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California Zephyr, Sacramento to Denver

California Zephyr, Sacramento to Denver

June 21, 2003

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Nick, age 14, and his Grandmother were on their own 'little adventure,' as she called their trip from Chicago to San Francisco and back.  We enjoyed lunch with them after leaving Sacramento at 11:35 a.m.  Her car attendant has said, on their way out to California, that there were 54 tunnels between Denver and Sacramento and she and Sue were trying to count them during lunch to see if he was correct.

We had arrived in Sacramento on the Coast Starlight about 12:20 a.m., and caught a taxi to our near-by Vagabond Inn accommodations the previous evening.  The two-block taxi ride was $5 and worth it to have our two heavy bags transported for us.  The Vagabond Inn has a shuttle, but it doesn't pick up anyone after 11 pm and the Coast Starlight is not scheduled to arrive until midnight.  We planned on taking it back to the station the next morning, but it was being used to go to Home Depot, so they ordered us a taxi at their expense.  Many freights, one being an auto carrier, and Calfiornia Amtraks go through Sacramento Station.  

We waited in Sunny California weather for the 11:35 California Zephyr and upon boarding car 0632, found that we were again adjacent to the diner.


California Zephyr Arrives.

In our deluxe bedroom "E" was a photo copy of an original color Route Guide showing all cities between San Francisco and Chicago.  It said, SACRAMENTO  Home of the California State Railroad Museum--one of the nation's most impressing displays of railroad equipment.  The capital of California was the western terminus for the Pony Express in 1860.  It was also the starting point for the Central Pacific Railroad in 1863.

At Roseville, CA, the J.R. Davis UP yards caught my attention with the re-numbered older SP deisels.  Under the cab windows a UP name and  number plate had been riveted over the old SP number, yet the faded 'Southern Pacific' white lettering was still evident on the black engine's sides.  Even more interesting was the siting of two red-bladed snow removal rotaries that we saw from our dining table while stopped in Roseville.

East of Roseville, we began a long winding climb first through brown, dry grass-covered hills with California oaks, followed by red soil and pine trees.  Eventually the soil turned lighter, more rocky, with a multitude of various species of conifers.  The track was ribbon rail (1/4 mile single rails welded together eliminating the clackety-clack except at crossings and siding switches.  We traveled on double track with mixed freights coming downhill on the adjacent track containing much lumber, some from British Columbia, and at least one coal train.  Beautiful cloudless, blue sky above the deep green pines.


High altitude California lake in the Sierras.


I-80 parallels our track over
Donner Pass and into Nevada


Our car attendant, Robert Mancini, pointed out the American River far below the track on the south side of the train.  He mentioned that there was usually an interpretive speaker from the RR Museum, but not today...shucks!


Donner lake

Our Car Attendant, Robert, pointed out the snow sheds which used to be wood, but which are now concrete, to keep the 30 foot deep snow off the tracks.  Interstate 80 crossed the tracks many times.


Four-mile tunnel, 50 degrees in all tunnels and caves.

On the curves, I noticed we have 2 engines and at the end, 4 express cars and a private car.  I mentioned the private car to Robert, and after the Moffatt Tunnel he had left the following facts in our compartment from an official document.  The car was the Silver Iris #800285, owned by Robert M. Klein, 775-851-7245.  It was to be added to Train 5 (California Zephyr) at the rear with the Iris' vestibule to the rear.  It was to run on generator.  Water car will provide with wet ice before departure.  Passengers will travel from origin to destination.   The notes said UPRR will add car in Sparks to rear of consist, yet a later note on the page said UPRR will remove car at Sparks.  Perhaps it was a round trip from Sparks to Sacramento or farther west, then returned to Sparks.  The total Revenue was $1,417.70 and Transportation Mileage was $549.70.


Through announcements, I learned that we have 2 sleeping cars in the front and one in the back.  An interesting Consist that I recorded in Sparks as:

Engines 72 and 66, Mail car 1754, Transition Sleeper 39016, Sleeping Cars 32028, 31209 (South Dakota), Diner 38042, Sightseeing Lounge 33007, Coaches 34006, 34124, 34072, and 32077 plus 4 express cars then the private car.

At 3:15 p.m., we passed the westbound California Zephyr and our attendant mentioned that they were seven hours late, as both trains stopped and something was passed from one to the other.

We passed Stanford Curve where you can see both the engines and last car...much like the curve north of the San Luis Obispo Station, in California.

1578     1581

Robert pointed out "Indian snow...Apache here, Apache there!"

All the wood snow sheds, a constant fire hazard during the steam engine days, have been replaced with concrete snowsheds.  Recently a grain train derailed partially inside one and you could see missing side and roof spots as the end of our train passed through.



Truckee, California, Station





and Snow Rotary

We had seen rotaries earlier in Roseville.

We leave California and enter Nevada.

The Route Guide also says, RENO Known as the "Biggest Little City in the World," Reno began as a quiet rail stop and later became a boom town.  The city fathers legalized prize-fights, hosting Jim Jeffries vs. Jack Johnson fight in 1910.  Gambling was legalized in 1931.


First sight of urban Nevada was Reno where we go
each August for the 5,000-car Hot August Nights.

Robert says that Reno is so hot they can see Sparks (NV) where we will stay at the Nugget Hotel in August for the 5,000-car Hot August Nights car show.  Robert had an interest in Classic Cars also so I gave him a post card sample that my friend and I will use on our "Coast to Coast, Border to Border" trip in Spring 2004, driving our '55 and '56 Chevys

The Trukee River and Interstate 80 and the railroad all three travel together from Trukee to Reno.  Nice scenery...rushing river rapids, green trees along the banks, with an occasional fisherman.

After dropping from Truckee, California, to the desert prior to Reno, Nevada, we lose all trees for sand and scrub brush as our scenery.

We enjoyed dinner with a couple from New York (retired social workers) who had taken the train down the east coast to Jacksonville, FL, then across to California for their daughter's graduation from UCLA.  Now they had gone up the California coast to Sacramento, as we had done, and boarded the California Zephyr for their trip back to New York.  We watched the desert sunset from our dinner table, since we were there for 2 hours:

1601    1602

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Up at 7:30 for shave and shower and breakfast with a couple from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, after a reasonably sleep-filled night in our 'deluxe' bedroom.  Deluxe bedroom really means a 2/3 car width room with couch which makes into a twin bed, a narrow upper berth, a sink and mirror, chair and airplane sized bathroom that includes a shower.  Anthony was our server.  This was his first California Zephyr trip from Chicago, his home base, to Oakland and back.  Other routes out of Chicago go to Dallas and Seattle.  He was working for Amtrak after finding the job on the Internet and receiving training.  He had worked 4 1/2 years as a flight attendant for United, but was 'furloughed.'  He hopes to be hired back after this summer job with Amtrak.  I notice at breakfast that the private car was lo longer with us.


There is about 1,000 miles of desert from Reno, Nevada, through Utah to Grand Junction, CO with what appeared to be one resident per mile. The engines we passed now were BNSF with mixed freight and auto carriers or finely ground coal.  The eroding mesas on the north side of the track are the Book Cliffs.

1604    1605

1607   1613

1614   1615

Plenty of desert viewing between breakfast and dinner and time for travelogue writing and picture processing to some tunes I'd copied to my computer.

Robert announced we'd soon see the Colorado River and Ruby Canyon.  The NV/CO border is marked on the side of the red sandstone wall and an announcement was made to turn our watches back one hour from Pacific to Mountain time..  

    1620   1621

There were many river rafters in the muddy summer Colorado River waters and all presented us their version of "Moon River."

1626    1631

Robert pointed out some unusual rock formations in the river which looked like hardened lava.  I thought they might be dubbed 'moon rocks.'

1629     1628

We traveled 238 miles along the Colorado River along the western side of the Continental Divide toward Denver.

Grand Junction was long announced as a place one could buy cherries and grapes as well as dinasaur bones, books,  soft drinks, cigarettes and souvenirs.  I bought a 'golden spike' with a miniature train on it for $15.

The Route Guide says, GRAND JUNCTION  The Gunnison and Colorado Rivers meet here.  Grand Junction is the gateway to Mesa Verde national Park, the Colorado National Monument and Grand Mesa National Forest.

Old train station sign.


Old Amtrak poster (left) and current one ( above)
in Grand Junction Lobby


Unique clock outside
Grand Junction Station.


The "Zephyr" in the lobby

Mesa east of Grand Junction
with cherry trees in foreground.


Other passengers were enjoying the scenery as well.


Some hills took on their own personalities,
we called this one Craggy Cliff, see his
eyes and nose?


A red bus Azteca De Oro
from L.A. to El Paso
streaks through the desert.

Glenwood Hot Springs, Colorado

The Route Guide says, GLENWOOD SPRINGS   Roaring Fork River meets the Colorado on the right.  The infamous gunslinger Doc Holilday is buried here.  Blenwood Springs was also a favorite of Teddy Roosevelt, who stayed at the Colorado Hotel and enjoyed the revitalizing waters of the Yampa Hot Springs.


Lunch was with Donna (Left) and Oneta (Right)
which started at Glenwood Springs stop.

Donna pointed out the bike trail
along I-70.

Sue skipped lunch and enjoyed the cherries and grapes ($5 for both) that I had bought at the Grand Junction stop.  Grand Junction also has nectarines and peaches in their season.    I had the cheese burger and Pinot Grigio wine from Trento, Italy,  nice flavor, not quite as sweet as Zinfandel.  Donna is a cafeteria manager in DeMoines, Iowa, and talked of how proud she was of her program.  She related how she and the staff join school convocations and do the mashed potato dance!  Oneta works for a railroad engine manufacturer and lives in Dowers Grove, Illinois. Oneta is traveling with her mother and both she and Donna are traveling in coach.

During lunch I took several pictures of the rafters and kyakers in the river, I-70 which cost millions per mile to construct in it's bi-level configuration, and accompanying bike trail.  All this along with the railroad pretty much fills the canyon with summer activities.

The Route Guide says, GRANBY  This station is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.  The vast meadowlands in this area make up a region called Middle Park.  Evidence of aboriginal people has been found at nearby Windy Gap Dam dated at 3000 B.C. -1200 A.D., predating American Indians.  Silver Creek ski area and Winter Park are across the valley to the right.


The Granby, CO, stop was a smoke stop.  The mother (right)
was accompanying her son to a dwarf convention and
had him practice "Amazing Grace" on his pocket trumpet
again as she had at Grand Junction.  I asked if he had made
any tips and he proudly showed me a $1 bill.


UP seems to have new section crew trucks.

"All Aboard!"

At 5 p.m. dinner, with waiter Lee B. Morris, who continued to deliver meals, drinks, and desserts with no idea who got which items, we sat with Lynn and Jill, retirees from Cal State Long Beach and Anaheim City Schools respectively.  Lynn had been in charge of Distance Learning and Adult Education and Jill in charge of Educational Technology.   They now live in Sun City/Lake Tahoe and have a home in Roseville, California.


During dinner we passed Winter Park (Fraser) Station.  The Route Guide said, This is the station for the nearby Winter Park Ski REsort.  The Fraser River cuts a swath trhough Arapahoe National Forest and Fraser Canyon.  The town of Fraser proudly calls itself the "Icebox of America" because of its winter temperatures of -50 degrees F.  The Devil's Thumb is a rock formation on top of the ridge to the north.

Right at the end of dinner, we entered the 6.2 mile Moffat Tunnel and were instructed not to pass between cars to avoid diesel fumes entering the cars.  

As we were went down the eastern slope of the Rockies toward Denver, we passed empty coal car train of 106 cars with both puller engines and 2 pusher engines (above).

Coming down the eastern slope, we could see from Boulder to Denver and as far as 1/3 of Colorado.

DENVER,says the Route Guide, is The Mile High City and is breathtaking to behold, and the Amtrak station is in the midst of it all.  You'll be within walking distance of Coors Field, restaurants and hotels in this vibrant downtown area.

Our arrival in Denver was only 1 1/2 hours late.  ( I say only, wait until you read the next chapter!)  Long-time friend Larry picked us up and drove us to his home in Aurora, CO.


Click "California Zephyr Denver to Chicago" below to see why the clock on the Denver Station above says 12:50 A.M.!

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