Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The #5 'California Zephyr'

Monday (11th) after leaving Chicago we made our way to Union station for the longest train leg of our U.S.A trans-continental trip to Emeryville California (the stop for San Francisco). For this trip we had booked a room which was upstairs in the massive double decker Amtrak 'superliner' trains. The room was about double the size of the roomette we had on the previous trip and even had a shower and toilet, easily the most luxurious train accommodation we had our whole trip! Once aboard and on our way we were greeted by many announcements letting us know about our trip, however our favourite was from the conductor who told us 'we will be passing through the bread basket of America, the greatest country on earth!' It was absolutely golden! During the afternoon we made our way from Illinois state and a lot of corn fields, to Iowa state with even more cornfields! We crossed over the Mississippi river which was also the border on a rotating bridge built in 1892!

Our room, day and night configuration
A draw bridge being built next to current older rotating one over the Mississippi.
The sun sets over the Iowa cornfields

Tuesday (12th) morning, we rose to find the train meandering through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado... we had crossed another border overnight! At first we saw small amounts of snow on the branches of the pine trees. Before long however this became quite a thick blanket on the ground and tracks, and it was falling! We also passed through the longest tunnel on the route; the 9.3 miile Moffat tunnel which takes about 11 minutes! Once through Moffat we made a stop at Fraser Colorado where we were able to get out and see the snow. It is worth a mention that we had only packed shorts and t-shirts for the train as we had not expected to be getting off anywhere!

The Rockies!
Fraser Colorado

After leaving Fraser the snow started to thin, and into the afternoon we continued to watch the scenery change before us, from the Rockies of Colorado to the canyons and desert of Utah! An amazing contrast in only a few hours. One we enjoyed all from the comfort of our room and dining car whilst enjoying some coffee, lunch, snacks and a game of cards or 20 (Monopoly Deal and Skip-Bo of course).

After crossing the peak of the Rockies
Over the Rockies
And into Utah

Wednesday (13th) morning we wake earlier (so we could get in line for breakfast in the dining car) to the sun rising over Nevada. It was not as stunning as Utah, but still a pretty impressive view. After breakfast we stopped in Reno where a volunteer from the California Railway Museum Sacremento got on and provided some commentary on the original Central Pacific railroad (the Western part of the trans-continental railroad) and the route it now takes. We travelled along the Truckee river into California and higher into the Sierra Nevada mountains where the most difficult and expensive section of the original railroad was built. With the advancement of tunneling the original route is no longer followed, although sections can be seen from the train as it makes its way through the mountains.

The viewing car
Donner Lake in the Sierra Nevada

A big part of all of our train travel was the meals (of course), and on the Amtrak trains these were surprisingly good. But the other interesting part of meal time is the conversations you have in the dining car with the people you share the table with. There are only 4 person booths in the dining car, so couples share with other couples to make the service run quicker for all. Because of this we had some very memorable conversations with fellow travellers! In particular there were a couple of sisters who had been catching the train home to Omaha from Chicago, where they had been to a TV show convention (Supernatural), a couple from Kansas who were also heading home from a holiday in Canadia, and Beth and Max, who were from Chicago going over to San Fran for a short break. Of course, we also had some more awkward meals but they were more than made up for by the good ones.

We both think that it is safe to say that the California Zephyr was easily the most scenic of the trains we have caught so far. Crossing the U.S.A by train certainly gives you a pretty impressive glimpse into 'the greatest country on earth', which can be appreciated so much on the train. Combining this with the food, drink, and people we met, it is safe to say that overall our trip across the States was a very memorable one.

In the dining car

* Please note Joss did not wear the same shirt for 3 days in a row as the photos indicate! Rather the photos are all from the same day but they made sense in this order for the blog.

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