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Amtrak's Dark Side -- Southwest Chief between Los Angeles and Flagstaff.


BNSF No. 7423 leads a stack train to California through Flagstaff, February 2, 2010.

Amtrak's Dark Side -- LA to or from Flagstaff, 

either direction you are travelling, it is at night on the Southwest Chief.

  Photos and story by Carl "Mo" Morrison.  Comments welcomed at:    February 1 - 4, 2010

Train Photos by Carl available at:   Contributing Artist at Silver Rails Gallery.

Our "Car Free" trip to Flagstaff, Arizona, on the Amtrak Southwest Chief, was to learn about and enjoy the three segments of history in this town:  Railroad History, Historic Downtown, and the Route 66 Era.  Historic Downtown is a 3-block wide, 5 block long section of Flagstaff, anchored by and north of the Train Station which runs along the south of the 3-block wide section.  The Route 66 section is across the tracks south of the Train Station and is two long blocks wide and 4 blocks long.  We would spend two and a half full days and 2 nights in the Historic Section and take in sights within this section of town without a car.

Southwest Chief in Fullerton, CA

Night Train to Flagstaff

We took the Southwest Chief from Fullerton, CA, to Flagstaff, AZ, on February 1, 2010.  Because the Southwest Chief departs Los Angeles after 6 pm and its first stop is in Fullerton at 7:20 pm.  We knew there would be no scenery during daylight, except for what we could see that was illuminated by the full moon.  Why not go westbound to see the scenery in daylight, you might ask.  The schedule, westbound from Flagstaff to California is even later at night, so you on Amtrak's Dark Side either way you go.

We choose to board all our Amtrak trips in Fullerton rather than Los Angeles, because Fullerton has free parking, it is closer to our homes, and the platform is a few steps from the parking garage.  

We had a roomette, No. 6, rather than riding coach, mainly because I'm too old to spend a night in coach.  With accommodations on an Amtrak train, meals are included.  Knowing this, we waited for our evening meal until we were aboard the train.  

Car Attendant on Sleeper No. 430 was Hakto (he carries a 2 inch by 6 inch card with his name on it in large letters, do you remember him).  He showed us to Rm. 6, upstairs in this bi-level Superliner car.  Large enough for a couple of railfans, but I go for a Deluxe Room when traveling with my wife.  There is one restroom upstairs and three more downstairs, so that is not an issue.  Also downstairs is a shower/dressing room.  Hakto mentioned that heat would come on when it was 60 degrees outside.  He added that it was 62 outside now, so no heat.  It did come on with a vengence after we retired for the evening, and I needed to open the door to the hall to get it cooled down a few degrees, plus I turned down the thermostat that make a 1 or 2 degree difference.  It was pleasant with the sheet and one blanket, for the evening.

Hakto told us that our dinner reservation was for 7:45 pm, so we settled into our room.  The 7:30 call was made at 7:35, and we made our way eastward through Santa Ana Canyon.   Since car 430 is next to the Diner, I stuck my head in and asked if the LSA had made a call for 7:45 yet?  She immediately seated us with a couple from Sant Fe.  I asked what was good on the menu and they responded, "Steak."  Don ordered steak and read wine, and I had salmon and white wine.  Both meals were delicious.

The Santa Fe couple left and Tyler Caccese joined us.  He had travelled from Toronto to San Luis Obispo via the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight, and was returning via the Southwest Chief.  Even though he was a young college student, he said he preferred trains to planes.  Great to see the younger generation with these pro-train feelings.  We talked as he had the roasted chicken dinner and we finished with cheesecake, carrot cake, and coffee.

We had planned to spend some time in the room and sighteer lounge before retiring, but Hakto said he went to bed at 10, so we had him make up the beds a little past ten.

I talked with Assistant Conductor, Dave Arthur, while Hakto made up the room.  He had just made an all-train announcement that 10 pm was the beginning of Quiet Time, and that there would be no other announcements during the night.  He mentioned that if you had games or listening devices without a headset, you should go to the sightseer lounge from coach so others could rest.  In talking with Dave, I mentioned seeing two fellows in the diner with loud phones, and he said the announcement was for their benefit.  Dave mentioned that when Amtrak runs special fares to Albuquerque, like $50, you get a "$50 crowd" in coach, and thus a few more issues of this type during his run to Kingman.  In his announcement, he also mentioned that anyone in coach who had brought personal alcohol, they could not drink it on the train.  Those who brought alcohol in the sleepers could only consume it in their rooms.  (Of course there is alcohol for sale in the Cafe and the Diner with meals).

Hakto talked a while after he made up our room.  He had been my attendant on the Coast Starlight some months before.  He said he liked working the sleepers on the Southwest Chief better than the Coast Starlight because the guests were, "less picky" on the SWC.  Dave said another reason was that there are less stops to work on the SWC than on the Coast Starlight.

Arrival in Flagstaff

Arrival in Flagstaff was on time, about 6 a.m., and we stepped off into cold, dry weather.  Flag had recently received 54 inches of snow, a record setter, but all the sidewalks had been shovelled (a law in Flagstaff to keep it "walkable")  Don knew exactly where the Monte Vista Hotel was located and we walked out of the Amtrak lot and headed up San Francisco St.  We could see the tall, red neon, Monte Vista Hotel sign from the train station.

The Monte Vista Hotel was one reason to travel to and/or from Flagstaff, Arizona on the Amtrak Southwest Chief.  For the 2-star historic hotel fans (I don't have my AAA book to see if it is even listed), the Monte Vista Hotel is a good choice.  The Travel Advisor reviews I read mentioned the train noise, which is actually welcomed by us railfans.  Their ad mentions that they have earplugs for the asking.
Frommer's Review

This hotel is definitely not for everyone. Although it is historic, it is also a bit run-down and appeals primarily to young travelers who appreciate the low rates and the nightclub just off the lobby. So why stay here? In its day, the Monte Vista hosted the likes of Clark Gable, John Wayne, Carole Lombard, and Gary Cooper, and today, the hotel is supposedly haunted (ask at the front desk for the list of resident ghosts). Opened in 1927, the Monte Vista now has creatively decorated rooms that vary in size and decor. Although the hotel has plenty of old-fashioned flair, don't expect perfection. Check out a room first to see if this is your kind of place.
Don purchased a $1.95 pamphlet:  Flagstaff Historic Walk -- A stroll Through Old Downtown  (Map Version) by Richard K. Mangum and Sherry G. Mangum, which mentioned this about the hotel:  
Monte Vista Hotel 1926

The construction of the Monte Vista Hotel was a community-wide project.  In 1926 a subscription drive to build it raised $200,000 in 60 days.  It opened on January 6, 1927.  The hotel was very popular for decades but began to deteriorate in the 1960s.  The present owners have refurbished it and it is again a centerpiece.
(Click any photo below to see a double-sized copy; Click BACK in your browser to return to this page.)






Our room, 405 Walter Brennan, was comfortable.  Next to us was 406 Clark Gable, which had windows on the corner facing south and west.  406's windows have white borders on the top floor in photos above.  405 is one to the left of 406 under the "M" in Monte.
Our room was on 4th floor, left of the white-framed window, under the "M".


What looks like a fireplace at the east end of the Lobby, is actually a staircase to the lower level Cocktail Lounge.



Elevator at the end of the lobby (left), and placque inside (above).

Poster in elevator.


Don ready for 2 nights at the Monte Vista.
Our first assigned room was 305, we entered the elevator and it would not go to 3rd floor.  We went to 4th and walked down.  
Rm 305 was too dark to work on our projects, so we moved to Rm. 405 ... and the elevator liked that floor better.  We found later that 305 was 'haunted'!


View from our room


The Monte Vista's ad in the Discovery Map Flagstaff reads:  100 N San Francisco.  Welcome to the Hotel Monte Vista, home to the world's greatest performers from Humphrey Bogart to Freddie Mercury.  The Rondezvous Martini Bar and Coffee House, and the Monte V Cocktail Lounge (right) offer live music and dancing.  Wi-Fi. (only in the lobby) Affordable elegance!


Santa Fe Depot, 1926

The railroad made Flagstaff.  This Revival Tudor building was built during the boom years of the 1920s when railroads were in their heyday.  It has become a symbol of Flagstaff.

The wagon road built by an expedition lead by Lt. Edward Beal in 1857 led emigrants to Flagstaff in 1882 to work on the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad.

There are remnants of their record-breaking 54-inch snow weeks ago.


Front of Amtrak Station, facing Leroux St.
East end of station w/Route 66 passing in front, BNSF tracks behind.
Leroux St. "T"s into Route 66 and the station.

West portal to the station (right).  Visitor's Center is in the west section of the Station.

Double click for a larger copy, use command "+" to enlarge more so you can read the fine print.
The Visitor Center in the station has excellent resources.  Pick up a free "Flagstaff's Route 66" and
"Flagstaff's Haunted Places."  
Purchase the "Flagstaff Historic Walk -- Stroll Through Old Downtown."
Trackside entrance to the Amtrak Station.
This BNSF train of many, many covered gondola cars  passed.  Stack trains pass often and Amtrak Southwest Chief stops eastbound in early morning and westbound in late evening.



Across San Francisco Street, eastward is the 1889 Depot.
This steel drivin' man statue, seems to be breaking himself out of an iceberg in front of the old Depot.  This area is known as Santa Fe Plaza and below the snow is a short section of track and ties he is working on.

Santa Fe Depot 1889

Flagstaff's first train depot was a boxcar.  In 1886 a wooden depot was built, only to be destroyed by fire.  This depot built of locally quarried Moencopi sandstone replaced it in 1889.  Moencopi sandstone has been used in many of the other buildings in old downtown Flagstaff.



The longest icicles on the north roof were 4 ft. long.


The San Francisco Peaks north of town.


Just east of the Santa Fe 1889 Depot is No. 25 of Southwest Lumber Mills, Inc.

It is between the sidewalk along Route 66 (formerly Front St.) and the BNSF mainline, behind a fence, on BNSF property.
Arizona Lumber and Timber Company purchased this Baldwin Steam Engine in 1917 for lumbering operations in and around Flagstaff, where the engine spent its entire working life.  The City of Flagstaff purchased No. 25 in 1995.  Canvas water bags hung out the engine's window & eventually rubbed off the number 5 on each side, resulting in Two Spot's affectionate Nickname.  This engine was made in Philadelphia in January of 1911. It is Baldwin 35938.


Known to the locals as "Two Spot", number 25 spent its entire working life in the Ponderosa pine forests of Flagtsaff. The locomotive originally operated for the Greenlaw Lumber Company as No. 25 for 14 years. In 1925 the locomotive was sold to the Central Arizona Railroad, still as No. 25. In 1941 it became Saginaw and Manistee Lumber Co. No. 25. In 1953 it was sold to Southwest Lumber Mills and re-numbered to No. 2. No. 2 was rebuilt with a new boiler and firebox in 1950. No. 2 was retired in 1966 and placed on display as No. 25 at the Southwest Forest Industries facilities in Flagstaff.

Gauge: Standard (4 feet 8½ inches)
Builder: Baldwin
Date Built: 1911
Driver Diameter: 44 inches
Cylinder Size: 18 inch bore by 22 inch stroke
Engine Weight: 112,500 lb.
Tractive Effort: 24,800 lb.
Boiler Pressure: 180 psi
Information Source: Schuppert, Thomas. Central Arizona Railroad and the Railroads of Arizona's Central Timber Region. San Marino: Golden West Books, 1993

-- From:


South of the BNSF tracks is a section of Flagstaff that developed during the heyday of Route 66

There were Motor Courts and Cafes that were built for the auto driver on Route 66.  Because they were a block south of Route 66, some of them erected large lighted signs on steel towers tall enough to be seen on Route 66.  None of these signs nor their businesses are in operation today, except the Motel DuBeau.  North of Route 66 one block is the Monte Vista Hotel, with a large sign on top of the 4-story hotel.  It is still in operation. (see above)

At the corner of Phoenix Ave. and Beaver St., where Route 66 originally crossed the railroad tracks and headed south and west out of Flagstaff, A.E. DuBeau built his "Motel Inn" in 1929.  DuBeau came from Los Angeles and chose this spot to create a hotel designed specifically for "the better class of motorists."  The property rented rooms for anywhere from $2.50 to $5 per night and boasted such amenities as in-room baths and toilets, double beds, carpeting, and heated garages for the cold winter nights.  The DuBeau is now an International youth Hostel.


We walked past the "Motel DuBeau" sign to Macys Coffee House & Bakery for breakfast.


Motel Downtowner (corner of San Francisco and Phoenix) (above and below)

The Downtowner Motel was created by K. J. Nackard in 1919 to provide lodging near the route of the Old Trails Highway through Flagstaff.  In the 1930's, once Route 66 had been firmly established as a major route across 2/3 of the nation, Nackard remodeled his home and made it part of his new Auto Inn, which catered to the automobile traffic along the route.  Now the property houses the Grand Canyon International Youth Hoste and private apartments (below).



I can remember, before motels, our family stayed in Tourist Rooms.  Guest Tourist Home was an early motel.  Motel = Motor Hotel.

A few years back Flagstaff changed the name of its main street, Santa Fe Ave, back to Route 66. Old cafes, motor courts, and the colorful downtown district all show evidence of the impact Route 66 had on this town.  

Weatherford Hotel 1898-9

The building was made in two sections, one in 1898 and the other in 1899.  You can see the seam and inside about 3 steps difference between floors in the corridors.  Again Moenicopi sandstone was used and you will see some good decorative carving on it.  Since it opened on New Year's Day 1900, the Weatherford has been a downtown anchor.

For history of the Weatherford Hotel, visit their website at:
also, and

Jordan gave me an excellent tour of the hotel.  Their website describes their 10 rooms as:

We have 10 rooms available. The prices listed below do not include tax. Unless otherwise noted, these rooms have no TVs or phones.

Five small, but nicely decorated, rooms with private baths [$85]
Three larger rooms with a shared bath [$49–$75]
Two beautiful, newly restored rooms on the second floor with claw-foot tubs, TVs, air conditioning, and phones [$130]
The hotel is heated with steam radiators, so if you hear clanking on a cold winter night, it’s not ghosts — it’s the steam pipes expanding... and they’ll stop in a few minutes.

With no rooms with two beds, the Weatherford would not serve my and Don's purposes.  However, with rates as low as $49, we could get two rooms and still enjoy the history, onsite dining and saloons, and the Historic and Route 66 sections of Flagstaff.  Maybe another trip to Flagstaff via the Southwest Chief would include a stay here.  There is no elevator and all rooms are on 2nd or 3rd floor, much like a B&B, so limited mobility would cause you to rather select the Monte Vista in downtown.

The Staff that we were in contact with Jordan, Hotel Manager, and Adam, waiter in Charly's Pub and Grill, were most cordial.  They alone would be the reason for my returning to Flagstaff and staying at the Weatherford.


Restaurant in the Weatherford Hotel, Charly's, where we had dinner.
My enchilada dinner, and posters from Zane Grey movies.  Zane Grey stayed here and wrote the script for one of his movies in the Weatherford Hotel.
1908    Zane Grey, a frequent Weatherford guest, visits Grand Canyon country and starts writing books.

The Hotel Weatherford • 23 N. Leroux Street, Flagstaff, AZ 86001 • 928.779.1919


Adam at the Hotel Front Desk.
The third floor balcony.

Orpheum Theatre 1916 from the Weatherford's balcony.

Weatherford built the Orpheum Theatre in 1911, calling it the Majestic Theater.  Snow on New Year's Eve 1915 crushed its roof and he rebuilt it as the Orpheum.  For years it was Flagstaff's only cinema.  The rear section was added in 1930.

Views from the Weatherfor Hotel Balcony.


Maloneys Sports Bar on the left, San Francisco Peaks to the north.

Monte Vista Hotel, one block east, where we stayed.
The block east between the Weatherford and the Monte Vista.
The Flagstaff Amtrak Station is one block south.

Before I left the balcony, I coldn't resist a final shot north toward the San Francisco Peaks as the sun set.
Second Floor has the Zane Grey Ballroom, and a bar from Tombstone, AZ.


Above and below, one of the beautiful, newly restored rooms on the second floor with claw-foot tubs, TVs, air conditioning, and phones [$130]



Three larger rooms with a shared bath [$49–$75]  The hotel is heated with steam radiators, so if you hear clanking on a cold winter night, it’s not ghosts — it’s the steam pipes expanding... and they’ll stop in a few minutes.

Noticeable on each level is the elevation change between the original and addition to the hotel.


Lounge above the lobby with large windows looking down on Historic Downtown.
Photo inside the hotel.
The Discovery Map Flagstaff and Vicinity describes the Weatherford:  Weatherford Hotel, 23 N Leroux - As authentic as the locally quarried Moenkopi sandstone that makes up his walls in this century-old hotel.

Local Color

(The name of a photo shop at 10 N Leroux)

Other Businesses, Restaurants, and Photo Ops in Flagstaff's Historic Downtown


Alley off Aspen Ave.

For the abundant night photographic opportunities, take a tripod.  My night shots below were shot without a tripod, using various light posts and walls to accomplish the long exposures.

We took three breakfasts at the Downtown Diner  7 E Aspen.  Always welcomed with a smile and asked to 'come back soon' as we left.  With breakfast all day, and reasonable prices, this was our favorite place to eat.
The Discovery Map ad for the Downtown Diner reads:
In the center of historic downtown, featuring tasty burgers and shakes served by our friendly, laid back staff.  Try our Garden Burgers and fabulous alder wood smoked trout. (Which I had for breakfast, see photo below) A favorite for locals and those just passing through.
Smoked trout and eggs - a REAL Railfan's breakfast!

Don, right, enjoyed a more traditional breakfast.

Route 66 runs through Flagstaff directly past the front door of the Santa Fe Amtrak Station


Grand Canyon Cafe  110 E Rt 66  Serving Flagstaff for over 65 years.  Home cooked Chinese and American meals, fresh ingredients, French fries from fresh potatoes!
Painted Desert Trading Company 2 N San Francisco and facing Rte. 66, Native American art and jewelry.

Rte. 66 goes east to Albuquerque and west to Los Angeles.  Since we would be leaving by US Air, I noticed it was down I-17.
Long lines of emigrants in the depression, following Route 66 to California from the drought-stricken Midwest, caused major traffic problems at the railroad crossing at Beaver St.  Flagstaff applied for some New Deal project money to re-align and improve Route 66.  The underpass, like Five Points to the south became a Flagstaff landmark.
The Furniture Barn, with the Holstein milk cow painted on the side, used to be the National Guard Armory.

The Barnes & Noble now occupies Five Points, with the great snow hill (right) viewable from the front entrance.

My favorite shop was the Artists Gallery, 17 N San Francisco.  A cooperative gallery featuring regional artists from northern Arizona.  A diverse selection of fine art and crafts since 1992.  During my third visit there, the resident woodworking artist mentioned that a few blocks north would be a good place to walk to see how much of the 54-inch snowfall remained.  These photos are from that walk north of the Historic Downtown Area:




I love this glass-enclosed porch with a warm view of the snow.
Ice Cold Water.

Yes, they have milk products delivered to your home in Flagstaff.



I always wondered what an attack cat would look like.


Ice comes in many shapes.

Back near the Monte Vista

With a name like this, I couldn't resist a carmel latte's not a Starbucks.


Josh, right, made our coffee drinks and explained that Late For The Train Coffee was a local company.
Check out their website.  It has some nice outdoor photos:

A favorite liquid refreshment place.
17 N San Francisco, upstairs, 40 wines by the glass, 100s of bottles, and over 50 specialty ales.  Appetizers nightly. Voted Best of Flagstaff.  918.773.8463


Railroad art at a Plaza off Aspen Ave.


Murphys Peak and downtown Flagstaff.

  Alley off San Francisco Street.

San Francisco St. bike rack.
  Alley off San Francisco Street.
Plaza off Route 66 near train station.

Route 66 from San Francisco St past the Grand Canyon Cafe.
Monte Vista Sign from Aspen Ave.
San Francisco St. from Rte. 66
Monet Vista and Babbets from Aspen Ave.

San Francisco St.


We flew home to Ontario, CA, on US Air.  Took a cab from the Monte Vista Hotel to Pulliam Airport south of Flagstaff.  The cost:  $14.73.



A nice, small airport with no traffic congestion.  On the south of Flagstaff off I-17.
Ticket Counters, Baggage Check, and Pulliman Cafe.
Our US Air wings to Phoenix.  Pleasant day for flying.  Only one barrell roll nearing Phoenix.  40 minutes from Flag to Phoenix.

Thus ends our Night Train to Flagstaff.  Take the Southwest Chief for the Railroad History, Flagstaff History, and Route 66 history, all without a car!

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