All aboard the Alaska Railroad!

We boarded the train at Denali National Park and we are off to Whittier, Alaska! It is a ten hour train ride in a glass top train car. It was such a great way to travel and there was an open area on the bottom level of the car for us photography nuts…thankfully!  This blog post has no funny stories really….just so many great views and colors of green!

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Finally….our ship!

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Canvassing Alaska – next stop McKinley!

On July 1st we boarded a coach (it looked just like a bus…but we were taught the difference between a “coach” and a “bus” is the very convenient bathroom in the back. However we would come to realize that utilizing the coach bathroom is similar to playing checkers with marbles while on a bus.  Our large group was split into two and 27 of us very lucky people met our funny and brilliant guide, Bruce. We boarded our coach and headed out to our first stop…the Princess McKinley Lodge located in Denali State Park (not to be confused with Denali National Park).  The lodge has a Great Room with a gigantic double-sided fireplace and an enormous deck that juts out towards the great Denali mountain (also referred to as Mt. McKinley). Natives in Alaska changed the name of the great mountain to Denali to keep in with the native naming.  The mountain is 20,320 feet high and is technically a taller rock than Mt. Everest, however Everest is declared a higher altitude because it starts from a higher base than Denali.  We learned that many climbers train at Mt. Rainier in Washington because the climb season is so short in Alaska.  Last year the McKinley Lodge received its first snowfall in the middle of September and shortly after that snow fall they board up the entire resort, drain the water pipes, and everyone heads to warmer places for the winter until the following Spring. The landscape features never ending rows of spruces, shrub roses, lupines, fire week, mountains, and the Talkeetna River (which is very milky in appearance due to the glacial silt that runs into it). This silty characteristic is not conducive to fish and such because of the inability to breathe.  The river and our surroundings are filled with these amazing spruce trees and black magpie birds!

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                McKinleyWhiteSpruce

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The weather was amazing at McKinley Lodge! Our first day consisted of hikes around the lodge trails in search of views of the Talkeetna River and possibly a bear!  Fortunately, we found the river and no bears…unfortunately we could only view the river from a high perch.

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Throughout our second night in Alaska I continued my search for darkness. The idea of darkness and a moon sighting was tricky, but often at night I was giddy with the thought of wanting to hike or jog at 1am because it looked like 7pm in the Midwest.  My first morning waking up at the resort found us imbedded in a thick veil of fog. When we left our lodge, we discovered a cloud had set down on the ground around us and we could barely see our hands in front of our face.  Our expectations of seeing Denali fell, like the cloud had during the night. The locals say that only 30% of the tourists ever see the famous mountain. Due to the height of the mountain, it generally makes its own weather up there and the ability to see it is slim. After having rent this camera equipment to see the mountain, I was saddened to hear how small my chances were. Years ago I went to Florida with my father to watch one of the last shuttle launches at NASA and the closest we made it was a half mile before it was called for a technical problem that would take a month to repair. This disappointment felt very similar to that. Then an employee at the lodge told me to stay out on the deck that faces the mountain and wait a few hours…that the fog is expected to clear.  I must have looked at him like he had an additional eye in his forehead, because he lightly tapped my shoulder and told me to be patient.  No way!  There was no way anything was coming out of this fog!

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Waiting…waiting…waiting…still waiting…then a small patch of blue sky appeared! Slowly..oh so slowly the fog began to burn off…just like the staff member told me.  So there I sat…waiting with my camera at the ready!  My comedic father and husband were taking wagers on whether or not I would cry when the view of the mountain finally arrived…and I was thrilled to deliver.

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Sure enough!  Just as that wise employee had said.  The lodge deck became full of watchers as the great mountain made it’s debut! Denali!  It did not disappoint!

This chunk of land was intoxicating. The blue hues and the atmospheric perspective that filtered out all the details of jutting rocks and sharp ledges had my heart and soul in it’s grasp. There is something hypnotic about mountains. We talk about being at the top of the food chain…the most intelligent creatures…evolved and technologically savvy. But there is a humility that comes with being surrounded by the mountains. They are more numerous than one can count and they are all so majestic…they really make you understand that we are still the new kids on the block, sotospeak. Imagine the tragedy and turmoil that the land endured in order to create a rock that tall! I am certain the impact was great to all who walked the land at the time that happened, if anyone was even here back then. I hated to leave…even for a few hours…so fearful I would miss something special and important! As the day went by I was constantly taking photos as it came in and out of fog and clouds. We were able to also see a mountain range named Little Switzerland because of the way it looks much like the mountains well…in Switzerland! Since I have never been there…I will have to take their word for it.

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The happiness of everyone around was energetic and contagious!  Time for the “I was there!” photos, like the one of my mom and I and Dan and Dad.

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And the celebrating continued all day long! It’s funny to experience how much viewing a mountain in the sunlight in Alaska brings out the best moods in people.  Here is a photo taken of a woman who she was an artist as well. We only met and chatted for a few moments, but being in such a magical place makes even strangers seem like family! The other photo is my hubby with a lovely Australian woman in our travel group!

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This photo was taken approximately 9:30pm and the sun is still blazing high in the sky.  Our fabulous tour guide, Bruce, arranged a party at the lodge’s fire pits for us. We were all celebrating our great fortune to see the glorious Denali all day long! It was funny that we took its magnificence for granted towards the end of the day.  We listened to live music and enjoyed ourselves basking in sundog lit skies.

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After the great party it was time to try and sleep…we have Talkeetna on our schedule in the morning!