Our 3 1/2 hour flight to Anchorage from Seattle was uneventful. The only remarkable thing was the manner in which the Cabin Manager gave the in-flight announcements. She spoke so quickly that I couldn’t understand her. I think as a child, she was inoculated with a gramophone needle. It was as though she was a 33 rpm vinyl record being replayed at 78. Just before we landed, We had a great view of the Kennai Peninsular out the window and I’m looking forward to driving around it in a week or so.
We were up early the next morning as we had to check in at the Railway Depot an hour ahead of our train departure to Fairbanks. It left Anchorage at 8.00 am and arrived in Fairbanks at 8.00 pm – long, but very scenic day. We easily exchanged our voucher for tickets and checked our bags in for them to travel in the baggage car. The very friendly young woman who was handling the baggage gave me some tips on what to see in Fairbanks and then lifted both our bags as if they were filled with feathers and took them away. She’ll make a good wife one day!
The train was pulled by two locomotives and our Gold Class carriage had an upper and lower deck (just like the Rocky Mountaineer Train in Canada). The seats upstairs were only half full (although other people boarded, and left, the train at its three stops along the way). The downstairs area consisted of a kitchen and restaurant area. We were served breakfast just after leaving Anchorage, lunch in what seems just a short time after breakfast and dinner just before arriving in Anchorage. The atmosphere was very informal and we could walk around the carriage talking to the train crew and other passengers. The area near the bar was a very popular place to stand and talk. I really liked the open air section at the back where we could take photos without having to shoot through the glass windows and their unavoidable reflections.
We had a sharp eye out for wildlife. Unsurprisingly, there were no bears to be seen but we caught a glimpse of a few moose and some trumpeter swans on some of the waterways. These appeared to be nesting in beaver ponds were the water was pooled up in the form of a pond. This is very large water bird with a wing spa of up to 2 1/2 metres. They mate for life and have been known to live to 33 years of age.
We were very lucky to see Mt Denali, clear and free of cloud. It had a name change last year from its old name of Mt McKinley back to its original name meaning ‘Big One’. It’s over 20,000 feet high and the highest mountain peak in North America.The granite rock forming the mountain was forced upwards by tectonic pressure and the surrounding softer rocks washed away over time. It has five glaciers. Overall, it is a very impressive sight.
The scenery from the train was very consistent – mountains and rivers. It was very interesting and spectacular. There were some areas in which large forest fires had burned and the forest was reduced to small trees. Smaller trees became the norm as headed further north because the permafrost inhibited their growth. In Australia, we see bigger trees along streams and river courses, even though they are dry. Here, the larger trees grow where there is an area of less permafrost (mainly black spruce, laser and birch).