[box.] Photos, photos, photos! Check out a slideshow of photos by Bill Graham at the end of this article.[/box]
By Bill Graham
A ride on the Alaska Railroad reveals the state’s wild side in glorious detail and creates lifetime memories.
Vibrant boreal forest greens rolled past the windows as the 2012 conference planning team rode the train from Fairbanks to Anchorage in mid-August of last year. The first golds and reds of autumn tinged shrubs and berry bushes in the wetlands. Gray water in glacial-fed rivers rolled toward the sea while small streams and lakes were crystal clear.
Here and there a moose browsed. The train climbed upward and downward in mountains, with a rock cut out the window on one side and vast valleys visible out the other.
I highly recommend OWAA members make the Alaska Railroad part of their conference travel plans. From Sept. 1-16, OWAA members and up to two guests will receive a 50 percent discount on regularly scheduled passenger trains, adventure class only. Details: https://owaa.org/2012conference/2012/01/12/discounted-travel-fare-alaska-railroad/.
Traveling by train between Fairbanks, Anchorage, Denali National Park and other Alaska destinations may be slower than zipping up the highways in a car,but the viewing opportunities are excellent. Seats in even the least expensive cars are roomy and comfortable and passengers can walk between cars. The viewing cars with panoramic glass windows in the upper level are outstanding. I expected to get my pocketbook gouged by high prices for bad food in the dining car. Instead, the food was first rate with reasonable prices. Alcoholic beverages are available.
Part of the trip’s fun is riding on a real passenger railroad, a novelty for many of us. But, also, the scenery outside the windows ranges from pretty to totally spectacular. I loved standing in the open-air platforms between the rail cars and looking at landscapes whizzing past, and that also made for the best photography with no window glass interfering with the image.
The train stops at stations in towns and at Denali National Park. So that’s what slows travel time compared to the highway.
But the tradeoff is seeing unspoiled backcountry vistas that you don’t see from the highway.
Our group rode the train after the conference site visit to Chena Hot Springs Resort and Fairbanks. Robin Giner, Jessica Pollett and myself used the train to reach Anchorage to connect with return flights.
I consider this train ride one of the highlights of my travels as a journalist. However, there would be a few things I’d do different if not on a tight schedule.
For one, our ride was about 12 hours. Most of us got on the train tired from long days. I wasn’t able to nap during the train ride because the scenery was just so entrancing. By the end of the day, I’d rocked back and forth more than I’d like.
The better way to fully enjoy an Alaskan Railroad ride is to break the trip up. Get off at Denali or Talkeetna or another town and see some scenery, get some rest and get your land legs back. You can finish the train ride another day or switch to a vehicle.
But that’s my only caution. The Alaska Railroad offers one of the most unique travel trips in America, and I highly recommend you do some rockin’ on the rails. ◊
Bill Graham is media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. He is also a freelance writer and photographer covering outdoor sports and natural science, bluegrass music and acoustic instruments. A member since 1985, Graham can be reached at plattefalls[at]centurylink.net.
Photos from a ride on the Alaska Railroad