It turns out the warm and sunny weather of the day before was a fluke. The sky was overcast when we started walking to the train station, and it began raining lightly along the way. While the temperature outside was cool, the train station was hot and packed with people. We picked up our tickets, checked our luggage, and received fancy pins to wear that alerted everyone that we were highfalutin GoldStar passengers.
Luggage was loaded into baggage cars, passengers were settled in their seats, and the train left the station at 6:45 a.m.
|In the dining car, traveling along Turnagain Arm. This passenger finally convinced her kid to put his tablet away (note the slightly smug look of victory).|
Alaska Railroad personnel periodically provided commentary, sharing the history behind the region and various landmarks. Evidence of the 1964 earthquake revealed itself here and there in the occasional cluster of ghost trees – preserved skeletons of trees that were killed when the ground sank and saltwater rushed inland, saturating the ground before being absorbed into the trees' roots.
My first Alaskan wildlife sighting happened during breakfast as we passed close to some cliffs. We were advised to keep a lookout, as Dall sheep are sometimes seen on the cliffs' higher reaches. Shortly after this advisement, someone shouted “sheep!” and we looked to see one or two white specks high up on the cliff. Zooming in through the window of the bumpy, speeding train, my camera managed to catch one. Success!
**First Alaskan Wildlife Sighting**
|Dall Sheep. (Trust me. It's there.)|
Following Spencer Glacier, the train winds through a series of tunnels, with views of Placer River just off the tracks. Then comes an area called Grandview, a mountain pass with spectacular views. The scenery is gorgeous, and although I had admittedly hoped for a sunny day, the imposing sky lent a dramatic effect to the scenery. We spent a lot of time on the outdoor viewing platform, occasionally returning to our seats to warm up.
|Entering a tunnel|
|Trail Glacier. This place actually exists in real life. The only way this could be better is if a couple of bear cubs were paddling a tiny canoe in that stream.|
|Looking toward the front of the train as it travels along Kenai Lake|
|Looking toward the rear of the train as it travels along Kenai Lake|
Seward is beautiful. Nestled at the foot of mountains on Resurrection Bay, it is the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. A small corner of the park can be reached by car just outside Seward; however, the majority of the park is best accessed by boat. Various boat tours depart Seward's harbor daily, and water taxi services can drop kayakers off at various locations within the park, where they can paddle and camp if they so choose, before meeting back up with the water taxi to return to town.
We ate a late lunch/early dinner at Chinook's, where we enjoyed poutine, Alaskan king crab, and a crab melt sandwich. After that, we returned to the Whistle Stop to take a nap and recuperate. Later, we followed the Coastal Walk past salmon spawning in a stream and along the bay to the historic marker of the starting point of the Iditarod National Historic Trail. There is a monument with a plaque and a replica of a sled. I expected a statue of a dog; it seems odd that there isn't one. We watched sea otters floating on their backs offshore, and a bald eagle soared overhead, scanning the shallow water near shore for dinner. As we returned to our room on the harbor, the setting sun behind us cast orange light on the mountains across the bay. It was finally sinking in that we were in Alaska.
Dall Sheep: 1 (maybe 2)
Bald eagle: 3
Sea otter: several
To be continued in: Kenai Fjords National Park: Seward to Aialik Bay