I flew to Minneapolis, September 8, 2006, changed planes and flew to Anchorage, Alaska. I flew Northwest Airlines using Expedia.com. Roundtrip was $731.80. From Ted Stevens Airport, I rode a city bus downtown. When I got to the Alaska Railroad depot, it was late evening and the train to Denali National Park did not leave until morning. I pulled an all-nighter. I entered a karaoke bar called the Woodshed and sang Elvis, Beatles, ABBA & Shania. I sat in the Marriot for a couple of hours and dozed. The train depot opened at 5am, and I got my ticket. My instincts told me to beeline to the Park.
The train ride north was scenic. Despite its beauty, there was a stark sameness about the terrain. The shallow rivers were glacier water. They flowed on both sides of the train. Birch and spruce trees dominated. Leaves on the birch were yellow, their fall color. Spruce grew in miniature in the permafrost. The entire landscape was yellow and green. An abundance of water makes Alaska a fisherman's paradise. I met a couple from Minnesota who came to hunt caribou. It was 7 hours to Denali. An employee on the train said there were no snakes in Alaska.
Denali was established in 1917. National Parks are run by the National Park Service, which is in the Department of the Interior. I got a room at the River Cabins. A native girl told me the legend of the Northern Lights, that whistling brings them out. I wanted my trip centered around astronomy.
Mount McKinley is in Denali. It is the highest mountain in North America at 20,320 feet. There is controversy over the mountain's name. The federal government calls it Mount McKinley after President William McKinley. The State of Alaska calls it Denali (High One). A 90 mile road runs through the Park.
I got lucky on the tour. I sat at the front of the bus and had a good view. Mount McKinley is visible only 20% of the time. It is usually clouded over. It is 30 miles away when we see it. McKinley has 2 peaks. The north peak is sharp. The south peak is rounded. The south peak is higher and the true summit. McKinley is granite, molten material that solidified underground and was pushed up over millions of years.
We drove 63 of the 90 miles, more than usual because it was a nice day. We saw wildlife: a grizzly bear, moose, caribou, wolves & Dall sheep. Dall sheep are named after explorer William Dall. We got to the mountain, and there was a grizzly in the ravine. I stayed near the bus.
At the River Cabins, I kept going outside to look for the Northern Lights. The moon was a factor! It was full the night before I left. I never gave it a thought when planning my trip, a strange oversight since I am aware of the moon during the Perseid meteor shower. Not seeing the Lights was a disappointment even while the rest of the trip compensated. I decided not to go to Fairbanks because even there the moon would be overpowering. The Lights are seen 240 nights a year from Fairbanks. Forget May, June, July & August because the sun stays up during the summer. One guy described the Lights as buckets of paint poured across the sky. The red, blue & green waves are caused by the solar wind hitting the top of our atmosphere. The earth is a magnet and pulls particles toward the poles. I observed the sky. The North Star was higher, and Orion was farther south. I understood why the North Star and the Big Dipper are on the state flag.
Danali gets only 4 1/2 hours of sunlight on December 21. Nor is it quality light. The temperature drops to -60 degrees. Cold and dark! Denali is not a town. It consists of lodges and shops. It gets its mail at the Park post office. The tourist season was winding down when I left. People were heading south.
People in Alaska are friendly. They look you in the eye! Maybe it was me. I talked to an Australian from Melbourne and mentioned ABBA. There was downtime, then things would happen quickly. The morning of September 11, I explored the Gulch, a string of souvenir shops. I used the Internet at the Black Bear Coffee Shop. It was raining, and I was glad I toured the Park the day before. I returned to Anchorage with a van service.
My last day in Alaska was spent in Anchorage. I went in the 5th Avenue Mall, a modern mall with a food court. I toured the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. I knew about the purchase of Alaska from Russia and the lure of gold that gave rise to Alaska towns. Nome grew from the gold rush of 1898. Anchorage began as a tent city when the railroad was built. Its population is 270,000. I found a statue of Captain James Cook, who navigated the Pacific Ocean in the 18th century. A lecture was being given, and the speaker observed that Anchorage is a railroad town, not a river town. Streets were designed by engineers and are at right angles. Nashville is a river town with its meandering streets. I took pictures of the Eisenhower Statehood Memorial and headed for the airport. The Chugach Mountains loomed in the distance. I slept during the return flights and landed in Nashville on September 14. Alaska is big! You carve out your niche and move on!