(This is Part 3 of the Alaska series, please CLICK HERE for Part 2.)
As we reluctantly make our way out of amazing Denali northwards via Parks Highway (that’s the only road anyway), I look forward to our next stop — a small town called Nenana — with the hope of touching base with the legendary Alaska Railroad (ARR).
Nenana is a tiny town of less than 400 people, but was very important during the Fairbanks gold rush of the early 1900s. The town is a key supply and rest point for people traveling from the south to Fairbanks and back. It reminds me of the caravanserai along the Silk Road. The streets have cute names too, such as this A Street.
At the main T-junction of the town, the train station stands. In 1915 when they started construction of the ARR, Nenana had a population boom, from 200 people to 600!
There’s a big commemorative plaque about the 75th anniversary of the completion of the ARR, spanning Seward-Anchorage-Fairbanks, in 1923. It was the year the whole rail line was finally linked with completion of the Mears Memorial Bridge across the Tanana River here.
I am indeed looking forward for the actual ARR train to rumble by on its way from Fairbanks (59 miles away to the left) to Seward (411 miles to the right). In just 15 minutes, the chap at the station assures me.
Half an hour later, still no train in sight, so we decide to explore the riverfront. Note the standard gauge main line, it goes for 760km from southern to central Alaska, the only line in the state.
On the south bank of Tanana River, I see the Mears Memorial Bridge, completed in 1923 for the ARR. It’s 700 feet long, and the final link in the Seward-Fairbanks line. This is a simple truss bridge, one of the largest in the world, and in Alaska this bridge is the longest span bridge of any kind.
When the bridge was completed in 1923, the then US President Warren G. Harding drove a golden spike at the north end of the bridge to officially declare the whole 760km rail line linked. I am not sure if that gold is still there.
On the other side of the river, the lush forest is yellow with autumn leaves. The Tanana River which rises in the Yukon, flows from right to left and it actually passes by Fairbanks upstream.
The only ARR stuff we see is a couple of old coaches, just like the ones at our hotel in Healy recently.
And yes, littered in the bush, some rusted relics of the good old days.
Disappointed at not being able to see any real ARR train today, we leave Nenana and move on to our destination for the night, a town interestingly called North Pole.
The Parks Highway soon gains altitude and is enveloped with fog or maybe a low-lying cloud, as we approach Fairbanks.
We soon arrive in North Pole, a township of 2100 people — virtually a suburb of Fairbanks, which we skip in our haste to get here to this wonderful log cabin in the woods.
As log cabins go, this is pretty luxurious and photogenic.
The interior is well-appointed, with the sofa-bed ready. There’s a loft where another double bed is installed (picture is taken from here). All in all, a very nice and cosy little house, three nights we are booked here, thank god.
And to make things more interesting, there’s an original Model T Ford in the yard. (For more information please visit North Pole Cabins.)
Behind the cabin, past the woods, there is a slough, a sort of swampy waterway. Nice setting for a horror movie?
Staying in a cabin for 3 nights means we need to stock up on foodstuff, so we go shopping.
And we get to know the locals as well.
Laundry needs to be done, and this being America, coin-op laundromats are ubiquitous. Free wi-fi is always part of the deal, like at the supermarket above.
There’s a nice recreational area just northeast of North Pole, so we decide to check it out. There are a couple of big military bases here (I mean Russia is just next door, right?), and this facility was built by the army.
Looking southwards, I can see snow-capped mountains, a hundred kilometers away perhaps.
I’m fascinated by the bark of this tree — it’s soft, white and can easily flake off. I think this is the ‘paper birch’.
More beautiful paper birches down there.
And yes, this is not just America, this is Alaska!
The environment is so clean and pristine, wildlife is plentiful.
And trekking is sheer pleasure.
Almost 650km our Sorento has carried us, all the way from Anchorage.
A common sight, a wild moose and her calf, foraging in the forest. Very sensitive creatures, I’m miles away and already she’s eyeballing me.
But the main attraction of North Pole is … Santa Claus, of course! He ‘lives’ here at the North Pole, right?
It’s Christmas every day of the year here. Actually this place was named North Pole in 1952 by a brilliant guy who thought of attracting toy manufacturers to settle here.
At the same time another guy set up a trading post which eventually became this Santa Claus House.
Letters from kids simply addressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole” might just end up here, believe it or not.
Hmmm … a kid asking for a gun? Must be American.
In any case, this magical place brings the kid out of just about anybody, …
… and so here’s … HO HO HO !
>> TO BE CONTINUED