Amtrak 15-Day Rail Pass Live Blog - Week Two

Day 8 Los Angeles to Oakland

10:15 AM We're leaving Los Angeles on the northbound Coast Starlight bound for the bay area. The Coast Starlight is one of Amtrak's most popular trains because the scenery along the Pacific coastline is simply bloody awesome! The route follows the shore from San Diego up to Morro Bay then moves inland as it rolls up to San Jose and finally, Seattle.

Los Angeles from the window of Amtrak's Coast Starlight


10:50 AM The first hour or so of the trip is within metropolitan LA, no ocean views here, but we did snag seats on the coast view side of the train so scenic vistas await.

Amtrak's Silver Splendor

Tagging along on the end of our train is the private charter car "Silver Splendor." Built in 1956 for the Zephyrs (our next train) of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, it has been revamped as a combination diner, dome and lounge car available for private excursions on any of Amtrak's routes. Old number 4735 has logged over 4.5 million miles in her 50 plus years of service.

The Coast Starlight by Amtrak


The old Southern Pacific Railroad originally ran passenger service on California's coastal route between Los Angeles and San Francisco as The Coast Daylight.

When Amtrak took over in 1971, they expanded the service to San Diego and Seattle and, in a nod to the old name, christened it The Coast Starlight.


Out the Window

12:15 PM First view of the Pacific! Caught a glimpse of the pier where we first met almost thirty years ago. (Yeah, we stole a kiss as we sped by!)

Folks on the Train
We asked a wonderful lady -- traveling with a group of Red Hatters -- what happened when she was five hours late getting into Chicago. Did they have to sleep on the train station floor?

Day Nine - Oakland to Reno

9:50 AM Pulling out of Oakland (Emeryville) California on the eastbound Zephyr right on time. Amtrak's California Zephyr runs the route of the famous Zephyrs of the Burlington Route, Denver & Rio Grande Western and Western Pacific lines streamliners of yesteryear.

When service began in 1949 it was known as “The Most Talked About Train in America.” We will be crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains over Donner Pass. Sure hope nobody gets too hungry. San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge are fading into the distance across the bay.


10:40 AM Just past Martinez California we see “The Mothball Fleet” in Suisun Bay. Seventy decommissioned warships have been harbored here since World War II, just in case of another war.



Out the Window

Sacramento from Amtrak's California Zephyr

11:50 AM
Sacramento California, the state capitol. We're keeping our eyes peeled for The Governator, but not really expecting to catch a glimpse. Perhaps it would take more than blowing through town on a train... I'll be back.



WATCH: Veronica Gives a Bathroom Amenity Tour (coach)

1:20 AM Entering Gold Rush Territory. There's gold in these thar hills! It's estimated that one third of California's gold came from these parts.

Out the Window

3:00 PM Donner Lake, California. Yup, THOSE Donners. This lake is where they got stranded and unlike today, there were no restaurants in sight. Why not let our onboard guide tell the story?

4:45 PM Reno, Nevada. Known as "The Biggest Little City in the World." We're here for 24 hours -- more on Reno tommorow.

Day Ten - Reno to The Rocky Mountains

Reno Nevada

11:30 AM
Reno, Nevada. Known as "The Biggest Little City in the World" but "Closed for Renovation?" Not really, we stayed overnight and found some open establishments, one even had $3 Single Deck Blackjack. Lots of fun without risking a trip to the poorhouse.


4:45 PM Back on the train headed for Colorado. We will travel across Utah during the night, passing through Promotory, the sight of The Golden Spike. The spike marks the spot where on May 10,1869 the Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines, laying tracks westward from Chicago and east from San Francisco, met to form the first transcontinental railroad route.

Folks on the train

Ellis, "The Cafe Guy," Amtrak's coolest employee, shows us around his domain. The Zephyr, like all of Amtrak's long haul runs, has both a dining car for complete sit down meals and a cafe / lounge / dome car for quick snacks.

Day Eleven - The Rocky Mountains

The Rockies from the Dome Car on the Califonia Zephyr


6:50 AM Sunrise in The Rockies. High in Eastern Utah approaching Helper near the Colorado border. Helper takes its names from the steam days when "helper" locomotives were added to trains to help pull them over the mountains.

This will be the most scenic day of our entire 5000 + mile journey. Many mountains, canyons, rivers, tunnels and other various vistas to come today.

Castle Gate in The Rockies from the Dome Car on the Califonia Zephyr


7:30 AM Castle Gate.






Out the Window

Ruby Canyon in The Rockies from the Dome Car on the Califonia Zephyr


10:10 AM Entering Colorful Colorado via Ruby Canyon, one of the many canyons formed by the Colorado River. There are no roads here, so these spectacular views are only available by train or by raft.

1:20 PM Glenwood Canyon, still following the Colorado River as we climb up toward the continental divide. Since we are stopping for the night at Winter Park, we will cross the great divide tomorrow minutes after re-boarding the Zephyr.


The Dome Car
We moved in to the Dome Car and set up camp for this leg of the trip. The sides and ceiling of the car are covered in ginormous windows, providing the best sightseeing on the train. Add in the stacked rocks of the Colorado canyons - bliss.

River Canyon in the Rockies from the California Zephyr Dome Car


3:45 PM Gore Canyon. The last of the Colorado River canyons on the trip. This remote one thousand-foot deep gorge is another that can only be seen from the train or the river.

4:25 PM Fraser Canyon. The Fraser River carved out this canyon and left behind some of the best trout fishing in all of Colorado.





Day Twelve - Winter Park to Omaha

Winter Park Colorado

After having an excellent Italian dinner at Alberto's and spending the night in Winter Park, we are ready to climb back aboard The California Zephyr for our trek down The Rockies and across The Great Plains.



Veronica "washes" her hair with oatmeal
Life on the train requires some ingenuity. Here's a hygiene idea!

Out the Window

The California Zephyr in The Colorado Rockies

Our guide for the day just informed us that we will pass through forty-two tunnels on our trip across The Rockies. The longest being the Moffat tunnel at over six miles long.

By digging through the mountains instead of going over and around, nearly two hundred miles were cut off of the trip between Denver and the west coast.

The Front Range of The Colorado Rockies from the California Zephyr


7:10 PM The train running about an hour late is in our favor today. The late afternoon sun on the Front Range is spectacular.

Even the deer came out for a little train spotting... but we were too excited to snap a photo of the big buck watching us go by.

Denver from Amtrak's California Zephyr

8:00 PM
Denver, the Mile-High City, is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level, as measured at the 13th step of the state capitol building. The other day we were wondering where the train would refuel, the answer for The Zephyr is...

in Denver.



Day Thirteen - Omaha to Chicago

Out the Window

Sunrise in Nebraska on the California Zephyr

6:30 AM
Sunrise in Nebraska. A little fog hovers over the corn. Back behind us in Lincoln, the husking has begun.




Omaha Nebraska's Haunted Depot


7:00 AM Omaha, Nebraska. Railroading roots run deep here. This has been the home of The Union Pacific Railroad, the largest in the country, since it began back in the mid 1862.

Rumors are floating around the train that the old station here is haunted, we go in for a first hand look but decide the stairs up to the depot might make ghosts of us.


Omaha Nebraska's Haunted Depot

Spook or mortal, we won't be busting any windows here.

2:50 PM Crossing the mighty Mississippi at Burlington Iowa. This puts us back into Illinois and closing in on the end of our odyssey. Just a couple hundred miles to go, which will put us over five thousand for the trip. We are feeling them all today. Need. Shower.

Out the Window

Pulling into Chicago on the California Zephyr

6:00 PM
Pulling into The Windy City to wrap it up.

Eleven states (those big western ones and several twice) in two weeks equals a couple of fried GypsyNesters. Need. Sleep.





David & Veronica,

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