The plan for Denali was take the train from Fairbanks to Denali. The train station is located outside the park and we were staying at one of the lodges inside the park. The train was scheduled to depart from Fairbanks about 8:15 and we were supposed to be at the station 1 hour ahead to check in. Our reservations were for the Gold Star Dome service. This is a special car. It has its own outside viewing platform, its own bar and includes two drinks each (we didn't use them) and breakfast. The trip is about 122 miles and takes about 4-4 1/2 hours.
We bought the "Ride Guide" booklet which details what will be seen at various mile markers along the way. Also, there were a couple of guides on board the train and they gave a running commentary as the trip proceeded. If the engineers or somebody in one of the front cars spotted some animal life, they would tell the guides and the guides would announce it over the PA system. Unfortunately, NO wildlife was spotted on our trip.
I didn't realize that Alaska has very large reserves of coal. It is estimated that Alaska may have a major portion of the world's remaining coal resource. In spite of this, coal is still a minor contributor to the energy in Alaska. The Healy Clean Coal project plant on the right was built as a demonstration of the Clean Coal Combustion System. However, after more than 20 years, the plant is still not in production.
The pictures below left and center refer to Alaska specific events. The sign on the end of the building (formerly a railroad car) in the picture on the left says this place is a musher camp for Iditarod dogs. They also offer sled dog rides. Among other things, they seem to be missing snow!
According to our Ride Guide "The Ice Classic (center picture below), a popular annual guessing game, started in 1917 by Alaska RR employees. Bets are made on the exact day and time that the ice will break up, usually late April or early May. The tripod is set up on the river ice and when the ice moves the tripod 1000 feet the clock stops. The annual payoff is more than $300,000 ..."
The picture below is typical of the scenery seen on the ride.
We arrived at the Denali Park station a little before 1pm. Our bus was waiting but we had to collect our luggage, then check the two bags we were not taking to the lodge. I tried to get some sandwiches for lunch but there were none left. So I got a couple of salads. It was going to be a 7 hour ride to the lodge and food wasn't included. Off we went.
Most of the road is two lane. Some areas, however, the second lane is very narrow and our driver would stop to let the oncoming traffic pass. A lot of people stay outside the park and then go in for the day. That's a LONG day in a bus. Between 7 and 8 hours each way.
The hope is to see quite a bit of wildlife. We saw some, not much but at least a little. We would see a number of vehicles stopped and that usually meant there was some sort of wildlife in sight. The park is immense! I read somewhere that the park and nature reserve are about the size of Massachussetts.
We didn't see much wildlife and what we did see was usually quite a distance away. The picture, top left, gives an idea of the landscape we were seeing. The caribou in the center picture were resting in a snow patch about as far away as the ones in the picture on the left. The picture, top right, is another landscape picture with with what looks like what the caribou left behind when shedding its antlers.
We did see a couple of bears. Once again they weren't too close and were pretty much hidden by the foliage. We also saw one moose. That was about it for wildlife except for a LOT of showshoe hares dartng across the road. (I didn't get any pictures of them.)
We arrived at the lodge shortly before 8pm. We stashed our things in our room and went for dinner. Since we weren't going to be able to do the hiking activities, I had arranged to have a "flightseeing" trip as our activity for the day we were at the lodge. There is always a question of whether the weather will cooperate but we were lucky and it did. Each plane holds 5 passengers and a pilot. Not only were we lucky with the weather, we were lucky with our pilot - Lacey. We had a WONDERFUL ride. We went to a cruising altitude of 10,000 feet and then made our way around Denali. The pictures below give an idea of what we saw.
Our "flightseeing" excursion was in the morning which left the afternoon open for a session on sled dogs. The dogs were being hooked up for a demonstration run. Since there was no snow, they were going to pull a tractor. Below are a couple of pictures of Granny fraternizing with the dogs. Click the "Movie" link to see a short clip of the dogs in action.
Our one day inside the park was over and it was time to move on. Originally we were scheduled to take the bus back to Denali Depot but we decided we would rather fly. The bus ride is about 5 - 6 hours and we had done that on the way in. The weather wasn't as nice as the day before. We had really lucked out on our "flightseeing" day. I was still able to get a few pictures to show a bit of the park.
Back on the train - destination Anchorage. This will be about a 7 hour trip. Once again we are in Gold Star Dome car. The service is excellent but the trip is VERY long. The scenery is beautiful BUT we saw no wildlife. Bummer!
On the left is OUR dome car. Only one on this train. Most of the trip there is only one track. There are a few spots where there is a siding so trains going in different directions can pass each other - as seen on the right. The weather was BEAUTIFUL. I was able to use the outdoor viewing platform in comfort.