travel writers tales home pagenewslinkscontact Jane Cassie and Margaret Deefholtssign up for travel writers tales newsletter
travel articles
sign up to receive our email newsletter
freelance travel writers
 

 

AMAZING ALASKA
By Chris McBeath
For Travel Writers' Tales

Barely one per cent of visitors to Denali National Park make it this far into central Alaska. Most stop at the Eielson Visitor Center, take pictures of Mount McKinley, then turn back. But with a few extra hours, you can become one of the rarefied few and find yourself at an early 1900's pioneer cabin at the end of the dirt 'road'. Literally. Next stop? Siberia-500 miles to the east.

Clamber up Eagle Point nearby, and you start to comprehend the impossibility of getting there, at least by land. The wilderness stretches to infinity in all directions and underscores the notion that Alaska, in all its glory, is almost too big for the imagination.

Whether it's calving glaciers, grizzlies plunging into salmon-filled waters, moose hidden in marshy thickets, or Dall sheep clinging to the vertical side of a mountain, these iconic images barely touch the magnificence of the place. But at least the Alaska Railroad will let you try.

Other than bush-pilot taxi service, the historic railroad runs through the heart of the state as Alaska's main transit system. As North America's last flag-down train service, the Alaska Railroad remains the lifeline to many self-sufficient homesteaders who live within trudging distance of the rails; it's not uncommon for the train to stop in the middle of nowhere to drop off supplies at the side of the line, particularly in mid winter when homes are virtually snowbound.

From start to finish, the railroad runs through country that is a full-on, sensory experience. The almost 500-mile run from Seward in the south to Fairbanks up north takes about 17 hours, plus an overnight stop in Anchorage to change trains, but even then, the extravagance of views is best savoured when the trip is taken in parts. Only then can you take time to smell the Labrador tea on the wind, feel the crisp air cut through the sunshine, and collapse onto a pillow of brush tundra filled with wild blueberries.

Allow a month for your visit although when time is tight, these four regions will still get the wonder of Alaska into your bones in half that time. Any extra days could include traditional towns like Talkeetna, a trip to the Arctic Circle, or the hinterlands surrounding Denali's Back Country Lodge-and the authentic, mythical treasures of Fannie Quigley's cabin.

Anchorage-Whittier: Stay in Anchorage as base-camp and take a day trip to Whittier. The train goes through one of North America's longest tunnels, and beside Turnagain Arm where bore tides change water levels by as much as 30 feet. Pass by marshlands created by earthquakes, glacial valleys, and tern-covered mountains. In Whittier, hop aboard the Klondike Express for an up close and personal cruise to the edge of no less than 26-glaciers. Expect to see whales, porpoises and seals floating on chunks of freshly-calved ice.

Seward-Kenai Fjords: Unlike many towns on the Inside Passage cruise ship routes, Seward remains unspoiled by visitor invasions. As gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, it offers fabulous eco-adventures for the entire family as well as Alaska's only public aquarium, the very impressive Alaska SeaLife Center. Have your picture taken at the Mile Zero sign of the famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race, and watch for playful sea otters within yards of the shoreline.

Fairbanks: In the last decade, this town has become an urban metropolis complete with quality museum, a geophysical institute that studies the aurora borealis, and the world's northernmost botanical gardens. Sitting atop a plateau, Fairbanks' temperatures can swing 165 degrees through the year, from as low as -57F degrees to +108F degrees. So pack accordingly! Fly up to the Arctic Circle and visit an Inuit village - crossing over the Alaska Pipeline makes for an extraordinary sight.

Denali National Park: Located almost at Alaska's geographic centre, Denali's geological make-up is diverse and intriguing. Watch for enormous glacial erratics, boulders the sizes of houses, scattered like lost peas across moonscape terrain, expanses of boreal forest (the largest in the world), and Alaska's crowning jewel, Mt. McKinley. When measured from base to summit, it is the tallest mountain on earth - 6,000 feet higher than Everest which climbs further only because it rises from a more elevated plateau. Stay at the Denali Backcountry Lodge in late August and you'll witness Fall transform vistas into gold, red and shimmering yellow just as if an unseen artist were painting a canvas before your eyes. It happens that quickly. But as with so many things Alaskan, seeing really is believing.

IF YOU GO:

Denali National Park: www.nps.gov/dena/ Alaska Railroad: www.alaskarailroad.com Alaska Tourism: www.travelalaska.com

PHOTOS-
1. Alaska Railroad-Coastal Classic: Photo: Alaska Railroad
2. Denali and Dall Sheep: Photo: Chris McBeath
3. Hiking Denali. Photo Chris McBeath
4. Iditarod Mile Zero, Seward: Photo Bill Vanderford
5. Alaska puffins: Photo: Chris McBeath
6. Spencer Glacier - Photo: Alaska Railroad

 


travel articles by travel writers featuring destinations in Canada, Europe, the Caribbean Islands, South America, Mexico, Australia, India, the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific Islands and throughout the United States
travel writers tales mission
partnership process
editorial line up
publishing partners
contributing writers
writers guidelines
travel articles
travel articles archive
travel themes - types of travel
travel blog
travel photos albums and slide shows
travel videos - podcast
helpful travel tipstravel writers tales home page

 

freelance travel writers Jane Cassie and Margaret Deefholts

All material used by Travel Writers' Tales is with the permission of the writers and photographers who, under national and international copyright law,
retain the sole and exclusive rights to their work. The contents of this site, whether in whole or in part may not be downloaded,
copied or used in any manner without the explicit permission of Travel Writers' Tales Editors, Jane Cassie and Margaret Deefholts,
and the written consent of contributing writers and photographers. Travel Writers' Tales