Training to Chicago

Thanks heaps to Piers for this suggestion. I’d never heard of the California Zephyr – it’s brilliant! In Australia we hear all about the trains through the Canadian Rockies but not this one, more’s the pity for all those who miss out.

First there’s the bus from down-town SF to the train station at Emeryville. Crossing the Bay Bridge gave some of the best views of SF that I saw. The train was comfortable. I had a “roomette” and some who had them spent all day there. However I made for the more sociable observation car where windows on both sides and in the roof gave much better views. And what views!!

I’ve never seen as much snow as there is on the Sierra Nevadas. Much of it pristine, animal tracks every so often, and ski runs. I’d never seen a coyote at all until I saw one trotting along beside the tracks. Also saw a flock of some sort of bird of prey but missed seeing the elk that some others saw.

The Rockies were not what I expected in that the train skirted the main mountain range, only saw those snow-capped peaks in the distance. What was amazing was the Colorado River which we followed for quite a way. We went through some spectacular canyons. Parts of the river are very well used for recreation by campers, for rafting and fishing. In these well-used sections the river is also known as Moon River – because the young males on the riverbanks moon the trains as they go by. Yes, I saw quite a few!!

On the outskirts of Burlington, Iowa, the train crossed the Mighty Mississippi. Except it was pretty big but not quite mighty at that point!

Early in the trip I was reminded of the Australian outback – miles and miles of scrubby nothing for as far as the eye can see, until the ground starts rising up. Instead of salt bush I was told the plant here is creosote bush. Then the trip finished with mile after mile of farming land, looking beautiful, most of it about to be ploughed for planting the next crops. The plains started when we went through a tunnel at the end of a canyon and we popped out the other end to see far below us a large city on a plain, much as you’d view it from an aircraft 10-15 minutes before landing. That city was Denver. I’d always imagined it in the mountains. Not so.

I encountered one bore on the train – talked incessantly about money and how he paid no taxes, legally of course. Thank goodness he stayed in his room and I only had to feign interest once at the shared dining tables, though I overheard others enduring. The rest were mostly Americans with a smattering of foreigners. Conversation was in bits and pieces so that there was company and interest but everyone could do their own thing too. It worked well.

The food was ordinary apart from the no doubt wholly unhealthy French toast for breakfast. That was good!

The roomette became very squeezy once the seats were turned into bunks. I’m glad I was on my own! Sleeping was fair. I didn’t get much on the first night, considerably more the next. You rolled with every turn of the train. The wakefulness was not unpleasant though in that the swaying of the train was quite comforting in a way. The shower was pretty squeezy too. I had one the first morning but made do with deodorant and perfume on the second. Some didn’t shower at all so I was ‘nicer to know’ than that lot. Ha ha!

After leaving almost an hour late due to a faulty door on an engine carriage, we rolled into Union Station in Chicago on time. I then made for my BnB via the local train system, but that’s another story!

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