I’m writing to you from the comfort of my parent’s home. I arrived in Rhode Island on December 22nd around five o’clock in the evening bringing this particular journey to an end – though I’m sure it will continue in many ways. I wasn’t very good about blogging the last week since I wanted to just absorb everything and enjoy every minute with my friends and in these new places. I’ll do my best to recap the final week for you all.
San Francisco marked the end of my westward move and the beginning of my eastward bound journey home. I boarded the California Zephyr at eight thirty in the morning on December 15th. I was so happy when I saw and boarded the train because the Zephyr was the springboard for this trip. When I saw it featured on the National Geographic website as one of the top ten North American train trips I knew I had to get on board. What resulted was this month long adventure. The Zephyr is a big train, a double decker, and I was happy to find a seat on the top floor, which I thought would give great views. I was right. I couldn’t believe the scenery on this trip. An amazing climb up and through the Sierra Nevada’s came soon after we pulled out of Emeryville, CA. (FYI – there is a free shuttle from SF to Emeryville where the Amtrak Station is, no need to pay that $40.00 cab fare!) There was a fresh snow on the ground making this leg of the trip even more picturesque. Amazing views of the valley, trees covered in snow, animal tracks, and good company!
The scenic car attracted first time Zephyrians, and I made friends with some wonderful, interesting people while admiring the scenery. From Sacramento to Reno we had two historians on board who gave the history of the route and the laying of the tracks. Listening to the historians tackle the story of the Donner Party as we passed Donner Lake was interesting – I think the wording was “they faced great hardship and obstacles together…” what they didn’t say was “…and then they gnawed on each others arms.”
Sleeping on the train was pretty comfortable. I had two seats to myself so there was plenty of room to relax. The first morning I woke up to the intercom announcing “first call” for breakfast in the dining car. I decided to stay in my seat and enjoy the sunrise over the prairie for a bit before heading to the scenic car where I would spend my entire day. The first thing I noticed is that I knew where we were. We were in Utah and following Route 70 – the route I took out West! It was so cool passing through places I recognized and really nice to not be driving and be able to just enjoy the scenery. I made friends with Willis (Hi Willis!) a mapmaker who helped me spot wildlife and told me all about the ins and outs of mapmaking. The second day topped the first as we passed through red rock canyons, more tunnels and journeyed into the Rockies. Amazing. AMAZING. The only disappointment was not seeing a big horned sheep – but I saw a lot of those on the way out. You know what I did see? Three bald eagles. Boo yea. Also a ton of deer, elk and a herd of antelope.
Most of the stops the train made were pretty short, sometimes as short as one minute if no one was boarding or de-boarding but on average about five. I usually didn’t get out of the train during these stops unless I really wanted some fresh air. However, the train was running early the second day and we rolled into Denver, CO about thirty minutes early. This, on top of a longer than normal layover, meant the train would stay at the platform for about forty minutes. I had time to revisit Wynkoop Brewery and use the wooden nickel given to me when I visited the brewery earlier in the trip.
It was dark by the time we pulled out of Denver so after I re-boarded I started getting ready for bed. I lucked out that night because the train was packed but the woman who sat next to me ended up moving to sit next to her boyfriend. The next morning I woke up in Iowa. Colorado was the peak of scenery, the rest of the way was pretty but incomparable to the Rockies and Sierras. We passed over a lot more prairie before pulling into Chicago around three o’clock. An amazing journey - one I'll surely make again. If you're headed out to San Francisco and have the time this would be a really wonderful way to get out there. It's unbelievable the diversity of landscape you see on this one train trip, snow covered mountains one day, and desert the next.
Thanks for listening friends!