The California Zephyr Train Journey

Trip Start Aug 21, 2009
Trip End Aug 20, 2010

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On a Very Large Train!

Flag of United States  , California
Friday, October 2, 2009

Hi again! just a short entry this time, to let y'all know about our train journey from Chicago to San Francisco.

So after what seemed like AGES in Chicago, we left our hotel and headed back to Union Station to catch our long distance train. The train was enormous! It had like 15 carriages and they were all 2 stories high! The train has 2 dining cars where you can be served hot food at your table, and 2 sightseeing lounge cars where you can sit on reclining seats and look out of the panoramic windows. We got ourselves seats on the top deck and settled into our seats for the first hour or 2 while the train hurtled through the rather bland Illinois Suburbs.

After a couple of hours we crossed the state line into Iowa and the landscape soon changed to endless farmland, with corn and maize everywhere. We crossed the Mighty Mississippi at Burlington Iowa over a rickety old bridge, and soon entered Nebraska, which was pretty much more of the same in terms of scenery. The first night's sleep was pretty uncomfortable for both of us, because the seats, despite being comfortable to sit, were NOT comfortable to sleep in! I think we both had around 8 hours though, on and off.

Next morning, after traveling through the Nebraska countryside all night, we arrived in Denver, CO, the Mile High City (3 guesses why!) at around 7am. We both rushed for the sightseeing lounge as soon as the train pulled into the station, because we were about to enter the famous Rocky Mountain Pass just after Denver. The lounge soon filled up, and we were rising further and further into the foothills and mountains, where the view back across the plains towards Denver was amazing! soon after, we reached an altitude of around 10,000ft and entered around 28 tunnels in the winding, steep, and very scary section of the Rockies. The track was about 2 feet from the edge of a 1000ft drop several times, and at one point, we could see almost directly 1800ft down! 

As we reached the higher altitudes, spots of snow started to fall, as we reached the 10,000ft mark, a full blown Blizzard stopped the train for around 20 minutes! apparently it was usual for the snow to fall so heavy, but it was a little worrying!

When the Blizzard had stopped, we crossed the Continental Divide (Where Eastern America meet Western America) in the 10 mile Moffat Tunnel which is so old that after every train goes through, they have to pump out the exhaust fumes or people may suffocate next time around!

The next part of the journey was the most scenic, as we past through Canyons where you can't get without going on the train, and the tour guide/conductor had some great stories about the area, like a car that drove through the mountains, and fell into the canyon above the train track, where the car remained stuck, about 5 feet above the trains, for about 20 years! Dunno what happened to the driver!

We left the Rockies and headed out across Colorado again, but we soon had to stop for around 3 hours, because of track maintenance. We stopped in a town in the middle of nowhere called Grand Junction, CO. It had a Burger King, and a small supermarket and that's about it! We stocked up on fresh fruit and waited down at the platform for the train to get going again!

That evening we entered Ruby Canyon and saw some amazing scenery with the moon lighting up the deep red rocks and the Colorado River, we even saw some Kayakers in the middle of nowhere setting up camp on the edge of the river! It must have been hundreds of miles to the nearest town, rather them than us!

The second night was just as uncomfortable as the first, and we woke early at 6am to the super-flat surroundings of the Utah Salt Flats and Desert. After around 3 hours we stopped at Elko, Nevada, where i assumed because it was in the Nevada Desert, it was hot. i was wrong. It was FREEZING COLD! i rushed back to the train quickly, and we left for Reno (which we heard from many of the passengers, is horrible!)

After Reno, we entered the California and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The scenery here was equally as breathtaking as the Rockies with large tunnels and great views down to the canyon floor, over 1500ft below. We soon pulled into Sacramento where we were only a few short hours from San Francisco!

The train journey dragged on a bit at the end, and we were really excited to get into San Francisco. We arrived at our hostel around 8pm, and slept very well that night!

A lot of people asked us why we got the train instead of flying, as it's around the same price, but it was simple, the journey was a holiday in itself. Lots of people on board were traveling in the sleeping car where you get your own bed(!) and they were on holiday just on the train! the Scenery was amazing and the people were so friendly. 

By the end of the journey we knew everyone in our carriage, about 20 people all told! There was a Bulgarian girl who was leaving her life in New York to start fresh in California. There was Laurel who sat across from us (who had a million tattoos, one of her dog!) who was going to visit her brother in Sacramento for 2 months. There was a weird bald toothless young guy who was a welder who was going to work for his Father-in-law in Sacramento (he had a wife and child when he was 17!) There was an English girl called Anna who was headed for San Francisco then Australia. There was Maria who sat in front of us, who was visiting her sick Mum and Grandma in Martinez, CA. There was older black guy who was visiting friends in Salt Lake City who we sat with for Breakfast. There was an older couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with their daughter and her (REALLY FAT) husband in Lake Tahoe. There were 2 English guys who were getting off in Salt Lake City to rent a car and drive to Yellowstone NP (We're meeting 1 of them in Sydney for New Year!) There was a weird crazy black guy called Bobby who dressed really well (in shirts and jackets) who was quite annoying, and everyone thought he worked for the Train company. There was a middle aged black couple who were visiting a Bluegrass festival in San Francisco (the lady had Alligator shoes! And they liked to roast Ham! Oh, and the lady thought Flo reminded her of PRINCESS DIANA!!! WHAT?! apparently it's her 'Aura'!!)

After 60 hours on a train, we had arrived on the West Coast!


Flo + Simon


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