visit to Alaska. We owe the family big. In this photo, Tony and Cammie's son Cooper has decided my head is a good place for a snooze. (I took this as a selfie.)

Our son Tony and his family talked us into the railroad trip and other great adventures we had on this visit to Alaska. We owe the family big time. In this photo, Tony and Cammie’s son Cooper has decided my head is a good place for a snooze. (I took this photo as a selfie.)

I usually don't have much luck with photos taken out of airlines but I feel this photo of the Alaska Range taken on our Alaska Airways trip back to Anchorage from Fairbanks is an exception.

I usually don’t have much luck with photos taken out of airlines but I feel this one of the Alaska Range I took on our Alaska Airways trip back to Anchorage from Fairbanks is an exception. It seems worthy of concluding my series on Alaska. (Click on this for a larger view.)

NEXT BLOG: A new adventure! Peggy and I hit the road in our 22 foot van retracing the route I followed on my 10,000 solo bike trek I took around the US and Canada in 1989.

 

41 comments on “From Anchorage, Alaska to Fairbanks by Rail… A Perfect 10

  1. Love that selfie! How adorable is that? The train photo is superb and who doesn’t love those brilliant mountains?
    If your tour happens to bring you to Alberta do let us know. Good luck with the journey!

    • Huge cute factor, Sue. (laughing) I am sure the mountains remind you of the Canadian Rockies. As for Canada, my bike route was focused more on the eastern provinces. I’ll be putting a route map up on my next blog. –Curt

  2. With all that snow and birch, it is the closest I get to Finland. There is so much poetry about the arctic world that I do not feel about the sun- drenched tropics, no matter how much the waving palm trees beckon.

    • It was when he mentioned the train trip and the ice carving in Fairbanks that I bit. Even though I had lived in Alaska, those were two experiences I had missed. And Alaska is indeed splendid Yvonne. –Curt

  3. Stunning, you’ve really captured the beauty of the Alaskan landscape. I especially like the one from the air.
    Your comment “I’d been backpacking in Denali National Park dodging grizzlies” made me anxiously chuckle at the thought of camping in Alaska – Ginette

    • The one from the air surprised me, given my usual luck with air photos. I could turn that one into a poster. It’s okay to be anxious around several hundred pounds of animal with long claws and sharp teeth, Ginette. (grin) —Curt

    • Stunning fits, Andrew. Another blogging friend used the word magical. It also works. I was privileged to backpack through some of that country during the summers and once did a cross-country ski/camping trek into Denali in the winter. It is true wilderness. One of the last. –Curt

    • We had great subject matter for the photos. 🙂 And Alaska is definitely worth the trip. Any time! As for the snow, they had to import it into Anchorage for the sled dog races, which is very rare. The locals were really whining about the lack of snow. –Curt

      • Each night they would plow it up in the middle of the street. Each morning they would spread it out. I couldn’t help but think of all the cities on the east coast that have struggled so much to get the snow out of their towns! –Curt

  4. Beautiful! We saw the top from a plane, the bottom from a bus in the park and finally a mere glimpse of the whole mountain from a train.
    Are you aware blogger LeggyPeggy from Australia seems to have been in AK about the same time as you and went to see the ice carving?

    • So much beauty up there, and one of the world’s last great wilderness areas. It is a treasure we all need to help protect. As for Peggy, she and I were in communication and tried to work out getting together in Fairbanks. Unfortunately, our schedules were two days off. –Curt

    • I was tickled with the selfie. Thats one that will go up on our refrigerator! 🙂 Peggy and I have now made it through California, Nevada and Arizona. There is so much blog material, I hardly know where to start. Looks like it will be Diamond Springs. (grin) –Curt

    • Me too, Susan. I started calling it Denali in the 1980s regardless of the ‘official’ name. I use to rant a bit about it. 🙂 We’ve already got a jump start on our journey. Lots of fun, interesting stuff to write about. More than I know what to do with actually. –Curt

  5. Denali is just breathtaking. Curt, your photos continue to have me grinning as they show so clearly just how beautiful and diverse our dear planet, the people, and the critters are. I love the train curve photo and the moose, but the ones that caught me by surprise were the sled dogs. I always thought they were all the black,gray, and white huskies. I did not know there was this diversity.

    Another most excellent post and I thank you for sharing.

    • Always my pleasure, JoHanna. That train trip is way up there on my list of adventures. Incredible. As for the dogs, I was as surprised as you, and I lived in Alaska in the 80s. Eurohounds were just beginning to be developed in Europe at that time. –Curt

  6. How spectacular, Curt! That’s a train ride I’ve always wanted to take. Thanks for the inspiration – you’ve refueled my determination. Now if I could just find someone to give me Cooper’s unique perspective. 🙂 ~Terri

    • I never thought I’d be wearing a grandkid as a hat, Terri. Probably a good idea in sub-zero weather. 🙂 And yes! It was spectacular. Of course having such great views of Denali helped. I’d like to try it in the summer as well. I used it once to transport bike trekkers up to Denali but I had to drive the gear truck. Sigh. –Curt

  7. Wow, this touches every part of my wanderer’s soul. What a spectacular trip and spectacular views! Those mountains are astonishing. I’ve never seen Denali close up. And oh, what a delight it was to me when the mountain got her name back. Everyone called it Denali when I lived there back in the 1980s. Sad that it took so long for those Ohio politicians to be overcome. 119 years before finally we acquiesced to the much more beautiful, compelling, and accurate name she had had all along. I am doubly pleased that you were able to see it this way, knowing what a rare treat it is. And how perfect the glossy sides of the train, to reflect the images.

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