The small village of Whittier, where we disembarked the ship, is nestled along the Prince William Sound, known for its stunning array of wildlife like bald eagles, sea otters, killer whales, and more. The town of about 225 residents sits about 60 miles south of Anchorage and is comprised of just one 14-story Begich Towers building built as a Cold War outpost for the US Army.
This morning we boarded an Alaska Railroad train for a scenic two-hour ride to Anchorage. We transited along the Cook Inlet and the Kenai Peninsula through the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, which is home to many moose and swans. The train uses the 2.5-mile-long, Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, the longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in the United States. The tunnel was excavated in 1941-42 and upgraded between 1998 and 2000. The train tracks are embedded into the roadway allowing cars to transit over the tracks at a speed of 25 mph for a ten-minute journey. They have a strict schedule for times when trains can transit and when cars can transit the tunnel and the tunnel is only large enough to accommodate traffic in one direction at a time.
We passed the area, where on March 27, 1964 at 5:36pm local time, there was an earthquake that measured a magnitude of 9.2 on the Richter scale. The earthquake lasted 4.5 minutes and is the second largest earthquake ever recorded next to a 9.5 in Chile in 1960. The land sunk causing sea water to overtake what was forestland previously and the trees could not survive in the salt water and thus died. Today the remains of the saltwater brined trees still stand as if burnt in a fire.
The weather was sunny, clear and spectacular once again with temperatures into the low 70’s. The train was a seven-car train of glass dome cars so we could take in the surrounding snow-covered mountains. The cars each had a guide who also sold drinks, coffee mugs and a small menu of food items in between his narration. The train trip took a bit longer than two hours to transit the sixty miles to the city of Anchorage.
Once we arrived in Anchorage we were transported by bus to a convention center located in the downtown area until our hotel rooms were ready. We checked our hand luggage at a coat check and went to a local brew pub called “The 49th State Brewing Company” for lunch. Mark had some halibut and chips, their version of fish and chips, while Kent enjoyed a pulled pork sandwich. Because the tourist season has started the pub was packed with tourists wanting to dine in the very large two-story restaurant with an outdoor patio.
At 3:45 we were taken a few blocks down the road to the Westmark Hotel, our home for the next two nights. The hotel is very dated with cottage cheese ceilings, vinyl wallpaper and an old five-gallon flush toilet twelve inches from the ground from the 1970’s. They had attempted to update it with newer headboards, linens, draperies and carpeting but it still had the smell of an old motel.
After our large lunch we just took a walk in the evening before heading back to the hotel where we stopped at another brewery for a couple of small salads. Downtown we came across a busy hot dog stand on the street where people were enjoying a local treat, the reindeer hot dog. Maybe we will try one tomorrow? Many of the gift shops have large stuffed bears outside their doors to attract visitors into their shops.