Friday, June 20, 2014

California to Chicago and Michigan by Rail - Califronia Zephyr East

We’re finally on our way to Chicago.  It feels good to get going after the long wait and anticipation and then the last minute scramble to find an alternate route after our Empire Builder reservations were canceled.

We left home mid-morning on Saturday and had an easy drive to Davis including a stop at Harris Ranch along I-5 for lunch.  We checked in to the Hallmark Inn in Davis just after 3:00.  Our first order of business was to check on long-term parking at the Amtrak Station.  After checking at the station we decided to park our car in the long term parking that night as we were told the parking lot sometimes fills up in the morning.  We wandered around town a bit and then had an OK Mexican dinner at Tres Hermanos and a dessert at an ice cream place called Cream (delicious) and then back to the hotel.

In the morning we walked over to the Amtrak station, checked our bags and then we returned to the hotel where we had an excellent breakfast.  By then it was getting close to train time so we grabbed our carry-ons and headed back to the station.  After a short wait our train arrived and we were on our way. 
The Davis Train Station
Val's waiting for the train.

And it finally arrives.

Time to board.
We're on our way.

One unfortunate thing about our last minute change of plans was we got the last available bedroom, which was also the least desirable because it was a little smaller than the rest.  It wasn’t too bad, but you did really notice the difference when it was time to go to bed because there was much less room to move around when the beds are down.  The rooms aren’t that big to begin with so any loss of space is really noticeable.  Oh well, we are just grateful we could get one at all. It turns out there are quite a few people on the train who were displaced by the Empire Builder cancellations.

As usual, we had a beautiful trip through the Sierras and arrived in Reno just a little late.  It was very dry in the mountains and the only snow we saw was at the highest elevations.   
Donner Lake
The Truckee River

From Reno we started the long journey across Nevada where we had a very sad event occur on the train.  Midway between Fallon and Winnemuca, Nevada the conductor announced we would be stopping because of a medical emergency that required the patient to be evacuated.  After waiting 30 to 40 minutes an ambulance showed up along with a sheriff’s car.  After a while the ambulance left and we found out the patient had died and they were waiting for the coroner before the train could leave.  It turns out it was an elderly man who had gotten on the train alone and at some point had trouble breathing and then passed away. Very sad and sobering.  All in all we were probably delayed about two hours, but that paled compared to the tragedy of someone losing their life.  The rest of the day and evening were uneventful and after a late dinner in the dining car, Val and I went to bed.

The ambulance arrives.
Neither Val nor I slept very well, and that coupled with losing an hour with a time zone change, we started our second day on the train pretty tired.  We had breakfast then we spent the morning watching the world roll by from our window.  As we entered Colorado we started following the Colorado River which was very full due to the the high volume of snowmelt.  Our trip through the Rockies was very scenic, but we lost more time in the process and we arrived in Denver around 9:00 in the evening which is about three hours late.  Denver has a new train station, which is much nicer than the temporary one that we were in on our trip to Denver a couple of years ago.  After Denver it was time for bed with hopes that we would sleep better tonight as we were both tired and would lose another hour as we change time zones again.

The Colorado River
The Colorado River and Interstate 70

Tuesday morning we slept late and we both felt pretty refreshed as we slept better than our first night.  We decided to skip breakfast and spent the morning watching the countryside roll by as we crossed Nebraska and into Iowa.  Lunch was a little sparse as they were running out of food, but we both had hamburgers which were pretty good.  Rail traffic was very heavy and we kept losing time and by the time we arrive in Chicago it was almost 7:00 PM which meant we were four hours late.  Oh well, it could be a lot worse.

Entering the drawbridge to cross the Mississippi.
The Mississippi River

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