We caught the California Zephyr out of Emeryville on Monday morning, overnighted in Denver Tuesday night, boarded the Desert Wind Wednesday morning and arrived in Los Angeles Thursday afternoon. Four days and two nights on the train - We can't wait to do it again!
The in-laws gave us a ride to Emeryville (about an hour from where we live). As we arrived at the station, the new Amtrak California locomotive was just pulling out for it's run to Sacramento. We had about 45 minutes to wait for the Zephyr to arrive so we spent the time strolling around the Emeryville station. The new building is large, light and airy - projecting a sense of anticipation and a bright future for rail travel. For me, it was a welcome change from the down-at- the-heels old Oakland station. I'm glad that California, at least, is still interested in mass transit.
Finally the California Zephyr arrived! It first glided past the station on the far tracks allowing me to get some good distance photographs. The Zephyr was pulled by two Amtrak F40 locomotives followed by three material handling cars, a coach dorm, two sleepers, two coach/baggage cars, a Sightseer Lounge car and the dining car.
The Superliner equipment is impressive - 20 ft. tall, 80(?) ft. long, stainless steel construction. Somehow they radiate an impression of sheer mass unmatched by anything else I've seen. As the Zephyr backed into the station, I was amazed at how quiet something that large can be. Except for the rumbling of the engines at the head of the train, it was completely silent - almost floating in it's immensity.
A crowd of about 70 people had gathered and were milling about the platform waiting to board or see friends off. The station crew had to keep shepherding people back from the edge of the tracks. A good thing this was since the silence and size of the train combined in some strange fashion to make it almost invisible. The mind cannot seem to grasp that something that size can indeed be moving.
With practiced ease, the station crew and conductors ushered everyone aboard, quickly directing people to their proper cars. There was only fifteen minutes to board the passengers and make sure no well wishing family members were left on board as the train pulled out so, unfortunately, our family had no time to tour the train.
This was to become one of the themes of the trip. While the train was moving, time seemed to stop - there was no rush, no bustle, endless time for any endeavor... While the train was at a station, time assumed a sharpness not normally encountered in everyday life. When the call to board was made, passengers were almost sucked into the train and it started at once to move. Several times we had to sprint for the only remaining open door while still close enough to the train to touch it. I'm not sure if they would have waited for us or not! We did lose a passenger at the Davis stop - our lunch partners at our first meal reported seeing him sprinting for the train as it pulled out...
As we boarded the Zephyr, we were greeted by Randy, our car attendant and directed to our deluxe sleeper room "D". Randy, and Lee, the attendant we had on the Desert Wind, were to be one of the joys of the trip. Of the many features that sets rail travel apart from any other mode of transportation, the personal, friendly, interested service we received was a major one.
The deluxe sleeper was quite a luxury. A couch, movable chair, built in bathroom, shower, sink and vanity - and a large window, 15 ft. off the ground through which a "Movie of America" was continuously playing. What more could one ask for? For luggage, we brought one medium sized soft-sided case for clothes and two packs for food, books, and toys. The suitcase fitted perfectly on an overhead shelf in the sleeper and everything else fitted neatly under the seats.
The Zephyr pulled out of Emeryville while we waved out the window. The adventure had begun! Throughout the trip I was impressed by how smoothly the engineer managed to start and stop train. I was often unable to tell we had begun to move except by looking out the window. In fact, at anything under about 50 mph, the train often felt quite still.
Moments after departure, Bobbi Smith, our Chief of On Board Services showed up at our door to greet us, collect our tickets, and give us our meal vouchers. Bobbi, like many of the Amtrak personnel we met, was a long time employee who approached her job with a fresh attitude each day. There was no rush in her presentation - Bobbi made sure that we understood all about the meal system and stayed with us long enough to make us feel very welcome. In retrospect, I believe that the service people on the train view it more like a bed and breakfast than a mode of transportation. After all, they live there much of the time -it has to become like home to them. Bobbi was a bit bemused by our itinerary - I guess most people use the train to get somewhere rather than riding it as an end in itself.
Shortly after Bobbi left, Randy appeared to explain the workings of the sleeper. Randy had been with Amtrak for three years and was still on the "extra" board. As such, he only worked when needed by the line. I fear the outlook is not good for him with the cuts and all - It looks like anyone with less than 6 years is likely to get the ax in the current budget shortfall. It is a pity, really, because he did so much to make our trip memorable.
Randy was on the young side and full of enthusiasm. He offered to get meals or drinks for us whenever we liked, made up the beds evening and morning - prepared coffee for the car in the morning and apologized for the lack of an evening "sweet". While we didn't take advantage of many extra services, it was nice knowing that they were there.
Randy had a wealth of train stories to tell and didn't mind taking the time to tell them even though he obviously had lots to do. He knew all of the people mentioned in Henry Kisor's book "Zephyr" and hoped to appear in a book one day himself - well, this isn't a book, but perhaps it will do :-)
The deluxe sleeper is 6'6" by 7'6" and takes up most of the width of the car. There is room left for a narrow aisle running the length of the train. Or car was the third sleeper from the head of the train, so we had all of the traffic from the first two cars plus curious coach riders who wanted to see what a sleeper was like - Randy was kept busy for the first few hours turning the tourists away :-) At no time did the foot traffic become objectionable - we were hardly aware it existed.
Back to the sleeper... Judy and I are on the small side, so we found our quarters to be quite luxurious. We had no trouble sleeping together on the 6'6" x 3'4" lower berth. We both tried the 6"2" x 2' upper berth but found it to be slightly annoying to climb into - and you can not see out the window when you are in it...
The room had a sink with vanity mirror. The water was *very* hot - even on the cold side for some strange reason. If you ran it long enough, it became cooler - not an annoyance for us, but interesting. The water taps were spring loaded meaning the water did not run unless you were actively pushing the lever - sort of a deadmans switch. This made it the usual gymnastic event to wash ones hands - but again not a major problem. Judy found that it made removing her contact lenses a bit of a chore.
The combination bathroom/shower was exactly like a motor home bathroom/shower. You have a temperature control and a removable water wand that you can use to wash yourself while seated. I can imagine if you are on the large side, this system would be difficult to use - in that event there is a much larger shower facility on the lower level of the car. You do, however, have to share that one with all of the economy sleeper residents. There is a button that you use to turn on the water. I believe it was supposed to be an intermittent switch like the ones on the sink; However, in our bathroom the water stayed on - much more satisfactory. Having read horror stories about travelers inadvertently showering themselves while attempting to flush the toilet, I was relieved to discover that the buttons for the two functions are now widely separated. I found it important to use the towel to wipe up every bit of excess water from the walls and floor after taking a shower - otherwise some forgotten pool would soak you the next time you entered the bathroom. For some reason the air on the train was very dry, so the towels quickly became dry as well.
Speaking of dry air, Judy and I were often feeling dehydrated. We drank close to three bottles of water each every day on the train. Since we were both recovering from colds this was a major annoyance. The next time we take a train trip, we will take a small ultrasonic humidifier with us! The real luxury of the deluxe bedroom, and one that will ensure we book one for all future travel, was the private bathroom. Because of all the water we drank, and perhaps the vibration of the train, we both had to use the facilities several times during the night. This was no fun at all on the second leg of our journey when we were in an economy sleeper and had to venture into the hall each time.
In the deluxe sleeper, there was plenty of room under the chair and couch to store our personal packs and camera equipment. The suitcase fit neatly on the overhead shelf. I stored my one dress shirt in the narrow closet - this was to almost prove my undoing later in the trip.
Hand and bath towels were provided as was soap. We also had two route guides and two copies of the Amtrak "Express", the in-flight magazine.
One more thing about the deluxe sleeper - since the "public" side of our car had a row of windows as well, as long as we left the curtain open we had a view out both sides of the car almost as good as the one from the lounge car. This by itself was almost worth the added expense of the room.
All of this preparation and getting acquainted took us through Martinez. Since Judy and I had ridden a Capitol along this route earlier this year, we didn't mind missing that bit of scenery. We caught a glimpse of the Glomar Challenger, the mothball fleet, and watched as the train crossed a bridge over the Sacramento river.
After a quick trip through the train to check out the coaches, dining, and lounge cars, we returned to our sleeper and settled in to do a bit of reading. I had brought 10 pounds of books expecting to read a lot on the trip. What I found instead is that I spent most of my time gazing out the window as the scenery went by - the only reading that I did was after dark before going to bed. Next time I'll take more film and fewer books!
We read and gazed as the train swept up the Central Valley towards Sacramento. The gentle rocking of the cars and the general sense of quiet was extremely relaxing. We both quickly dropped into that timeless place where you know that not only is there nothing you HAVE to do, there is nothing that you CAN do besides read and relax. I cannot recall the last time I felt that peaceful.
Approaching the Sacramento station, we paused for a few minutes at the drawbridge to let a long freight clear the switch ahead of us. As the freight crept by in the opposite direction, I was amused to see a hobo riding a gondola car. He appeared to be a clean cut, college age kid off for an adventure of his own. Perhaps I'm getting old, but I much preferred our nice warm sleeper to the thought of riding a gondola - maybe 15 years ago :-)
All Amtrak trains are non-smoking now (!), so the train makes periodic "smoke stops" to accommodate the addicted. Sacramento was one such stop. As we pulled up to the station, an announcement was made that we would hear time and again, warning passengers to not leave the platform and to board quickly when the call was made. Each time we stepped off the train, Randy reinforced this warning so they must lose quite a few people this way. I know we lost at least one student on our trip...
After Sacramento, the call for lunch was made. We had awaited this moment with a bit of trepidation, since neither Judy nor myself are particularly gregarious and we knew each meal would be spent with a new set of strangers. At lunch we were quickly seated and barely had time to introduce ourselves to our tablemate before the attendant arrived to take our order.
Amtrak is clearly making an attempt to return a bit of the elegance of the railroad dining experience. We had white linen tablecloths and napkins, a nice silk flower in a vase, real china and silverware and cooked to order meals. That first meal both Judy and myself had barbecued pork sandwiches. The pork was excellent, although we both felt that the amount of sauce was excessive. For dessert, I had apple pie a la mode and Judy had the banana nut cake. Both were excellent! The pie tasted homemade and the banana nut cake was indescribable. yum. we both ended up eating more than we should have over the course of the trip!
Martha, our first dining companion, turned out to be a teacher traveling to Denver to visit family. We had a pleasant conversation and it was she who told us about the unfortunate student we had lost at the Davis stop. There were four of them traveling together - all four had entered the station together. When they returned to the train, the fourth student had remained behind for some reason for a few extra minutes. Well, to make a short story shorter, the train left with the unfortunate student running along in it's wake - I wonder what finally happened to him?
On the other hand - when we pulled out of Emeryville, the train moved a few dozen feet and then stopped again. It appears one of the attendants had noticed an elderly woman waving from the window of a late arriving taxi and had held the train long enough for her to get on board...
So our first dining adventure was pleasant. We were to meet many people on board the train and it is indeed one of the benefits of train travel. It was a pleasure to make the acquaintance of new people and then see and greet them several times over the course of the trip. With a couple of notable exceptions, everyone was cheerful and had interesting stories to tell.
After lunch we began the long climb into the Sierra. I wish I had started to take pictures at this time, but I was so caught up in the experience itself, I didn't get the camera out until we started the climb into the Rockies the next day.
We have driven this route before and often observed where the SP tracks went. It was fun identifying the old landmarks from a new perspective.
About this time, the Westbound Zephyr - number 5, roared by on the opposite track. If I had been alert I could have captured it on film. but no matter, I would have two more attempts during the trip... :-)
Throughout the rest of the day, we climbed over the Sierra, past Donner lake, stopped briefly at Reno and, as the sun set, headed through the Nevada desert for Salt Lake City, the Colorado Rockies, and Denver.
Interestingly enough - the Sightseer Lounge car was rarely completely full throughout the entire trip. At any time except right before meals, we could always find two seats together - even when passing through the most spectacular bits. Right before meals the car filled up with people waiting for their reservation number to be called.
We apparently did not have a guide from the Sacramento railroad museum on board this trip. I understand that they do not work the train during the winter so announcements about the scenery were sporadic and brief. Since this was our home ground, so to speak, we didn't miss them. The next day, however, Amtrak more than made up for the omission in the Sierra by providing an excellent announcer for the Rockies.
Night time on the City of New Orleans, err, California Zephyr. Dinner was by reservation only. Bobbi came through again to ask us what time we would like to eat. We had our choice of times at 15 minute intervals from 6:00pm to 8:30pm. We chose an early seating and spent some time chatting about the train and the pending Amtrak cuts. As you might expect, all of the employees are upset and worried about the future of the line - even those with enough seniority to ride until the end. Bobbi regretted the lack of announcements through the Sierra, but told us about a conductor who made wonderful announcements in the Rockies - she thought he might come aboard at Salt Lake and was proved correct.
Dinner - Amtrak has started a system where they have five fixed menus that are changes in rotation. We were able to experience two of them during the course of our journey. That first night, both Judy and myself elected to have the prime rib. It was indeed cooked to order and was passable fare. We both enjoyed the meal. We had our choice of soup or salad with various dressings. Our tablemates this meal had the pasta dish and the chicken (a honey glazed half chicken that looked wonderful! - unfortunately, the menu changed that night and I was unable to try it.)
Jack and Janell were from Firebaugh, California - a small farming community in the Central Valley and were on a round-the-country train trip purchased for them by their children. They run a restaurant called "Prime Time" and this was the first time they had closed the place in 26 years! We will stop by there to eat the next time we drive to Yosemite.
Speaking of meals - I was a bit shocked to see that very few people tipped the wait staff. These folks worked hard and since it was a restaurant, albeit an unusual one, I felt that they should be tipped at least as well as waiters in an unmoving one. The staff clearly thought so too, since they went out of their way to thank me the next time they saw me :-)
There was a movie in the lounge car that we managed to avoid. "Naked Gun", I think.
Since the sun had set, the view out the windows was non-existent. We returned to our sleeper for the night. Randy, helpful as always, popped in to magically turn the couch into a bed and to set up the overhead bunk - complete with ladder. The upper berth was an amazing piece of engineering with struts and belts and snaps that all clicked into place in less that 60 seconds.
As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed climbing into the upper berth, but neither of us chose to sleep there because of the lack of view and inconvenience of getting up and down. For people of girth, it must be a real problem.
Both Judy and I fell asleep almost instantly. The rocking of the car and the "rhythm of the rails" was soporific. We didn't sleep very deeply however, and each woke up several times during the night. At no time did we have trouble getting back to sleep, but we were a bit tired in the morning. Again this was no problem since we didn't have a very active day planned :-)
Tuesday morning. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning we had joined up with the "Desert Wind" from Los Angeles into a new, longer California Zephyr. We exchanged the two F40 locomotives that had pulled us through the Sierra for a new, futuristic "Genesis" type engine assisted by another engine I could not identify.
With the train now almost doubled in length, and the track becoming much more curved, I could often see both the head end of the train and the trailing lounge cars at the same time. It was here that I remember the camera and started to get some great establishing shots of our train against some spectacular scenery.
I had brought a couple of toys with me to while away the time. The first one, a handheld GPS receiver, proved almost useless. It could track the satellites well enough, and it did it's usual spectacular job of reporting location, speed, and altitude - but knowing our location wasn't very useful. The maps I had brought along didn't identify the rail line and were not detailed enough to provide useful reference information. Even with more detailed maps I doubt if I would take it on another rail trip.
What *was* interesting and useful was the scanner I brought along. In the end, we left it turned on most of the time - tracking mileposts and detectors and comparing them to the timetable I had brought along. In this fashion we were able to identify several places we would like to drive back and visit. I was also able to precisely identify the time and location we were to meet the Westbound Zephyr on Wednesday and got several spectacular photos.
Where was I, oh yes, Tuesday breakfast. We shared the Amtrak special French toast - it was as wonderful as people have said! I had the scrambled eggs (also available over and up) with grits, toast, bacon AND sausage :-) The sausage was turkey sausage and fairly bland, but all in all the meal was very edible.
Since we were traveling first class, the meals were no additional charge. We were supposed to be billed for extra items like my side of bacon and bottled water, but I believe the only thing we were ever charged extra for was the wine at dinner.
One tablemate at this meal was another Janell, a teacher returning home after visiting her children in California. Janell also runs a bed and breakfast in Logan, Utah - who knows, we might end up there some time. Unfortunately, I cannot recall our other breakfast companion...
Most of the people we met on the train provide a good example why we should keep Amtrak running - since cost was a major feature in their choice of Amtrak as a means of travel - without Amtrak, these folk would not travel or certainly not get to visit family and friends as often as they can now.
As Bobbi promised, our trip through the Rockies was accompanied by an excellent announcer who called out many points of interest along the way. I'll spare the details here since many of them are described in the California Zephyr/Desert Wind route guide. Suffice it to say that we intend to spend a future vacation in the thermal pools at Glenwood Springs.
Lunch on the second day was bacon burgers all around. Our tablemates were two Australians traveling as part of a group of 6. They described a Sydney to Perth rail trip that they had made that sounded wonderful - I wonder how we can work that into our vacation plans?
At Winter Park, the highest stop on the journey, I took it into my head to walk up to the head end of the train and examine the locomotives. Judy came with me and just as we started back to our cars we heard the call to board. Everyone popped back into the train and the attendants started pulling in the step stools they use to get into the train. We headed for the coach car closest to us and the attendant closed the door! So we started to run (at 9'000 ft and 15 degrees!) towards our car (its a LONG train) and we were suddenly confronted by an empty platform. With visions of that hapless student flashing through our minds we wondered if we were going to have to spend the night looking for a place to stay at a resort town that was undoubtedly booked solid. Just then, Randy stuck his head out the door and saw us. He stepped out of the train and put the stool back out. We rushed aboard and collapsed panting on the stairs just as the train started rolling.
I really think the train ought to whistle two or five minutes before departure.
There are 42 tunnels between Salt Lake City and Denver. The longest one, the Moffat tunnel, was just ahead. This tunnel is 6.2 miles long and the third longest in North America We had to wait six or seven minutes before entering the tunnel while giant fans exhausted the diesel fumes from the tunnel that were left by the freight train the preceded us. It takes 10 minutes to traverse the tunnel and all passengers are instructed to remain in their cars or rooms while the crossing is being made. Fumes from our locomotives begin to penetrate the cars a few minutes after we enter the tunnel - if one of the doors between cars is opened at this time, heavy black diesel smoke would swirl though the car and make life unpleasant for everyone concerned.
Somewhere in the middle of the tunnel we can feel the train cease climbing and begin to descend. we have crossed the Continental Divide while inside the tunnel at an altitude of 9,239 ft.
I took a flash photo of the inside of the tunnel - not very inspiring, but unique :-)
As we left the tunnel, we began our descent into Denver. The light was fading and I was unable to take anymore photographs. We decided to skip dinner on the train today in favor of dinner at the Oxford hotel in Denver. That's why I missed tasting the honey glazed chicken...
Denver at night is very pretty - as we descended the eastern slope of the Rockies in the dark, Denver looks like a lake of light -first off one side of the train and then the other.
Unlike our other stops, Denver apparently had some rule requiring the restrooms to be "inhibited" while the train is inside the city limits. Of course you know what happens the moment the bathroom doors are locked :-) It made for a more interesting 30 minutes.
Denver Union Station - we backed into Denver and coupled on to the "Pioneer" section of the train - leaving one very long Zephyr to go on to Chicago without us. I was sorry to see it go, but pleased at the prospect of having a warm bath in the evening. As we walked along the train to the station we recognized and said our good-byes to all the Amtrak folk we had met - I think they were sorry to see us go as well.
Union Station is a grand old station in the best tradition of rail travel. I'm glad they are restoring the station and the city around it. As recommended by the vast majority of rec.railroad readers, we stayed at the Oxford hotel - just one short block from the station. The Oxford is a rebuilt turn of the century hostelry with an air of quiet elegance. Good service, good food, nice rooms.
I was thinking of dressing for dinner when I suddenly remembered that my one good shirt was still neatly tucked away in that closet on board the Zephyr. Luckily, Denver is a service stop for the train and it is scheduled to be there for an hour.
We hiked back to our sleeper and Judy explained to Randy that we had so much fun that we wanted our sleeper back for the trip to Chicago. The poor fellow was in misery for a few minutes as he tried to think of a way to explain that the room was to be given to someone else! :-) We told him about the shirt and we all trooped up to retrieve it and make our final departure from number 6.
Wednesday morning - breakfast at the Oxford and then back to Union Station to board the Desert Wind section of the California Zephyr. This time we have an economy sleeper and are in the last car on the train.
Our attendant for the trip to Los Angeles is Lee, a 12 year Amtrak veteran wise in the ways of rail. He is acutely aware of the political situation and unsure if even someone with his seniority will make it through the budget cuts. Despite that, he is cheerful, and, if anything, even more attentive and helpful than Randy - something I wouldn't have thought possible.
He builds 1/4 scale model planes in his spare time and showed us photographs of his excellent work. He also took the time to point out bits of local scenery and were too obscure for announcement for the general population. - For example, when entering Glenwood Springs, just for an instant, you can see a house built on the side of a sheer cliff. It was assembled by a Vietnam vet who chose the perfect place to retire from society. He has a greenhouse up there and grows most of his own food - only coming to town occasionally for supplies.
When he found out that I was a photographer, he made a special effort to point out places of special interest.
Taking the same route back from Denver to Salt Lake allowed us to see all of those areas in the daylight that we had missed the previous night.
As we wound down from the Rockies, I knew that the Eastbound Zephyr must be close. Lee and Judy and I were chatting when our train pulled onto a siding. Now the siding at this particular location was against a sheer cliff and curved such that you could see our entire train from the window of our sleeper. At this moment we could see the Eastbound Zephyr approaching in the distance. We all piled into the vestibule and, with a warning to not be too long, Lee opened the vestibule window and I popped my head out and got several great shots of the two Zephyrs curved against each other against the mountainside - Genesis locomotive in the lead. Perhaps I should send a copy to "Trains" magazine :-)
Since we were the last car on the train, I was able to get a number of photographs out the rear window showing the tracks curling off in the distance between the canyon walls - often with a freight on a siding.
Economy sleepers - well, we were already spoiled. During the day we had no problem finding space for all of our belongings. The suitcase perched nicely on the step that would lead to the upper bunk at night. The rest of the stuff fitted under the seats. The facing seats were quite comfortable and the room allowed us the privacy that we had come to enjoy. There are no bathrooms in economy sleepers. However, since we were on the lower level of the sleeping car this time, the bathrooms and the shower were right down the hall. When I discovered this I was extremely pleased that I had been unable to switch to an upper level economy as I first wanted to do. I must have called 30 times looking for an opening, so we were extremely lucky that I failed to do so.
At night, the economy bedroom just didn't quite work for the two of us. It was very comfortable and we had no problem getting to sleep - however, with all the water we had to drink and the vibration of the train... it was a pain to have to get dressed in a very small area and then (for me in the upper bunk) climb down and go out to use the facilities... bleh.
The large shower on the lower level was nice, but we will still opt for the deluxe sleeper in any future travel.
Lunch on the third day was broiled chicken sandwiches for Judy and me. Our dining companions were Bob and Holly - an elderly couple returning to Sacramento after visiting their children. They didn't seem inclined to talk so the meal passed without much conversation. This was the only meal where the servers really messed up. Judy ordered a salad with ranch dressing and received soup. It then took awhile to get the salad delivered and then it had French dressing - oh well. The food was still good and filling.
Again the scenery was still spectacular...
Dinner on the third night was a salad starter, filet mignon cooked to order and German Chocolate cake for dessert- again, yum. I don't know how they do it with so many people to serve in such a small place in such a short time. Watching the wait people and cooks move past each other was watching poetry in motion. Our waiter for lunch and dinner was a big, friendly gruff gentleman who could effortlessly fill a moving cup with hot coffee while the train ran over a bad stretch of track... amazing.
Our dining companions for this last dinner were the most interesting yet. The man was a rail fan we had previously met in the lounge car - we stayed together for dinner to continue the conversation. The woman was a recent resident of Alaska who regaled us with takes of living near the bush in sub-zero weather. An interesting revelation was that the characters in the TV series Northern Exposure are based on real residents of Alaska. The producers lived in Alaska for a year gathering information for the show. It appears that the people Ruth Ann and Maurice are based on are actually suing the show for stealing their personae :-)
This last night I changed the sleeper into night-mode myself. The economy sleeper just pulls down with no struts or supports to assemble. We got ourselves tucked away in separate berths and settled down for the night.
We pulled into Salt Lake City about 11:30 pm. Both Judy and I woke up and we stepped out on the platform to get some fresh air and watch the Emeryville bound Zephyr be uncoupled from our Los Angeles bound Desert Wind.
We had to re-board before the engines were coupled back on our section of the train, so we went back to our room and to sleep.
In the morning we awoke to rain on the desert - It was really coming down and we could watch it stream down from the tops of the cars and down the windows. Dry lakebeds outside of Las Vegas had a thin film of water covering them and looked as if they were real, immense lakes. The rain only lasted until mid-morning and the sun came out for our trip through the rail yards at Barstow and the descent through Cajon pass.
The Desert Wind consist was our Genesis engine helped by another F40ish looking beast, the crew coach/dorm, a combined diner/lounge, two coaches, and our sleeper. I was delighted to see that we had a diner (even a small one), since Amtrak reservations had led me to believe that we would only have a snack bar on this leg of the trip.
Even though we only had breakfast on this last day, it was nice having china and linen.
Breakfast was more French toast, eggs, grits, and coffee. Our companions were two college aged girls who were headed south to visit friends.
During breakfast we pulled into Las Vegas. Amtrak must leave a lot of people behind there since the conductor harangued us for quite awhile about there not being time to run in and put money in the slot machines :-)
So the last run of the day began. We were well out of the snow covered mountains and racing across the high desert. There was little sense of speed, but I knew from the radio that we were clipping along at a steady 79 mph most of the time. As we stared out of the window, the time seemed to flow by until, before we knew it, we were descending Cajon pass into the Los Angeles Basin.
I collected a few last photographs - several of the burned locomotives from the last derailment in the pass, and a going-away shot of our last meet with the Eastbound 'Wind
Going through LA, the engineer must have been in a hurry to get home. We banged and rattled over the tracks as we had never done over the mountains. :-) Lee was busy making up the rooms so he could go home as well - Amtrak dumped the cleaning crews that used to make up the trains for the next run out - now the car attendants have to do it before that can go home. So we stayed out of his way :-)
We pulled into the Los Angeles Union Station On Time where we were met by the in-laws for the drive back home. We could have taken the Starlight, but the in-laws were in LA anyway and we could help them with the driving.
So, all in all, it was a wonderful vacation. We both want to do it again
soon. I hope there is an Amtrak in our future.
We've since reprised our Zephyr trip in the opposite direction and ridden the Coast Starlight from San Jose to Disneyland, San Jose to Seattle, and Seattle to San Jose. The new Coast Starlight with the Pacific Parlor car is an experience to remember.