The Continental Divide

“O beautiful for spacious skies”

There’s a sign on the right, “Broad Pass Highest Elevation”. Broad Pass is a dividing line where rivers to the south drain into Cook Inlet and those to the north flow to the Yukon River. The pass is one of the most beautiful spots along the Alaska Railroad – the Denali Star uses the low gap to cross the Alaska Range. The Jack River joins us, originally called the Cantwell River after John Cantwell, an explorer in the spirit of Lewis & Clark, who was sent by the U.S. Government to the Interior of Alaska after the United States bought the Territory of Alaska in 1867.

Old Cantwell (no stop) is the western terminus of the Denali Highway, still a long dirt road.

Two bald eagles swoop along treetops, scanning the waters for a meal.

Cantwell sits to the north end of Broad Pass where the Nenana River curves north and cuts through the Alaska Range. The train moves into Broad Pass. At 2,363 feet (720 m) it is the highest point on the railroad, where caribou migrate through during the fall. Thousands of travelers visit Denali National Park and Preserve to see wildlife like wolves, caribou, Dall sheep, moose and bear, and, of course, Mt. McKinley, a.k.a. Denali.

Crossing the Continental Divide by train in America is always very exciting. I’ve done it before, across the Rocky Mountains in the Lower 48, on four long-distance Amtrak trains. The most spectacular one was the California Zephyr between Chicago and San Francisco.

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