While she's circling through the canyons, can't you see that mountain stream?
It's the California Zephyr, the Union Pacific Queen
- Hank Williams
I took a cross country train trip last April (and, if you read through that entire blog post - bless you ). I rode all the major Amtrak routes in the west except the Sunset Limited (which I have taken 4 times before - it's wonderful) and, perhaps the most scenic and famous of them all, the California Zephyr. I knew I was missing out by not including the Zephyr but also figured I'd do it in 2023 or 2024 if I was still upright. But, hey, I had earned so many Amtrak reward Points that I qualified for the trip to be my favorite price - FREE and I could do it this year.
This was a short trip compared to my big trip in April. I would jump on the Southwest Chief and head to Chicago... walk over to my hotel and sleep - get up and jump on the Zephyr- sleep in Emeryville and come home on the Starlight. And that's just how it went down. The top photo is of the magnificent sunset on the night of October 13 at the Fullerton Station which I have grown quite fond of...it's a cool old place in a world that seems to value the old and rustic less and less (perhaps this has always been thus).
I got on the train at 6:30 PM and had dinner - it was dark and I went to bed...falling asleep to that gentle rocking and rhythmic "clack clack clack" of the train - I slept so tranquilly... and woke up to the Great American Southwest.
Then it was onward to Illinois. Here is the wide Missouri River with the reflection of the train trestle.
I arrived in chilly Chicago and walked over to my hotel - had a nice dinner and went to bed - thought about going out and listening to music and then I thought - nah - too cold (it was 39F). The next day I had a relaxing morning and walked back to Chicago Union Station - and boarded the Zephyr. The first day would be in the plains and I would wake up in Denver...headed over the Rocky Mountains - in autumn no less...what a dream come true...
Here are some photos from the first day...it was already scenic but I had no idea of the show that was to come.
We arrived in Denver at about 7:30 AM.
We started the long climb up the eastern slope of the Rockies and, man, I wished I could have washed the window. I did take several photos but many were marred by the filthy and spotted window. I really wish Amtrak would wash the windows more often (they're too high for passengers to reach) and certainly before the Zephyr goes over the mountains. I know, after discussions with several other passengers, that I am not the only one with this sentiment. Anyway...I will try to show you a bit of what I saw. I was on the "mountain" side of the train but ran over to the other side when I could. We also went through 29 tunnels and the famous 6.2 mile Moffat Tunnel...all of which were wild, fun and, at times, other worldly. The Moffat Tunnel is an engineering marvel and tragically took the lives of 26 workers while it was being built.
OK here we go...
Often, outside of my room - you could hear audible, "oohs and ahs" from my fellow passengers as we wound through the mountains. Soon we were near the headwaters of the Colorado River. Then we started the magnificent ride down the western slopes...
What an extraordinary day! After another relaxing evening and restful sleep I woke up in Winnemucca, NV.
The train rumbled into Reno and then up through Truckee and over the Sierra Nevada. The Zephyr kept on giving magnificent sights.
Now in California I saw sights I'd never seen before despite living here my entire life. Here is the Sacramento train station.
Soon the train made it's way to my hotel - right along the tracks - in Emeryville, CA.
Up early the next day to the jump on the Coast Starlight and come home. Lately, being the old fool I have become, I often tear up at extraordinary natural beauty. Let's just say it was a teary eyed journey. I sincerely hope I gave you a tiny idea of the wonders of train travel and, in particular, the famous California Zephyr.
See ya soon!
My daughter Lilly, the very light of my life, went off to college this fall. She is my youngest child and my only daughter. Old sentimental sap that I am, I'm trying not to to cry as I write this.
I miss her.
I took the truck, with her belongings, to school in Corvallis, Oregon, and on the way home, to assuage my sadness, made a road trip out of it. I saw some places new and old and nature, as it always does, provided me with comfort and succor.
From Corvallis I headed east on magnificent Oregon Highway 20 through the Willamette National Forest. Over hills and through the mountains with water everywhere. Lost Lake, Foster Lake and the Santiam Creek were highlights.
The Highway 20 black and whites.
After driving through Bend to Burns I spent a day in and around the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, this magnificent place may be more well known for the welfare rancher Ammon Bundy and his crazy, gun toting freaky followers and their month long occupation of the refuge back in January of 2016 than for being a natural splendor. It's too bad, of course, because Malheur is also renowned for the birds that visit and call it home as well as other wildlife and, of course, the Eastern Oregon scenic beauty. I found it stunning.
From Burns I took a leisurely drive down Highway 395 and went to visit a place I've seen on the map, all my life, and never visited - the very northeast corner of California. There are some huge lakes up there - Gigantic Goose Lake straddles the border and Lake Abert and Honey Lake are also near the highway. I'd been picturing it in my mind's eyes for a long time and it certainly was better than anything I could have imagined.
I drove to Virginia City in Nevada. My mom and grandmother took me there around 1967 and I hadn't been back since. It's a novel town that focuses on its history and, in 50 some odd years, it hasn't changed much at all. It's exactly as I remembered it and I think that's the idea.
Since I had no reason to rush I took my own sweet time to come home and was able to stop and make some photos that I think capture the everlasting Nevada of my youth.
Another trip and another chapter ending and a new one beginning. And the seasons go round and round... Thank you for coming along.
It's that time of year when an old Cactus Man's fancy turns from the desert to the mountains and sea.
I have been trip planning for the last week while homebound. Lupe and I have had some domestic issues like painting and appliance repair to deal with (I swear it feels like these damn things are never done). As a result, I have nearly finished my trip plans for the next few months. In addition, Lupe and I are looking at the possible purchase of a very small, affordable, versatile, high ground clearance travel trailer. I need something that is homey enough for Lupe but I can take on my beloved dirt roads. While I love my current setup with just the camper shell I must admit it would be nice to have a place to hole up in bad weather. Anyway, we're not looking for something that resembles our home in any manner (why not just stay at home or in a motel then?). We want a tiny hideaway to take us away to private and secluded spots as well as the National Parks. The research continues...
In June- next week in fact, my son Kevin and I are headed to Boulder Basin in the San Jacinto mountains for a couple of days. I've been trying to get him to go camping with me for a few years now and I'm really looking forward to it. From there he'll go back to work (poor bastard) and I'll head to Nevada and Great Basin National Park. It's my first visit there and it is one of the lesser known National Parks- which is right up my misanthropic alley.
Then it's time for Lupe and Lilly! At the beginning of July Lupe and I are going to Point Mugu and camp right on the beach. Then, at the end of July she and Lilly and I are going to Jalama Beach and Pismo Beach. We'll spend a night in a motel in Morro Bay to wrap up (love that sleepy little town).
In August I'm headed back to the Southwest for a trip to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I've been to the south rim probably 10 times but I don't usually head there in summer when the north rim is free of snow and open. I will probably camp a night or two at nearby Jacob Lake and look for future boondocking spots. At the end of the month and just before Lilly starts high school (Good God!) I'm taking her to one of my favorite spots in this lifetime - Lassen Volcanic National Park. I know it so well I can show her around! As she grows older these chances will be come fewer and fewer (see Jordan and Kevin) and I will cherish this time together. It will be an unforgettable trip.
My next BIG trip is in my favorite month to travel - September. I'll be heading to Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming and the Little Big Horn Battlefield in Montana. You've probably figured out my appreciation of and fascination with the indigenous people of our continent and this trip will focus heavily on Native American history and culture.
In October I'm heading back to Big Sur area to stay at Kirk Creek Campground and boondock in the mountains that overlook the sea, I'm gonna squeeze in a weekend back at Pinnacles National Park with my dear Bay Area family.
November brings me back to the desert...
I'll look forward to showing my pictures and narrating the trips as I return from each one.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.