After our couple of days sojourn in Anchorage (see here) we continued northwards on our Alaskan trip by road, having picked up a large station wagon from a car hire firm in downtown Anchorage.
We could, however, have taken the rail option with the Alaska Railroad, which runs services up as far north as Fairbanks (our final destination in Alaska). The evening train ride we had done from Seward to Anchorage, after disembarking our cruise ship, had introduced us to the impressive trains with their distinctive blue and yellow livery (see here).
The Alaska Railroad is still running services throughout the northern summer albeit with reduced capacity to comply with Covid social distancing requirements.
Further details are available on the website here – the basic summer service appears to follow the traditional route (as far as I can tell) from the information the company provides:
“2021 Modified Service Update: The Denali Star Train will operate a modified schedule summer 2021: in addition to the train’s standard stops, the Denali Star will also provide flagstop service between Talkeetna and Hurricane“
Having seen a few travel documentaries recently, which follow the course of the railroad (both in winter as well as summer) it looks a fantastic journey. If I ever went to Alaska again I would love to do the whole journey from Seward to Fairbanks or back the other way.The road route intersects with the railway along many parts of the route but some scenic spots such as the spectacular Hurricane Gulch Bridge are accessible only by rail.
However our mode of transport wouldn’t have made much difference on the day we set off north from Anchorage – it was pelting with rain and visibility was extremely poor.
These are some of the photos I took! The middle one with the Target sign was taken passing by the town of Wasilla, which intrigued us as it is the home of the former US presidential candidate and one time state governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. We didn’t hang around here too long though!
Further along the highway we came to the pretty little town of Talkeetna, a popular stopping-off point for Alaska Railroad patrons as well as road travellers such as ourselves. It was reputed to be the basis for the fictional town of Cicely in the TV series Northern Exposure (which I’ve not actually watched) though this claim has never been verified by the production company.
Whatever the truth of the story, the town has thrived and become a bustling little place humming with tourists (alas this may have changed since Covid came along). The historical main street was packed with a myriad of shops selling arts and crafts, trinkets, souvenirs, hiking and fishing gear plus a number of cafes. Most importantly for Monsieur there was an ice creamery!
The weather remained inclement to say the least – it was certainly very chilly for an August day. We did brave the showers to have a wander round town and down to the river, which was practically overflowing. It was also fun to catch up with the Alaska Railroad train again in the small station – the bright colours stood out against the dreary greys and mist.
Our friends had sensibly stayed in the car and by now everyone was getting hungry. We read about a small bakery and cafe situated just out of town near Talkeetna and decided to give it a try for lunch. The Flying Squirrel nestles in a clearing off the main road surrounded by woodlands. Inside it was warm and homely with the feel of a rustic farmhouse. The food was delicious using fresh local produce and their home-made bread was especially tasty – just what we needed to warm us up.
Fortified with hot drinks as well as the food we set off on the road north to find our accommodation for the night. We had booked some cabins at a little settlement called Creekside just outside the boundary of Denali National Park. As their name suggests, McKinley Creekside Cabins and Cafe are situated at the edge of Carlo Creek surrounded by trees against a backdrop of mountains. Unfortunately the mountains were nowhere in sight on this particular day but the setting was still beautiful and pristine.
Although it remained grey and misty for most of our stay, the fresh air was invigorating and the cosy cabins were perfectly situated next to the fast flowing creek. The Creekside Cafe and Bakery was just down the way from our cabin so there was no need to go off site in search of food and refreshments. However there was an adjacent pizza place and a very nice restaurant, about a kilometer up the hill, where we went for a drink one evening.
We needed to be in bed early the first night though as we were being picked up early the following morning to take us into the nearby Denali National Park for the day.
More to follow!
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