Matt Leistico's Trip Report

(May 20-23, 2004)

by Matt Leistico

My wife and I wanted time off work, so it was my understanding that we were driving down to Seward for one or two days to "look around" – we had gotten Thursday/Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Monday off work. We had reserved a spot for the puppies at the Vet clinic so they would be taken care of. However, I started to sense that we weren’t driving down to Seward in the few days leading up to the vacation – my wife couldn’t have the car recharger for the laptop – she had to have the extra battery, insisting on packing enough for twenty people – for a two person "day trip", that we couldn’t come back to the house to pick up the bikes when we dropped the dogs off, etc. It turns out when we dropped off the dogs at the clinic, she revealed that she had two tickets for Denali as an early anniversary present. I told her that for the past three days I had suspected something was up, to which she replied that she had expected me to figure it out sooner, because she had been planning this for the past two months and hiding receipts, keeping her coworkers quiet, directing shipments to her work, laundering money, incriminating photos, and other mischievous deeds etc.

So we drop of the dogs, go to the train station. We brought along our two bikes and for a small fee can pack them aboard the baggage car to use at the park. The park/surrounding areas we not as bicycle friendly as we were hoping for – they never left the hotel room.

Interesting note - I brought along a radio scanner with me to listen to the various crew conversations. I noticed whenever a "critter" of some kind was spotted along the tracks you would hear a single "blurt" come from the engineer (didn’t sound like a recognizable word) and the train then would then be put into what seemed like near-emergency braking, going from 40 mph to 5 mph in a very short time. The conductor would make an announcement over the PA, translating "blurt" to the more appropriate "Please look out the left side to see caribou, moose, bear, squirrels, view of the mountain, etc."

On the trip the train was only 25% full, if that, but there were still the "young ones" cavorting up and down the halls. The conductor talked with one of these kids and let him talk over the radio, a little quiet, shy kid voice to the engineer up front, engineer blew the train whistle for him over the crews CB radio. It didn’t sound like more than five words were said, not much else happened. Later on at my perch in one of the vestibules, the kid came through with a few of his friends and was greatly engaged in HOW HE GOT TO TALK WITH THE ENGINEER UP FRONT DRIVING THE TRAIN!!!!!!
3 Power for the train up (and also train back on Sunday) was SD70MAC #4016, GP40 #3014 – also had power/baggage, diner, bistrocar, dome, chaircar, dome, chaircar, three Holland America cars, three Princess cars.
7 In the giftshop they have the books for sale (I have also seen these at other places around town – but got a photo here). Depicted are two titles same exact content – and all I want to know is….. does Grandpa not want to come to Alaska alone? – is he ummmm, passed on? – just had to throw this item in, has always struck me as odd.
7 The traditional Alaska railroad goodbye wave at the train.
12 Here are photos of the trackwork re-alignment that was going on at the beginning of the season
14 Looking out over a river crossing
14 Swans along side the tracks a little past Wasilla – I never knew where swans "came from" in the wild – as I had always seen them in zoos, farms, etc.
25 Some mountain past the Talkeetna river – they always insisted on standing the train on its nose whenever a shot of the mountain or miscellaneous critters opened up.
27 After passing through Talkeetna we went to the dining car for lunch. Seeing the light passing through the glass on the table, I took the first shot, realizing that it was lunch and not dinner – I took another photo and had to answer the wife's question of "and what are you taking pictures of now – the menu?"
32 Miscellaneous scenery pictures; items of note – trees, lots of trees. These need to be removed to allow the train passengers a better view of the wildlife.
33 I thought this was an interesting site around Hurricane (I believe). It is a cantilevered signal with solar, wind and propane tank accessories.
36 Shots looking down over the Hurricane bridge – the train slowed to about 5 pmh crossing the bridge for everyone to get a look.
40 Photo shows a highly complicated rail/photo graphic maneuver called "stick camera out at arms length and hope to get a good shot" – but be certain there are no upcoming obstructions before doing this!!
41 General right of way image – note the abundance of still present RR telephone poles (almost all of these poles still had glass insulators in place).
44 Another general right of way image at the top of the road – also note the still frozen river in mid May.
47 Caribou rears

A shot while getting closer to the park entrance

52 Look back at the train
59 After collecting our items at the train station we went to where we were staying at. Denali Princess lodge - we had one of the rooms with an unobstructed west view, looking over the valley, to the RR tracks - showing the afternoon S. Bound tank train, that always went by promptly at 6pm.
67 A place across the street was where we ate the first night, forgot the name, but ok food, no problems. But had to take a picture of their high-tech 55 gallon heating system.
68 View of our Princess lodge complex. Overall thought it was a good place to stay - ok rooms, nice view, but the food at their main eating establishment was ummmm, unremarkable for the $100 or so we dumped on it. I think the wife's exact words concerning her steak were "filet of shoe." (will just eat at subway across the street next time).
69 Four hour rafting trip down the Nenana river with Denali Raft Adventures - also stopped along the way for lunch. Very good outfit, knowledgeable snowbird guides, saw lots of various feathered critters, good thing to do up there.
71 The lunch spread and my wife's opinion of having her photo taken.....
77 Getting back from the rafting trip, saw the evening's southbound tank/piggyback train. It had two SD70MAC's and a GP40 on the front, string of tankcars, string of trailers, and one of the silver
boxcars at the end. Note that its really hard to take any sort of good photo looking into the sun.....
89 Looking out at a peaceful forest scene - but it turns out that the little furry tail barely visible ..... is attached to the EVIL SQUIRREL - with glowing white eyes, and big pointy teeth, and he can
90 Horseshoe lake at the park entrance, this is the view from the trail, before we hiked down.
96 We went down to Horseshoe lake - looked around, ate lunch, then laid in wait to get a good shot of that days southbound train. Note bring mosquito repellent.
102 After coming back up from the lake, walked up and around the Denali train station. This is looking south at the south passenger sheds.
57 An interior shot of the new station structures at the Denali (PDC Engineering did structural design on the new station structures.
103 The same structures from across the tracks. I believe the station layout (south to north) goes – three sheds, McKinley shed, Denali station, two new restroom sheds, McKinley shed, three sheds.
112 Leaving the station from our hike and taking the shuttle bus back to the hotel – saw a moose with two new mooselings – driver said they had been borne the day before. Moose in Alaska prefer jewelry. All Alaska trip reports require one moose photo. Then you go back to Anchorage and nearly nail one that’s dancing across Dimond.
126 SB passenger train pulling into the station. A few days ago the NB had three princess and three McKinley cars on the end. On the SB a few days later there were four McKinley and two Princess cars – therefore we can conclude that they are re-painting Princess cars into the Mckinley scheme in Fairbanks – or just changing the set every few days – either works.
134 You can never have to many looking-out-at-the-train-going-into-a-curve shots. This was taken from the end vestibule of the Alaska Railroad cars, always a good place for a sensory experience – sounds, sights, smells (occasionally people take smoke breaks here). You just have to remember to stake a good window out for the good photos.
147 For a short portion of the trip the train heads to Hawaii; here is shown crossing Honolulu creek. (click here for a similar photo over 30 years earlier)
177 At the Reeves siding we passed a short northbound piggyback train with only a pair of GP's on the front.


© 2004 Matt Leistico