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Florida To Indy On The Meteor And Cardinal

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(December 16, 2005 - January 10, 2006)
Articles by Jack M. Turner
Photos by Jack Turner and John Turner (photos copyright Jack M. Turner)

Section Index:
Part 1 - A Tale of Close Connections
Part 2 - Aloha Hawaii
Part 3 - Eastbound on Amtrak


            For several years the lure of tropical sea breezes, swaying palms, and beautiful scenery tempted my family to trek to Hawaii.  There was one small complication: I do not like to fly.  About four years ago it came to my attention that Princess cruises had added an itinerary that provided roundtrip passage from California to Hawaii with visits to four of the islands.  A Christmas 2005 cruise was secured and, of course, a transcontinental Amtrak journey was sandwiched around the cruise.

              The trip was booked in January 2005 and was routed via Washington, Chicago, and Emeryville for scenic viewing of snow scenes on routes we had previously traversed only in the summer.  My wife Christine and son John would fly home from Los Angeles due to school schedules while I would return directly on the Sunset Limited.  Little did we know that my return would have to be rerouted due to damage inflicted upon the rail line by Hurricane Katrina later in the year.

            As soon as semester exams ended on Friday December 16, Christine, John, and I motored to Jacksonville, FL to catch the northbound Silver Meteor.  Train # 98 departed Jacksonville at 4:37pm, a mere 23 minutes late.  We were off to a good start.  But 13 minutes later an ominous communication from the CSX dispatcher perked up my ears: "Wait at Callahan; it will be 30 minutes until I figure something out."  At 5:03pm we halted, as instructed, just south of Callahan, FL.  Soon the dispatcher radioed something about a mainline derailment of train # 174 at Broadhurst, a pilot would be sent, and we would detour via Waycross. 

            Broadhurst is a point just south of Jesup, GA on the former Atlantic Coast Line main connecting Savannah and Jacksonville.  Fortunately, an alternate route exists between Folkston, GA and Jesup via Waycross.  The Folkston-Waycross line feeds various CSX routes that fan out from Waycross and last saw scheduled passenger service when Amtrak ran the Floridian to Chicago. The detour was welcomed by me as I had never ridden the Waycross-Jesup segment which last saw scheduled passenger service when Seaboard Coast Line's West Coast Champion took that route over 35 years ago to allow a through New York to Montgomery, AL coach to be dropped at Waycross.

            Darkness fell and for once I wished Viewliner sleeper Northern View still had the little television screens that played movies in the rooms.   A freight engineer radioed that he had two engines acting up to which the dispatcher replied: "I'll add you to the wish list."  Our dinner seating mercifully came at 6:30 and we took our time since we were going nowhere fast.  The good news was that we had booked the Silver Meteor as its schedule offered a comfortable connection in Washington of just under 10 hours.  The trailing Silver Star would obviously also be delayed and would be hard pressed to make the connection with the Capitol Limited.  Even with a day or two of leeway, we would not want to start the trip with a misconnect as the cruise ship would depart with or without us on December 22.  The bad news was that standing still in the darkness for three hours was boring and I could only hope we really would detour rather than the train being annulled.

            A welcome sight appeared at 8:22pm as the northbound AutoTrain pulled up on the adjacent track and delivered our CSX pilot.  We immediately resumed our northward journey, surprisingly in advance of train # 52Our progress continued for 17 minutes then we were put on a siding at Bologne to allow a parade of southbound freights to pass.  Many of these had detoured via Waycross and it was obvious the dispatcher was fleeting trains over the detour route.  A clear signal allowed us to proceed at 9:26pm; at 9:33 we branched off on the old Floridian route at Folkston.  At 10:09 a right hand curve at Waycross put us on the Jesup line, unexpected new mileage for me.  In recent years this route has been used a few times to bypass major mainline trackwork but I never had the chance to ride a detour train.  The track was smooth and the nonstop run from Folkston to Jesup consumed only 40 minutes more than the direct mainline route.  Nevertheless when we departed Jesup at 11:02pm, we were 5 hours, 28 minutes late.

            Overnight we lost another 30 minutes waiting for a "dog-catch" crew to replace our engineers and conductors whose hours of service had expired.  The new day found us a shade under 6 hours late at Rocky Mount.  Our 7:15am departure put us just behind the scheduled departure of the northbound Silver Star and we would mimic the schedule of train 92 all the way to Washington.  The run to the nation's capitol was smooth and our 5 hour, 25 minute late arrival at 11:32am was actually 21 minutes ahead of the Star's scheduled arrival.  This allowed enough time for a quick Metro ride and a brisk walk to the new World War II Memorial followed by a respite in Union Station's wonderful Club Acela and a look at Union Station's holiday decorations.

Above: The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Above: Washington Union Station is decorated for Christmas both outside and inside.

            The westbound Capitol Limited left Washington 37 minutes late at 4:32pm, most likely to allow baggage to be transferred from the Silver Star which had managed to slip into Washington at about 3:45pm.  We could only imagine the anxiety that connecting passengers would have endured as their connection time diminished.   A few more delays set us back to 47 minutes late at Rockville, our first stop.  Giving away so much time early in the trip was not a good sign as our connection in Chicago was under 5 hours and had been missed 5 of the past 6 days due to a freight derailment west of South Bend, IN.   When we passed the eastbound Capitol at 6:23pm near Martinsburg, WV, concern grew as its 8 1/2 hour lateness signaled that things were still slow to the west.

            As on the previous night, the early winter nightfall made the evenings seem eternal.  Where our usual summer travels would reveal beautiful scenery, only the black of night loomed outside the windows of our family bedroom in Superliner sleeper 32031.  Passage through small towns broke the monotony as bright Christmas lights twinkled from front porches and main streets, momentarily replacing bleak blackness with a joyful cacophony of colors.

            The winding mountain path beyond Sand Patch Grade made for a great night's sleep.  We awoke at 6:00am as we departed Elyria, OH, 3 hours late.  We still were in the ballgame as far as making our connection but it was getting tight since the derailment logjam still lay ahead.  The eastbound Lake Shore Limited trudged past at 7:00am near Sandusky, nearly 41/2 hours late.  Over a dozen freight meets since Sandusky set us back to 4 hours, 44 minutes late at South Bend.  Derailed coal cars marked the spot west of New Carlisle, IN that had bottled up much of the railroad for a week but fortunately we did not incur any added delay.  Our 1:25pm arrival in Chicago left us a 25 minute connection and we were directed straight to the next platform where the California Zephyr was boarding.

Left: The westbound Capitol Limited pauses at snowy Toledo, OH on December 18, 2005. Right: An interesting rail museum visible at Elkhart, IN displays a variety of former New York Central equipment.

Top: Numerous farms were visible from our sleeping car window across northern Indiana
Left and Right: A derailed coal train caused major delays for several days near South Bend, IN.

            Westbound train # 5 departed the Windy City at 1:50pm shortly after we settled into the family bedroom in sleeper 32070 whose name Alabama had unfortunately been removed from the exterior.  The western suburbs were covered in a fresh blanket of snow, exactly what we had hoped to see during our journey.  By Princeton, less than two hours outside Chicago, the car's toilet vacuum system failed and veteran Amtrak employees advised that it was a problem that had seen on recently refurbished cars.  For the remainder of the trip to California we would have to use the facilities in the forward sleeper; we were just thankful we were downstairs as the upper level smelled like a locker room by the next morning.

Left: Part of the METRA commuter fleet sits out the weekend in the Naperville, IL yard.
Right: A winter trip on the California Zephyr delivered promised snow covered scenes setting the stage for Christmas.

            The venerable steam engines displayed at Galesburg and Burlington were decorated with Christmas lights as were many houses we passed through the evening.  The grand prize winner had to be a home adjacent to the station in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa whose yard display was enjoyed during dinner in the dining car.  A special holiday dinner of roast turkey, dressing, potato, broccoli, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie harkened back to a bygone era when my parents and I shared Thanksgiving dinner on Illinois Central's City of Miami.

            Morning found us in the diner early so we could have breakfast before Denver.  Our wonderful waiter from the previous night, Michael Brown, greeted us with a smile and gave us excellent service.  We made a point of sitting at his tables as he was one of Amtrak's finest wait staff members we have ever encountered.  A stroll along the platform at Denver confirmed that Amtrak California P32 # 2051 was in charge of our train; I had noticed its different shape from several cars back during a station stop in Illinois.  The 15 degree temperature and 2 degree wind chill quickly sent me back inside the train where the temperature control was absolutely perfect.  (Following our trip I discovered on a Trainweb online message board that # 2051 had been borrowed on the prior eastbound trip due to an engine shortage at Oakland.)

            We found seats in the refurbished sightseer lounge for the assault on the Rockies.  Car 33041 had been remodeled with booth style tables at the forward end which reduced the number of good seats for enjoying the oversized lounge windows.  Many passengers seemed to like the booths as they were useful for playing cards or socializing in groups of four.   Snow was falling as we reached Moffat Tunnel and the ski slopes were doing a brisk business at Winter Park.  We stepped off the train at Fraser which looked like a scene from Siberia with snow piled high beside the streets and at least 1 1/2 feet deep at trackside.  John had the kind of fun any Floridian would enjoy as he tossed snowballs at the side of the train. 

Top Left: Reupholstered seats in rear of the sightseer lounge on the California Zephyr.
Top Right: Sunrise at Denver on December 19, 2005.
Bottom Left: An Amtrak California engine makes a rare appearance on the CZ.
Bottom Right: Train # 5 begins the climb up the Front Range west of Denver.

Top Left: The Denver Reservoir seen from the CZ.
Top Right: Rocky outcroppings are a hallmark of the Rocky Mountains.
Bottom Left: The California Zephyr follows frozen waters as it ascends the Rocky Mountains.
Bottom Right: The popular Winter Park ski resort stands right beside the railroad east of Fraser, CO.

Top Left: The snow depth is evident as train # 5 stops to await clear track.
Top Right: Arriving Fraser, CO.
Bottom Left and Right: Fraser, CO looks like Siberia on December 19, 2005.

            Our trek along the frozen Colorado River was totally different from our summertime travels over the old Rio Grande route as the world of ice and white snow contrasted sharply with the whitewater river and vibrant colors of summer.  During lunch in the diner we viewed the remains of a coal train derailment near Gore Canyon and spotted eagles, beavers, and elk along the frozen river.  We lost 30 minutes on the siding at Grizzly, just east of Glenwood Springs, waiting for the eastbound CZ which was running two hours late.  We would be 80 minutes tardy at Glenwood.  We dropped back to over two hours late at Grand Junction in large part as a result of a 75 minute stop due to dispatching issues.  Once more the holiday turkey dinner was chosen for dinner as the Zephyr traversed the remote Utah desert.  The day was capped off by the interesting view of the headlights of highway traffic far below on US 6 as we curved downhill from Soldier Summit.

Above: Scenes from the California Zephyr in the isolated stretch between Granby and Dotsero along the Colorado River.

Top: Icicles and the frozen Colorado River are among the winter sights visible from the California Zephyr.
Center Left: Colorado's Red Canyon is distinctive during any season with its Mars-like appearance (ignoring the trees).
Center Right: Afternoon along the Colorado River east of Glenwood Springs.
Bottom Left: Interstate 70 with its notable bilevel design was built to fit in Glenwood Canyon with minimal environmental impact.
Bottom Right: A beautiful Colorado sunset as seen from the CZ on December 19, 2005.

            Tuesday December 20 dawned after we left Elko, NV at 5:54am and dense fog soon limited visibility to 100 feet.  Our excellent car attendant David Juhl advised that we had lost more time overnight.  The tune I've Been Everywhere came to mind as we paused at Winnemucca a shade over three hours late at 9:25am.  Thirty minutes later we came to a stop in the desert as the head end crew tried to remedy a problem with engine 2051 which wouldn't load properly.  After 35 minutes a fix was found by Union Pacific's maintenance desk and we resumed westward.  Eastbound freight traffic was extremely heavy resulting in another 40 minute delay and we were over 5 1/2 hours late at Sparks.  Reno passengers were handled to and from Sparks via shuttle bus as the Reno station was  closed due to a dispute over elevators and other issues related to access to the platform along the new track through the new below ground trench designed to eliminate grade crossings through downtown.  We missed the views of downtown Reno as we traversed the new alignment.  I quickly worked the cell phone before reaching the Sierra Mountains and cancelled a planned dinner with relatives in the Bay Area and shifted our hotel reservations from Emeryville to Sacramento as this train was liable to reach its final destination near 11:00pm. 

Left: Nevada's desert scenery viewed just after dawn on December 20, 2005 contrasts with the prior day's Rocky Mountains.
Right: Truckee, CA appears from the train to be a pleasant little mountain town.

            Our first wintertime trip across Donner Pass provided the hoped-for snow scenes but fading daylight and an approaching storm reduced the view somewhat.  First class passengers were provided dinner in the dining car at 5:30  as we worked downhill toward Colfax.  The California Zephyr eased to a stop in Sacramento at 7:29pm, 5 hours and 14 minutes late.  Within minutes the courtesy van from the Courtyard Marriott - Natomis arrived to ferry us to a welcomed night in a stationary room after four straight nights on the train.  We were pleased with the hotel's accommodations and friendly staff who were willing to pick us up on short notice.

Left: Donner Lake is a scenic highlight of the trip over Donner Pass.  Its brilliant hue is better seen on a sunny day.
Right: The California Zephyr works its way over Donner Pass.

            The hotel van returned us to the station for the next morning's 6:35 San Joaquin to Bakersfield.  Our change of plans had swapped a day aboard the Coast Starlight, which was predictably late, for an earlier arrival into Los Angeles.  In exchange for losing another ride along the coast, I gained my first trip over the Sacramento-Stockton route which was one of only three segments of the Amtrak system I had never traversed (the others are Galesburg-West Quincy and Detroit-Pontiac).  The four car bilevel Amtrak California train was near capacity as misconnecting  passengers from our CZ joined the usual morning crowd.  Many of those passengers had been housed by Amtrak at a downtown motor inn; we were happy we stayed at the Courtyard Marriott.  The line through the San Joaquin Valley provided alternating urban and agricultural views and meets with several BNSF freights and northbound San Joaquins.  Lunchtime offered a chance to eat in the cafe lounge car which had an interesting arrangement of tables seating 1, 2, or 4 people.  The food selection in the cafe car was adequate for lunch and provided a change from the menus on the long distance trains.

Top Row: The interior of the comfortable cafe car on our San Joaquin.
Bottom: Amtrak San Joaquin # 702 makes a brief station stop in its namesake valley.

            Bakersfield was reached at 12:26pm, just shy of 30 minutes late, and the capacity crowd jockeyed for position in the lines for the multiple connecting busses for various California destinations and Las Vegas.  A functional bus terminal had been added since our last rail trip into Bakersfield several years ago, however, the signs identifying bus destinations were woefully inadequate which led to confusion.  Fortunately, we had boarded the proper bus for a 2 hour ride to LA Union Station.  An excellent taxi driver deposited us at the wonderful Downtown Los Angeles Marriott by 3:00pm, six hours before our original scheduled time aboard the Coast Starlight (which actually arrived after midnight).  Along the way our friendly driver pointed out a few points of interest which made the short ride enjoyable.

            Thursday December 22 was the day we had waited for as we would trade in the snow scenes of the train trip for a luxurious trip to the tropical Hawaiian Islands aboard Princess Cruises' Island Princess.  We returned to Union Station and caught a 9:40am Thruway Bus to San Pedro and were surprised when we arrived at 10:10, over an hour early.  The bus deposited us at the Amtrak stop in front of the Catalina Ferry Terminal which is across the parking lot from the cuise terminal, however, a free shuttle bus delivered us right to the terminal where we checked our luggage at curbside.  Our bags would be delivered straight to our stateroom well before our 5:00pm sailing time.  With time to spare we crossed the parking lot and stepped aboard the tourist friendly Port of Los Angeles Waterfront Red Car Line for a 1 1/2 mile ride each way between the World Cruise Center stop and the 22nd Street/Marina stop.  The replica red car operates on an active freight line which is passenger only during daylight hours.  Plans call for the line to be extended as San Pedro seeks to increase its tourist base.  

Above: The Port of Los Angeles Waterfront Trolley seen at the World Cruise Terminal stop in San Pedro.


            Island Princess is a beautiful ship commissioned in 2003 with a passenger capacity of 1,970.  Our stateroom on the Baja Deck (deck # 11) was approximately the size of three or four Amtrak deluxe bedrooms.  We were able to board the ship in early afternoon, shown to our stateroom, and invited to tour the ship and enjoy a buffet lunch in the Horizon Court buffet which was open 24 hours per day throughout the cruise.  Soon our luggage appeared in our stateroom which allowed time to unpack the suitcases and put  our clothes in the dresser drawers and closet.  Incredibly, our multiple suitcases and tote bags all could be kept out of sight as there was ample space below the beds and in the closet. 

            Sailing from San Pedro was an interesting experience as the massive highway bridge linking San Pedro to Long Beach stood as a backdrop as we sat docked at the cruise terminal and reflected on a favorite book and movie The Dove, a true stoy about a teenager who sailed solo around the world in the 1970s and ended his voyage at this very harbor.  Darkness had set by the time we set sail and holiday revelers aboard boats docked in San Pedro's marinas exchanged Christmas greetings with passengers standing on the top decks of Island Princess. 

Above: The bridge linking San Pedro and Long Beach as seen from Island Princess while docked at San Pedro, CA.

            The cruise from the mainland to Hawaii took four days and five nights and provided nonstop activities.  During daylight hours physical activities such as walking the promenade deck, relaxing in one of the swimming pools, playing miniature golf, shuffleboard, and ping-pong, plus numerous indoor activities kept us busy.  A full service spa and fitness center were available to those desiring a massage or a spin on the treadmill.  Evenings offered an outstanding variety of stage shows and musical acts, big screen feature movies, dancing, and intimate lounges.  The views of stunning Pacific sunrises and sunsets became a daily ritual enjoyed from our private balcony.  Punctuating these busy days were the outstanding meals of Island Princess' many dining rooms and buffets.  While we especially enjoyed the five course dinners in the Provence Dining Room shared with the Locatelli family from Santa Cruz and a couple from LA,  we also found the 24 hour buffet useful for quick meals and the poolside hotdog stand and pizzeria handy for sunbathing days.  Christmas dinner was another culinary delight and the wait staff wore Santa hats.  Our waitress "Pra On" and junior waiter "Pom" were exceptional on this and every night of the cruise.  A pair of specialty restaurants provided an alternate fine dining choice and one night we had a terrific Cajun meal at the Bayou Cafe.

Top Row: Christmas decorations give the atrium and an elevator lobby on Island Princess a festive appearance.
Center Left: A Pacific Ocean sunset seen from our balcony.
Center Right: Pianist Brendan Jones performs in one of the ships lounges.
Bottom Left: The ship's wake speads out as seen from the Promenade Deck.
Bottom Right: Our stateroom was larger than deluxe bedrooms on Amtrak and featured a similar upper berth arrangement.

Top Left: The author and family at Christmas Eve dinner on the Island Princess.
Top Right: Our tablemates, the Locatelli family, at Christmas Eve dinner.
Bottom Row: Musical numbers from Grease and Oklahoma are performed in the Princess Theater.

Top Row: Sunrise pictures taken only 17 minutes apart in the mid-Pacific Ocean on Christmas 2005.
Bottom Row: Sunrise on December 26, 2005 as viewed 30 minutes apart.

            After five nights at sea, it was a moving experience to step onto our balcony and watch the sun rise behind Diamond Head as we entered the harbor at Honolulu on December 27.  We rented a minivan and stopped for a distant view of the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor (lines were too long to actually visit the site) then drove through the University of Hawaii campus and drove up to The Punchbowl, a military cemetary with a fabulous view of Honolulu and Waikiki from the top of a dormant volcano.  We then circled the island, stopping to enjoy the views of Oahu's rugged Pacific coastline and the famed North Shore where 25 foot waves at Sunset Beach and the Bonsai Pipeline attracted some of the world's best professional surfers.  Much of the coast reminded us of the California coastline seen from Amtrak's Coast Starlight.  The CD player supplemented the mood with the sounds of the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean which we had packed for the occasion. 

Top Left: The first view seen from our stateroom balcony at dawn on December 27, 2005 was sunrise behind Diamond Head.
Top Right: Turning in the opposite direction, we could see Waikiki and its many hotels as we approached Honolulu.
Bottom Left: Well-known Aloha Tower was right outside the cruise terminal in Honolulu.
Bottom Right: The Punchbowl, a military cemetary perched above Honolulu and Waikiki.

Top Left: The coastline north of Diamond Head on the island of Oahu (Photo by John C. Turner).
Top Right: Beaches north of Koko Head, also on Oahu (Photo by John C. Turner).
Center and Bottom Rows: Beaches along the coast of Oahu.

Above: Waves up to 25 feet high at Sunset Beach on Oahu's famed Northern Shore.

            An afternoon visit to Dole Plantation provided a 2 mile narrow gauge miniature train ride through the company's pineapple fields which was very scenic and relaxing after a few hours on the highway.  In an earlier time Hawaii was served by a network of sugar cane railroads, however, highway transport eventually won the battle and the rails were mostly pulled up.  The Pineapple Express began service in late 2002 and two trainsets loop the property via a figure-eight track layout connected in the middle by a gauntlet track.  In addition the plantation has a tropical garden, a challenging shrubbery maze, and a gift shop featuring all types of pineapple themed merchandise and foods. 

Top Left: The Dole Pineapple Express curves past several banana trees.
Top Right: Our train waits its turn to traverse the gauntlet track in the center of the figure eight line through Dole Plantataion.
Center Left: Acres of pineapples seen from the Dole Planation train.
Center Right: Flower gardens seen from the train.
Bottom Row: Dole Plantation Gardens and the Pineapple Express.

            Late afternoon took us to the southern tip of Oahu for a spectacular sunset and a traditional Hawaiian luau at Germaine's Luau  Set on the sands overlooking the Barber's Point Lighthouse, Germaine's offers the traditional imu ceremony where the evening's main course, roasted pig, is unearthed from the sand with great fanfare.  Guests dine on a delicious Hawaiian luau buffet, then enjoy a well choreographed show featuring male and female dancers performing the hula and other Pacific island dances, a fire sword act, and a set of Christmas songs during that season.  The price of admission includes a shell lei and two tropical drinks per person in addition to the meal and show.  Looking back on our trip, our evening at Germaine's defined our visit to Hawaii as sitting under swaying palms on a 72 degree tropical night beside the ocean, feasting on polynesian delicacies, and watching swaying dancers was one of those experiences we will never forget.

Top: The setting sun viewed at Germaine's Luau, Barber's Point, Oahu, HI.
Center Left: The Barber's Point Lighthouse at Germaine's Luau.
Center Right:The fire sword act captivates the audience at Germaine's.
Bottom Row: A variety of island dances entertain guests at Germaine's Luau on December 27, 2005.

            After the busy day we returned our rented minivan to Avis and returned to Island Princess for a restful sleep.  While we slumbered, the ship sailed overnight to our next port.  This is one of many similarities between rail and cruise ship travel as both modes allow passengers to fall asleep in one locale and awaken the next day at another place.

            Wednesday December 28 was spent on the island of Kauai; our ship docked during breakfast at Nawiliwilli on the island's east coast.  An Avis courtesy van was waiting to take us to the Lihue airport where we picked up our rental for a day of sightseeing.  Our first stop was awe-inspiring Waimea Canyon which looks like a miniature version of the Grand Canyon.  Next came a visit to the Kauai Coffee Plantation and a stop at Spouting Horn, a blowhole where incoming sea water is forced under the rocky shore and spouts up through a hole in the rock like a mini-geyser.  We then headed up the east coast with a stop at picturesque Kilauea Lighthouse then continued to the north coast and its many beautiful remote beaches.  The Hanalei Valley region on the northern shore was interesting as the main highway crossed a few small rivers on single lane bridges.  For the most part, drivers displayed courtesy and willingly took turns traversing the bridges.  My lone regret from visiting this island was that I could not sling a hammock between a couple of palm trees or australian pines at Lumahai Beach and rest to the sound of the rolling surf.  Time did, however, permit time to stop at a couple of scenic waterfalls and later sample another local favorite, Hawaiian shaved ice smothered in cherry syrup, on our way back to the ship.

Top Left: Approaching Kauai on the Island Princess.
Top Right: Coffee trees in the background at Kauai Coffee Company.
Center Row: Waimea Canyon.
Bottom Left: Spouting Horn blowhole.
Bottom Right: The beach where I wished I could lie in a hammock.  Scenes from the movie South Pacific where filmed nearby.

Top: Kilauea Lighthouse on the island of Kauai.
Center Row: Scenes from Kauai.
Bottom Left: Sunset as we sail out of Nawiliwilli Harbor.
Bottom Right: Ninini Point Lighthouse at the mouth of Nawiliwilli Bay (Photo by Christine Turner).

            On December 29 Island Princess called at Lahaina on the island of Maui and drove a rented minivan to the summit of Haleakala National Park, elevation 10,023 feet, which resembles a moonscape.  At the summit one looks down into a region of cinder cones on one side and, in the other direction, down through the clouds to the sea.  The winding drive to the top of Haleakala ranks among the five most challenging and beautiful roads my family has traversed.  After descending to sea level, we turned west and stopped at the Iao Valley where a tall rock monolith called Iao Needle stands sentry over a lush rainforest.  From there we headed back to Lahaina where we boarded a Lahaina Kaanapali & Pacific Railroad excursion train for a 35 minute trip to Puukolli Station located outside Kaanapali.  The four car train was pulled by 2-4-0 steam engine # 3 nicknamed Myrtle built in 1943 for Ohio's Carbon Limestone company.  A steep grade out of Lahaina was followed by beautiful views of the islands of Molokai and Lanai across the channel.  The 325 foot long curved Hahakea Trestle preceded passage through one of the Hawaiian Islands' many golf courses and along the main north-south highway.  The train passed Puukolli Station and proceeded a short distance before navigating a balloon track around the railroad's shops.  Now headed back toward the south, we halted at Puukolli Station to load one-way passengers and discharge reverse flow passengers before making the 30 minute return run to Lahaina. 

Top Left: Approach to Maui as seen from our balcony.
Top Right: At Lahaina, passengers tender into port.  Island Princess is anchored in the harbor.
Center Row: The twisting road in Haleakala National Park provides views of lava beds as it ascends above the clouds.
Bottom Left: The summit of Haleakala National Park.
Bottom Right: Iao Needle.

Top Row: Lahaina Kaanapali & Pacific engine and tender at Lahaina, Maui, HI on December 29, 2005.
Center Left: Departing Lahaina.
Center Right: The LK&P line hugs the coast where Island Princess can be seen from the train.
Bottom Left: The island of Molokai as seen from the train.
Bottom Right: Crossing the curved trestle beside a Maui golf course.

Above: The Lahaina Kaanapali & Pacific train in and near Kaanapali and the railroad's yards.

            Our final island, Hawaii, which the locals call The Big Island, was another treat as we viewed Kilauea Volcano and associated craters at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, walked on appropriately named Punaluu Black Sands Beach, toured the Mauna Loa Macademia Nut Factory, and visited a gorgeous waterfall near Hilo.  The national park consumed a large amount of our time at this port as there were numerous viewpoints to observe the volcanic terrain and even a unique lava tube visitors could walk through.  After dinner we were provided another visual highlight as our ship sailed slowly just offshore of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  Fingers of red molten lava could be seen dripping down the hillside through the late night darkness into the sea .

Top Row: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, south of Hilo, HI
Bottom Left: Steam rises as lava lands into the sea.
Bottom Right: Punaluu Black Sands Beach.

            The final Hawaiian port scheduled  for our cruise was Kona on the opposite coast of Hawaii, a place best known for relaxing beaches. Unfortunately, the Kona Coast was affected by large waves from an ocean storm that would make tendering in from the harbor unsafe.  Thus we bade a premature Aloha to the beautiful Hawaiian isles and set sail for a substitute port of call, Ensenada, Mexico. 

            Island Princess provided a wonderful way to see the islands as we were able to cover a lot of ground each day then return to the ship for a great night's sleep as we sailed to the next day's port.  The five night return to California was just as pleasant as the first five nights as we relaxed and enjoyed our respite from the grip of winter while ushering in the new year.  While partaking of a nightly dip in one of the ship's swimming pools, I could only imagine my friends home on the mainland who were in the midst of winter.

Left: One of the swimming pools on Island Princess.
Right: Watermelon art, a fixture at the Horizon Court buffet each day.

            At Ensenada we caught a local tour that took us to LaBufadora, a giant blowhole along the rocky Baja Coast.   This was our last port and the following morning we would disembark at San Pedro, CA.

Top Row: The Baja Coast at Ensenada,Mexico.
Bottom Left: LaBufadora (The Blowhole).
Bottom Right: Our ship at Ensenada.

             A cruise on a first class ship like Island Princess would be enjoyed by most any fan of rail travel as the two modes share a restful pace, a unique dining experience, and transport from place to place while one sleeps.  The level of service found on a cruise like ours brings to mind the type of fine service and surroundings described from passenger trains of a bygone era; in reality the cruise experience likely exceeds anything the railroads could ever have offered. 


            My return rail trip home was solo as my wife and son had to return by air due to the school calendar.  We rented a car and I dropped Christine and John at the airport then did a bit of touring around LA, visiting the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the adjacent University of Southern California, then heading to Pasadena to see the Rose Bowl, and finally looking around Olvera Street's Mexican shops across from Union Station.  The Southwest Chief departed LA punctually at 6:45pm on Friday January 6.  Superliner sleeper 32034 would be in good working order but left much to be desired cosmetically.  Mechanical condition was quickly deemed to be more important as a great deal of time was spent in my upstairs room.  Within 20 minutes it was time to head to the dining car for dinner and I was welcomed by affable steward Charlie Brown, a fixture on the Sunset Limited before Hurricane Katrina reduced its operation.  As I enjoyed an excellent dinner cooked fresh on board, I looked ahead to the journey across Arizona and New Mexico as the Southwest Chief is one of my favorite routes.  Had Katrina not wiped out the CSX Gulf Coast route, I would be aboard the Sunset which would have gotten me home a day faster but via a route I had traversed twice in the past year on the way to and from Phoenix. 

Top Row: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (left) and the Rose Bowl (right).
Bottom Row: Los Angeles Union Station's front entrance (left) and courtyard (right).

            After dinner the climb up Cajon Pass was fairly easy to follow from my darkened room since I have traversed it a few times by rail and railfanned its many scenic overlooks twice.  The Desert Wind, discontinued several years ago, offered the best views as it passed over Cajon in daylight in both directions.  East of Cajon we hit the desert and the occasional twinkling of lights beckoned me to turn in for the night.  This would be the 20th night in the past 22 nights that I slept in a moving bed, that is, either on a moving train or cruise ship.  Only the hotel nights in Sacramento and Los Angeles had broken up that streak.  By the time I ended the trip I would record 23 out of 25 nights on the move yet I felt fine as trains and cruise ships are so relaxing.

            Several passengers boarded at Williams Jct. early Saturday after waiting in the Grand Canyon Railroad shuttle van until train # 4 came to a stop before braving the chilly pre-dawn temperature.  Shuttle service is provided from the charming Fray Marcos Hotel which is operated in conjunction with the GCRR in Williams.  A few more passengers boarded the sleeper in Flagstaff at 6:12am as the former Santa Fe mainline paralleled historic US 66.  The next stop, Winslow, is the gateway to Meteor Crater, one of the west's most unique sights.  We had just visited that attraction in May 2005 while attending the International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix.  Continuing eastward, the Southwest Chief passed classic Arizona and New Mexico scenery with red rock buttes and mesas, indian pueblos, and lots of wide open spaces.  We arrived an hour early into Albuquerque which provided ample time to take a lengthy stroll around downtown then barter with Navajo craftspeople stationed on the depot platform before returning to the train for lunch.  Parked freight cars obstructed my view of new Rail Runner commuter train cars parked a few tracks over in tantalizing fashion.  Departure was on time at 12:55pm as I joined the lunch crowd in the dining car..

Top and Center Rows: Desert scenery in Arizona observed from the Southwest Chief.
Bottom Row: BNSF freight locomotives at Albuquerque wear two different paint schemes.

Top Left: The train windows are washed at Albuquerque.
Top Right: Refrigerator cars bring up the rear of the train.
Bottom Left: The Southwest Chief's engines are visible down historic US 66.
Bottom Right: Native Americans sell hand made jewelry on the platform at Albuquerque.

            Just east of narrow Apachee Canyon we met the westbound Southwest Chief then raced toward Starvation Peak, one of the region's most notable points for Santa Fe Trail travelers as it was (and is) visible for miles and miles.  Jovial banter between the train crew came through on the scanner: "Conductor to boiler room" followed by "Boiler room here, we are shoveling coal".  Later the engineer responded "Command module to conductor, 25 miles per hour past the wolf-wolf."  This curious exchange soon explained itself as a 25 mph slow order was in effect near a town where we passed a pack of dogs that greet the train daily in response to food that has been tossed to them over the years.  The afternoon journey offered views of a famed double horseshoe curve, diminutive Las Vegas, NM, operable semaphore signals, and Shoemaker Canyon.  After dinner train # 4 tackled Raton Pass then eased into Trinidad, CO at 7:42pm, 71 minutes late.

            The morning light filled my window at Kansas City on Sunday morning and we were just 30 minutes behind schedule.  An uneventful trip across the corner of Iowa and across Illinois brought us into Chicago just 19 minutes late at 3:39pm.  The enlarged and improved Metropolitan Lounge was  an excellent place to spend the layover as it is back in its original location near the south side gates.  Shortly after 5:00 the Capitol Limited's sleepers were ready for boarding and I moved into my room in car 32064.  The delays of our westbound trip three weeks earlier had cleared up as we sailed through the night close to schedule and I awoke as we descended Sand Patch Grade.  We were a mere 11 minutes late at Cumberland and reached Washington 20 minutes early at 11:39am.

            This left me a long layover in Washington, however, a slight cold I picked up in the past two days reduced my motivation to tackle the sights.  Having visited the city many times over the years, I decided to just enjoy magnificent Union Station.  The time passed relatively quickly as I explored the many restaurants on the station's concourse and lower levels before settling on a place to dine.  On the lower level there is a movie theater complex and I decided to take in a funny movie to kill a couple more hours.  The remaining time passed quickly in the first class Club Acela waiting area where free internet access and comfortable sofas awaited.

            The southbound Silver Meteor left on-time at 7:30pm and I enjoyed a tasty chicken dinner as we rolled through Quantico, VA.  I heeded the advice of friends and my car attendant and slept in the upper bed in Viewliner sleeper Moonlight View as the upper bed rides smoother, has a better mattress, and is wider than the lower berth.  When I awoke at 7:30am, we were pulling into Savannah.  The remnants of the freight derailment that caused our northbound detour three weeks earlier were still visible at Broadhurst.  It was evident that this was a high speed grade crossing collision.  We were approximately 10 miles south of Jesup; had it been north of that town, the detour would not have been possible.  Our 9:56am arrival in Jacksonville, 33 minutes late, ended a memorable Christmas trip that spanned 5 time zones, marked our 50th state visited, and included 8 nights on the rails.

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