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.
|All aboard. Waiting to depart - looking forward from our seats in the GoldStar Dome.|
knew that this experience as a whole was going to be great, but I was really
excited for this train trip. It had been a long time since I'd ridden a train; not wanting
to take any chances, I took motions sickness medication as a
precaution, hoping the less drowsy formula wouldn't put me in a
stupor. Vague, foggy memories of a childhood trip to the Rocky
Mountains, during which I was slumped – not quite awake, and not
quite asleep – in the backseat of my parents' car as it wound up
and down mountain roads always give me pause when considering taking
motion sickness meds. I was like the NazgÛl,
neither living nor dead. I wanted to be conscious for this
recommend booking seats on the train early if choosing the GoldStar dome service. We made our reservations in late March and had great
seats – row six in the first upper passenger deck. Row one had the
best view, and I wondered how much earlier the people in those seats
made theirs. (Something to shoot for next time I'm in the
neighborhood.) Huge picture windows curve uninterrupted into the
transparent dome ceiling, providing expansive views. Unfortunately,
the splattering of raindrops made it difficult to take photos out of
our window, but because we were fancy, our car had its own outdoor
viewing platform, which solved that problem. Once we were out of the immediate Anchorage area, we
made many trips to this outdoor deck for as long as we could stand
the cold wind. We also had a small bar, where booze could be
purchased throughout the trip.
was loaded into baggage cars, passengers were settled in their seats,
and the train left the station at 6:45 a.m.
after departing, breakfast was served in the dining area on the lower
level of our car for those who were interested. Always interested in
breakfast, we both ordered dishes featuring reindeer sausage, with
hot chocolate for Andrea and a bloody Mary for me. Naturally, during
the few minutes I took to use the restroom – a slightly challenging
activity while being jostled around in a tiny space – I missed a
bald eagle flying next to the train.
As we ate breakfast, we watched the suburban sprawl of the Anchorage
area disappear to be replaced by meadows, streams, and the Chugach
Mountains on one side, and Turnagain Arm on the other.
Arm is one of two branches of Cook Inlet (the other is Knik Arm to
the north). It is known for its extreme tide variation of up to 40
feet, which rushes into this narrow channel as quickly as 10 mph.
Expansive mudflats are exposed during low tide, and they are
surprisingly dangerous. Formed by silt deposited when the tide comes
in, they look deceptively stable when the tide goes back out. While
they might appear dry on the surface, underneath they can still
be saturated. When standing on these mudflats, if a person's foot
sinks through the surface, things can get terrifying quickly. The
wet silt is like quicksand, and there are horrific stories of people
being trapped – held in place and helpless as the nearly freezing
water of the tide comes in at its accelerated pace.
|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).|
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.
|Photo by Andrea - taken in Anchorage|
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
**First Alaskan Wildlife Sighting**
|Dall Sheep. (Trust me. It's there.)|
the train reaches the end of Turnagain Arm, it heads inland into
Chugach National Forest, and the Chugach Mountains give way to the
Kenai Mountain range. We observed a bald eagle perched on an upper
branch of a tree at the edge of a meadow as we headed into the
mountains, and soon after, the first impressive glacier scene came
into view: Spencer Glacier.
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|
Grandview, the train offers another impressive view of a glacier at
work carving out a valley between mountains. Trail Glacier is
particularly beautiful, with scenic landscape unfolding in layers
before the train tracks: mountains give way to forest, which opens up
into a meadow with a stream winding through it. After that, it's
view upon view of Trail Creek, Upper Trail Lake, streams flowing down
mountainsides from melting snow and ice at the top, and the train
tracks winding through it all. It was awesome in the true sense of
the word. To celebrate this, we drank mimosa.
|Approaching another tunnel|
tracks wind past the town of Moose Pass, where it appears that every
one of its 200 residents owns a float plane. Impractical
where I live, but I feel
like I should have one.
The train crosses a bridge over Trail Creek, then heads toward Kenai
Lake, and finally Seward. Despite my extreme excitement for this
train trip, I am ashamed to report that I caught myself dozing shortly before arriving in Seward. The combination of Dramamine,
bloody Mary, and mimosa may have been a contributing factor.
|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.|
arrived in Seward around 11:15 a.m. It is a short walk from the
train station to the harbor, which was filled with fishing boats,
sailboats, tour boats, and one huge cruise ship. The Port of Seward is an active port with boat repair yards and a coal-loading facility. We were staying at
The Whistle Stop, a converted train car right on the harbor. We were
concerned that it would be loud there during the night and early
morning since it is located directly on the harbor, but it proved to
be a quiet and comfortable place to stay. We were too early to check
in, so we dropped our duffel bags off and headed out to explore the
|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|
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.
|View of Seward Harbor from the Whistle Stop|
We walked the length of town, past charter offices, restaurants, and gift shops, to the Alaska SeaLife Center, an ocean wildlife rescue center and aquarium. We spent some time there touching sea stars and sea urchins in open tanks, watching Woody the sea lion flop around and roar, and observing a puffin shoot its feces an impressively long distance at an unsuspecting tourist. To celebrate this, we ate crab.
|Tour boats in the harbor. Fireweed in the foreground.|
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.
|Sunset on Seward Harbor|
Sheep: 1 (maybe 2)
|Alaska Railroad - Coastal Classic train route|
be continued in: Kenai
Fjords National Park: Seward to Aialik Bay
That's gorgeous! Can't wait to see how things went in the park.
Just love your blog.
Anxiously awaiting the next installment.
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