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Trip & Visits: The California Zephyr

April 11, 2010

California Zephyr

Living in New York, as anyone can imagine, can get exhausting and requires an escape from time to time.  I recently found a much-needed break aboard the California Zephyr, and rode the rails West until I reached the Pacific.  After several discussions with Ben of Aids to Navigation, I was convinced that this was definitely a trip that was not only long over due, but a sure-fire way to get a break from the city and see some real America.

The California Zephyr, operated by Amtrak, runs on a 2,438-mile stretch of track from Chicago to San Francisco. There are several connections between Chicago and the Atlantic, however all trains terminate in Chicago, which is where the fifty-one hour ride aboard the Zephyr begins.  This line, completed in 1909, replaced the original and the world’s first transcontinental railroad, which was originally built during the Civil War and became the primary rail connection between the East and West coasts, operating as The California Zephyr since 1949 with new and improved streamliners.

The Zephyr passes through seven states, crosses the Great Plains, Mississippi River and Continental Divide (via the 7-mile Moffit tunnel), travels over the Rocky, Wasatch and Sierra Nevada mountains, and runs along the Great Salt Lake, Bonneville Salt Flats, and Colorado River.  This route has long been considered the most scenic route in America, and at every turn, I was truly shocked with the striking American landscape.

The view and backdrop I experienced while aboard the Zephyr was second to none, and often unbelievable.  It’s mind-blowing to travel through parts of America that are absolutely untouched and pristine.  At times the train is winding through the mountains a few thousand feet up among snow-capped peaks, through tunnels and gorges, or traveling through portions of Utah and Nevada, where the landscape could only compare to that of Mars.  The train packs an impressive view as well as a bar, lounge car, dining car, and roomette making this a full service ride.  Fifty-six hours after leaving Chicago (we were slightly delayed), I was in San Francisco.

It’s interesting how train travel is so foreign among American’s, especially considering how vital this method of transcontinental travel was to America’s past.  Many of us, myself included, have boarded trains in other places around the world, only to find it seemingly normal among locals and foreigners alike, meanwhile stateside it’s off-putting, dismissed and considered too archaic.  Of course planes are faster, and cars are convenient, whereas trains offer a legitimate experience as opposed to just a method of getting from point A to B.  I’ve always had an interest in trains and grew up riding the subway and regional rails, yet this ride, my escape from the city, has definitely ignited a flame for domestic travel along America’s railroad.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2010 09:54

    When I read this, all I could think about was when you took the Amtrak down to West Lafayette for my graduation. I don’t think I’ve laughed as hard as I did that night. “Who’s the big winner???”

  2. April 12, 2010 17:13

    Sounds like you had a wonderful time. I took a train from Los Angeles, er, Bakersfield up to Nor Cal and I must admit, although it was only a few hrs., I did enjoy the scenic tour. I can only imagine the sights that you saw along the way on your trip. Great pics, esp. the last one.


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