Several jaunts cross country, three that I can recall, have resulted in enough miles for a “free” trip on Amtrak’s California Zephyr, from Fresno to Denver in a sleeper car. This is an overnight trip, whereby I leave early Sunday morning, and arrive in Denver around dinner time on Monday. I plan to attend two Giants-Rockies games at Coors Field, take a drive up to Boulder, and perhaps Colorado Springs, for Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak, and the Air Force Academy.
I embarked a similar trip to Denver in 2011, though I flew both ways. I went to see some old ski buddies, but found that most of them either moved away or passed on to that great ski resort in the sky. See my previous emails about Denver for details.
This is my fifth “long” Amtrak trip in our great country. My first, the Coast Starlight, starting in Seattle to the Bay Area, a sort of test run. Then the longer California Zephyr trip from Chicago to the Bay Area. The third was from Los Angeles to New Orleans via a southerly route for the last Niners Super Bowl. And the fourth was the Empire Builder, from Seattle to Chicago via a northerly route. I can state unequivocally, that I am hooked on train travel.
So, I will board Amtrak in Fresno early Sunday morning, stop in Stockton, and transfer to the bus “bridge” to Sacramento. From there, I board the California Zephyr, which normally traverses from the Bay Area to Chicago. I took the reverse trip many years ago on the Zephyr, starting in Chicago, and ending up in Martinez. I considered it as “practice” for my trip on the Trans Siberian Railway in 2014. That first Amtrak trip was the best, so far.
Which begs the question, what makes a good trip on Amtrak? Assuming the train is relatively on time, and there are no problems, the key is meeting interesting people during meal time. Their method of seating diners on a first come, first serve basis, fills up the booths of four with singles, odd couples, and loners. I have met many interesting people this way.
Once on the Zephyr in Sacramento, we head into the Sierras, across Nevada, and Utah, then into the Rockies, ending up in Denver. The Zephyr was once known as the Silver Lady. The first service began in 1949, and the current service started in 1983.
According to Amtrak, these are the highlights of the Zephyr:
Scenic highlights include:
- Rocky Mountains (the continental divide is a real thrill, in my opinion)
- Sierra Nevadas
- Moffat Tunnel (6.2 miles long)
- Colorado’s Gore, Byers and Glenwood Canyons
- Winter Park (I have skied there many times)
- Truckee River
- Donner Lake (any vegetarians there?)
- San Pablo Bay and the Carquinez Strait (I will miss this section)
These are the stops (in reverse order):
I will start in Fresno (6:18am), transfer to a bus in Stockton, then begin the Zephyr portion of the trip in Sacramento (11:09am). Total time is 30.5 hours on the Zephyr, not including nearly 5 hours to get from Fresno to Sacramento. We leave Reno at 4:06pm, stop in Salt Lake City at about 3:30am (I will be asleep), the Wasatch Mountains, and hit Green River, Utah around the time for breakfast. So, I will be asleep through eastern Nevada and about half of Utah, which is not very interesting anyway, except for the Bonneville Salt Flats.
If desired, there are bus connections to places like Colorado Springs, Vail, Gunnison, Las Vegas, and Boise. Some of the best parts of landing at Denver’s remodeled Union Station, the downtown area is just walking distance, and Coors Field, where I will see the Giants and Rockies, is just next door. The old new downtown area is walking distance, and filled with lots of bars and restaurants.
Small dogs are allowed, but my little Lexi is just too immature right now for a long train ride. You might be asking yourself what to do along this long ride, especially without internet service in the great and vast plains. First, my smartphone works in most places. Second, I read and nap, nap and read. Third, I take photos, lots of photos. And in between, I meet other people in my sleeper car, in the dining car, and at various stops along the way. It is rarely boring, and perhaps one of the best ways to see our country, or any country if you like train travel as much as I do. Oh, and a shower while the train car is rocking to and fro, of course!
I have ridden trains in many countries: South Africa, Europe, Russia, Japan, Peru, Australia, as well as throughout the U.S. I encourage you to try it, and tell me what you think. Most of us are in a big hurry, but once you retire, time seems to have a life of its own.