Friday, August 28, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Alaskan Vacation Day 2

The Alaskan RR pulled out of Fairbanks at 8:15 AM. I was impressed with how clean & orderly the depot was, and how friendly was the staff. Pulling out of the depot, the platform was lined with rail personnel all smiling and waving – and looking as sincere as could be. The first hour or so was somewhat monotonous – one passenger called it “just a tunnel of trees”. Beautiful, none-the-less, for its emerald vastness.I met a charming woman named Evelyn. She is 69 yrs old, and lives in North Pole, AK. She was quite talkative, but not in an over-bearing or obnoxious sense. She was traveling to Anchorage to get her pension straightened out. She was mixing the business of her pension with the pleasure of her granddaughter’s special occasion – I think a wedding…? She was raised in MT, & came with her husband to work on the RR & stayed – that was 25 years ago. Her husband passed away a year ago at the age of 70. She rides the rail free. She was extremely well versed on AK history – she told me all about the coal mining, oil pipeline, lack of roads, severity of weather, how the lower 48 provides all of their consumer goods

We traveled through the town of Nenana, birthplace of the Ice Classics. Townsfolk gamble on the date that the ice will break up on the river. We passed by Moody Bridge – Evelyn told me there’s a wind sock on the bridge so motorists know what direction the wind is traveling so as not to get broadsided – or at least to slow down when crossing.
Arriving at Denali train depot was quite an experience. Obviously a major tourist intersection … throngs of tourists with guides and motorcoaches for all sorts of cruise lines & accommodations. I felt alone as everyone else had a bus or van or guide to take them on to their next destination. Finally, the bus from the backcountry lodge pulled up. It had been at the Denali Cabins and already had 15 or so passengers.

Dana was our driver and guide – a robust woman I’d place in her mid 40’s, and a wonderful guide! It was a very, very long (7+ hours!) ride. And my backside is stiff from the hard school bus seat. I had the good fortune of the very front seat, so had benefit of great views as well as the guide’s narration. I was glad to have good binoculars: I saw a small group of Dall sheep that wouldn’t have been visible w/ the naked eye. We saw caribou; first one & two – then 4 & 5, and at one point a herd. We saw grizzly bears – one loner, & later a sow and cub. We saw ptarmigan, blue billed magpies, many, many snowshoe hare, arctic ground squirrel, a rodent-type creature called a pica (can’t live warmer than 70ยบ - ) and a nest with golden eagles. We saw various ducks & beaver.

Polychrome Pass

July 29, 2009

The mountain was “out” and was it ever impressive!!

There were several good photo opportunities & we took advantage of each one! As we were nearing the end of the road, Susan & Eric from Jackson Hole, WY spotted a moose. This was exciting – I’d never seen a moose before!! Turns out she had a calf trailing in the brush. Amazing animal.
We finally arrived at the lodge – nearly an hour after expected. We were quickly assigned cabins & then sat down for a family style dinner of fresh spinach salad, eggplant or pork loin with sides of peas & mushrooms & roasted potatoes. Coffee or tea & German chocolate cake.
I am struggling to finish this: It’s just past midnight & my body aches all over. But this is magnificent. A tidy, cedar cabin with clean, crisp bedding, the pure sound of tundra silence, the faint aroma of wood burning fireplace, and gentle, cool, pure air.
I shall sleep fast and furious.

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