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Rails To Rodeos - 2006

A January rail adventure on the Southwest Chief, California Zephyr, and Coast Starlight

between Los Angeles and Denver

Photos and Report by Carl Morrison,

Trip Report - Part II:

Denver, Colorado

"A Man OutStanding in his Field" is a Farmer.

When our itinerary was set for this trip, my research on Denver showed that the 100th Anniversary Western National Livestock Show and Rodeo was in town.  Being a flatland farmer from Indiana in my youth, this would be something very interesting to me, especially the rodeo.  I enjoyed the rodeo and accompanying exhibits and displays very much.  Check it out for yourself and attend next January:

California Zephyr – DEN to Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Denver, CO.  The Denver Union Station is an excellent place to arrive.  It is a transportation hub for trains and buses.  The new Light Rail ( is an excellent system.  Even though I stayed in outlying Aurora, I was able to drive to a free Park And Ride at Evans station.  Here one may board north and southbound light rail cars on both Line C and D.  Both lines have a northern terminal of Union Station, or 16th Street.  Perhaps by the time you arrive, the two additional routes following I-25 and I-225 will be finished as well.  Currently they seem to be nearing completion and rumor has it that they will be operational in 2007.

From Evans Station, I took Line C to Union Station.  It was standing-room-only with Avalanche hockey team fans going to a game one stop before Union Station. I was surprised, when I got to Union Station, to see a “Free Mall Bus” that would take you the length of 16th street, a main shopping and restaurant street in downtown Denver.  I chose to walk through Union Station where I saw the Ski Train and California Zephyr schedules prominently displayed.  The station no longer has a snack bar/newspaper stand, but the station is being renovated to its original splendor.  Once outside the station, I found, on 16th Street, excellent restaurants (I chose the Corner Bakery, wine-tasting at the Tewksbury & Company, (303-825-1880  1512 Larimer Street) and the famous Tattered Cover Book Store, which has excellent coffee and free wireless Internet service.  I enjoyed myself so much at the Tattered Cover, that I extended my light rail departure from 2:03 to 2:33 then finally left on the 3:03!




Inside our California Zephyr coach car from Denver to Glenwood Springs.

Larry, my host in the Denver area, and I had planned to take the Ski Train to Winter Park Sunday, but a 17-car freight train derailment in tunnel 30 caused its cancellation.  The Ski Train was in Winter Park at the time and it’s 700 passengers had to be bussed back to Denver!  The California Zephyr had to be re-routed through Wyoming until the wreckage was cleared.  We kept calling Julie (1-800-USA-Rail / 800-872—7245) for updates on Train 5 (westbound) and Train 6 (eastbound).  Finally we got more up-to-date information than the non-automated Amtrak operator had by calling the Denver Station directly:  303-825-2583,  As it tuned out, we were the first westbound California Zephyr to take the Moffett Tunnel route since the accident.  This was a good thing because we had plans to stay one night in Glenwood Springs.



^^^Very long coal train heading downhill to Denver.

End of that long coal train. >>>


Small trackside Aspen grove.





Some of the wreckage of the 17 coal cars derailed in Tunnel 30 a couple of days before our departure from Denver.  We were the first passenger train through the area.

We left at 8:05 and boarded a coach car for our 6-hour trip.  Upon reaching the coaches, I noticed Curt Katz was the Attendant.  This meant that we would have an excellent narration of the sights along the way with historical tidbits added by Curt.  We learned that there are 47 tunnels between Denver and Thistle, UT.  There are 30 tunnels before the 6-mile-long Moffatt Tunnel.  At one point there are 2 dozen tunnels in one dozen miles up the west slope of the Rockies.  From one point on this 2% grade, you can see 1/4 of Colorado on a clear day.  Past Plainview, CO, we go through the Flat Iron mountain range, and Gross Resovoir’s dam can be seen off to the north.  This Res. collects Rocky Mountain water for Denver, etc.

Soon after boarding, we had breakfast in the diner, where Karen, the Lead Server pleasantly greeted us.  We then went to the observation car.  Seasoned traveler, Don, had his nose to the glass just like me.  At Boulder City’s 4% grade, off to the north is a yellow school house (below), preserved by the locals.  Originally there was a helper station here for Rollins Pass, known as “Hell Hill,” the most treacherous 36 miles of railroad in the US.

At 9:03 we stopped for a downhill coal train which had engines at the head, middle, and end!

As we approached Moffatt Tunnel, after seeing the wreckage of the coal train cleared from Tunnel 30, there was an announcement that passengers were not to travel between cars while in the tunnel.  The reality of the situation is that coal dust from the many open coal cars going through the tunnel falls into the air as we pass and this, mixed with diesel fumes from our engine can make it very unpleasant inside the cars if the doors are opened while in the 6-2 mile tunnel.  Therefore, passengers were asked to sit down in the car they were currently in as we entered the tunnel and wait for the other end before passing between cars.

The Moffatt Tunnel is the 3rd largest in the US.  During the time in the tunnel, we reach an elevation of 9,293 ft. below James Peak, with 2,000 feet of solid rock above us to the peak.  It was built from 1923 to 1927 and put in service in February of 1928.  The longest tunnel in the US is Mt. McDonald, 9+ miles.  Second is Cascades Tunnel, 7.8 miles.  Third is a tunnel in Montana at 7 miles.

We paralleled US 40 and the milepost detector said 14 degrees and 44 axels.  The speed was restricted to 40 mph, 10 mph for freight, because of cold weather.

Glenwood Springs, CO.  Upon our arrival at 3:15, Don made a quick call to the Antlers Best Western and they came to pick us up.  The driver mentioned that his Comcast Internet service had been down at his house for some 5 days because of the train derailment in tunnel 30 between here and Denver.  I later learned that the fiber optic cable had been severed.  This was disappointing because I always select motels with free Internet service so I can to use it to check my e-mail and upload pictures I have taken for use as iCards to my family and friends.  However, upon arrival at the Antlers Best Western Motel, they said their Internet service was just fine.  We found this to be true when we got to room 246 which was set up for both cable and wireless Internet service.




Car Attendant, Curt Katz, prepared for Winter Park weather, awaits detraining coach passengers.

Views from the Lounge Car between Winter Park and Glenwood Springs, CO:


Colorado River steams through the frigid countryside.


U.S. Hwy. 40 parallels the Zephyr's tracks.


Two Genesis engines, baggage car, and sleeper lead our train west.


"Deadman's Curve" where many vehicles went down this hill into the river.  Below the three trees is a snow-covered station wagon in which teenagers lived.



Lounge Car Attendant, Ben Phillips, was an attendant on Air Force One during the Nixon, Ford, Carter administrations.

Trains 5 and 6 met while we were on a siding east of Glenwood Springs.



I-70, the Colorado River, and the railroad all share the very narrow Glenwood Canyon.  Since I-70 was the last to arrive, it was the most expensive to construct.   It is said that I-70's construction in this canyon cost as much as it did to contruct all the rest of the Interstates.

California Zephyr – Glenwood Springs, CO to Sacramento, CA

Glenwood Springs, CO.  This leg of our trip began in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.  We spent 24 hours here at the Antlers Best Western.  A good place to stay.  We had a suite for $110, and they picked us up at the station, and returned us to the station the next day, with help with our luggage.  Because we wanted to go back downtown before our departure time (1:53 pm) in time to have a light lunch (we were not sure if we could still get lunch this late on the train), we asked for, and got permission to leave our bags with the agent.  (We always tip for such extra services.) 


View from our room's front door.

NOT part of the motel, but just behind it.


Glenwood Springs, CO, Amtrak Station, trackside,






Train 6 approches the station from the west.


Eastbound Train 6 meets westbound freight at Glenwood Springs, CO, Station.

Train 5 arrives and we board for Sacramento.

We saw many bald eagles along the Colorado River.

Downtown is only 1/2 block from the Glenwood Springs Station, so we walked toward the bookstore on Grand.  Earlier on a walk downtown we had seen a sign at The Chocolate Moose and  Ice Cream Parlor, 710 Grand Avenue, 970-945-2733 that they also had wine tasting, starting at 12:30 pm.  I had time to partake and went inside.  Melisa explained that tastings were $2 or $3, depending upon which Bookcliff Vineyards wines I wanted to taste, and that if I bought anything, there was no charge for tasting.  Since I like to taste and select local wines when I’m on a trip of any sort, the tasting was free. (I never by wines by the appeal of their labels, I buy wines by taste.)

While tasting Bookcliff Vineyard wines, and talking with Melisa, she explained that their specialty is to pair chocolate and wine.  They provide 4 pieces of fine Belgian chocolate paired with a taste of wine!  (http://BelvedereChocolates.coom). So, I realized that I’d found the perfect place for the whole family to spend some time before or after a California Zephyr trip to Glenwood Springs, Colorado…wine for the adults and chocolate and ice cream for the rest of the family!

Melisa explained that John Garlich and Ulla Merz are the proprietors of the Boulder, CO winery.  They grow their own grapes near Palisade, CO, and have opened another tasting room there.  Check their website:  I particularly enjoyed their Chardonnay, Viognier, Allegretto (Orange Muscat) and Adagio (Black Muscat).  It was easy to transport my wine purchase the short walk to the train where we consumed it in our room before Sacramento.


Melisa at The Chocolate Moose and  Ice Cream Parlor, 710 Grand Avenue, 970-945-2733.  Bookcliff Vineyards wine-tasting area.

Chocolate area (above).  Ice Cream area (right).


Grand Junction, CO.  A couple of hours after Glenwood Springs is the Grand Junction stop.  This a crew change spot, so there is time to detrain and go into the station where you will find a nice souvenir shop (better arranged than at my last stop here).  I ran into the station and found a phone booth with a phone book (an unusual occurrence in most stations), and looked up the phone number and address of a friend in Clifton.  I called them on my cell phone but they were not home so  I quickly bought, wrote, and stamped a post card telling them that I’d quickly passed through and for them to contact me.  I got this all done before the “All Aboard” call!

Continuing west I listened to the track detectors and the 44 axel train was going 79,2 mph at 4:18 pm.  The temperature was 41 degrees, but in successive detector announcements on my scanner radio, the temperature dropped to 29 degrees before our 5 pm dinner call, and 23 degrees by 10 pm.

Before dinner, while paralleling the Colorado River, near the CO-NV border, the sun began to set presenting the opportunity for some photographs of the beautiful, red-rock, brown sage desert countryside, including bald eagles!

This segment of the California Zephyr route is a good place to understand why they call it:  AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL!



Helper, UT, our first snow while on this train trip.  At nightfall, prior to Helper, it was not snowing, but ominous clouds rested on the western horizon.  In Helper Amtrak is not permitted to stop for more time than to quickly load and unload and we were stopped by a light pole and therefore could see snow falling and some accumulation on the ground.  Later at night, there was enough light from the rooms below us that I could look out and see snow on the cross ties between the rails on the adjacent track.

Provo, UT.  At this stop, the conductor announced that we would be in Salt Lake City approximately 45 minutes early!

Reno, NV.

The long-awaited lowering of the tracks through Reno is now complete, eliminating many downtown grade crossings.


New track-level station, and a few new and unusual views of Reno's downtown.



Snow sheds  and tunnels in the High Sierras in California shot from the last car in the California Zephyr Train 5, January, 2006.




Sacramento, CA.  Once we detrained, caught a cab, and hauled our bags to our room at the within-site-of-the-station Vagabond Inn, and walked one block to the CA RR Museum, we had one hour left.  Coincidentally there were two Amtrak Vice Presidents accompanied by Elizabeth C. O’Donoghue.  Elizabeth is the Director, Corridor Development West, Planning and Analysis.  We met up later as we quickly toured the museum, and she expertly answered our questions about Amtrak routes, past and future.  Of course we mentioned how we were traveling on a So. California to Denver round trip on Amtrak, and she thanked us for traveling on Amtrak.  We exchanged business cars and wished each other Happy (T)rails. 

I  had visited the museum many times in the past, including Rail Fair ’99, but this time I wanted to see the new model train display that had been donated by the Hewes Estate.  There was a docent stationed in the area that knew the history of the models.

We checked the menus in Old Town restaurants, and went through the underpass to the downtown mall and checked menus there as well.  Not being very hungry at the time, we returned to our room and walked back later and had an excellent grilled chicken salad at Johnny Rockets in the mall.

The Vagabond had excellent Internet connections in the room…Ethernet.  If you do not have an Ethernet cable for your laptop, they’ll loan you one at the desk, or if you do not have your computer with you, in the lobby they have a couple of stations and a printer!

Links for Rails to Rodeos:

Southwest Chief
Fullerton, CA to Denver, CO

California Zephyr
Denver to Glenwood Springs
Glenwood Springs to Sacramento

Coast Starlight
Sacramento to Los Angeles, CA

Official Amtrak Schedules
of all three trains

Schedules and Costs for the
three Amtrak Segments.

Print Resources for
Colorado Trains