Into the Alaskan Wilderness Post 1

Take a journey on the Alaska Railroad, which covers more than 500 miles between the town of Seward on the Southern coast and Fairbanks in the North interior. You’ll find that it leads to Denali National Park and breathtaking views of Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America.

As soon as the attendant unlatched the gate, the small crowd that had gathered stepped quickly to get a “good” seat on the train. I’d already overheard the left side was the side to be on so I politely moved passed a couple of indecisive passengers and threw down my bag. Yes, I was all aboard for the train trip to Denali National Park.

After walking the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage the day before, I was happy to be sitting on a train. Over the next eight hours, the Alaska Railroad would be taking us through the vast Alaskan landscape toward the highest peak in North America: Mt. McKinley. Also known as the “High One” or Denali (the name given by the Athabascan native people), this mountain rises 20,320 feet above sea level. But according to the locals, catching a glimpse of this massive mountain is as unpredictable as the weather itself. Luckily for all of us on the train that day, the sky was clear.

Completed in 1923, the Alaska Railroad covers more than 500 miles between the town of Seward on the Southern coast and Fairbanks in the North interior. It offers both freight and passenger service year-round. In the cold and darkness of winter, the railroad provides a link to the many towns along the line for the people who live out in the wilderness. And as this route proved, Alaska is true wilderness. Moose, caribou, bald eagles and the more familiar beaver could be seen from our view. In fact, word passed quickly from the front of the train to the back, that a moose was crossing a river on the left side. With moose in sight, I looked around just to make sure the shift in weight of passengers did not affect the balance of the train on the track. (With the assurance of the conductor, we were OK.) As we coursed deeper into the Alaskan interior, wildlife sightings became as much a part of the trip as the landscape itself.

Small, outpost towns along the route brought as much awe as the dramatic scenery surrounding us. We passed through Matanuska, home of world-record vegetables (as seen in Miracle Grow commercials); Wasilla, headquarters of the famed Iditarod Sled Dog Race; Talkeetna, base station for all those wanting to ascend Mt. McKinley; and Cantwell, part of the Valdez Creek gold-mining district.

But the point where almost everyone stood with eyes open wide and cameras ready to shoot was scenic viewpoint 224.3. Here we would have our first glimpse of the mountain. And just as our train guide had predicted, the snow covered peak of Mt. McKinley appeared in the distance as if painted against the clear, blue sky. This was our lucky day. I snapped a few pictures then just stood in awe, as did many of the passengers around me. The crowning jewel of the Alaskan landscape was “out” in full view.