(PAGE 1 covers the cruise portion.)
(PAGE 2 covers Skagway to Fairbanks)

We set off from Fairbanks on the beautiful McKinley Explorer cars owned by HAL. These are much nicer than the regular Alaska Railroad cars and the visibility is great. The cars are very comfortable, and it is possible to go out in the platform between the cars for a bit of fresh air and good photos.

Although on our tour we traveled Fairbanks-Denali-Anchorage, these remarks and pictures would also apply to a tour leaving from Anchorage.

There is occasional spectacular scenery. On certain turns you can see the whole train stretching out in front of you. Mountains and rivers are beautiful. BUT the honest fact is that most of the time the scenery is the ever present willow and spruce forest!

There is a good dining room on the car and we had a late breakfast that was sumptuous.

We arrived about noon-ish (Our TD told us all times in Alaska are -ish). We got settled into the McKinley Chalets which is a beautiful hotel in a sparkling setting. The weather for our two days at Denali was cloudy and gray, which made some beautiful views but alas, prevented a view of Mt. McKinley.

The lobby of the hotel features this great display of sheep on the rocks! The hotel itself is not really 5-star, but it is entirely adequate. Rooms are comfortable and very livable. There is a Cafe which serves a buffet or menu items, as well as a beautiful dining room for more relaxed meals. The lobby is a constant buzz as tours depart and arrive.

The first night we booked the "Cabin Night Dinner" which is on the Chalet property. It was an absolute delight! In a rustic log cabin (well, a replica) we were served family style with ribs and salmon and the fixin's, all-you-can-eat. Then the lively entertainment started, mixing history and lore with singing and dancing and yes, Robert W. Service!! This time we had "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and it was an excellent performance.

In the morning we had booked the You-Drive Jeep excursion. Renée was happy to get another chance to bounce over back roads in a Jeep. We choose to do the Denali Park Highway, Highway being an Alaskan euphemism.

There was a lot of wonderful scenery along the road. We stopped often for the views. The day was again gray and overcast, and the roads were muddy.

In the afternoon we set off on the Tundra Wilderness Tour. This is absolutely the best tour for wildlife viewing in the Park. We had a lot of wildlife sightings. Our first was a group of ptarmigan, or tundra chickens. Look closely! Most of our sightings were of this "dot in the distance" type.

The driver had a 100x video camera which was connected to screens in the bus. This was what actually gave us reasonable views of most of the animals. Unless you have a REALLY good camera, you will not get pix like this.

The bus made only two rest and photo stops along the way. The views were stunning all along. We passed through many different geologic formations, both glacial and non glacial. This is a glacial stream in a U shaped valley.

The buses used for this tour are NOT your luxurious tour buses. They are operated by the NPS, and are minimal. The TWT is a loooooong tour and the roads are bumpy. A snack box is provided but you want to bring extra snacks too. The price for lots of animal sightings is a pretty long uncomfortable day.


Grizzly Madonna and Child

Dall Sheep high up on the cliff

The Bear That Went Over the Mountain
Male grizzly moving fast.

More pictures from the video screens. We certainly did get our money's worth in animal sightings. We saw ptarmigan, snowshoe hare, northern harrier (like a hawk), eagles, Dall sheep, caribou, and six grizzlies.

A few sightings were actually fairly well visible to the naked eye, and provided an opportunity for pictures with my basic digital camera. Here is a raw pic and one enhanced as best I could. Of course a better camera (and a better hand with PhotoShop) will give better pics. But those lucky few who actually get an animal sighting close to the bus for a magnificent picture are definitely the minority.

Our final morning in the Park featured the Log Cabin Breakfast. We boarded the covered wagon for a nice 45 minute ride through the woods. The teamster obviously loved his magnificent Belgian draft horses and gave us a lot of information on their training and care.

Arriving at the cabin, we found a great breakfast waiting for us, cooked over an open wood stove by the chef. We had reindeer sausage, salmon scrambled eggs and blueberry pancakes and all the fixin's, as well as mimosas to go along.

Leaving the park about noon we began the trip on the train into Anchorage. This was similar to the trip from Fairbanks, taking about 8 hours. We passed a lot of beaver creeks with dams and lodges, and had a lot of nice scenery. However, once again the principal view was yes, spruce and willow forest!

So we said goodbye to our wonderful Tour Director Mark Oxborrow. For nine days he shepherded, tended, nurtured and educated us, and constantly saw that our bags were out before our eyes were opened. HAL did a wonderful job on this tour and we had a great time. It is defniltely long and all-inclusive. Those who are looking for a thorough visit to Alaska with lots of beauty, geology and history will do very well on this tour. If you want a shorter trip with the main highlights, then Denali and Fairbanks would be a good choice.

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