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One Big Circle back to La Plata

by Chris Guenzler

Sally of the Depot Inn & Suites drove me down to the La Plata Amtrak Station and I told her good bye but would be back next Thursday night. I was told that the Million Amtrak Mile Plaque that had been in the Chris Guenzler Million Mile Lookout Point kept falling off the wall there so Bob saw it at the Depot Inn Front Desk one day and suggested it should be placed in the Amtrak Station. I was told this at the dinner at the Red Rooster earlier in the evening. I went inside to have a look.

They have the overall display of my One Millionth Amtrak Mile at the La Plata Station.

The plaque, one of four made for that event. I have one on display at my house, the one in this station, one in the Exhibition of Amtrak History and one in the Silver Rail Event Center.

The picture made up for that event. I enjoyed the passing of a UP and BNSF stack trains while I waited for mine. Everyone from the PTHS Picnic came down to the station to see me off.

Southwest Chief 3 8/8/2008

The train pulled into La Plata a little after 8:08 PM so it did not make the 8/8/8:08 like some people here wanted tonight. The train consisted of Engines 12 and 68, Baggage 1757, Transition 39011, Sleepers 32081 Illinois and 32005, Diner 38019, Lounge 33049 with Coaches 34029, 34139 and 34012. I boarded the Illinois Room 12 with Joan as my Sleeping Car Attendant. I put on Yes "Magnification" as I started to work on this story but I could not find my memory card reader. I tore apart every piece of luggage I had but it was not there. I called back to the Depot Inn & Suites and told Sally to tell Steve to see if he could find it in Room I. With that I made up my room and called it a night. While I slept we lost an hour in Newton, KS due to a passenger medical problem in the coach.

8/9/2008 I woke up just as the train arrived at Dodge City at 7:30 AM so that means many miles of Kansas before we get to Colorado. I went to the Dining Car for French Toast and sausage patties followed by a refreshing shower. Garden City, KS I saw the tracks for the Garden City & Western Railroad before we headed to Colorado. At Holly, CO I called my good friend Tom Anderson and asked if he could get to a Radio Shack and get me a new memory card reader. He said if they open at 9 AM he could do it then hand it off to me at Fullerton. The train did Lamar before sprinting to La Junta with me listening to Yes again as we rolled the miles there. I took a fresh air break once we got there.

The Southwest Chief was at rest La Junta. With a new crew, the train departed La Junta at 9:45 AM {8:15 AM}. I put on my DVD of Paul McCartney "Back in the USA Concert Film" as the train rolled the miles to Trinidad and Raton Pass.

Dick Wooten Santa Fe Trail Sign put up by the Santa Fe Railway.

The train climbed Raton Pass before we passed through the Raton Tunnel and dropped down to Raton, NM, our next fresh air stop. I called Lets Talk Trains thanks to an extended stop at Raton to detrain and entrain Boy Scouts. The train left Raton over an hour late so I hoped we make up time and do not lose anymore on this trip to Los Angeles. I put on my DVD of Yes "Songs from Tsongas, The 35th Anniversary Concert".

Towering Cumulonimbus clouds off to the north as we neared Springer.

Later as we closed in on Las Vegas, rain showers to the west.

Much later the train came down the Chapple "S" Curves on the way down to the Pecos River before we start to climb Glorieta Pass. As we neared the summit of the pass, I called Julie and found out that Train 4 left Gallup at 1:48 PM. It turned out that the train had hit somebody and it was a suicide. The train dropped down through Apache Canyon and on into Lamy. The Santa Fe Southern mixed train was sitting on a siding in Lamy. The train passed through a good rain shower on its way towards Albuquerque. At Bernalillo we held the main for a New Mexico Railrunner Train before the train arrived into Albuquerque at 4:44 PM {3:55 PM}.

Our train departed Albuquerque at 5:20 PM {4:45 PM}. At the south end of double track we came to a stop to let a New Mexico Railrunner train for Belen to be on time as we took a twelve minute hit. At 6 PM I went to the Dining Car and had a Flat Iron Steak, Chocolate Ice Cream and the most intense rainbow of all times that I have seen from a train. A BNSF freight had hit someone on the south track east of Grants and we slowly passed the site as we were eating.

An interesting mesa after dinner. I caught up the story before putting on my DVD of ABBA "The Movie".

Red Mesas of New Mexico. The train stopped in Gallup and Tom got what I needed and would be in Fullerton in the morning. The movie ended in Holbrook, AZ and I made up my bed and called it a night.

8/10/2008 I awoke right before San Bernardino and enjoyed the fresh air there. While my room was being made up, I went to the Lounge Car and bought a cinnamon roll and picked up some orange juice in the sleeper. At Riverside I gave Tom a call and he said he would be there.

Past West Corona, Mt. Baldy through the morning haze.

The train ran by the last Orange Grove along the Southwest Chief's route as we ran through Santa Ana Canyon on the way to Fullerton. Tom was waiting and handed me the memory card reader he got for me and I used it as the train made its final sprint to LAUPT. The Southwest Chief arrived into Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal early at 7:28 AM {8:15 AM} ending the first part of the circle back to La Plata.

Thruway Bus 8/10/2008

If you had an over three hour wait at LAUPT or try to catch the 7:45 AM bus to Bakersfield for train 713, what would you do? The driver said "Hop aboard sir, no problem!" and I did. I took the computer and camera bag on the bus with me and it was a quick trip to Bakersfield. I called Santa Ana to check on space on 713 and he said there was plenty of room this morning. We arrived into Bakersfield at 9:42 AM and the Amtrak agent met the bus and said "No need to change you tickets and enjoy the rest of your trip. I put my bags next to the Moonstone Beach coach and got the consist before we all boarded. I called my brother Bruce advising him of my change and we made sure there was an Elk Grove connecting bus which does arrive there at 3 PM. I told him I would keep him informed on how the train does coming up the valley to Stockton.

San Joaquin 713 8/10/2008

The train consisted of Engine 2013, Coach/Baggage 8201 San Francisco Bay, 6465 Moonstone Beach {Surfliner}, Coach/Cafe 8814 Mission Valley and Cab Car 8312 Mount Inyo. They let us board at 9:55 AM for a 10:15 AM on time departure. I started this trip out with my DVD of Rainbow "Live in Munich 1977". Some alarm went off down stairs and it took a good eight minutes of ear piercing noise before a conductor came and shut the blasted thing off. That made it a quieter trip to Wasco. The train took the siding at Allensworth for Amtrak 702 before heading to Cocoran. After Hanford the cafe line finally died down and I got a Hot Dog as Rainbow took me to Fresno where I switched to my DVD Cheap Trick "Live in Germany". The train stopped at Madera then ran to Planda and took the siding for Amtrak 714 before we ran to Merced, a fresh air stop on a very warm afternoon. The train left Merced on time and went straight to Turlock/Denair then onto Modesto. The train then made the final sprint to Stockton where I detrained. I boarded the bus to Elk Grove where my brother Bruce would be waiting. From there he took me to his home for the night.

8/11/2008 Bruce got me up at 4:25 AM and after I finished preparing my luggage, we drove to the Sacramento Amtrak Station where he dropped me off while he drove to Old Sac to park for his day of work. I went into the station and they have Free Wi-Fi but the station agent could not give me a password so I could use it. I rolled my luggage out on a cart to the waiting train and waited for the crew to open the door.

Capital Train 523 8/11/2008

This predawn departure consisted of Engine 2008, Coach 8016 San Luis Rey, 8015 Salinas Valley, Cafe 8813 San Fernando Valley, Coach 6463 Muir Beach {Surfliner} and Cab Car 8414 Mount Pinos. I took a seat in the Muir Beach and went to the Cafe for a Cinnamon Roll before our on time departure of 5:30 AM. The train ran through the darkness of the morning to Davis and Suisan- Fairfield before the bright morning sun rose. After the stop at Martinez, the Carquinez Straits were beautiful in the morning light. The train then ran along San Pablo Bay to Richmond, Berkley and onto Emeryville where I took a picture as the train was leaving for San Jose. I went into the Emeryville Station to wait before it neared the time when Train 6 would arrive into the station. The first train to come into Emeryville was San Joaquin 712 which had a very colorful car on it.

Take Transit-Save Gas Coach.

San Joaquin 712 leaves for Bakersfield.

Capital Train 725 was next to arrive into Emeryville. I went up the stairs of the Pedestrian Bridge to wait for Train 6 to arrive into the Emeryville Station.

California Zephyr 6 8/11/2008

The train on its brand new first day 8:55 AM Departure Schedule consisted of Engines 139 and 61, Baggage 1756, Transition 39027, Sleepers 32067 and 32056, Diner 38028, Lounge 33047 and Coaches 34042, 34137 and 34017. I am in the Sleeper 32056 with Reggie as my sleeping Car Attendant. The train departed Emeryville on time and headed to Martinez. The train got delayed coming into Martinez by a late running Coast Starlight Train 11 and a westbound Capital Train. My book for this trip is John Grisham's "Playing for Pizza".

The Mothball Fleet of the United States Navy as the train headed to Davis followed by Sacramento, the first fresh air stop of the trip east. The train ran to Roseville then at Rocklin a signal dropped from Green to Red. After they checked out the signal, the train went up the steeper line through the Bloomer Cut to Bowman passing a waiting eastbound freight train there and crossed over to our normal route to Colfax. I enjoyed an Angus Beef Burger from Bowman almost to Colfax. I put on my Disc 2 of my Led Zeppelin "Live" DVD for the rest of the climb up Donner Pass.

Looking down into Long Ravine.

Two views of the American River Canyon from Cape Horn before the train ran through Gold Run.

Later more views of the American River Canyon.

You could look back to where we were a few minutes ago above Emigrant Gap. The train ran to Yuba Gap and on up to Shed Ten. A few miles above there we ran by the westbound California Zephyr running a couple hours late. The CZ then ran on to Soda Springs and Norden before entering the "Big Hole" Summit Tunnel of Donner Pass.

Donner Lake was below us before we dropped down Cold Stream Canyon to Truckee where right before there the Zeppelin DVD ended.

The train ran along the Truckee River.

There is a flume the once carried water above the Truckee River.

There were rapids on the Truckee River which we followed to Reno, our next fresh air stop of the trip.

The Reno Station Platform.

Inside the Reno Station, inside the lower level. The train departed Reno at 4:30 PM {3:51 PM} and we headed to Sparks. After Sparks the CZ headed east out across the Nevada Desert.

The Fernley Station now houses a museum. At 5:30 PM I went to the Dining Car for dinner and enjoyed a Flat Iron Steak and Vanilla Ice Cream. After dinner I put on the Rolling Stones DVD "Shine a Light" as the train made its way to Winnemucca and beyond. Winnemucca was a brief fresh air stop back at the first coach door.

At Weso we swung over onto the old Western Pacific so here's looking at the old Southern Pacific.

The Rolling Stones. I took a break taking a fantastic hot shower before returning to more of the Stones. Once that was done I made up my room and called it a night.

8/12/2008 During the night the train crew put off a drunk in Wendover, Utah before we arrived into Salt Lake City early but left late. I awoke near Sandy and rode the Lounge Car into Provo passing where US Steel once had a major steel plant which is gone. I got a Cinnamon Roll and a cup of Green Tea enjoying that as we headed towards the Narrows to start the climb over Soldier Summit. Back in my room, passing through the Narrows we passed a Utah Railway empty coal train climbing the grade before we neared Thistle and the line relocation after that major slide.

The twin tunnels put in after the slide happened.

Looking back towards the Narrows. The grade of the former Rio Grande route that I rode on the Rio Grande Zephyr can be seen to the left of the stream.

The slide came down that valley blocking both the Rio Grande and US Highway 6 which both had to be relocated after the slide created Lake Thistle behind it where the town of Thistle once stood.

This is where Lake Thistle once stood.

A look back to where we had been.

One more view of the valley where Thistle once was. Above here we ran along an eastbound UP train climbing the grade about five miles an hour slower that we were. As our train took the curve at the bottom of the Guillily Loops still running beside the freight train, our train pulled by him as we both started up the middle level of the loops.

The Union Pacific freight climbing the Guillily Loops on Soldier Summit. The CZ finished the climb to the Summit of Soldier Summit and started down the grade to Helper.

Two views near Kyunne.

The tunnels at Kyunne. The train continued the descent passing Castle Rock and Utah Railway Jct before we arrived into Helper. The train then ran through Price and dropped down out onto the Utah Desert.

The view to the south of our train near Grassy.

Looking south towards distant peaks.

The Book Cliffs to the north of our train as we crossed the Utah Desert.

Later three views looking south at some interesting geology of the region.

Crossing the Green River which was very muddy this morning after our stop at Green River, Utah. The train passed my favorite siding of Solitude before we lost HEP {Head End Power} and came to a stop.

Interesting mounds dot the landscape on my side of the train.

The Book Cliffs are always outside the north side of the train when you cross the Utah Desert heading eastbound. They finally got the HEP going by using the lead engine HEP Generator and switching off the second units HEP. The CZ passed through Thompson and then descended to the Colorado River at Westwater. From there we would be following the Colorado River for 238 miles on this scenic journey starting with Ruby Canyon, my favorite canyon on the Amtrak System. Since I covered this route extensively with pictures over the years and in both of my million miles stories, I will enjoy our journey on this train and take only a few pictures today. I put on my CD of Trevor Rabin "Trevor Rabin" and "Face to Face". Now a trip through Ruby Canyon with a surprise included.

I enjoyed the incredible Ruby Canyon where we had a raft of females mooning the train. The train then entered the Grand Valley and ran on into Grand Junction, our servicing stop and fresh air break.

Click here for Part 2 of this story!