Moving my northern base of operations from Healy to Nenana was a real improvement, not that there was anything wrong with Healy. I was able to find a clean and convenient room in Nenana at the Denali View Lodge. Check in is actually next door at the restaurant called Kristi’s Quisine. They serve fine food with a smile. The old Nenana Depot is across the street to the north. There is a grocery store to the south and a reasonably calm tavern on the east side of the street. Of course, the Alaska Railroad and the Mears Bridge are only a few steps away.
There is an advantage to being at Nenana at dawn, or dusk, as the case may be. It’s a reasonable probability that the northbound freight will arrive in the nascent hours of the day, with a number of photo opportunities present, depending on one’s level of ambition and bug tolerance. To the very fortunate a distant glimpse of Mt. McKinley can be had on rare occasions. There is also an opportunity of catching the night freight southbound on the Mears Bridge in the latest hours of Alaskan summer daylight. Not being a lighting engineer, I cannot tell you why the quality of light improves exponentially as we approach the extreme hours of sunlight in the day in summertime in the interior of Alaska. There is some unique and superb quality to the light that is unmatched.
My head had hit the pillow with ease on the evening of June 8, 2013. It had been another incredible day of photography of the Alaska Railroad. Timing, trains and weather were all in harmony from my first shot of the day at 5:31 AM until my last shot earlier that evening at 8:11 PM. Moments later, or so it seemed, I heard the horn for the grade crossing north of town. I scrambled out the door with the wrong shoes, the wrong lens and most importantly without my mosquito head netting. I quickly drove to ‘the spot’, only to have to wait for ten of the most intense bug minutes of my life. The late spring has made Nenana particularly buggy this year. I was literally wiping layers of bugs off of me as I waited. This was a delightfully entertaining development for the crew working on the river boat behind me. They got off work at 11 PM that night and headed straight for the bar across the street from where I was staying. After I got back to the room I listened to them for a little while through the open window in my room as they laughed about me as they drank the night away.
The train I had heard blowing for the grade crossing was the southbound night freight that had originated in Fairbanks. What I’ve learned is that there is more than one picture to be had in Nenana, and it doesn’t necessarily have to include the Mears Bridge. The Mears Bridge is so magnificent (it is eight feet long in HO scale!) that there is a natural inclination to go for bridge shots, which I freely admit to doing on every occasion possible. But in the extreme evening hours of daylight the bridge is no longer lit. The sun is like a distant spotlight shown down a long corridor, a pin prick of light in copper colored skies contrasting with the longest shadows on earth. The northern light illuminates the western curve of the Alaska Railroad as it turns south after paralleling the southern bank of the Tanana River along the Nenana waterfront. The darkened hills provide a backdrop to offset the silver spans of the Parks Highway Bridge as the southbound freight powered by the 4008 rounds the curve and rolls across the grade crossing entrance to the river boat service yard and launching facility located at the confluence of the Nenana and Tanana Rivers. This was the final and ultimate shot of the day at 10:48 PM.