Victoria to Vancouver

Oct 7, 2022 – Fly from Victoria to Vancouver & stay overnight

2022 Hawai’i cruise

Skytrain bridge over the Fraser River
Skytrain bridge over the Fraser River

After lunch at home, we drive to Victoria airport, where I take a Pacific Coastal Airways flight to Vancouver South Terminal (YVR), flying over the Strait of Georgia looking SE on a smokey afternoon. I take the shuttle from the South Terminal to the main terminal, and get off at the first stop (International and USA departures), walk across to the Skytrain terminal, and take the Canada Line to City Centre Station at Pacific Centre – about a half hour trip costing CA$9. The Skytrain is quite scenic as it crosses the Fraser River.

I’m staying at the Metropolitan Hotel (a Marriott), which is a half block walk from the Skytrain station. For nostalgia’s sake, I walk back to the intersection of Georgia and Granville Streets to take a few photos, and then do some last minute shopping at the London Drugs store on the corner where Birk’s Jewellers used to be when I lived here in the 1970s. The Birk’s clock is still there, but is now buried in the high-rises. After returning to the hotel, I have dinner at the hotel’s Gala bar and restaurant – a chicken clubhouse & Granville Island Pale Ale, before retiring for the night. I board the ship tomorrow.

Panorama of Georgia at Granville – Hudson’s Bay, London Drugs, Pacific Centre

Anchorage to Whittier

May 29, 2022 – Anchorage to Whittier, Alaska and board the Nieuw Amsterdam

2022 Yukon & Double Denali Alaska land/cruise

We don’t leave the hotel until 12:10PM, so I finish annotating my photos this morning, posting a new Denali-Anchorage album to my Flickr account before I leave. The hotel Wi-fi is pathetically slow, so I’m glad I have my mobile LTE roaming from Fido to work with.

I say goodbye to our Tour Director Cassandra Joy, encouraging her to look me up if she finds herself in Victoria. We board our bus to transfer to the rail station, and take an Alaska Railway dome car to Whittier, which is a 3-hour scenic trip. There is snack and drink service to the seat offered by each car’s attendant. We pass through a tunnel that is shared by road vehicles and trains – a unique approach to saving the expense of building and operating two tunnels!

The Nieuw Amsterdam is waiting for us at the dock. Check-in is slow due to the health check requirements before boarding, but it takes well under an hour before I’m in my lovely verandah stateroom on the ship. A short time later, my checked bag shows up, so I unpack and settle in.

First order of business is to find my Muster Station and register with the crew there, and then watch the safety video in my cabin. Gathering all passengers on deck at their muster stations is no longer done, in order to avoid crowding and risk of infection. I have a wonderful dinner with 4 others in the main dining room: snow crab cocktail, Alaska salmon fillet, and strawberries with ice cream. Since I have the drinks package, I have two glasses of Italian Pinot Gris with dinner. The ship leaves at 6:00PM while I’m still at dinner, which is earlier than the scheduled departure time of 10PM stated in my itinerary.

I can’t stop taking photos and video on this trip, and today is no exception. The train ride down was through a scenic inlet and moose flat wetland, and then the ship sails past snow-capped mountains and through a lovely channel with lots of islands as the sun sets behind us. I can already appreciate the charm of an Alaska cruise, and we are just starting out!


Denali to Anchorage by train

May 27, 2022 – Denali to Anchorage, Alaska by dome car train

2022 Yukon & Double Denali Alaska land/cruise

i put my bags out at 7AM for pickup and then go to Karstens Public House for a cappuccino before we leave at 8:30PM by bus for the short ride to the railway station. The two McKinley Explorer dome cars we ride in today are owned and operated by Holland America. The train and engine is operated by Alaska Railway. We leave the station at 9:00AM, arriving in Anchorage at 5:30PM, an 8.5 hour, 233.4 mile trip, at an average speed of 27 mph.

McKinley Explorer train route - Denali to Anchorage
McKinley Explorer train route – Denali to Anchorage

It is a wonderful ride in the deluxe dome railcar. Since I only had a coffee at the resort, I go downstairs to the cafe for breakfast, having coffee and a continental breakfast. I chat with a young Alaska couple who I am seated with. Upstairs, we have our own bartender, who also brings us snacks, so I order some salmon spread and warm pita bread to go with a Golden Ale. The big bonus for me and many others in our group is that we spot Denali (the mountain) near the halfway point to Anchorage, and I manage to take a good photo of the tallest mountain in North America with my Canon mirrorless camera and telephoto lens – see banner image above.

We are staying at the Westmark Anchorage Downtown hotel, which is owned and operated by Holland America. It’s nothing special, but the room is clean and the bed is comfortable, so I’m happy. Once my bag arrives and I get settled in my room, I go for an early dinner across the street at Orso restaurant having a lovely Cashew Crusted Alaska Rockfish, with vegetables and cous cous.

We have experienced exceptionally good weather so far on this trip. The weather report for Anchorage today: 23°C, windy and hot. Warning: risk of wildfires.


Fairbanks, Gold Dredge, Denali

May 25, 2022 – Fairbanks, Gold Dredge No. 8, Denali National Park, Alaska

2022 Yukon & Double Denali Alaska land/cruise

Flying out of Dawson City, bound for Fairbanks. Gold dredge tailings along the Klondike River, Bonanza Creek & Dawson City on the Yukon River.

Check-in for our morning flight to Fairbanks happens at our hotel since there is no terminal building at the Dawson City airport. The security check happens on the apron in front of the aircraft before boarding. It’s a good thing the weather is clear with no rain! Apparently the runway was only paved in 2019. Our small group flies to Fairbanks aboard a chartered Air North Boeing 737-500 – a 1-hour flight.

We have a couple of hours to see Fairbanks, so our group wanders around a bit, seeing the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center museum, but Fairbanks isn’t much of a tourist city. I have a very tasty hot and sour soup for lunch at Bhan Thai restaurant (TripAdvisor) joining a couple from the tour group. JoeTourist recommended!

Dredge bucket line and bow gantry - Goldstream Dredge No. 8, Fox, AK
Dredge bucket line and bow gantry – Goldstream Dredge No. 8, Fox, AK

We then board our bus and are taken to nearby Gold Dredge 8 where we first encounter the Alaska Pipeline at the site entrance. We wait around for an hour for other tour buses to arrive before we are all taken to the main site on a miniature train. They give everyone a small poke bag and then everyone (except me) pans for gold, has their flecks of gold weighed, and can take them home as-is or have it made into jewelry on the spot. I’m more interested in the history of the place, so wander around taking in all the mining artifacts on display – a big old safe, accounting machines and records, clothing, equipment, and even dinosaur bones!

The dredge is partially flooded, so we aren’t allowed to go inside – a disappointment. There are bunkhouses, machine shops, a hydro generation station – complete infrastructure to support the 24-hour a day operation this dredge was built for. This was remote wilderness, so this operation had to continue to function without much support from outside. The small town of Fox is nearby, where many of the miners and their families lived.

Later in the afternoon, we board our bus and drive Highway 3 south to Denali, a 2-hour drive. We make a stop at the hamlet of Nenana, where there is an historic train station, a grocery store, a bar, and not much else. We arrive at McKinley Chalet Resort at about 7PM. This is a resort owned and operated by Holland America, so in their usual efficient manner, they are ready for us, so we are quickly assigned our rooms.

Our group is staying in the Ridge View building, which our Tour Director tells us most resort guests ask to upgrade to. My room is very nice, with two big beds, nice appointments, and a view of the mountain. I don’t wait for my checked bag to appear before going for dinner at Karstens Public House, which is part of the resort, and the only option for meals without leaving the resort grounds. I have Rigatoni with Italian sausage and garlic toast with an Alaskan ale, which is very tasty and comes with very good service.

Denali Square is the main common area of the resort, where guests can hang out, listen to outdoor performances, patronize the small shops on the perimeter, and of course partake of the food and drink from Karstens Public House on their large patio.


Northern California & Oregon to Seattle by train

March 4, 2017 Saturday – Amtrak Coast Starlight train from northern California through Oregon to Seattle

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

Sign: Union Pacific Railway: Chemult, Oregon. Elev 4,764 ft
Sign: Union Pacific Railway: Chemult, Oregon. Elev 4,764 ft

There is no rush to get up this morning, since our arrival in Seattle is scheduled for 8:12PM this evening. I get up around 7:30AM and then go for breakfast a bit later. We make a quick stop in Klamath Falls at 9:15AM – Upper Klamath Lake still has some ice on the surface as the train winds its way around the shoreline.

There is some light snow falling as we stop in Chemult, Oregon at 10:40AM – the same spot it was snowing on the way down. Needless to say, there is still quite a bit of snow on the ground in this high elevation area. The train stops to pick up some passengers and then starts the descent through the pine forest. As the Sun comes out, it’s beautiful country, but I’m glad to be inside with my slippers on.

Oakland to Seattle by Amtrak train Coast Starlight - map
Oakland to Seattle by Amtrak train Coast Starlight

At 11:23AM we are at Cascade Summit, the highest point on the railroad as it crosses the Cascade Mountains at an elevation of 4,852 feet or 1,479 metres. There is lots of snow on the side of the tracks and on the trees, and it’s lightly snowing as we enter the summit tunnel. The snow gets deeper as we descend, and the train becomes very quiet as it goes through the deep snow. By my count, there are 18 tunnels in this stretch of track.

After leaving Albany, the rain starts falling. There is lots of primary industry in this area, especially lumber mills. The train is running about a half hour late, not that it matters to me. We pass by Willamette Falls and Abernethy Island as the train runs down the shoreline of the Willamette River towards Portland. My sleeping car is pretty quiet after leaving Portland, so obviously a lot of people got off here. Portland has a big and busy rail yard. Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe both operate out of this yard.

Dining and sleeping cars as the train pulls into the KIng St Station in Seattle
Coast Starlight train – Seattle, Washington

As we leave Portland, Oregon and cross the Columbia River into Vancouver, Washington, the conductor announces that we will be delayed because of a swing span being opened and having several freight trains waiting ahead of us. In the mean time, they are serving an early dinner starting at 5PM. I send a Facebook message with a virtual wave to my friends who live in Scappoose, across the Columbia River from where I am on the train north of Portland (in Washington State).

After a short stop, the train engineer really barrels out of Tacoma station, obviously wanting to make time to the Seattle King Street station and the end of the line. We were about 35 minutes late earlier in the day, and I don’t think he gained or lost much time despite several delays mainly caused by freight traffic. It is sprinkling a bit of rain as I head out of the Seattle King Street train station after our arrival, walking the six blocks to my hotel, the Best Western at Pioneer Square. It is an older hotel, but well-run, and very convenient to the train station. I stay here overnight before taking the fast ferry home in the morning.


California coast by train from LA

March 3, 2017 Friday – north along the California coast by Amtrak Coast Starlight train from Los Angeles

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

Main waiting area in LA's Union Station
Main waiting area in LA’s Union Station

It’s a good thing I set my alarm last night for 4:00AM after leaving Tucson, because the train arrives in LA an hour early at 4:30AM Pacific Time. My car attendant predicted an early arrival, and he was right. I ask him to reconfigure my Roomette back to seating for the last hour. He gives me a light breakfast in a bag, which is very much appreciated, since the dining car won’t be open this morning.

After our arrival in LA’s Union Station, I schlepp my bags through the tunnel system under the tracks to the station. The Metropolitan Lounge for business class and sleeper ticket holders doesn’t open until 5AM, so I grab a cappuccino from the Starbucks in the station and kill time in the main waiting room. It’s a zoo in there, with all sorts of weird people, even in the area reserved for Coach ticket holders. I’m glad to get out of there!

Tables, chairs, loungers and a bookcase in the Metropolitan Lounge, LA's Union Station
The Metropolitan Lounge, LA’s Union Station

I have several hours to kill, since my train to Seattle doesn’t depart until 10:10AM. The Metropolitan Lounge has all sorts of snacks and beverages available at no charge. I take the opportunity to clean up in the bathroom, since it’s so much easier than when I’m being pitched around on a train. There is free Wi-fi, so I entertain myself, despite its slowness. When it is time to board, a Red Cap porter takes us to the train in a motorized cart.

As the train leaves Los Angeles behind, we see the light industrial side of the city and pass by Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, where some passengers board. The train stops a couple of times along the way for track work and oncoming trains, and goes slow through many areas. There are huge fields with crops as we pass through Oxnard and Camarillo, with lots of workers in the fields. As the train hugs the California coastline starting in Ventura, we pass along beautiful shorelines and beaches near Carpinteria, and sand dunes and estuaries by Vandenberg Airfield. I lucked out since my Roomette is on the side of the train with the coastal view, so I can sit comfortably shooting photos and video as the scenery flies by.

I have lunch in the dining car while we are going through the Santa Barbara area. We arrive at Pismo Beach by 2:30PM, where the train turns inland, leaving the scenic California coastline, transitioning into huge tracts of range land.

Sandy crescent beach and cliffs of Cojo Bay on the California coast
California coast

We change engineers and conductors in San Luis Obispo, so I take the opportunity to have a shower while the train is stopped. I’m signed up for the 6PM dinner sitting, ordering the special roasted chicken breast with baked potato and veggies.

We stop in San Jose at 8:30PM for 10 minutes, and then roll out of the station and sit around until 9:05PM waiting for another train to pass before we get going again. I notice there are lots of old motorhomes with people living in them parked along the tracks in this area. No doubt living in San Jose is very expensive, so if you are a normal wage-earner, living in a decent home isn’t easy. We arrive in Oakland at 10:00PM for a stop. As we leave the station, it is time for bed. The train has a lot of distance to cover before our scheduled arrival in Seattle tomorrow evening.

Amtrak Coast Starlight train from LA to Oakland - map
Amtrak Coast Starlight train from LA to Oakland (light blue line)

A 45-minute video of the Coast Starlight train shot from outside the train, highlighting the train itself, locations and scenery all the way from Los Angeles to Seattle.


Tucson to Los Angeles by train

March 2, 2017 Thursday – Leave Tucson, AZ aboard Amtrak’s Sunset Limited train to Los Angeles, CA, USA

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

I arrive at the Amtrak station in downtown Tucson a bit after 5PM and check in at the wicket. The man tells me the train is running a bit ahead of schedule, so I will be able to board early (whatever that means). I’m glad the waiting room is air conditioned, since the Sun is pretty intense this afternoon.

JoeTourist: Tucson &emdash; Old Centralized Traffic Control Board displayed in the waiting room

Maynard’s Market is next door to the Amtrak waiting room, and they also run a restaurant that is quite popular. I can smell the food, but I’m really not hungry after my late lunch. The other end of the terminal has a couple of shops and a railway museum, including a steam engine under cover and statues of Wyatt Earp and Doc Halliday. There is an old centralized control station, which was used to control the trains in the area.

People watching in the waiting room is entertaining: a guy is wearing a zipped-up parka and talking loudly to himself; a young, gay, black guy floats into the room hugging his pillow; an intense guy stares at everyone who enters but doesn’t say a word; and an obese young woman loudly talks non-stop to her skinny friend about her life trials for all to hear. One guy approaches me wanting to know where the Greyhound station is, since he wants to get to Roanoke, Virginia by bus. After I show him where the bus station is on Google maps, he mumbles about taking a taxi since it is too far to walk, but I later see him board my train. By 6PM some regular folks finally start to show up!

Looking into my Roomette aboard the Seattle to Sacramento Coast Starlight
My Roomette

The train arrives in the station at 7:45PM and after a few people get off, I board my sleeping car and find my Roomette. My car attendant made an 8PM dinner reservation for me before I even boarded the train, which is great service and very welcome, since I really didn’t expect to have dinner onboard.

The train leaves a bit early at 8:20PM and last call for dinner ends up happening while we are still in the station. After dinner, my car attendant makes my bed so I can settle in for the night. We stop in Maricopa just after 10PM to pick up passengers, and then it is quiet time aboard my sleeping car. Despite being on the north side of the train, I see the crescent Moon from my Roomette window. I’m relaxed and ready for bed.

We are scheduled to arrive at 5:35AM Pacific Time in Los Angeles, so I set my alarm on my iPhone for 4:00AM Mountain time to give me some time to prepare to detrain in LA.


Tucson to Dragoon Mountain Ranch

Feb 18, 2017 Saturday – Tucson to Dragoon Mountain Ranch, near Benson and St. David, Arizona

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

After my arrival this morning in Tucson aboard the Amtrak Sunset Limited train from Los Angeles, I rent a car from Enterprise for the next two weeks and then drive to my friend’s ranch. I drive east out of Tucson on the I-10 freeway, stopping in Benson to pick up a few groceries before driving the rest of the way to the ranch. Aftern turning off the Interstate, it takes me about a half hour of driving on dirt & gravel roads through the Dragoon Mountain Ranch, which is 8,400 acres (13 sqmi) in total.

Cody's house in the early morning light
Luxury house in the early morning light

As I arrive, it is overcast and raining lightly, but I hope it will clear off for the coming week when my astronomy buddies will be here. We go over to his neighbour’s place, which is where I am staying along with some other friends, who are already settled in.

As it turns out, I have a bedroom in the adjacent garage, which is massive, and has an apartment with a kitchen, great room, bedroom and bathroom. I am quite comfortable once I turn up the heat to get the place warmed up. The temperatures in this part of the high range land plateau can get close to freezing at night, and daytime temperatures are not hot, although the Sun can be intense. The reason I’m here? The very dark skies, of course!


Los Angeles to Tucson by train

Feb 18, 2017 Saturday – Los Angeles to Tucson by Amtrak’s Sunset Limited train

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

Rainbow over the desert as we approach Tucson train station
Rainbow over the desert as we approach Tucson train station

After a good sleep overnight from Los Angeles, I’m up early and sit down for breakfast shortly after the dining car opens at 6:30AM. My new friend Jim joins me, so we talk about our upcoming plans over coffee, scrambled eggs and croissants. Jim is having grits, and assures me they taste great providing they are seasoned with salt and pepper – but I pass on them! The train is running late, so we have plenty of time before our projected arrival around 10:15AM. Outside there is desert scrub and a few cactus, and the mountains behind. We see a vertical rainbow to the north as the Sun rises over the mountains to the south.

It’s a cloudy day here in the desert. As we approach Maricopa, Arizona (near Phoenix) it is raining lightly. There is a crew change here before we leave for Tucson, my final stop for this train trip. This morning, the conductor says our delays last night when leaving Los Angeles were caused by staying clear of freight trains and there were also some weather-related delays, whatever that means.

The train pulls into Tucson station at 10:15AM (see banner image above) – the end of my train trip.

Map of Amtrak's Sunset Limited train route between LA and Tucson
Amtrak’s Sunset Limited train route between LA and Tucson – the blue line

Sacramento to LA – train & bus

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

Feb 17, 2017 Friday – Sacramento to Los Angeles by bus and train

Sacramento Valley Station in the rain
Sacramento Valley Station in the rain

My day starts early at 5AM when I wake up in my Roomette and look outside at the dark. The dining car doesn’t open before our arrival in Sacramento, so no breakfast for those of us leaving the train here. I say goodbye to my cabin attendant and shlep my bags into the terminal. I check into the ticket booth, and they issue new Amtrak tickets for both of today’s bus-train-bus segments, this evening’s train to Tucson, and my return trip back to Seattle. I sit with Jim, one of my fellow passengers, who tells me by his calculations our train averaged 43 mph from Seattle to Sacramento.

The Amtrak bus leaves the station an hour after our arrival and takes about an hour to transfer us to the Stockton station. We wait an hour before boarding the San Joaquin commuter train to Bakersfield. The train leaves at 9:25AM and arrives in Bakersfield at 1:49PM. Along the way, we pass huge fields of almond trees in bloom, and even some orange bushes. The fields are either flooded or are so wet that there is no way they can be worked. The train slows because of high winds in the valley. I go to the snack bar on board and have a hot panini for lunch.

Route map from Bakersfield to Los Angeles Union Station
Route map from Bakersfield to Los Angeles Union Station

We then take another Amtrak bus from Bakersfield to Union Station in Los Angeles. This proves to be a real endurance contest, since it is raining so hard. The US Weather Service is sending out warnings to stay away from the areas we are driving through! This was supposed to be a 2 hour and 20 minute trip according to the ticket, but ends up taking over four hours. I find it to be very stressful, not only because of the extremely hazardous driving conditions (see banner image above), but because we are stopped at least twice from entering LA because of mud slides, washouts, or MVAs causing roads to be closed. Apparently, the major interstate freeway I-5 was closed in both directions today!

After we arrive at Union Station, I find the Metropolitan Lounge; sit down to relax and have a coffee and snacks. I need some time to unwind a bit, and to recover from the stress of the last segment of our journey today. I leave my big bag in the lounge and have a nice dinner at the Traxx restaurant in the station with a new friend I met on the train.

Traxx restaurant in LA's Union Station
Traxx restaurant in LA’s Union Station

I then return to the lounge, retrieve my bags, and a red cap takes me to the train. I quickly get settled into my Roomette, and then I have a shower before we depart the station, since it’s so much easier than when the train is rocking and rolling. Our cabin attendant tells me this train has no Wi-fi aboard, and the route the train takes means the cellular coverage cuts out as soon as the train clears the LA area.

10:00PM – The train leaves the station on time and slowly proceeds eastward through Los Angeles, but by 11:00PM it comes to a complete stop for about 15 minutes before proceeding slowly again. I have a feeling the operating staff are watching out for debris on the tracks, since this rainstorm has washed out many roads, and gullies are full of mud and rocks. No doubt they are being extra careful to avoid derailment – it is still raining, but just not as hard as this afternoon. The train starts and stops several times before I finally go to bed around 11:30PM.