Alaska, Anchorage, Denali National Park, Glacier Brewhouse, McKinley Explorer

Day 3: Denali –> Anchorage: All Aboard The McKinley Explorer

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Snow falling on the Nenana River outside McKinley Chalet.


                     The McKinley Explorer.

We wake to the sound of heavy rain. The weather has changed drastically overnight and the temperature is hovering around 34. By the time we sit down to breakfast, snow is falling and accumulating on the yellow birch trees outside. They say there are four seasons in Alaska: June, July, August and Winter, and well, it looks like Winter is here.

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Snowy conditions leaving Denali.

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               Hurricane Gulch.

We transfer from the McKinley Lodge to the train depot just outside of town. Here, we board the McKinley explorer, and settle in for the 8-hour train ride to Anchorage. By this point in time, everything is dusted in white. It makes for a picturesque departure from Denali. We hug the Nenana River for most of the morning, and by late morning, the snow has turned back to rain. We cross Hurricane Gulch on a trestle bridge 300 feet up, watching the riverbed snake through the mountainsides.  

We head down to the Explorer’s Dining Car and enjoy a lunch of wild salmon and quinoa salad, and we spend the afternoon passing through remote off-the-grid little villages and well-known towns alike. Two more notable places are Wasilla (Sarah Palin’s hometown) and Willow (where they tried to relocate the capital to in 1976).

We arrive in Anchorage and transfer to the Westmark, centrally located to Glacier Brewhouse, which has been recommended to me by a college friend who lived in Anchorage for a number of years. The Brewhouse is also recommended by the bus driver and the hotel, so we know it must be good and aim to get there early to beat the crowds. No such luck! It’s Saturday night and this place is seething.


The Explorer’s dining car.


Deep thoughts from Glacier Brewhouse.

We order a couple of beers at the bar while we wait for a table, a delicious Oatmeal Stout and an IPA. We find a few seats between a couple of pilots and an Alaskan couple. Dinner is Land & Sea Oscar, halibut and 28-day aged filet. Great food, beer and service and the place seems to be packed with locals and travelers alike.

As we leave the restaurant, the sun is setting, and the waterfront is only three blocks away. I hightail it down there with no camera and only 5% of power on my phone. By the time I arrive, the Alaskan Mountain Range is glowing pink, Denali sits off to the right, and unfortunately, my phone is completely dead. I find a park bench and sit down and watch as planes take off and head west to Asia and the sun dips below the mountain range. I sit with a man from Anchorage who flies seaplanes and he shares stories of flying north in the summer to lands where the sun doesn’t set, landing in places where one family might be the entire population of a place. He’s getting ready to head to Hawaii for the Winter.

I head back to the hotel and sit chatting with a lady who has made Anchorage her home for 44 years. She talks about winter – festivals, winter sports, conventions, the weather – says it’s not that bad. By the end of the conversation, I’m even saying “yeah, it sounds kind of fun.” Then I remember that comment about 40 below, and think I’ll stick to three of Alaska’s four seasons: June, July and August.


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