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California Here I come on the Sunset Limited

Adventurers in New England

Chapter Thirty


Traveling west on the Sunset Limited, Day Two

Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California


Robin Bowers

July 7, 2015


Text and Photos by Author
The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent.

Comments are appreciated at...

      The Sunset Limited whisks you 1,995 miles from America's Most Interesting City, New Orleans, through the bayous of Louisiana, the huge Heart of Texas, the storied West and beyond - to the home of the Hollywood Western, Los Angeles. While many transcontinental rail lines were forged from east to west, the Sunset had its beginnings in California. The link we are traveling was the second such route, completed in 1883. Eleven years later, its passengers could disembark in New Orleans and continue east by sea on railroad-owned passenger steamers.

    The Sunset Limited is the descendant of the former Southern Pacific Railway's (SP) service dating to 1894. The "Limited" part of its name once differentiated trains that stopped at a "limited" numbers of stations along their routes from "local" trains that make every stop. Today, it is the oldest "named" train in continuous operation. The modern-day "western lifestyle" magazine Sunset began in 1898 as a promotional magazine for the SP. That name traces its origins to a predecessor railroad, the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway, known as the Sunset Route as early as 1874. At its SP inauguration and during several periods in its history, it was an all-Pullman train consisting of only sleeping cars (no coaches) and extending to San Francisco. Through the years, it went from steam power and wooden cars to steel heavyweight cars to dieselization and streamlining in the 1950s. Amtrak took over the train in 1971.


My day started in the morning somewhere near Pumpville, about 40 miles southeast of Sanderson, TX.





    Sanderson is the cactus capital of Texas, the eastern gateway to the Big Bend Wilderness Area and the site of the "last" train robbery in 1912 at nearby Baxter's Curve. The outlaws, thinking of everything, shod their horses with their shoes on backwards to make it appear that their escape was in the opposite direction! Foiled by a quick-thinking express messenger, the perpetrators' novel plan failed spectacularly. Today, the would-be robbers' graves are a tourist attraction in town at the Santa Rita Cemetery.


    After Sanderson I went to the diner car for breakfast of railroad french toast. One of my seat mates was a gentleman who lives in Alpine and needs to travel for business so he will take the train to a big city airport, usually San Antonio or Houston. My other mates were a mother and son from El Paso coming back from visiting relatives in Louisiana bayou country. The gentleman left early as we were approaching his stop in Alpine.



6838 Mardi Gras painted
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Alpine, TX

6845 Mardi Gras painted
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6849 Mardi Gras painted
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    Alpine is the gateway to Big Bend State Ranch Park, for Davis National Historical Site and home to Sul Ross State University. It celebrates the Working Ranch Rodeo and Chuck-wagon Cook-off each August and the Big Bend Balloon Bash every September. Alpine came into existence in 1882 due to the arrival of the railroad and its abundant supply of high quality water essential to the operation of steam locomotives. In these parts, ranches often exceed 200,000 acres in size. Prior to the admission of Alaska to the Union in 1959, Alpine was the largest city in the largest county in the largest state in the United States.

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After breakfast I returned to my room, now made up for day use, and watched the countryside speed by and waited for the call to lunch.

6851 motel room with
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6853 Mardi Gras painted
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6854 Mardi Gras painted
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We were some 25 miles southeast of Sierra Blanca when we had a time zone change from Central Time to Mountain Time.

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I-10 at Sierra Blanca.

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    Sierra Blanca takes its name from a mountain just northwest of town at 6894 ft. The town came into existence when competing railroads for a second transcontinental line came within ten miles of one another in 1881. Famous railroad magnate Jay Gould is said to have driven a silver spike to commemorate the event, and the town sprang up around the spot. Recent years have seen the rise of controversy over a nearby sewage sludge dump composed of waste products from New York City. Its population was 533 at the latest census.

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We arrived early in El Paso at 1:07pm, schedule 1:22pm and left on time at 1:47pm.

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    El Paso is situated along the Rio Grande River across the border from Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. Fort Bliss, a major U.S.Army installation and local employer, lies to the east and northeast; the Franklin Mountains extend into the city from the north and nearly divides it into two sections. The area was not considered a part of Texas until 1848 when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo made settlements on the north bank of the Rio Grande River American; the present Texas-New Mexico boundary was drawn in the Compromise of 1850.

6869 El Paso station
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      The population exploded with the arrival of the Southern Pacific, Texas and Pacific and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroads in 1881. By 1930, Conrad Hilton opened his first high-rise hotel here. The popular drink "Margarita" was first mixed at Tommy's Place Bar in 1945 in El Paso. The 24,00-acre Franklin Mountains State Park is the largest urban park in the U.S. and resides entirely within the city. Local attractions include Big Bend and Carlsbad Cavers national parks. This handsomely restored train station was designed by the same Chicago firm that built Washington Union Station in Washington, D.C.

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Looking out on Ciudad Juarez in Mexico.

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6878 motel room with
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6879 wall color

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Boarding the Sunset Limited in El Paso.

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6884 Mardi Gras painted
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    Crossing the Rio Grande River that serves as a natural boundary for Texas and New Mexico. Spanish for "Big River," the Rio Grande is 1,885 miles long, fourth longest river system in the U.S.

6886 Mardi Gras painted
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6887 Mardi Gras painted
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6889 Mardi Gras painted
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  Maintenance of Way installing new ties on the Union Pacific line.

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Scooting the new tie under the rail.

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Deming, NM. Amshack. This is a flag stop.



    Deming was founded in 1881, named after Mary Ann Deming Crocker, wife of Charles Crocker- one of the so-called "Big Four" of the railroad industry in that era. Here the Silver Spike was driven to commemorate the meeting of the Southern Pacific and Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe railroads, the second transcontinental railroad to be completed in the U.S. To the southeast of Deming lies nearby Rockhound State Park, established in 1966 as the first park in the U.S. to allow collection of rocks and minerals for personal use.


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    Benson, situated on the San Pedro River, grew up in the early 1900s as the demand for copper and silver increased, shipped in as they were for smelting and distribution via the adjacent Southern (now Union) Pacific Railroad main line. In the modern era, its moderate climate and location as a gateway to Kartchner Caverns State Park have resulted in its growing popularity as a retirement community and tourist destination offering train trips and stagecoach rides. Its culture is ingrained in the Old West and traditional railroad heritage. The Benson Visitor Center -Train Depot is in the heart of the historic district.


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    Tuscon was first inhabited 12,000 years ago by Paleo-Indians. Established as a Spanish fort in 1775, it was original part of Mexico after it gained independence from Spain in 1821. In 1853, it became part of the U.S. after the Gadsden Purchase. Surrounded by five major mountain ranges, it is the southernmost ski destination in the country. The Tucson desert is home to the Saguaro National Park, known for unique giant cacti that can reach a height of 50 feet. The Old Tucson Movie Studio was a backdrop for some 300 of Hollywood's greatest western movies.

    While we were stopped in Deming, I called my cousin in Tucson to let her know when we were expected to arrive. Shirley said she would be at the station and we could visit during my lay over. As I was getting off the train, Shirley was walking onto the platform. We talked and walked around the station area.


SP 1673, built by Schenectady Locomotive Works, November 1900, 2-6-0 Mogul.


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"Presented to the people of Tucson, March 20, 1955 by Southern Pacific Company Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of arrival of the first train in the Pueblo of Tucson."


Fuel was coal then 1906, oil.



Bygone equipment on display in station waiting room.

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Robin and Shirley.


    We talked and I told her about my visit with our cousin Dawn in New Orleans and she updated me about things in Tucson. Due to lack of time we were unable to get a bite to eat as we had earlier thought.

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Across the street from the station.


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Sunset in Tucson.


Soon it was time to leave and we departed on time at 7:35pm.


Taking goodbye pictures of each other.

    After leaving Tucson, it was time to make the bed up for tonight. Again the wall and the top bunk were in a standoff. Again attendant Yvone found her heavy duty crowbar, did battle with the wall, then it backed away and let the top bunk drop.


We stopped in Maricopa from 8:55pm to 9:10pm running a few minutes late.

    Maricopa is home to the Koli Equestrian Center, offering horseback riding trails on the Gila River Indian Reservation. The station here features a former converted California Zephyr dome observation lounge car. The town has had three incarnations; one as a stagecoach relay and trading center, one as a railroad junction and a third as a fast growing business location.
    After leaving Maricopa, I slid between the sheets and laid my head on the pillow. Yuma, Palm Springs, Ontario, Pomona were passed through without notice and without disturbing my slumber on the rails. I awoke after we had arrived home in Los Angeles from all the commotion in the corridor. We arrived in Los Angeles at 4:30 am, about an hour early. Some of the passengers were out on the platform as soon as the wheels stopped, others were taking their time as we were told there was no rush as the train would be sitting at the station for several hours. I gathered my belongs and left them in my room as I went and asked Yvonne if it was OK to leave them in the room while I went down to the tunnel to find a Metrolink ticket machine at far ends of station. Knowing where they were located, I quickly bought my Metro ticket and returned to the train and pickup my luggage. Saying goodbye to my great attendant, Yvonne I walked to the end of the platform and then a short walk passing two platforms to the Metrolink train platform and waited for train 682 to take me to Orange County. Chris told me to leave the bags on the train and get the Metrolink without taking the bags down the tunnel and back. It was a good tip, Chris. We departed Los Angeles on time at 6:45 and arriving in Buena Park at 7:19 am. From there I took the Beach Blvd bus home. Just as I was stepping off the train, my bus made a quick getaway so there was a wait the next one. I used my Metrolink ticket for the bus fare. Metrolink tickets are honored on most city bus systems in Southern California. The bus ride was slow but I was happy to see familiar things. After my stop I only had to walk the short block home. It took several days to get rested and acclimated to being at home again.

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The Sunset Limited at rest in Los Angeles after 1,995 miles traveled from New Orleans.

    In the 28 days since Chris and I left home, we covered over 8.5 thousand miles by air, auto, train and boat and what an adventure is was that produced many great memories. And thanks to all our readers who have followed our adventurers at the National Railroad Historical Society 2015 convention in Vermont. Check back soon for more of Chris and I adventures in the Rockies and at the NRHS convention in Denver.

Return to last Chapter - Twenty-nine  Western Bound on the Sunset Limited - Day One

Robin's trips

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Text and Photos by Author

The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent.

Comments are appreciated at...