Two Planes, a Train and a Museum
California Zephyr : Oct 26 - Oct 29
PLEASE NOTE: The following report is spilt into 2 sections. My story is first, with Abril adding her thoughts at the end. So Enjoy!
Before 2007 was to come to a close, I wanted to get one more trip under my belt. I had decided to fly to Denver Co and spend the day there. The very next day we would board Amtrak train #5 the California Zephyr for a trip west to Sacramento. Not only would we travel thru the Spectacular Rocky Mountains, we would also traverse the Famous Donner Pass in Ca. It also brought me great joy to learn that, once again my girlfriend Abril would be able to come along. She had enjoyed the scenery on the Southwest Chief back in Sep and I mentioned to her, “if you liked that scenery, wait to you experience the California Zephyr….!”
Denver Union Station
On Oct 26 we would take Frontier Airlines flight # 566 non stop from San Diego to Denver. Early morning fog would delay us about an hour and with this we would arrive in Denver 45 mins late. After jumping in a cab at DIA we would be driven to our hotel in downtown Denver. I had chosen the Hotel Monaco for this trip and I must say that I was very impressed with it. This is considered a boutique style hotel and in my opinion, its charm lies with its extravagant colors and quirky atmosphere. It is also pet friendly, with the entrance to the hotel sporting a bulletin board announcing the names of various pets arriving that day. If you arrive without a pet and you don’t feel like being left out, you can request a gold fish be placed in your room.
Denver Union Station : Tunnel to Tracks
Once checked in, we decided to head over to the 16th st Mall where we would look for a place to eat. The 16th st Mall is basically a long tree lined street with restaurants and shops. Denver RTD runs a free shuttle bus up and down the street which we found very convenient. After a late lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, we would climb aboard the free shuttle and head over to Denver Union Station. Since it was 3:30 in the afternoon, the station was not very busy. We proceeded to take plenty of photos both inside and out. We then headed down the long underground corridor that heads out to the station tracks. The corridor had a lot of nice photos on its walls of old passenger trains that at one time called Denver Union Station home. At the far end we would climb up some stairs and wind up right near where the RTD light rail stops. From here you had a great view of both the station and its tracks. Also to the north you could see the BNSF/UP joint line as it makes its way south to Pueblo Co.
After Union Station it was now time to walk the few blocks over to Coors Field. The Colorado Rockies had made it to the World Series and since I’m a huge sports fan, I had to have a look at Coors Field. There was a lot going on over at the stadium. There were news vans from all over covering the event as well as the usual scalpers selling their over priced tickets. After a quick visit to the Rockies gift shop, we decided to head back towards 16th st to catch the shuttle back to our hotel. I had failed to mention that the weather outside was about 45 degrees which was cold but not too bad for Denver.
Me In Back Of Coors Field
After relaxing in our room for a few hours we decided to venture out once again for one last walk along 16th st. I wanted to return to Union Station since the east bound California Zephyr was due in and I wanted to take some pictures of it at the station. When we arrived we noticed that the train was due in about an hour and a half late, so instead of waiting, we decided to call it a night and head back towards the hotel. We were almost out of the station when Abril noticed a sign towards the back pointing to a model railroad exhibit. After further inspection we headed down a few stairs and underneath the station was an O Scale layout on display. This layout belongs to the Denver Society of Model Railroaders and, talking to a few members, I quickly found out that they’ve been in operation for 70 or so years. You can tell plenty of time and effort has been put into their project. After our visit with the model railroad was complete we headed back over to 16th st to catch the shuttle bus to our hotel. The next day would be an exciting one. We would be catching the California Zephyr for our next train trip to Sacramento.
The O Scale Model Railroad
I awoke the following morning at 6:30 AM and the first thing I did was call “Julie” to see how our train was doing. The train fortunately was running on time and once checked out of the Monaco, we would walk over to 16th st to, once again, catch the free shuttle to Union Station. It was a very chilly morning outside as we waiting for about 15 mins for the shuttle to arrive. Once at the station we noticed a good amount of people waiting to board the train. The train was scheduled for an on time departure of 8:05 AM and we would all be boarding soon. Once the call was made for sleeping car passengers we slowly made our way up the ramp that leads to track #1. On this trip we were booked in the transition sleeper, roomette # 19. After leaving some of our bags downstairs we quickly found our roomette and settled in.
Train # 5 Boarding @ Union Station
We departed Denver right on time and once on the move decided to head over to the diner for breakfast. Now if you’ve been reading my stories then you know exactly what I ordered - French toast for the both of us! As the train made its way out of Denver we slowly crossed in and out of BNSF’s Rennex yard, then made a curve to the west out on to UP trackage. We were now on UP’s Moffat Tunnel Sub and soon we would begin the assault up the Rocky Mountains. The tracks slowly started to make the climb up the mountain range and here, the scenery would start to get really spectacular. Both of us were in “awe” as we made our way higher & higher. As we passed one tunnel after another, I was really hoping to see some snow. So far on this trip, we had encountered none. Soon the conductor would come on the loud speaker to announce that we would be crossing the 6 mile long Moffat Tunnel. He also suggested that passengers not cross in between cars while in the tunnel. This helps to keep the diesel fumes out. As we continued on, I noticed the train coming out of a left hand turn with the tunnel portal in plain view. I then called out to Abril “..Here comes to tunnel..!!!” Then we hit darkness. Inside the tunnel the train would hit its highest elevation of over 9000 ft. This is also the point where the train crosses the continental divide. It took us about 12 mins to get thru and when we came out the other end, I saw what I had been looking for – Snow!! Winter Park had patches of the white stuff here and there and I remember thinking “well, a little snow is better then no snow at all…”
Gloomy & Wet Day As We Start Up The Mountain
The Rocky Mountains!
Rafting Down The Colorado River
After our station stop at Winter Park we would continue on our way west. The next few hours, the train would pass thru some of the most beautiful county I have ever seen. Most of the time was spent in our roomette as we just sat there staring out of our Superliner window. I felt like I would miss something, even if I ran off to the bathroom. By now the Colorado River was running parallel to the train. This would continue, for what seemed like a few hours. Out on the river plenty of people were fishing. A few even decided to drop their pants to “moon” our train as we went on by. At our station stop of Glenwood Springs Co, we were able to jump off for a fresh air brake. I would stay by the train with Abril going up top to the pedestrian bridge to take some pictures. Back aboard we headed off to lunch then spent the rest of the evening in our roomette. As the sun started to set in western Colorado our train would soon be entering the state of Utah. Night was soon to fall and we would spend it watching DVD’s for the remainder of the evening, finally turning in somewhere between Provo & Salt Lake City.
Glenwood Springs Co
The Sun Sets As We Continue On.....
The next morning we awoke with the train now racing across the state of Nevada. We got up, showered, and then headed off to breakfast. You guessed it - More French toast!! This part of Nevada was pretty flat and to be honest, was not too interesting but no matter, I knew that in a few short hours we would be reaching the Donner Pass. Right before we were to reach our station stop of Sparks Nv our train headed into a siding. Here we would hold for about 25 mins. Since we were running early, the dispatcher wanted us to hold back for a bit until it was time to make our scheduled stop. The Sparks station happens to be smack-dab in the middle of the UP yard so that might have had something to do with it. Here we were also allowed to exit the train for some fresh air. Abril and I both ventured to the head end to take photos. We even managed to take one with our friendly engineer. Our next station stop would be Reno Nv and I was excited as I would finally be able to take a look at the Reno Trench.
# 5 @ Sparks Nv
Abril & I with our Engineer
# 5 In The Reno Trench : Reno Nv
At Reno guides from the California State Railroad Museum would come aboard and once again our train would start to ascend, this time up the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. The guides were excellent and it really made the trip thru Donner Pass that much better. They were able to call out all the important sights along the way and since our sleeper was mostly empty, it was real easy to peek out both sides of the train. Donner Pass, to be honest with you, felt like a big slow roller coaster. We slowly made our way up the hill towards Donner Lake, then stayed up top for awhile, then all of a sudden, slowly start to make our way down the hill. I don’t know how many twists and turns I counted as we made our way towards the bottom.
I'm Famous For This Pose
Abril Enjoying The Scenery Of Donner Pass
What A View!!
After a quick lunch, we came to our stop at Truckee Ca. Here we would meet the east bound California Zephyr on its way to Chicago. We had been running on time or early for most of the trip and it was announced that we would be arriving in Sacramento about 45 min’s ahead of schedule. Once in Roseville we started to prepare of our imminent arrival into Sacramento. As we raced towards our final stop, the guides that had been so informative walked right past us and I had to thank them for their excellent commentary. I also mentioned that we would be visiting the California State Railroad museum the following day. We quickly came to our final stop of Sacramento and once off the train headed to the front of the station where a cab was to take us to the Delta King Hotel in Old Town Sacramento.
Me Looking Down River : Sacramento Ca
The Delta King is an old historic River Boat nestled right on the Sacramento River. I wanted to choose something different for this trip as far as hotels go and we were both pretty pleased with it. Even after finding out that the AC in our room didn’t work, they quickly moved us next door to an adjacent room. That room ended up being bigger anyway. The rest of the evening was spent walking up and down the streets of Old Town Sacramento. There are many shops spread about and we made sure to visit a few for souvenirs. I’m into collecting refrigerator magnets from all the places I have visited and I wanted to make sure to pick one up from Sacramento (although I had forgotten to pick one up in Denver…) After a pizza dinner & some delicious candied apples for dessert, we retired to our room for the rest of the evening. We had a half day left on this trip. It would be used to visit the California State Railroad Museum.
The Streets Of Old Town Sacramento
The next day there was no real hurry to get up so we decided to sleep in a bit. About 10:30 we went downstairs to check out. We would also be able to store our luggage at the Delta King front desk. We then headed over to the Fat City Bar and Café for an early lunch. Our final sight to see on this trip was the California State Railroad museum. I had been there 2 times before and I could not wait to get back. Once we purchased our tickets we slowly made our way thru the huge museum building. The amount of trains and information on display here is really mind boggling. You do need ample time to walk around and take it all in. My favorite exhibit has to be the old Pullman sleeper that is available for you to walk thru. As you make your way in, you feel the sleeper rocking slowly back and forth as your train heads off to an imaginary location. You hear the sounds outside the windows as the world passes you by. You really do get an excellent idea of what it must have been like to travel long distance on a passenger train back in the days. There is also a Pullman diner that you can walk thru. Here you get to see all the different place settings that were available on all the various trains from the past. One thing I liked about the museum is that most pieces of equipment on display have a museum docent available to answer any questions. These folks are very knowledgeable and are very eager to answer any questions you might have. In the upstairs portion of the museum building, there was a toy train display. They had a nice exhibit showing the various gauges of model trains. They even had a Lionel layout enclosed in glass. Our final stop would be the gift shop. Here I would buy a few DVD’s and a book on the Empire Builder.
First Display You See As You Enter The Museum
The Women In Railroading Display
SP Cab Forward On Display
After leaving the museum we headed back over to the Delta King to retrieve our luggage. We then had a cab take us over to Sacramento International Airport where we would fly out that evening back to San Diego on Southwest Airlines. Another amazing trip was sadly coming to an end. On our way home all I could think about was the trips I had taken this year and all the fun I have had.
I can’t wait to see what 2008 has in store for me………..stay tuned!!!!
As I get more familiar and involved with train traveling (of course I have my boyfriend to thank for this), I got very excited to learn that we would be taking Amtrak’s California Zephyr. I’ve seen pictures before of the beautiful countryside the train travels through and of course the city’s we would be visiting, only added to the interest for this trip.
Denver, Co is a city in which you see the history reflected in the buildings as you walk by, big example, Union Station. Everywhere you went, you could see purple or something related to the Colorado Rockies. I enjoyed walking in the 16th Street Mall. Here you’re free to move across the entire street and you have the choice to get on the free Mall Ride, to go around this mall. It was a cold day and the trees were starting to change to an autumn color.
It was now time to take our train in an even colder and foggy morning; we arrived at Union Station on time and got aboard fast. We dropped everything in our roomette and went directly to the dining car to have breakfast. Full and excited, our train was now going uphill. We got our self’s comfortable to enjoy the trip in our roomette.
You could see how the mountains were literally carpeted with pine trees; the Colorado River was almost all the time side by side with the tracks. As we were getting higher over the Rockies, you could still see snow in places where the sun hadn’t touched the ground. When we got across the Moffat Tunnel we got dazzled by the reflection of the sun in the snow. It was such beautiful scenery, I was really happy to be part of this trip and see all this. Going through Sierra Nevada was also fascinating; my favorite part was Donner Lake. The pine trees in this area were taller from the ones in the Rockies and Tony told me that one of the Star Wars movies was filmed somewhere around these mountains. The entire journey aboard the train was breathtaking! What also made this trip more interesting and educational where the ladies from the California Railroad Museum that where telling us important information of the trip we were doing from Reno to Sacramento.
It was time for our final stop in Sacramento, the weather was really nice and we took a cab to our hotel which was very close to the station. All afternoon we walked in the beautiful and calm streets of Old Town, visited some cool stores, got dinner, a delicious chocolate covered apple and then got back to our floating hotel.
On our final day of the trip I got to know the famous Railroad Museum. I was very impressed with this well structured museum, its enormous exhibition space and everything on display. We also had a chance to see a very interesting movie about the Transcontinental Railroad. . . It was fun to walk around the entire building, including a visit to the gift shop where you could find anything about railroading.
When we were out of the museum we took a last walk around the streets of Old Town and then waited for our cab that was taking us to the airport. It had been one of the most remarkable trips I’ve taken, but it was time to go back home.
**All Photos In This Report By Tony Escarcega & Abril Batallar*
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