Friday, October 5, 2012

Fifty. Part 1

I was fifty.  Once.  In 2006.

Early in 2006, my wife, Patti, asked, "What do you want to do special for your 50th birthday?  Do you want to take a train somewhere?"  Well, in Atlanta, there aren't many choices for train travel.  The Crescent to the north takes you to the Northeast overnight.  Not a particularly fun trip and I've "been there, done that".  To the south, it's an all day trip to New Orleans.  New Orleans sounds like fun, but this was the Spring of 2006, and Katrina happened in the Fall of 2005, so not such a good idea.

Hmmm...  Oh!  I wonder...  "How about riding from Denver to San Francisco on the California Zephyr?" Not exactly a cheap idea, but you're only 50 once, right?  After a brief, successful  "sales pitch", I started making the plans.  

May 3rd, fly to Denver, bus shuttle to from Airport (cheap, easy, nice! Big MCI D4500s) and stay at the Hampton Inn downtown, a short walk from where the shuttle drops you off.  We had all afternoon to look around Denver. 

Capital of Colorado.  Impressive!

Replica of Liberty Bell.  (The bronze item.  Not the woman.  That's my wife, Patti.)  Why?  I don't remember...

No,we're not in Buffalo.  We're at the Colorado State Museum.  We poked around in here for a while.  Good stuff!

New art museum about to open.  Strange "falling down" building style. Okay....

Light rail.  We didn't have time for a ride.

Free "mall" shuttle. Diesel - electric - battery hybrid drive.  Little diesel gen set on roof hums away all the time, charging batteries. Bus is otherwise all electric.  A good design!
 We wandered around downtown Denver.  Despite that Denver is a large "sprawled out" city, it has nice downtown area that's worth a visit.  They have created a transit mall from Union Station to the Capitol area.  It was very nice and there were nice shops and restaurants the way.  There was even a free shutle bus that ran the length of it.  Very handy.  The next morning, May 4th, it was time to board the train.
Big station.  One train a day each direction.

The California Zephyr just in from Chicago, on time.
We boarded the train, stowed our stuff in our bedroom.  We went "all out" and got a bedroom - 50, remember?  Having a bathroom with shower in the room was a key piece of my "sales pitch".  Okay, I liked it, too.  The train got rolling out of Denver and started up the Front Range, and into the fog.  Oh, no!  What if it's foggy all day?  What if I don't get to see all that wonderful scenery?   Why worry?  Let's eat!  We headed for the diner and had breakfast.  Not bad.
Off we go toward Moffat Tunnel.
The closer we got to Moffat tunnel at the crest of the Front Range, the more the fog lifted.  The east side of the Rockies are a bit more lush than the western slope.  Lots of pine trees.  Moffat tunnel was built in the first part of 20th Century.  It is six miles long and eliminated a tortuous route over the Rollins Pass in the Rockies and is the reason the rail route has any economic value today.
After the tunnel the train rolls into Frasier.

Frasier looking west.

Frasier back east.  Ski slopes at Winter Park still have snow on them.
 After Frasier, the fog finished burning off and the sun popped out.  Ah.... That's better.  The train rolls through canyon after canyons, some of them only visible from the railroad.  Great scenery!  Just what I'd hoped for.
Why Sightseer lounges have glass ceilings.

Interior of Sightseer Lounge.  Why are these people looking at me? I should be looking out the windows!

Canyon walls dwarf railroad (see tunnel portal on LH side of picture)

Finally, by late afternoon, the train rolled out of the last canyon and into Grand Junction where you could  get out and stretch your legs for a bit.

Hey!  What's that NS Dash 9 locomotive doing out here 1000 miles from home?

 The the train rolled into the more arid portion of western Colorado and Utah.  Not as scenic as the canyons, but still interesting.

Western Colorado
As the sun set, we rolled in "dry as a bone" terrain in eastern Utah.
Sun sets in Eastern Utah.

The train had snaked it's way through Colorado, meeting and passing trains in nearly every passing siding, but rarely having to stop for a meet.  Coal train after coal train.  Empties and loaded.  I'd grade that UP dispatcher A+!  We went to bed in eastern Utah nearly on time.

But, we woke up in eastern Nevada a couple hours late and "rode the approach" of the freight train ahead of us all the way into Reno, despite passing several empty passing sidings.  Don't know what the issue was.  Maybe the train ahead was a monster that wouldn't fit in the sidings?  Maybe the crew was short on hours of service?  Oh, well.  More time on the train is not necessarily a bad thing!
One of may small mountain ranges scattered through northern Nevada. This was a surprise.
Across western Utah and northern Nevada and all the way over the Cascades into Sacramento, the railroad runs on the route of the original transcontinental railroad.  I-80 was built right along side the railroad the whole way - a testament to the quality of the route surveying done in the 1860s.
Truck on I-80
Stay tuned for Part 2!  The Cascades and San Francisco.

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