Tuesday, September 21, 2010
The Train to Whittier, Alaska
Why is it when you have to set your alarm for an event you then wake up every half hour until it is actually time to get up? And then you fall back to sleep?
The morning we were to board the train for Whittier from Denali we had to have our luggage set outside our hotel room door by 6:30AM. And that's when I found myself awakening at 6:03AM. Arrrggghhh! So we rushed to get ready and stuff everything in our bags to toss them outside before scrambling over to the main hotel building for a cup of coffee and a muffin. After standing in a long, long line and scarfing down the muffins Denny and I hurried upstairs to the lobby where I happened to glance at the large monitors which held the various tour scheduled. Which is when I discovered that the bus to the train was delayed at hour. Crap! So we schmoozed with various members of the Prudhoe group, wandered around and called friends and family members while we had a cell phone signal. Soon enough we were loaded onto buses and on our way to the train just ten minutes away.The train cars had glass roofs which allowed for great viewing of the scenery as the train traveled at anywhere from 20 to 40 mph along the tracks. Our group was fortunate to have been placed in the first car as we all had roomy seats facing forward instead of having to sit at tables as in the remaining four cars of the train.
Almost all of the intrepid Prudhoe Bay group were together in our train car. Yay!
It was tough having to look at scenery like this all day. What you are seeing is Tanarama (sp) Mountain, a 5000 foot peak. We would be on the train for about nine and a half hours, but we had the freedom to stand outside on the platform between rail cars, wander from car to car or go downstairs to the dining area. Plus there was a bartender on duty on each car and several of us discovered the deliciousness of a Moose Kiss (and no, Vicki, I'm keeping the ingredients secret for our Myrtle Beach get-together!)Our tour guide, Ingrid, provided commentary throughout our trip to Whittier. We saw a lime production factory (lime is a necessary component of the pit toilets/outhouses in Alaska), alluvial fans which are gravel washes from glaciers on the sides of mountains, a rock formation named Redington Rock because it looks like Joe Redington Sr with one of his mushing teams (my photo was too blurry to post), state provided line cabins that are kept well stocked for times when brush pilots are downed due to bad weather, a huge billboard that Ingrid told us was for drive in movies but was actually a huge message board for park rangers. We saw huge tracks of ferns, river after river, rv campgrounds, telegraph poles from earlier times being left to rot and return to nature. We learned that the Alaskan mountain range is the youngest in Alaska, that V-shaped valleys in the mountains were formed by river erosion while U-shaped valleys were formed by glaciers pushing through and that the highest point of the railroad tracks was at 2363 feet of elevation. The cabin that Sean Penn lived in while directing the movie "Into the Wild" was pointed out to us as was the tiny town of Curry, Alaska which once had a hotel with a swimming pool and a 3 hole golf course as it was a one-night stop for people traveling between Anchorage to Denali. The train passed over Hurricane Gulch on a 918 foot long trestle that rose 294 feet over the valley floor.
We passed through Poke and Plumb, Alaska--poke your head out and you're plumb out of town in Willow, Alaska. We learned that Iditarod racer Martin Boozer lived in Miller's Reach and when the town caught fire Martin broke down the doors to the locked up firehouse to get the equipment necessary to put out the fire. And that the city council later attempted to fine Martin for the damage to the fire house doors. It seems that government is the same everywhere.
We learned that Wasilla is the home of the Iditarod, a 1,000 mile long dog sled race which was originally a desperate run to bring medicine to Nome during a diphtheria epidemic. The race is 1,049 miles long on alternate years to honor Alaska becoming our 49th state of the union.While passing through Anchorage it was pointed out to us that some of the area had sunk 40 feet after the great earthquake.And of course, on our final chance of five possible locations on our train trip, we finally saw Denali, also known as Mt. McKinley.