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Trip Photos from The Southwest Chief between Fullerton, California, and La Plata, Missouri

The View From an Amtrak Superliner

Along the Route of the Amtrak Southwest Chief
Round Trip from Fullerton, California,
to La Plata, Missouri, February 17-19 and 24-26, 2013

Home of Silver Rails Country

Report and photos by Carl Morrison,

Heading westbound up the 3.2% grade to Raton Pass at the Colorado/New Mexico Border.

If your computer has a track pad, you may find that using 2 fingers to scroll through the report might be easier to align the photos on your screen.

The Southwest Chief from Los Angeles to Chicago leaves in the evening, after sunset during the winter.  We boarded at Fullerton, which is the first stop after leaving Los Angeles, at about 6:50 p.m.  The first activity is to drag all our luggage into our sleeping car's luggage area on the lower level.  Why not check our luggage for this 1,900 mile trip?  Because the station in La Plata is staffed by a part-time caretaker and there is no checked luggage at that station.  Next, we check into our roomette on the upper level and either get a reservation from the Car Attendant, or continue to the Dining Car.  (To open the Southwest Chief Schedule from Fullerton, California, to La Plata, Missouri, in a separate window - Click Here)

Our car attendant for Car 0430 on Train 4 on this February 17, 2013, was Michael D.  He handed us a 7:45  p.m. reservation, nearly an hour after our boarding.  He seemed unsure as he gave us the reservation, mumbling something about expecting one person in Room 5, but both our names  were on the manifest.  Sure enough, later Michael D. came back and asked if we would change to 8:30, "It's the dining room's fault."  We accepted the later reservation and finally went to the Dining Car, next to our Sleeping Car, 15 minutes after the San Bernardino stop.

During the wait for dinner, Tom Anderson, my traveling mate on this trip, caught me up on new happenings in La Plata.  He had just been to La Plata a week earlier on the Southwest Chief and had the same car attendant.

During our wait, the Dining Car LSA made calls for diners with earlier reservations.  Intermittently, Moses, the Cafe Car Attendant made amusing announcements telling passengers what he had available for sale and that the location of the Cafe is on the lower level of the Sightseer/Lounge Car.

At the Fresh Air Stop in San Bernardino, Conductor Dave Arthur walked by and said hello.  He would be our Conductor until the crew change in Kingman, Arizona.  Dave is the only Amtrak Conductor that I know by name.  Amtrak Executive, Richard Phelps, also boarded in San Bernardino.

When we did get to the diner, we were given a previously unseen "Express Menu".  Our waiter said that the first and last nights are this limited menu.  That was news to me and to Tom who rode this same train one week earlier.  If what he said is true, there is only one night that has the full menu.  The menu had a burger, vegetable pasta, and oven roasted half chicken.  A Flat Iron Steak was available, but not on the menu.  As it turned out a coach passenger sat across from us.  That passenger and I both ordered the oven-roasted chicken, but later the waiter came to the coach passenger and said they were out of chicken.  He decided to pay for his soft drink and not select anything else from the menu, probably for economical reasons.  I asked why they would be out of chicken the first night out and was told that the chef only cooks half of the chickens and the rest are saved until the next evening.  Richard was the LSA in the dining car and called passengers to the dining car for their reserved times.  Unlike most LSAs, he did nothing else except work the microphone, that we could observe.  This, in my opinion, made the single waiter's job unduly difficult.  Only half of the diner was being used this trip, which may be standard procedure during the winter.

San Bernardino, California, Amtrak Station

Since the eastbound Southwest Chief leaves Fullerton after dark and the westbound returns about 6:30 a.m., passengers see little if any of California during daylight hours in winter.  (Click here for a copy of the schedule to confirm this fact.)

After breakfast the first morning, I like to go to the rear-most coach car and watch the world (Arizona) go by.

Interstate 40 (Following the route of Old Route 66 in this area) parallels the Santa Fe tracks from Barstow, California, through Arizona until Albuquerque, New Mexico.

As you can see, the BNSF line is double tracked through here.  I noticed that a few minutes earlier we switched to the left track (above), then we passed this slow moving freight, then switched back to the track on the right.

While watching out the back coach window, I noticed at my right, behind the last two seats in coach, these two brothers had "set up camp".  The taller one was very kind to lift his little brother up occasionally so he could see out the rear window.  Their 'camp' consisted of sleeping bags spread out on the floor with a few toys and books for each.  In the two seats in front of them were their parents.  It was almost like riding in the family car, except everyone could take a nap when they liked.  Children travel for half-fare in coach so this is economical travel for a family.

Coming into Albuquerque, I spotted sort of a Burlington Northern - Santa Fe - BNSF paint scheme history.

Early arrival into Albuquerque is not unusual.  This trip we had around an hour extra before departure time.  We walked north to the end of the platform to view where the original Route 66 went under the tracks and westward through downtown Albuquerque.

Fueling up for the next portion of the trip.  Crews change at La Junta, Colorado, and Kansas City,  refueling in Kansas City as well.

In the Sightseer/Lounge Car, half the car has been converted to tables for more seating capacity and better group seating.  Two electrical plugs are located at each booth.  The Cafe is downstairs in the middle of this car.

East of Lamy is an "S" curve where the track turns so sharply that you can see the front of the train through the side windows.  On this trip, the baggage car was the oldest and ugliest I've ever seen on the Southwest Chief.

The Las Vegas, New Mexico, Station is adjacent to an abandoned Harvey House called, The Castaneda.

I think this ranch has the nicest out buildings of any place we passed in northern New Mexico.  Notice the high mountains that loom on the horizon to the north.

This road's yellow line ends and drivers are warned, with the yellow sign with a cow in black, about the end of fences and the beginning of open range.  I guess cattle beyond the fence would taste better and be better for you since they are 'open-range cattle'.  Beyond is a cattle crossing to prevent the cattle from getting onto the stripped roadway.  The tracks stretch on parallel to the one-lane blacktop.  If you have read the novel, Blue Highways, the title refers to the two-lane non-Interstate highways on a roadmap that are shown in blue.

High plains grasslands are the home of gophers, jack rabbits, with hawks assigned to population control.  These pronghorns and coyotes are the largest wild animals you'll see at this elevation.  At higher elevations, larger deer and elk can be spotted.

High above Raton, New Mexico, you'll see this large sign, lighted at night, with the American flag.  Trinidad, Colorado, has a similar hill above town and large sign like this.

This is the first two-story building in town on the street facing the station.  I'll let your imagination run wild concerning the clientel that would stay in this hotel.

Raton Station from our upper-level roomette.

Raton is where those heading for Denver catch the Ambus.  It is about a 3 hour ride due north through Trinidad, Pueblo, and Colorado Springs.  Also, in the summer, many boy scouts from the west detrain and are bussed to their summer camporee. Amtrak passengers from California often go east on this Southwest Chief, take the Ambus to Denver, and return to California on the California Zephyr.  Incidentally, Henry Kisor wrote the book:  Zephyr:  Tracking a Dream Across America, and other books.  I'll put a link at the end of this report where you can purchase that, or his other, books.

Dinner came soon, then another night's sleep on the train and the arrival into La Plata after breakfast.

Return from La Plata to Fullerton on the Southwest Chief

Westbound from La Plata you board after dark and have dinner in the diner followed by a night's sleep.  Thus, my first photos come after breakfast the next morning.  On this trip, we experienced a snow storm during the night, so when we had a crew change in La Junta, Colorado, I jumped off for a few photos of the ice-covered Southwest Chief.

View from our upper-level roomette window as we arrived in La Junta, Colorado, for a crew change and fresh air stop.

Tom posed beside our ice-covered sleeper.

Yours truly with an ice covered Southwest Chief (above).  As we stood next to the train, thawing ice slipped off and crashed down beside us.  If you had a lower level room on the south side of the train, you could scrape the ice off your window while in La Junta.

I cannot imagine the stress on the engineer during the previous night, driving the train into a blizzard where he cannot see but a few feet ahead of the locomotive.  That is why engineers have to qualify on each route including knowing where to blow the horn for crossings throughout the route even though they can only see a few feet ahead of their speeding locomotive.  Needless to say, we arrived in La Junta safe and sound.

I walked to the front of the train because I knew the third locomotive was No. 461 from the Surfliner in Southern California.  I wanted this "Icy Surfliner" photo for my friends back home where this locomotive works, along the coast between LA and San Diego where it is currently in the upper 70s.  There were two theories as to why there were three locomotives on theis Southwest Chief with No. 461 being the third one.  The Conductor from La Junta to Albuquerque said that with recent breakdowns of locomotives on the Southwest Chief caused BNSF to bring out a freight locomotive at Trinidad to help Amtrak get this train to Chicago.  Those breakdowns caused BNSF to give Amtrak an ultimatum to put enough locomotives on to get itself through the winter storms and over the grade at Raton Pass.  Tom Anderson, the Cafe Attendant, had another theory about No. 461's presence. It had been taken to Beech Grove for repairs and did not make it back to California on an earlier attempt before it started sparking and this is the second repair and attempt to get it back to California.  Both theories came from Amtrak Employees on this train, so who do you believe.

We left La Junta on time, and soon had full sun.  I took some free orange juice from our sleeper car, with my computer to a table in the lounge to work on photos from this trip.  As you can see, there was plenty of room in the Sightseer/Lounge Car.

A half hour east of Trinidad, Colorado, the previous night's windblown snow drifts still stood in the cold, even though we had full sun.

This is the Trinidad, CO, station...a sidewalk.  With I-25 a few steps away, why not a legitimate station?

Nice looking locomotive in the Trinidad yard.

Heading up the 3.2% grade to Raton Pass, considerably slower than vehicles on I-25 adjacent to the Santa Fe tracks.  Watch out the window on either side through these slow, sharp curves for a chance to capture a photo of the head end of your train.

The only original Wootton Ranch building is that one in the back left which was a bunkhouse.

You nearly circle the ranch as the train slowly continues up and around climbing all the way.

At this time, I had moved to the last car so I could peer out the back window to capture the Colorado/New Mexico border monument.  I had tried to photograph this on previous trips, but from a side window it is nearly impossible.

Finally!  A decent photo of the monument as the train entered Raton Tunnel.  On the opposite side of this same monument it says, "New Mexico" which is the direction we were headed.  These image were shot from the last coach car's window above the tracks.

View from the New Mexico side.  "1908" is engraved on the portal.

From here, it is downhill to Raton, NM, and beyond

Riding today's trains, I often wonder about all the wires, insulators, and poles along the right-of-way.  From this section, and the many broken wires, I'd say they are not used at all any more.

I've heard of sway-backed horses, but sway-backed barns?!

One characteristic of New Mexico is that most all of their freeway and approach bridges are painted adobe and turquoise color.

This Capri Motel and Cafe along the tracks down toward Raton, New Mexico probably has a roaring past.

The street fronting the railroad seems to always have good direct light for photographing from the train.

The new, trackside Raton, NM, sign with the classic one on the nearby mountaintop.

I love the scroll work on the second story of this building.  Someone has done a nice job of restoring it.

The "Tourist Information Center" in Raton.

This building seems to have an art gallery within.

Soon we were moving farther west heading for Lamy, New Mexico.  Before descending through Glorietta Pass to Lamy, there is an "S" curve where you can catch a photo of the leading locomotives from your seat.

High desert above Lamy, New Mexico.  Windmills on cattle ranges are wind-powered water pumps for the cattle, from wells below.

This bridge dates back to the time of the Battle of Glorieta Pass.

The Battle of Glorieta Pass: A Shattered Dream

A peaceful ranch, once a stage stop on the Santa Fe Trail, rests in a circular valley clasped by steep mountains. Spanish conquistadors named these mountains Sangre de Cristo, "blood of Christ," but in 1862, it was the blood of warring brothers that bathed the land near Pigeon's Ranch.

This battle--the Battle of Glorieta Pass--represented the high water mark for a bold Confederate offensive into Union Territory on the western frontier. Here volunteers from Colorado clashed with tough Texans intent on conquering New Mexico. Victory here would be a necessary prelude to detaching the western states from the Union and expanding the Confederacy to the Pacific Ocean. Referred to as the "Gettysburg of the West" by many historians, this running battle along canyon and ridge from March 26-28, 1862 culminated in the retreat back to Texas of the invading Confederate forces. Glorieta Pass was another great turning point in the Civil War, the battle that shattered the western dreams of the Confederate States of America.

CWSAC Battle Summaries
The American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP)

Glorieta Pass
Other Names: La Glorieta Pass

Location: Santa Fe County and San Miguel County

Campaign: Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign (1862)

Date(s): March 26-28, 1862

Principal Commanders: Maj. John C. Chivington and Col. John P. Slough [US]; Maj. Charles L. Pyron and Lt. Col. William R. Scurry [CS]

Forces Engaged: Northern Division, Army of New Mexico [US]; 4th, 5th, and 7th Texas Cavalry Regiment, artillery, and a company of independent volunteers [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 331 total (US 142; CS 189)

Description: Glorieta Pass was a strategic location, situated at the southern tip of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, southeast of Santa Fe, and on the Santa Fe Trail. In March 1862, a Confederate force of 200-300 Texans under the command of Maj. Charles L. Pyron encamped at Johnson’s Ranch, at one end of the pass. Union Maj. John M. Chivington led more than 400 soldiers to the Pass and on the morning of March 26 moved out to attack. After noon, Chivington’s men captured some Rebel advance troops and then found the main force behind them. Chivington advanced on them, but their artillery fire threw him back. He regrouped, split his force to the two sides of the pass, caught the Rebels in a crossfire, and soon forced them to retire. Pyron and his men retired about a mile and a half to a narrow section of the pass and formed a defensive line before Chivington’s men appeared. The Yankees flanked Pyron’s men again and punished them with enfilade fire. The Confederates fled again and the Union cavalry charged, capturing the rearguard. Chivington then retired and went into camp at Kozlowski’s Ranch. No fighting occurred the next day as reinforcements arrived for both sides. Lt. Col. William R. Scurry’s troops swelled the Rebel ranks to about 1,100 while Union Col. John P. Slough arrived with about 900 men. Both Slough and Scurry decided to attack and set out early on the 28th to do so. As Scurry advanced down the canyon, he saw the Union forces approaching, so he established a battle line, including his dismounted cavalry. Slough hit them before 11:00 am. The Confederates held their ground and then attacked and counterattacked throughout the afternoon. The fighting then ended as Slough retired first to Pigeon’s Ranch and then to Kozlowski’s Ranch. Scurry soon left the field also, thinking he had won the battle. Chivington’s men, how-ever, had destroyed all Scurry’s supplies and animals at Johnson’s Ranch, forcing him to retreat to Santa Fe, the first step on the long road back to San Antonio, Texas. The Federals had won and, thereby, stopped Confederate incursions into the Southwest. Glorieta Pass was the turning point of the war in the New Mexico Territory.

Result(s): Union victory

CWSAC Reference #: NM002

Preservation Priority: I.1 (Class A)

National Park Unit: Pecos NHP

In Albuquerque Cafe Car Attendant, Tom Anderson, and my traveling companion, Tom Anderson, had time to chat.  Tom Anderson, Cafe Car Attendant, has the highest seniority of every Amtrak onboard job except waiter.

Mealtime in the Diner is a very good place where you can meet new people and a writer like me can pick up some interesting life stories.  However, the LSA on this westbound leg of the trip usually seated only me and Tom in a booth, perhaps because we are both over 6 feet tall, so not many new acquaintances were made.  If you are traveling in a party of 4, I would suggest going to meals as two twos so you will meet new folks on your trip.

The Sightseer/Lounge is also a good place to meet fellow travelers.  The upper level is half cushioned seats facing the side windows, and half is tables for 4.  Each table has 2 electrical plugs if you have equipment that needs charging while you are there.  In the past, there was one plug in the whole upstairs, perhaps for a vacuum cleaner at trip's end.  In the center of the car, there is a set of stairs for access to the lower level Cafe.  This cafe is the only other alternative for food and drinks other than the Diner.  Many travelers miss the Cafe because it is on this lower level accessible only from the Sightseer/Lounge Car.  I find that it is hard to see the screen on a laptop during the day in the Sightseer/Lounge because of all the light from the big high windows.  I usually return to my roomette to work on my laptop during the day.  However, after dark, I like to use my laptop with research materials at a table in the Sightseer/Lounge Car.

Another place for conversations is at Crew Change stations (Chicago, Kansas City, La Junta, Albuquerque, Kingman,
and Los Angeles).  Since we were about an hour early into Albuquerque,  giving plenty of time for a passenger to ask Chuck, our car attendant, what the different cars were on the train.  He explained that behind the locomotives, there are, in this order:
Baggage, Transition* (Crew) car, 2 Sleepers, the Diner, Lounge/Sightseer car, and 2 coach cars.

[The Transition Car allows crew to 'transition' from the upper level route through the train to the low-level baggage car.]

Our Conductor from La Junta to Albuquerque was congenial and spent his time
walking the train talking with continuing and new passengers, until the replacement crew came at their appointed time.  Tom Anderson, the Cafe Car Attendant, and Chuck, our Sleeper Car Attendant, talked with passengers as well.

Albuquerque is a good place to make cell phone calls as well.  On both sides of ABQ cell service is spotty, but in town, during the stop, there is excellent service.

The sun was setting on this February afternoon as we pulled out of Albuquerque heading west.  I liked the light through this giant abandoned railroad workshop along the tracks.

Tom had been chilling a bottle of his 'Carls-Not-So-Bad' White Zinfandel in a bucket of ice that Chuck had given us, so we felt it was the appropriate time to have some before dinner call.  The only place you can consume alcohol you bring on the train is in your own accommodations.  Beer and wine are available for purchase and consumption in the Cafe Car, however.  Also, wine and beer are available for purchase with your meal in the Diner.

We both enjoyed the passing red rocks as we made tracks westward.  The horse trailer and other vehicles give a sense of scale to the hills.

I call this formation right outside our window, "Elephant Toes".

Can you imagine how many years that this section of the world was under water to accumulate this much silt, and how many more years to wear down the rest of the area for these now to be mountains?

Dinner at 6:30 was salad followed by herb-roasted half chicken with rice, vegetables and milk to drink.  Mango sorbet for desert (30 calories less than ice cream).

Another good night's sleep followed with me in the lower bunk and Tom in "Coffin Class" (the upper bunk in a roomette). 

Breakfast coming into Los Angeles was from 5 a.m. to 5:30 a.m.  Ridiculously early, in my opinion, since the train is not scheduled into LA until 8:15 a.m. 

Amtrak is the only place I know where your room is stripped BEFORE checkout time at the end of the trip.

The only reason for the abbreviated, unnecessarily early breakfast, and having to drag luggage around car attendants trying to strip beds is, in my mind, so that the employees can jump directly off the train and go home.  Shouldn't this policy be changed so that those spending thousands of points or dollars for accommodations on an Amtrak train be treated like a hotel guest who is not encumbered by housekeeping cleaning up their room before checkout time?

As we were getting ready to detrain in Fullerton, Conductor Dave Arthur came by and took a few minutes to chat.  He and his family plan a trip to Kansas in the Fall, so I suggested that he spend some time at the Depot Inn & Suites in La Plata, Missouri, and see some of the Silver Rails Country attractions (another section of this report).  I gave him a map of Silver Rails Country.  You can also get a free map by signing up for their newsletter at

My friend, Preacher Roe, welcomed me at the Santa Fe Cafe at the Fullerton Station at this early-morning arrival.  There Anna and Jose fixed me an excellent, unrushed breakfast.  Don delivered me to my doorstep in Placentia, some 20 minutes away.

The trip to La Plata had been uneventful, which is good.  We had seen about 1,900 miles of winter wonderland in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri, twice on this round trip from Fullerton, California, to La Plata, Missouri's Silver Rails Country.

While we were traveling westward, airports along the way had been closed because of a second 6-12 inch snowfall during our trip.

The Organizational Meeting of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation in La Plata, Missouri, was a big success as well.  Please follow the link below to my report on the APRHF Organizational Meeting.


Table of Contents for this Report

American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation  - Facebook Page

(Where to purchase)  Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America by Henry Kisor  | An earlier Ride to La Plata, Missouri, on the Southwest Chief 4 months earlier |

| Free Map of Silver Rails Country | Other Reports by Carl Morrison |