Hurricane Turn Train, Alaska

Day 710

     The Hurricane Turn Train provides service to wild Alaska and is used by the locals, which stops with the wave of a flag. It is the last flagstop train in America. The train goes from Talkeetna to Hurricane Gulch. Including the start and end stops, the hurricane train has 8 scheduled stops, but you can flag the train down anywhere to get on or off. We made about ten of these flag stops to let off or take on hikers, rafters, and locals getting around. If you want to get on, you signal the engineer from the side of the track. He notifies the conductor and the train stops at the baggage car were the conductor is located, who puts out a step to load the passengers and their gear. Now, that is neat.

     It was a beautiful raining day the day we rode to Hurricane Gulch and back.

     We rode in the third car back, which was an elevated viewing car.

     It gave us a good view, despite the rain.

     Ryan Rodriguez was our the conductor on the train, a very personable guy.

     These people just flagged the train down.  They are returning from rafting on the river.

     The train follows the Susitna River, which is a 313 mile Long river going from Susitna Glacier to Cook Inlet. 

     We had to back up onto a side track to let this oncoming train go buy. Since we are a flag train we have no set schedule, whereas the oncoming train does.  Neat concept.

     Believe it or not (and why wouldn’t you), this is one of our scheduled stops. That’s it, the whole town.

     I don’t know. It doesn’t look like we are going to fit!

     At some of the stops, the train rested for 10 or so minutes, and we could get off to walk around.

     There are many people living out here in the wilderness. This house belongs to a well known women who writes children’s books. Barbara went in to talk to her.

     This is Hurricane Gulch. I thought it was very impressive.

     We stopped in Hurricane for 15 minutes, as it is the end of the line.

     It was actually a railroad camp used during construction. Now it is a maintenance area. No town, no houses, no nothing. Boy, that was a disappointment. Barbara wanted to do some shopping.

Talkeetna, Alaska

Day 709

     Talkeetna, Alaska was established in 1916 when the Alaska Railroad chose the area to be a district headquarters. We will be taking one of their trains, the Hurricane Turn Train, tomorrow. The name comes from the Indian word meaning “Place where food is stored near the river”. 

     It has chosen to keep the town as close to what it was in 1916. Only Main Street is paved. 

     All the remaining dirt roads have pot holes and standing water from the recent rain.

     Most of the buildings, which now have tourist shops, are the original log cabins. 








Technical Stuff:

Denali, Alaska to Talkeetna, Alaska: 154.1 miles

3 hours 12 minutes

9.4 MPG

Diesel: $3.45

Denali, Alaska

Day 706

     Traveling through Denali National Park to see, what else, Denali Mountain, the highest mountain in North America. Although, is it higher than Mt. McKinley?

     We saw lots of wildlife, including caribou




     The road we traveled was unbelievable narrow with no guard rails and a steep drop-off. It is hard to tell from this photo how steep it is, but you can see the road winds to the left, and you can see the drop.

     The run off from the glacier melt carries lots of silt. The silt is deposited at the base of the mountains, but as the water travels further, it joins and becomes rivers.       And of course, the Mountain

Technical Stuff:

North Pole, Alaska to Denali, Alaska: 121.1 miles

2 hours 47 minutes

8.8 MPG

Diesel: $3.45

Fly with the Bush Pilot in remote Alaska

Day 705

     There are no roads to get you to remote, bush Alaska, up by the Arctic Circle. We were sitting around yesterday looking for something different to do, and we saw a notice about bush pilots flying mail to remote Indian Villages. The indication was that if there was room, they would take passengers on their daily mail runs. No frills, you sit with the mail for a ride-along. We called and there was availability for today.

     This is the way to see remote Alaska. These are the White Mountains of Alaska which were named by prospectors for its composition of white limestone.

     We flew over the Fort Knox Gold Mine. The land that the Fort Knox Gold mine sits on was originally staked in 1913 with no mining taking place. There was no activity in the area until the area was restaked in 1980 by two prospectors, and leased to various mining companies. Construction didn’t begin until 1995 with the first gold pour at the end of 1996. Open pit mining is different from extractive methods that require tunneling into the earth. Open-pit mines are used when deposits of commercially useful ore or rocks are found near the surface.

     We flew over the Alaska Pipeline.

     And the Dalton Highway.

     The runway is just a dirt strip

     The postmaster meets the plane to pick up the mail

      Most of the mail on this trip is from Amazon

     In this village, the women here is not only the postmaster, but the Chief of the Indian village.

     Now, that was a trip.

Fairbanks, Alaska

Day 704

     Elbridge Truman Barnette was born in Akron, Ohio in 1886. He was a Yukon riverboat captain, banker, merchant, and swindler. In 1886, he was sentenced to four years in prison in Oregon state for stealing from a partner in a horse-trading venture in Canada. Political connections of the Barnette family saw the sentence commuted after one year, on the condition that Barnette never return to Oregon. 

     After several failed business ventures, he decided to set up a trading post on the Tanana River, in the Alaska interior. His boat was loaded with 20 tons of supplies, when the steamboat floundered on the Chena River because of the weight. Barnette, his party, and supplies, were evicted off the boat.  The sight of smoke from the steamer’s engines caught the attention of gold prospectors working in the hills to the north, most notably an Italian immigrant named Felix Pedro. Pedro bought some of the supplies and convinced Barnette to set up shop were he landed. A year later, Pedro struck gold that began a stampede to the area, making Barnette a rich man. 

     In trying to establish the settlement where Barnette set up his trading post, he got concessions from a Federal Judge who, in return, wanted the area named after Charles W. Fairbanks, a Republican senator from Indiana and later the twenty-sixth Vice President of the United States.

     We walked and drove around, but today, Fairbanks is just another big city. In this part of the Country, all diesel cars have plugs.

Chena River Boat Tour, Alaska

Day 703

     The Chena River is a 100-mile tributary of the Tanana River in the Interior region of Alaska, a mostly wilderness part of the country (actually, it seems, except for Fairbanks and Anchorage, all of Alaska is wilderness).  The river flows west from the White Mountains to the Tanana River near the city of Fairbanks, which is built on both sides of the river.

     We took a Sternwheeler down the river (or was it up). It was definitely a touristy thing, but fun. Sternwheelers were the main transportation for the Interior of Alaska in the early 1900’s. The difficult terrain and lack of roads made the rivers a useful and efficient means of travel.

     Charlie Binkley has provided boat services on the interior Alaskan Rivers since 1903. The Discovery Sternwheeler (I, II and now III) has been run by his decedents giving tours on the Chena River since 1950.

     We saw a bush pilot land next to our boat.

      We visit the sled dog training facility of famous Iditarod dog musher, Susan Butcher, now run by her daughter Tekla. We watch as they train puppies to be sled dogs.

      And exercise the grown dogs

     We saw caribou. At this time of year, they are shedding their coats.

     A presentation was made of drying salmon for winter eating.

     Walking through a Chena (Indian) village Barbara visited original log cabins from 1903, still in use.

     Some families have been living in this isolated part of Alaska for over 100 years.

     The temperature in this part of Interior Alaska gets to be minus 40 degrees in the winter time (yes, 40 degrees below zero). You can experience that in a specially designed freezer. Would we do that? You know we will.

Arctic Circle, Alaska

Day 702

     Imagine I transport you from where you are to the Arctic Circle, in Alaska. Open you eyes and describe what you expect to see.

     Bucket list of things to do in Alaska: Travel the Alcan from beginning to end, visit Santa at the North Pole, and go to the Arctic Circle. Today, we accomplish the last of those 3 things.

     The only way to get to the Arctic Circle by road is the Dalton Highway. Only half of Alaska’s 19 highways are paved. This is not one of them.

     I told you about the Alaska Pipeline yesterday. Before the 800-mile pipeline could be built over three mountain ranges and 30-some rivers and streams, a road had to be built to maintain the pipeline plus get workers, heavy equipment and supplies to the North Slope oil fields. They couldn’t be boated in, and it was too dangerous and expensive to fly. They had to be trucked in. The Dalton Highway, named for James W. Dalton, an expert in Arctic engineering who served as a consultant in early oil exploration in northern Alaska, was constructed for that purpose. 

     Traveling that road gave us excellent view of the pipeline.

     Prior to the Dalton highway, there were no roads in this part of Alaska. The highway, which directly parallels the pipeline, is one of the most isolated roads in the United States.

      We drove over the only bridge in the United States that spans the Yukon River. The Yukon River is the third largest river on the continent but one that most Americans never see. I find it hard to believe that no one who lives on the thousands of miles that border the river want to get to the other side.

      I walked down its bank and found the water cloudy and cold to the touch.

     The Yukon River Bridge, officially known as the E. L. Patton Bridge, was named for the President of the Alyeska Pipeline Company, Edward L. Patton. He is the man largely responsible for the building of the Pipeline and Dalton Road. The bridge surface is made of timber, which expands and contracts, without buckling or breaking, as the harsh weather changes. 

     We had excellent views of the pipeline from the bridge

     as well as from the road

     So, what exactly is the Arctic Circle? The Arctic Circle is the most northerly of the five major circles of latitude in which on the summer solstice (June 21) the sun remains above the horizon for 24 hours and during the winter solstice, (December 21) the sun never rises above the horizon. 

     Well, what do you expect it to look like here at the Arctic Circle? How about this:




     What? No snow, ice, or glaciers? No, the temperature today is 56 degrees. Most of Alaska this time of year is green. 

     We pulled up to the official marker for the Arctic Circle, the point at 66.33 degrees latitude. Our bus driver produced a red carpet bisected by a white dotted line to show our ceremonial crossing,

     Coming home, we saw the moose going in the opposite direction (I think they are having a meeting later today).         Now, you don’t see that in Maryland.