California Zephyr: Sacramento to Denver
This is Part 5 of my 6-part series covering an 11-day Amtrak trip around the western United States in May of 2006. Be sure to read about the planning and start of my journey from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles in Part 1 the trip from Los Angeles to Chicago in Part 2, Chicago to Essex in Part 3, and Essex to Sacramento in Part 4.
Sacramento to Denver
We left Sacramento eastbound through Roseville and Auburn and were soon climbing into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The National Railroad Museum, or National Park Service, or somebody else – I can’t really remember – had a person onboard narrating the trip through California’s gold country as we made our way up the Sierras. The mountain range officially starts just eight miles east of Sacramento. You wouldn’t know this by looking out the window – it’s still pretty flat land – but when they were building the transcontinental railroad the United States government provided more loan money for building through mountains. It’s not hard to guess why a surveyor working for the Southern Pacific Railroad would have decided that, yes, this area was mountains. I only heard the narration for a short time before going to the lounge. Like all the other trains on this trip, the speakers there didn’t work, and since I spend almost all my time sitting in the lounge I didn’t get to hear any more of the narration.
The ride over the Sierras is a great trip. The train had a large group on board, this time it was a group of seniors who were visiting various tourist railroads. They were now going from Sacramento to Truckee where they’d be off to the next excursion train. The trip from Sacramento to Truckee would be great for kids, too. At a scheduled three and a half hours, I think it would be a perfect way to go to the mountains for a weekend. I sat and enjoyed the snow-covered mountains. We descended into Reno pretty much on time at 4:00pm.
I ran into an advertising photographer from Pakistan, and we talked about photography for a while. He told me I should go to South Africa because the lighting there is some of the best in the world. Yeah, I’ll tell the landlady she can’t have any rent money for three months because I need to go to South Africa. He did have some encouraging things to say, mostly to look at things in a different perspective. I think I did come out of it with something, although I can’t say exactly what that would be.
It got dark somewhere east of Winnemucca, Nevada, and morning came in Utah somewhere between Provo and Helper. Nevada was dirt and weeds, it was in eastern Utah and into Colorado where the rocks started coming out of the ground and the impressive desert colors began. As we went farther into Colorado we entered the canyons, and you can tell why the state is called “Colorado”. The colors in the rocks were incredible. Reds and yellows were all over the place. Once past Grand Junction the train followed the Colorado River, and east of Glenwood Springs the train ran along the south bank while I-70 was glued to the wall on the north in one of the highway engineering wonders in the United States.
A couple of miles west of Gypsum the train left I-70 and continued north up the Colorado River. Somewhere between here and a town called Kremmling was a huge water wheel. There was no structure that went with it, at least not anymore, and how old it was or what they did with it was a mystery to me. I made it a point to mark this place on my GPS so I could look for it on the way home. The Rocky Mountains seemed to go on forever. After leaving the canyons the train rolled though flat areas that looked almost like the Nevada desert and small farms along the banks of the Colorado River. Then everything turns to rocky canyons again to remind you where you are. As we traveled through the Gore Canyon a pair of bald eagles joined the train for a few seconds. I managed to get some jerky video of one of them. Past Fraser, the train spent ten minutes going through the Moffat Tunnel which crosses the Continental Divide at around 10,000 feet. We descended into Denver and by 7:15 Mountain Time I was outside the train watching the maintenance people washing the windows of the lounge car.
My motel, the Budget Host Inn, was a mile and a half from the train station across I-25. After shooting a few photos of downtown I decided that after eleven days on the train I’d have myself a soak in the tub, where I managed to fall asleep for an hour and a half.
I had planned on making this a five-part series, but after I put together the videos in both directions and they each came in at around fifteen minutes, I decided that two quarter-hour videos would be too much for one post. So enjoy the Sacramento to Denver video below, and come back soon for the return home.