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Ridgway and Utah Rail Museums and Riding Front Runner By Jack M. Turner, Photos by John C. Turner

Rocky Mountain Exploration
Part 6: Ridgway and Utah Rail Museums and Riding Front Runner
By Jack M. Turner
Photos by John C. Turner

    Following our enjoyable visit to Alamosa, which was highlighted by rides on the Cumbres & Toltec and the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, we paralleled the San Luis & Rio Grande line to Monte Vista.  Then we made our way to Gunnison via 10,149 foot high North Pass where scenic Highway 114 crosses the Continental Divide.  In Gunnison we noted a small train display that included a steam locomotive under a shelter across the highway from a fast food restaurant.  Gunnison once was served by a Rio Grande branch line from Salida that connected with the Royal Gorge route.

    Shortly US Highway 50 took us along Blue Mesa Reservoir whose brilliant rippling waters presented an interesting contrast to the arid mountain scenery.  About 45 minutes to the west of Gunnison we reached Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  This park offers a dozen overlooks along the South Rim where one can peer down the sheer walls of the canyon.  At many points the narrow canyon prevents sunlight from reaching the Gunnison River below thus giving the canyon walls a black appearance that inspired the park’s name.

Blue Mesa Reservoir west of Gunnison, CO

Blue Mesa Reservoir

The Gunnison River in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

    Just west of the park we turned south at Montrose and made our way to our overnight destination in Ridgway, Colorado.  Ridgway is located in the heart of a beautiful valley surrounded by towering mountains and fed by the lovely Uncompahgre River.  At the main intersection in town we found the Ridgway Railroad Museum which has preserved the region’s narrow gauge railroad history quite nicely.  The museum building contains numerous exhibits highlighted by photos and details about the unique Galloping Goose railcars that once served the Rio Grande Southern rails which linked many towns in this region.  These cars were originally designed to haul mail, light express, and a few passengers.  Once that business dropped off, the boxed compartment in each car was reconfigured to carry passengers as the railroad sought to accommodate tourist business. 

Pictorial history of Galloping Geese at the Ridgway Railroad Museum

    A standard gauge line serving the region linked Grand Junction with Montrose, Ridgway, and Ouray to the south and was operated by the Denver & Rio Grande Western until 1976.  There was a gap between Ouray and Silverton where a narrow gauge line continued south to Durango (today’s Durango & Silverton tourist line) and onward to Farmington, NM and east from Durango to Alamosa via Chama (the latter hosting today’s Cumbres & Toltec excursion line).  The Rio Grande Southern maintained a roundabout route between Ridgway and Durango via Lizard Head Pass and Delores.  The Galloping Geese were built in Ridgway and served narrow gauge lines such as the line across Lizard Head Pass before eventually being retired.  Fortunately, six of the original geese survive today along with a reproduction of Number 1 and all but Number 3 reside in various locations around Colorado. 

    The Ridgway Railroad Museum has housed Galloping Goose Number 4 since 2008 while restoring that car to its original appearance, however, as of the time of our visit it was scheduled to be returned to its display site in Telluride in late fall 2012.  Stepping inside this rare car was like a step back in time as its front end resembles a small school bus with folding passenger doors and a bus driver style seat and controls in front of a few rows of school bus style seats.  The trailing box-like compartment once used for mail and express now contains a few more rows of seats, a concession stand, and large side windows as part of the early 1950s redesign.

The passenger compartment in the box trailer of Galloping Goose # 4

The driver’s area in Galloping Goose # 4

Looking under the hood of # 4

Galloping Goose # 4

The side of # 4

   While Number 4 was just visiting, a replica of RGS Number 1 is a permanent part of the Ridgway Railroad Museum collection.  Museum curator Karl Schaeffer recreated Number 1 using the body of a 1926 Buick and Fairmont motorcar wheels along with various other authentic parts over a decade ago.  The car today is run over a 600 foot section of track on special occasions, especially for school field trip groups.  Several other pieces of rail equipment have been restored and are displayed at the museum including DRGW caboose # 0575 which was built in 1886 and brought in from Ouray, a coal car built in 1903, a stock car that could carry 16 head of cattle, and a box car.  The museum was established in 1999 and is open daily from 9am-5pm for 6 months out of the year.  Mr. Schaeffer can often be found at the museum and we were honored to be given an informative tour of the museum, the Galloping Goose and other equipment.

Replica Galloping Goose # 1

A wooden Rio Grande livestock car and a wooden caboose at the Ridgway Railroad Museum

    Our overnight lodging at the Ridgway-Ouray Lodge & Suites was conveniently located directly across the highway from the railroad museum.  Our spacious suite contained a whirlpool spa and offered a spectacular vista of the mountains and valley outside the window.  With an indoor swimming pool, steam room, and super quiet location, this is a perfect stopover on the way to several national parks, the Durango & Silverton Railway, and neighboring Ouray.  With numerous interesting shops and restaurants located in nearby Ouray as well as in Ridgway this is an area worthy of a lengthy stay.  Another fun family activity is a visit to the Ouray Hot Springs Pool where sections of the pool contain water ranging from 88 to 105.  The relaxing effect of the warm spring fed waters is perfect after a long day of sightseeing.  Additionally, visitors may enjoy searching for the area sites where numerous scenes from the John Wayne movie “True Grit” were filmed.  Ridgway is easily accessed by Amtrak which stops in Grand Junction, just 90 miles to the north.

The Ridgway-Ouray Lodge & Suites

Located opposite the Ridgway Railroad Museum, the Ridgway-Ouray Lodge & Suites offers comfortable accommodations

The scenic route between Ridgway and Ouray

Mountain views are plentiful between Ridgway and Ouray

Downtown Ouray, Colorado

    Another scenic drive westward from Ridgway crosses 8,970 foot Dallas Divide, enters Utah, and travels along the La Sal Mountains to Moab, UT.  This community is ideal for visits to adjacent Arches National Park and nearby Canyonlands National Park.  The striking sandstone arches and eye-catching rock formations that dot the landscape of Arches National Park make this park one of America’s best.  Most of the arches are visible from the park access road and can be viewed up-close by a short walk from the various parking lots.  The park’s signature arch, Delicate Arch, requires a strenuous climbing hike to see up-close though it also can be seen from a viewing area near a parking lot.   Though Arches is much smaller in size than many of the nation’s best known national parks, it is wise to allow at least a full day to truly savor the spectacular views and make a few short hikes which will reveal some sights missed from the roadside viewpoints.

One of the first rock formations greeting visitors to Arches National Park is The Three Sisters

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park

TrainWeb photographer John Turner at The Windows, Arches National Park

Turret Arch

North and South Windows Arches

One of many sandstone rock formations in Arches National Park

Double Arch

Delicate Arch

Ute petroglyths visible along the hike to Delicate Arch

    Canyonlands National Park, meanwhile, is one of the national park system’s best kept secrets.  Like the Grand Canyon, this park features views of deep canyons formed by the Colorado River as well as those cut by the Green River.  Small fingers of land jut out above the canyons allowing visitors to get clear and varied views of multiple layers of land below.  As with Arches, most of the best views are an easy walk from the parking lot though there is a moderately challenging hike at Mesa Arch.

The author (right) and family at Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

The deep canyon and a plateau seen from one of the overlooks along the park road

Grand View Point Overlook

Deep river canyons seen from Grand View Point

Another view from Grand View Point, Canyonlands National Park

The deep canyons of Canyonlands National Park and the distant La Sal Mountains

    Dinnertime was a treat both nights of our stay in Moab as we enjoyed two of the area’s iconic eating establishments.  One night we dined at the Bar M Chuckwagon, located just north of Moab.  Before dinner at the Bar M we enjoyed a mock gunfight duel in the courtyard outside the dining hall then we stepped inside for a tasty barbeque dinner similar to what the chuckwagon cook fed the cowboys on the old dusty trail.  Following dinner guests were entertained by an excellent musical show in which the gunslingers-turned dinner servers switched gears again and performed a number of cowboy tunes along with a few songs from other genres.  On the other night of our visit to Moab we enjoyed chili cheeseburgers and chocolate malts at Milt’s Stop ‘n Eat, a classic 1950s era hamburger stand that has remained very popular for almost 60 years.

Bar M Chuckwagon

A gunfight at the Bar M Chuckwagon

Musical entertainment at the Bar M Chuckwagon near Moab, UT

A moonlit night at the Bar M Chuckwagon with Arches National Park in the background

Milt’s Stop ‘n Eat, Moab, UT

Milt’s is known for delicious chili cheeseburgers

    The Hampton Inn in Moab was a great lodging choice as our room faced a hillside on the back side of the hotel and thus was very quiet.  The hotel was located in Moab’s business district and was just a short drive from the entrance to Arches National Park and an easy drive from Canyonlands National Park.  Driving north from the hotel on US Highway 191 the site where Union Pacific freight trains are loaded with containers of uranium tailings can easily be observed opposite the entrance to Arches National Park.  The trains generally depart for the junction with the UP mainline in the evening and it is easy to chase the train northward.  We did so for a few miles then pulled ahead and waited for some dramatic pictures of it in front of the red rock formations between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  Trains can easily be chased along this branch line and there are numerous spots where photographers can take scenic photos.

Hampton Inn, Moab, Utah

Rear helpers on a Union Pacific train north of Moab, Utah

Northbound UP train near Arches National Park

The UP freight seen from a crossing adjacent to US 191 near Arches National Park

The middle of the freight train

The rear of the train approaches our vantage point

The helpers push the freight northward

Heading north near the turnoff for Canyonlands National Park

    Continuing our journey the next morning from Moab to Ogden, UT took us across Soldier Summit as the highway paralleled the former Rio Grande mainline most of the way to Provo.  After passing Salt Lake City we pulled into Ogden and checked in at the Ogden Marriott hotel.  This hotel is located in the center of downtown within easy walking distance of many shops, the minor league baseball stadium, and Union Station.  Our room offered an excellent view of mountains to the north as well as the baseball stadium just a block away.  The concierge lounge provided tasty snacks in the evening and numerous choices for breakfast the next morning.  The hotel’s indoor swimming pool and spa were a great place to retreat from the summer heat and, best of all, our room was quiet and comfortable.

A Utah Railway train seen during the drive along US 6 near Helper, UT

Ogden Marriott

View of Lindquist Field from our room at the Ogden Marriott

    While my wife enjoyed the hotel’s amenities, we ventured over to Union Station for a look at the Utah State Railroad Museum.  Union Station was originally constructed by the Union Pacific and Central Pacific (forerunner of Southern Pacific) in 1889.  The station was rebuilt in 1924 following a fire that severely damaged the facility the prior year.  Today the museum is housed inside the beautiful station with equipment displays outside. 

    Inside Union Station one will find several interesting railroad displays including a lounge car seat and other items from the “Train of Tomorrow” dome car “Moon Glow”, a railroad dispatcher’s console, a vault that housed the famous Golden Spike, Ogden Union Station’s old train board, and many other items of interest as well as a classic automobile collection.  Outside the visitor will find several locomotives including UP gas turbine engine 26 and unit 26B, UP DDA40X Centennial engine 6916, and freight engines from the SP, D&RGW, and the US Army.  UP 833, a 4-8-4 steam locomotive, a special rail car built to carry the Olympic torch for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and several other interesting pieces of railroad equipment round out the free display.

Ogden Union Station

The waiting room inside Ogden Union Station

Fountains outside Union Station

Lounge seat from Train of Tomorrow dome car “Moon Glow”

Golden Spike vault in the Utah State Railroad Museum in Ogden

Ogden Union Station train board

A dispatcher’s console

UP gas turbine engine # 26

Salt Lake City Winter Olympics torch car at the Utah Railroad Museum

UP and DRGW engines displayed at the museum

Union Pacific # 833

    A short walk north from Union Station took us to the platform where Utah’s Front Runner commuter trains bound for Salt Lake City board.  This route saw regular passenger service right up to the start of Amtrak operation in May 1971 as Union Pacific’s “City of Los Angeles/Challenger” traversed the route en route from Chicago to Los Angeles.  A few years earlier a couple of nameless passenger trains also plied these rails and over the years through cars from cities to the east were assigned names such as “City of Kansas City”, “City of St. Louis” and “City of Denver" though they were handled within the consist of the “City of Los Angeles”.  The Rio Grande also ran passenger service between Ogden and Salt Lake City for a limited period of time in the form of the “Rio Grande Zephyr” following the discontinuation of the through “California Zephyr” several months earlier.  That train had run west from Salt Lake City without serving Ogden, however, the “Rio Grande Zephyr” continued to Ogden for passengers connecting to and from California via the “City of San Francisco” jointly run by Union Pacific and Southern Pacific.  This convenience was cut off after Amtrak took over the Chicago-Ogden-Oakland service and was replaced by a connecting limousine from the “Rio Grande Zephyr” to and from the Amtrak train.  Under Amtrak operation the Ogden-Salt Lake line saw service at times in the form of the “Desert Wind” which split off at Ogden en route to L.A. via Salt Lake City and later by the “Pioneer” which split from the restored “California Zephyr” at Salt Lake City and operated through Ogden to Seattle.  

    The southbound Front Runner departed the Ogden Transit Center at 4:16pm and moments later passed Union Station.  A steep climb onto a flyover above the UP mainline to Cheyenne and points east ensued then our train overtook a southbound UP freight just before Roy, our first stop.  The smooth track passed behind many houses and various businesses as we glided toward our second stop, Clearfield.  The track used by Front Runner was actually built on the east side of the UP right-of-way giving the commuter trains clear access to the line.  As we departed Clearfield a northbound Front Runner train passed behind engine # 5 wearing the commuter line’s distinctive red, white, and blue paint scheme.  A connecting Utah Transit Authority bus serving the Clearfield stop was spotted painted in matching colors.

Front Runner trains arrive (left) and leave (right) Ogden

A Front Runner coach

The attractive interior of a Front Runner car

The cab control car leads Front Runner southward

Departing the Ogden Transit Center

    The Wasatch Range provided a scenic view to the east of the railway as we departed Layton at 4:38pm.  The railway briefly paralleled I-15 as Front Runner headed toward the next stop, Farmington, at 4:46.  A southbound UP freight zipped by at 4:50pm as another northbound Front Runner train rolled by.  By 4:55 the Great Salt Lake was visible in the distance to our west before our final en route stop, Woods Cross, at 5:01.  Moments later a Utah Railway freight, a UP freight, and yet another Front Runner train passed, all heading north.  Our arrival in Salt Lake City came at 5:07pm and passengers detrained at Central Station where many connected to light rail trains across a plaza.  Salt Lake’s TRAX light rail system reaches out in three directions and the plan was to ride at least one of these.  However, the reality of the day’s fairly long drive coupled with the visit to the railway museum in Ogden and a nighttime minor league baseball game left no time to explore the light rail.  This left an activity for a future visit along with a ride on Front Runner’s extension to Provo which was scheduled to begin just months after our visit.

Salt Lake City Transit Center

A Front Runner pauses between runs near the Salt Lake City station

TRAX light rail train at Salt Lake City

    Twenty minutes later it was time to depart Salt Lake City aboard the same double decker train set that had transported us south.  MP36PH engine # 19 led the northbound run after pushing the train southbound and the three coaches were soon nearly filled to capacity. The Front Runner rail yards soon came into view on the west side of the train and several sets of equipment including MP36PH engines, Bombardier bilevel coaches and single level Comet I coaches acquired from New Jersey Transit were parked in the yard.  Shortly a Chevron refinery appeared on the left and I-15 joined on our right before the first stop in Woods Cross.  The 55 minute run to Ogden was highlighted by meets with three southbound Front Runner commuter trains, a southbound UP freight and a UPS train operated by the Union Pacific as well as passing above an eastbound UP stack train via the flyover at Ogden.  When we stepped off the train in Ogden we had covered 88 miles and filled in a new line on my personal route map, a line John rode a couple years earlier.

Passing above an eastbound UP stack train at Ogden

    Front Runner commenced service in April 2008 and currently runs 29 daily trips between Ogden and Salt Lake City in each direction on weekdays and 17 trips on Saturdays.  There is no Sunday service.  The first weekday trains leave both terminals before 4:30am with the last departure around 11:15pm.  The line presently covers 44 miles and will add service to Provo in December 2012.  Both current end point terminals are located close to downtown areas where there is much to see and do.  Amtrak serves Salt Lake City with its Chicago to Emeryville, CA “California Zephyr” though connections are limited.

    The day’s final activity was an Ogden Raptors minor league baseball game which started a tad over 30 minutes after our Front Runner ride ended.  Lindquist Field was located just a block from the Marriott and it was definitely the most convenient ballpark we have ever visited since we didn’t have to search for parking.  The stadium has an outstanding view of the mountains beyond the outfield wall and there didn’t appear to be a bad seat in the house.  The local crowd was enthusiastic as Ogden defeated Idaho Falls in a close game and we left happy that we had seen a good ballgame, taken a great commuter train ride, and visited a top rate railroad museum.

Lindquist Field, home of the Ogden Raptors

View from behind home plate as Ogden plays Idaho Falls

The view of the first base line with the Ogden Marriott in the background

Twilight at Lindquist Field


Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Ridgway Railroad Museum
Ridgway-Ouray Lodge & Suites
Ouray Visitors Bureau
Ouray Hot Springs Pool
Arches National Park
Canyonlands National Park
Bar M Chuckwagon
Milt’s Stop ‘n Eat
Hampton Inn Moab
Front Runner Commuter Rail
Utah State Railroad Museum
Ogden Marriott
Ogden Raptors Baseball

Click Here for a Slide Show of all Images used in this Report.

Top of This Page | Part 1: New Orleans to Pikes Peak By Rail | Part 2: The Royal Gorge RoutePart 3: Cumbres & Toltec RailroadPart 4:  Rio Grande Scenic Railroad |
Part 5: Rio Grande Scenic Shops |  Part 6: Ridgway and Utah Rail Museums and Riding Front Runner | | Other Rail Travelogues | Silver Rails Country