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Segment 2 - Chicago To Fullerton - Day #2

2002 Cross-Country Amtrak Trip:
The Southwest Chief - February 21st-23rd, 2002
Day #2 On The Southwest Chief:

Stopped At Milepost 555 at La Junta, Colorado is
Amtrak's Southwest Chief on a sunny and cold February 22nd, 2002.

February 22nd, 2002 - La Junta, CO/Raton Pass/Albuquerque

   I woke up around 6:30am shortly before we would arrive in Garden City, Kansas, our last stop in that state. The photo to the right shows Garden City as we were pulling into the station there. I will say watching the sun come up over the plains is breathtaking! For a New Yorker like myself, its like nothing we see at home because well, we have trees everywhere, out here, once your traveling through areas of the state that are mostly dominated by farmland, there are no trees!!!
   Our next stop was Lamar, Colorado which was another farm town like the many we passed through in Kansas. An announcement was made that said we were now in the Mountain Time Zone and to set our watches back another hour. Also that La Junta was the next stop, which is a service stop and crew change point for the Southwest Chief. They also said that we had been running virtually on time all this time and because of that, we'd be arriving early in La Junta. How early? Well, we weren't scheduled to arrive until 9:15am, we ended up arriving at 8:35am! The crew also announced that the outside temperature at La Junta was 36 degrees! I said "This feels like back home in New York!!!" I was in a T-shirt and shorts at that point and decided to switch into some warmer clothes because if the platform was on the sunny side of the train, then I was gonna photograph the train. The photo of me to the left was taken by another passenger as we were sitting at La Junta. The coach I'm standing in front of was the one I rode in for the entire trip. Lucky for me, the platform was on the sunny side of the train so I was able to photograph every locomotive and passenger car in the train. After I took slides of everything, which you'll find in the "Hyper-Extended Photo Section" of this travelogue, I ran inside the station, called my parents back home and walked around a bit. There was a sign in the station saying that space in the sleeping cars was available for today's train. If you want to upgrade your tickets once travel has begun, you can do so by contacting the Conductor or the Chief of Onboard Services to see if space is available. I decided since I had a total of about 50 minutes or so before we would leave, that I should pick up some food somewhere while I had the chance. Before I ran over to a gas station to pick up the food, I noticed something interesting across the street. It was a Santa Fe Caboose all restored and set up. It turns out that its the State Bank of La Junta, yes, these folks turned a caboose into a bank! As you can see in the photo to the right, there are a couple drive-up tellers behind the caboose, I thought this was so neat! I had a summer job when I was 15 with a small railroad back home once which is based in an old Conrail Caboose that was gutted and turned into an office. So I thought this was interesting. After taking a couple slides of the bank, I ran down the street to an Amoco Gas Station and picked up a bag of Tom's Taco Tortilla Chips, a bottle of Sierra Mist and a pack of Trident Gum. It was now about time to head back to the station as we were getting ready to leave. I reboarded the train and noticed among other things, a BNSF Freight parked a couple tracks over from us as well as a few lengths of cars sitting in the yard. We left La Junta and immediately switched tracks onto a single track that from a view of the coach window, looked like it went nowhere! I walked over to the Lounge Car and noticed that we were starting to see mountains in the distance. The landscape was starting to change. For the most part, the whole way until this point, was relatively flat, with no major hills or mountains, this would all change in the next couple hours. We were closing in on the Rocky Mountains, something I've never seen before. The photo to the left shows a typical road crossing in the farmland of Southeast Colorado with the mountains in the distance though getting bigger with every passing mile! I took a bunch of slides of the mountains in the lounge and noticed that the land was becoming less and less farmland for growing fruits and veggies and more and more for cattle ranches. I had a conversation with a farm owner who told me that they need to take a census of the number of cows each farmer has, so yes, if you really wanted to know, you might be able to find out if in certain towns, the cow population outnumbers the human population!!! It's not out of the question around here. Anyway, as we got closer to the mountains, the land got that much more hilly. We were still on single track the whole way through here and were gaining elevation. Our next stop was in Trinidad, Colorado, a town located in the mountains. Our top speed slowed down to just 20 to 25mph as we started the steep climb uphill to Raton Pass which is located on the Colorado-New Mexico State Line. The two photos below show our climb through the mountains and arrival at Raton Pass.


   When you climb up to Raton Pass, you see why we needed 4 locomotives on this train!!! The view as you climb the hills becomes snow-covered as shown in the two photos above, just like home, living near Buffalo! I did notice that I was finding it more difficult to breathe as we headed higher through the mountains. Another passenger reaffirmed to me what I thought was happening. Due to the thinner air that high up, it is more difficult to breathe and your ears will pop a few times so its a good idea to chew lots of gum! The elevation of Raton is officially 7588 feet above sea level and is regarded as the highest point on the Santa Fe Railway. After entering the tunnel at Raton Pass, everything went dark in the coaches as the lights had been turned off earlier so the train crew immediately turned the lights on in the coaches just before we exited the 1/2 mile long tunnel. We were now in the State Of New Mexico and our next stop was the small town of Raton, New Mexico. It was now time for lunch so I headed to the Dining Car and was seated with a couple from Pueblo, Colorado. We paralleled Interstate 25 for a ways passing what was quickly becoming desert land with lots of antelope running wild and free, with a few cattle ranches along the way. You could see the mountains we had passed through earlier today in the background. I had the Caesar Salad with Chicken for lunch, absolutely delicious!!! Also had a Diet Pepsi to drink. Our next stop was Las Vegas, but not Nevada! There were no lights, casinos, hotels, or anything like that. Las Vegas is a small town in Northern New Mexico. This train serves a lot of small towns in its 2230 mile route. We kept going into more mountains even though we lost some elevation after cresting Raton Pass. The train couldn't do more than maybe 20 to 25mph all this way because we went through tons of hills and curves that I wouldn't recommend anyone drive faster than that if it were roads on this route instead of rails! Or next stop was in Lamy, New Mexico which according to the Amtrak Travel Guide for this train, has a population of 30? And you thought you lived in a small town!!! Lamy is located just South of Santa Fe and is actually the closest the railroad ever got to the city of Santa Fe. There is a bus waiting to bring passengers to Santa Fe from Lamy and is a guaranteed connection so you won't miss your bus if the train is late. We rode through some more desert under the beautiful afternoon New Mexico sun. I must say, so far outside of Chicago being cloudy and a little snowy, the weather for the most part on this trip has been fabulous. We were still running on time and due to yet some more padding in the schedule (reason we got to La Junta early) we arrived in Albuquerque early as well, by about 10 minutes. Albuquerque is another Service Stop for the Southwest Chief and passengers have the chance to admire and purchase various goods from some of the local Native Americans who set up shop on the platform. This has been a tradition that goes back to the days when the Santa Fe ran the Super Chief through here. There is also "Cheryl's Bustore" and a trailer selling burritos. I had one of these on the way back home on this trip and it was delicious!!! You can pick up souvenirs at one of these vendors as well as candy, pop (we don't call it soda in Buffalo), chips and snacks. While in Albuquerque, the temperature was about 60 degrees, felt nice being that it was mid-February! I was getting a little low on cash and I figured I would use an ATM at some point. I noticed the Greyhound Bus Terminal which was behind the Amtrak Station. They had an ATM there but when I went to use it, it was down and didn't work. I ended up buying a couple candy bars and headed back to the train. We left Albuquerque on time at 5:32pm. The windows were cleaned on the entire train which is great as it improves the quality of pictures taken from inside the train. I pulled out two Heater Meals and decided to cook them downstairs because they make a lot of steam and I didn't want to bother the other passengers. While the meals heated up, I had a nice chat with a passenger on his way to Los Angeles from Albuquerque. About 15 minutes later, "dinner" was ready. I took the meals, which are actually in a small plastic dish inside the box they cook in, and brought them to my seat and enjoyed a quick dinner as the sun set over New Mexico. By the time we arrived in Gallup, it was well past sunset. The movie "Bandits" was playing in the lounge car and there were a few people there enjoying the movie, as well as a few who were actually trying to sleep in the lounge car!!!
   As we arrived in Winslow, Arizona, I had fallen asleep at my coach seat as there's really nothing to see at night and the tinted windows don't help. Overnight, we stopped in Flagstaff, Williams Junction (Where you can ride the Grand Canyon Railway up to the Grand Canyon) and Kingman, Arizona before crossing the Colorado River and heading into Needles, California. Some of these towns might sound familiar as we were now paralleling Historic Route 66, most of which is gone as it is no longer a regular U.S. Highway. Parts of old Route 66 are part of Interstate 40 through Arizona. At Needles, there is a guaranteed bus connection to Las Vegas, Nevada as well as Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Years ago, Amtrak ran a train called the "Desert Wind" to Las Vegas, something I hope is brought back again someday. I was in and out of sleep a few times as we stopped at Barstow and Victorville, California. Next stop was San Bernardino. We were now running about 20 or 25 minutes late as we lost some time overnight somewhere. We arrived in San Bernardino around 6:10am shortly after sunrise. An announcement was made that the cafe had open at 5:00am and would stay open until we arrived at Fullerton, the next stop. A limited Breakfast Service in the Dining Car was available at that point as well but would end when we arrived in Fullerton as well.
   I got all my stuff together and got ready to get off the train in Fullerton. I began to see palm trees outside the window of the coach which was very exciting considering we have no palm trees in New York! It didn't bother me that the train would be a few minutes late arriving in Fullerton, if you ask me, being less than a half-hour late after traveling over 2 days is pretty good! We passed through Riverside where the old train station there looked to be in sorry shape. I knew Fullerton was just minutes away so I gathered my 2 bags and my camera bag and walked downstairs to the exit door. The official arrival time in Fullerton for this train was 7:11am, about 29 minutes late but I had absolutely NOTHING to complain about, this was one of the best trips I've ever taken on Amtrak!!! The photo to the right was taken immediately after I got off the train, this is looking towards Los Angeles, which would be this train's final stop after a journey spanning 8 states, and over 2200 miles. Overall, the service aboard this train was top notch, the crew was extremely friendly and the trip went off without any serious problems. The food was excellent and the service in the dining car was great as well. If you want to see America, I highly encourage you to take this trip, you'll see more on this train than even if you drove because you go through towns connected with dirt roads. You'll see some beautiful mountain ranges and lots of desert and farmland as well as some nice cities in between. This still was not the "end" of my trip, to see the next segment of this Travelogue, click in the table below...