Now onto Part Two of Leg Two of this journey, on the California Zephyr. In part one I am acquainted you with the Superliner and its cars, and completed crossing the Mississippi River on Sunday, 10 June. It is now time to awake, and continue on Monday and Tuesday 10-11 June heading to Sacramento, California
INTRODUCTION – GENESIS COAST to COAST to COAST
Leg One – LAKE SHORE LIMITED – Boston to Chicago – 8-9 June
Leg Two – CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR – Chicago to Sacramento
Part One – Sunday, 9 June
Part Two – Monday and Tuesday, 10-11 June
Leg Three – COAST STARLIGHT – Sacramento to Portland – 11-12 June
and, 24 plus hours in Portland, Oregon
Leg Four – EMPIRE BUILDER – Portland to Chicago – 13-15 June
Leg – Five – LAKE SHORE LIMITED – Chicago to Boston – 15-16 June
It has taken awhile for me to continue documenting this journey – sorry, life (and the heat) got in the way. When working on a post I select the images I want to use, and then weave my tale, “filling in the blanks” with my observations, experiences. For this trip I wish to share history along the routes using the detailed guide I carried – USA BY RAIL by John Pitt. I have the 8th edition (towns and their history stay the same), but the 9th edition is now out. Both are available on Amazon in paperback and there is a Kindle version for the new 9th edition. Ray highly recommends getting a copy to study and carry.
I awoke Monday in my roomette to this view out my window. For hours, this became the typical view.
Shortly after 5 AM (remember I do not want to miss anything) I headed down to the shower, which was nice, and then back up to my roomette to dress. More room (relatively speaking) than on the Viewliner, but still with my not so bendable joints it was easier to dress with my feet out the door into the passageway (curtain drawn, not to worry). I bothered no one – the sleeper cars are a quiet oasis.
Here is a typical town – Fort Morgan, Colorado. Most towns have very wide streets between the 1920s storefronts – somewhere I read the why of the wide streets – have to find it to tell you. One thing to remember is that we are traveling by train, seeing towns that came about because of the railroad, probably in the west and mid-west are agricultural or industrial. Small towns, and often with a railroad museum or relic on display. After Fort Morgan you can see Pike’s Peak far off in the horizon to the left. FAST FACT – it was the top of Pike’s Peak that inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write her poem “American the Beautiful.” Combined with music, Bates’ poem was first published as a patriotic song in 1910, and still titled “America the Beautiful”.
Yes, agriculture and livestock. This stockyard is enough to get you to “swear off meat.” The hides blended together as far as the eye can see – even at 79 MPH.
The observation car was almost packed by 6AM – my guess is because most people were thinking it was 7AM not having set their clocks and bodies back an hour. The schedule called for arrival in Denver at 7:15AM. I checked WAZE at 7:15, and we still had 170 miles to go. According to my notes, we arrived at 10:30AM.
BACK AGAIN Writing – 11 July
When we slowed down once to a walk, I of course asked what was up adding to our delay. To detect problems with the rails (which are connected thankfully), they are connected also with wires carrying a low electric current. If a sensor indicates a break in the current, there could be a break with the rails – not something you wish to find speeding along. So, when near that section where a problem is indicated, the train stops, and someone starts “walking the rails” to see what the problem may be. We soon stopped again, and then picked up speed having retrieved the inspector. I guess nothing serious was wrong, but a “fix” scheduled. Running late into Denver the layover time was shortened a tad. We had also been sidelined for a late running freight, and again for a crew change just miles from the station, the mandatory crew time limit was over. But I did get to “run” down the Denver platform, cross over into the station, and look inside briefly, and back – I did not want to miss the departing train.
In my studies for this journey, I had learned that the best scenery heading west on the California Zephyr is once you leave Denver, and the observation car fills up early. I had to get a good spot, so I scurried back aboard walking around the queueing line for boarding passengers. In the queue were the new Denver passengers, and no one was watching the flanks on either side of the lines. I did not want to wait on line. And, as before, I boarded without showing my paper printout – I do not remember anyone at the door I entered, there may have been and I was recognized. But, if you act like you know what you are doing with confidence – all is usually well.
Finally at 11:51 (almost 4 hours late, but not to worry) we began west out of Denver, amazing – starting with a long climb up the impressive S-Curve to gain height in the foothills. So hard to properly show from a moving train – rail bed coming through the center, to the right and out of image, and looping back left (you can see the road bed).
The winding climb continues before entering the first of 29 tunnels (some sources say 28 – I did not count) before approaching the Continental Divide.
not night all of a sudden, just one of the longer tunnels
and the climb continued with some views up, and others back to the barren Colorado plains. In his book, Kinsor states it takes eleven minutes to thread through seventeen tunnels. Also, in my reading, and this is important and correct, heading west you want to be on the right side of the train (looking to the front) for the best views to the side of the Rockies, valleys, just the wow overall views.
Almost two hours out of Denver you enter the Moffat Tunnel for 6.2 miles. Opened in 1928, the tunnel reduced the distance to Salt Lake City by 65 miles, and it is the highest point on Amtrak’s network. You are in the dark for about ten minutes.
Shortly after Moffat Tunnel heading west is Winter Park (Amtrak station actually in Fraser). Temperatures in this area sometimes reach 50 below. There is a massive Ski Resort in the area with look-alike condos for miles – in my opinion, totally ruining the area. Below, in Tabernash, is a coal train, with 100s of gondolas, sidelined. Days ago it had the main track blocked when the engines quit and could not pull the load.
we rolled by Granby with another different Amtrak station. Nearby is the Trail Ridge Road – the world’s highest car road – which travels through the Rocky Mountain National Park. Sorry, my notes say “unimpressed with Granby and area.”
these are the true colors, it does not get much better than this (note dirty window in upper left – they cleaned the windows while we were on the platform in Denver, obviously not well.)
Sidelined again to allow #6 (eastbound Zephyr) to pass – it was also late.
and some more Rockies
and, finally no glare
Some time after Granby the train joined the Colorado River near its source, and we followed it for over 200 miles (I read that, sorry was not counting clickity clacks).
an elevated road on the other side of the Colorado
and after 5 PM (almost 4 hours behind) we arrived in Glenwood Springs, and another classic looking station.
At 5:50 PM we left Glenwood Springs – about 4 hours behind. I made a note at 7PM “open undulating western plains – not flat like flats in Iowa and Illinois — these plains remind me of the scenery in a ‘B’ Western of old.” Not like I just described, but here is a view part way to Grand Junction.
It was almost 8PM arriving in Grand Junction. Enough of a stop to hop off, take a few pictures, and run through the gift shop in the temporary train station – of course, it was arranged to stay open.
I did not see much in Helper, Utah, since we were late, and night darkness had set in (it was after 11 instead of 7:20 as scheduled). I have a note “like an old western town.” The name of the town comes from the need for extra locomotives to be added to westbound freights to climb the mountains.
I turned in, the train continued on, and I slept through Provo Utah; Salt Lake City – hey it was late, dark, and I should get a few hours rest.
I awoke Tuesday the 11th somewhere in Nevada, and by 6 AM was in the observation car, possibly in or past Elko, Nevada. I began to wonder why people live out here – it is just wide open spaces, interspersed by some industrials areas. Of course, I had to remind myself that the train is going to pass through industrial areas, so that is primarily what will be seen for communities.
The next stop for stretching legs was Winnemucca, Nevada.
Railroad travel used to be gentile and accommodations class segregated – first class – coach, etc. There were great distinctions, and totally separate train sections. Kinsor states that the great railroad writer, Lucius Beebe, would find “Amtrak’s democratic homogeneity appalling.” Riding the train (and planes) today is just everyday, nothing to dress up for, take slowly, and without clear class distinction. I guess both sides could be argued – it is just the way the world has changed (I remember wearing a coat and tie to board a plane in the 60s, and even to ride the trains as a pre-teen to New York City for the day). It still is “the experience,” and in one conversation later with a former Amtrak executive, I learned Amtrak is struggling to appeal to millennials who want “the experience.” Again, pick up a copy of Henry Kisor’s ZEPHYR: TRACKING A DREAM ACROSS AMERICA – great stories, history and anecdotes throughout.
Another safety tidbit, and I don’t think I captured an image for you. But, imagine along the side of the tracks a run of small poles 10-15 feet in height with wires strung horizontally every couple feet up the poles. To hold back a rock slide? No. To warn that there has been a slide that broke the wires, and something is now on the tracks. Breaking a wire sends a signal along to warn of the danger.
This image below is somewhere between Sparks and Reno Nevada — again, my “note to self,” I was not impressed with either Sparks or Reno. We arrived in Reno about 3 hours late. In 2007 the trackway was enlarged by digging down through the city in what is now known as “the trench.” Even with the Harrah’s Automobile Collection there (now The National Automobile Museum) I probably do not need to return to see the 1907 Thomas Flyer that won the 1908 Round the World Race. In the mid-1950s this car was in its original unrestored state at the Long Island Automotive Museum owned by, Henry Austin Clark, a friend of my Dad’s. Mr. Clark actually salvaged the winning car from a junkyard. On a visit there I was allowed to sit at the wheel and steer this iconic winning car. The museum closed in 1980. So, now you know another Ray secret that no one else knew.
I had a question about some structures in the middle of a desert area, and stopped a conductor – his great name, “Ray.” He had a flat hat on indicating he was a conductor. The first car attendant I asked said to ask a conductor because unlike the car attendants they stay local on their 12 hour runs for many, many years – thus they get to know every turn, noise on the tracks, or strange structure I need to know about. Ray told this Ray, “those are isolated mines tunneling way down.” I did not write down what they were mining. So, look for the “flat hat” for a “local area question.” Another slow down, and Ray was still with me. “Why now?” I asked. “We are having trouble with the Positive Train Control, and need to slow to 15 MPH until we can get all systems back in synch.”
Truckee, California, is an inviting town. Having burned to the ground six times between 1871 to 1882, the architecture is for the most part late nineteenth-century western, and with a typical train station.
Next comes the ascent into the Donner Pass. You should know the story of the party of 87 trapped here in 1846 for the winter. By the time of their rescue, nearly half had frozen or starved to death. Some survived succumbing to cannibalism. This is the worst natural disaster of our western expansion.
in time we traveled along glacial Donner Lake for some time. The tunnel after Donner is unique changing direction several times heading back east and then again back west.
I chatted for awhile with a couple from New Zealand – the observation car was almost empty – go figure – am I one of the only one interested in watching the scenery? I listened in on some train enthusiast’s conversations, and settling in to talk was a docent from the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento who boarded in Reno to give talks. I just continued to be mesmerized by it all scenery outside, and conversation within. I do have to remember to stop carrying books with me to read as I never get to them.
The schedule called for arrival in Sacramento (where I was to transfer to the Coast Starlight) at 2:13 PM – great, would give me almost 3 hours to explore and get to the railroad museum before it closed at 5. Arriving over 2 hours late, there went those plans. But, I still had almost 7 hours before we left at midnight.
So, I headed off on foot, leaving the Sacramento station (above) behind, and went to explore Old Sacramento, which will come in the next segment of this tale.
Thanks for following and staying “on track” with me, as always, yours, RAY