Stop the Train

Miles: 160

Wildlife: Swans; coyote; hooded merganser

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You could argue that Talkeetna is the most touristy town on our trip, but you’d get a good counter argument in favor of Leavenworth, Washington.

But you’d be hard-pressed to find a tourist town with as much to do and see as Talkeetna.

EB1A9424Let’s start with the drive from Anchorage. It’s a straight line toward Denali (formerly Mount McKinley), and the views of the mountain are quite impressive. In our case, impressive right up until the time we turned off the Park Highway for Talkeetna. When we reached the overlook above town the mountain had found clouds.

That didn’t deter us from having fun. We walked around town and visited all the shops, then had a beer at the outlet restaurant for the Talkeetna Brewing Company. Very good IPA.

EB1A9447We finished off the day with a bike ride, a couple of miles out of town to a mountain-bike trail around a lake. Fortunately, we both made it around the like without incident.

The next morning I got up a little early and biked to the Susitna River, where there is a clear view of Denali. The range was visible, except for a bit of clouds at Denali’s summit. I waited for about an hour as my fingers got really cold, but the last cloud never cleared.

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Cooper.

But I was in the company of a kayaker, Cooper, who happened to be on a white-watering trip from Charlotte. We had a nice chat and compared photography techniques.

Around noon, we hopped aboard the Hurricane Turn, a flag-stop train that runs through Alaskan backcountry to the next highway crossing, then returns. The train is the only way the dozen or two families who live out there in the middle of near-artic nowhere have of getting into a town to buy supplies (or sell their books, they seem to be an eclectic bunch). The train also has become a tourist non-destination, thanks in large part to the efforts of Conductor Warren, who has been riding that rail for 40-plus years.

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Conductor Warren.

When you’re on that train, and you just missed a good photo shot, you just ask Conductor Warren to stop the train and back up, and voila, the train stops and backs up.   Not that you’d ever need to, because there’s going to be a better shot around the next curve.

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Like, shot after shot of Denali (formerly McKinley; not sure if the name change was effective when we were on the train).

EB1A9573We saw no bears or moose, which you could tell really bothered Conductor Warren. But the views of the mountain, and all the other mountains, were breathtaking.

The best coincidence was that the couple with whom I shared the most photographic moments were graduates of Wheeler High School, one of my own Alma Mater Marietta High School’s rivals.

Oh, and if you’re not on the train and you need a ride, you just wave a flag (or your arms), and the train will EB1A9731stop and pick you up.

We finished the day with a big plate of fish ‘n’ chips at the brew-pub’s restaurant, and wound up our stay the next morning with breakfast at the Talkeetna Roadhouse, possibly the biggest breakfast I’ve ever been served.

Next stop: Denali National Park.

Train on trestle at Hurricane Gulch.

Train on trestle at Hurricane Gulch.

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Sunset for Mount McKinley.

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