Even though the entire trip in California Zephyr takes two days and two nights, if you want, you can hop off for 24-hour whistle-stop in three places.
I met a guy who’d strike out across the prairies of Iowa and Nebraska before overnighting at the little town of Granby in Colorado’s Middle Park Area. After snaking though the Rockies, he would stop at Reno, Nevada, for the nearby Wild West mining town of Virginia City. Finally, he would overnight in Sacramento, California’s little state capital.
Leaving the state of Illinois behind, the California Zephyr entered Indiana. From the time the train entered Chicago, we followed the Central Time (CT), which is one hour behind the Eastern Standard Time (EST). The train was snorting down the tracks passing by seemingly endless corn, soybean fields and small farming towns.
The California Zephyr stopped at Mt. Pleasant (IA), Ottumwa (IA), Osceola (IA), and Creston (IA) and then chugged into Omaha which is known for the headquarters of Berkshire Hathaway (owned by Warren Buffett) around midnight.
Berkshire Hathaway is the world’s largest financial services company by revenue. Omaha is the largest city in the state of Nebraska and located on the river Missouri.
We met an American lady named Judy in the sightseers’ lounge. “I visited India several times. It’s incredible. I won’t forget my trip on Palace-on-wheels,” gushed Judy, a corporate strategist. “My daughter too visited India and was fascinated by Rishikesh.”
The next station was Lincoln, the capital of Nebraska and famous for Sheldon Museum of Art. Then it stopped at Hastings (NE), Holdrege (NE), McCook (NE), Fort Morgan (Colorado) before arriving in Denver Union station around 9am. We changed to Mountain Time (MT) which is two hours behind EST. In Denver, the capital of Colorado, it was announced inside the car that the train would halt for three hours for track maintenance work.
It was sunny and we got a chance to spend some time in Denver. The Union station was beautifully designed and I was stunned by its architectural grandeur. We walked into the King Soopers grocery store (five minutes’ walk from the station) and bought bread, Rogers (a Belgian firm) potato chips (much tastier than Lay’s) and peanuts (Planters’ Cocktail peanuts are awesome!). We hung around for a while basking in the beautiful weather and walking into a few shops near the station.
The train left Denver around 12.15pm and ran along the Union Pacific Railroad. The scenery changed dramatically as the train climbed the Rocky Mountains. The next stop was Fraser-Winter Park (Colorado), where we changed to the Mountain Time, which is two hours behind the ET. An announcement was made in the car that the train would pass through 29 tunnels and the largest is the 6.2 mile-long Moffat tunnel. I was excited.
The Moffat Tunnel cuts through the Continental Divide in north-central Colorado. Named after Colorado railroad pioneer David Moffat, the tunnel’s first railroad traffic passed through in February 1928. Though the plans for the Moffat Tunnel came about in 1902, it took almost another 26 years to complete due to disagreements within the state legislature.
The tracks then followed the Colorado river through Fraser Canyon, followed by Gore canyon. The Gore canyon is roadless and is inaccessible by most traffic. The California Zephyr travels through the canyon’s spectacular and breathtaking landscape. The Gore canyon, a three-mile isolated canyon along the Upper Colorado river, is known for whitewater rapids. I saw a number of brave souls rafting through the rapids. I saw a bald eagle flying over the Rockies.
The canyon presented a formidable obstacle for the railroad, and the building of the line through it is a monumental engineering achievement. The construction of the railroad has added boulders and other hazards that have since made the river even more difficult to access and row safely. For anglers, this part of the Colorado river offers wild trout, stunning scenery and excellent fly fishing (an angling method in which an artificial ‘fly’ is used to catch fish).
The train then stopped at Granby (Colorado), 7935 ft above sea level in the valley of the Fraser river. We were told that the train would halt only for three minutes. I got off the train to take some photos of the scenic surroundings. Smoking-deprived folks quickly alighted to take a puff on cigarettes. What struck me particularly about all these stations is that they are aesthetically designed, however small they are.
It was time for Brigitte to leave, but the brief meeting with her will remain in my memory.
(To be continued)