United States of America · 5 Days · 27 Moments · September 2017

Maribel and Bob Ride the Rails

27 September 2017

Perfect trip ended not-so-perfectly. Flight to Denver to LA was delayed enough that Bob decided we would miss our LA-Oakland connection so Delta agent re-ticketed us through Salt Lake City. It was snowing in the Rockies and 90 deg at home! We got into Oakland with just enough time to pick up the Girls from Camp. We had almost forgotten what Bay Area traffic is like 😞

25 September 2017

The end of the line. We drove to Castle Rock last night, about 45 minutes from Denver, and stayed in a local motel so we could drive to our friends' home early this morning. We have been friends with Pam and Terry for decades but living in two different states means we don't see each other often enough. Despite the spatial and chronological distances we seem to be able to just pick up the threads of memories and old conversations and continue uninterruptedly. We had a lovely day exploring their new home and community. They are fortunate to have wildlife areas within spitting distance of their back deck. We were entertained by a fair number of Painted Lady butterflies who don't seem to care that winter is coming to Westeros.(That's for you Game of Thrones fans.) Time to move south, ladies! Heading home by plane tomorrow and will pick the Girls up from "Camp" on our way back to Cupertino. We're fully expecting to get cold (albeit furry) shoulders from those two. Over and out.
Got into our Denver motel very late last night and I ran out of steam so left the remainder of yesterday's blog for today. Back on the train in Grand Junction at 12:30 headed for Denver. Spent the next 9 hrs watching mind-blowing scenery flash by our Roomette (aka shoebox) window. The Rockies are truly spectacular. One of the photos shows Highway 70 running parallel to the train tracks. The highway was built to conform to the shape of the mountains instead of through them. At times, it cantilevers over the ground and river. It's cold now! Saw lots of snow in the mountains. Saw another spectacular sunset from the observation car as we approached Denver, our final destination. We had a great time on this trip and we're happy we did it. Lessons learned: reserved coach seats are fine and better than the Roomette for a day trip. Overnight in a bedroom car is tolerable but I wouldn't do it again. Meals are decent-included in Bedroom or Roomette reservation.
Last leg of our journey--9 hours of the best of Rocky Mountain scenery. After a morning at the Museum of the West in Grand Junction we boarded the California Zephyr for the last time and made our way to Room 6, Car 631. Room 6 is a Roomette closely related to a shoe box. They have seats that convert to beds but no private bathrooms. Note: When beds are down there is no place in the room for a person to stand so you have 3 choices when getting ready for bed--undress in the hall outside your room, change into your PJs in the bathroom down the hall, or sleep in your clothes. Non-sequitur: Please note my use of the Oxford comma in this series. Frankly, the coach seats are actually the roomiest and most comfortable seating. Not sure if I could sleep in them for more than one night. People who need to use the bathroom multiple times during the night would find this arrangement very inconvenient. The shower in the Bedroom car is quaint-don't push any buttons while on toilet!
Grand Junction sits in a bowl in the Rocky Mountains. The Museum of the West has an observation tower with a 360 degree view of the mountains around Grand Junction. We learned from the exhibits that there is a significant amount of uranium ore in these hills. In fact, the Manhattan Project (that developed the atomic bomb) had a field office in Grand Junction where the nuclear materials for the bomb were mined. In those days, people clearly didn't understand the dangers of radioactivity. They used to hold Miss Atomic beauty pageants (even saw a costume from a Nevada pageant that was in the shape of a mushroom cloud!) and briefly attempted to hype uranium mining in an effort to inspire another "gold rush." The reddish, light greenish, layers in the mountainous rocks are associated with radioactivity.
The Museum of the West provided a thorough history of the westward expansion and settlement starting with coastal and inland Spanish expeditions to the Americas. Wonderful collections of baskets, pottery, kachina dolls, prehistoric artifacts, and sad stuffed specimens of a mountain lion :-( and a grizzly bear, a species that was exterminated less than 75 years after gold was discovered in California:-( :-( We had a train to catch so we didn't spend as much time as we wanted in the museum.
Early Monday morning in downtown Grand Junction. Public art includes graffiti in an alley that looks like it was actually commissioned. One alley was adorned with a tile mural.

24 September 2017

Arrived in Grand Junction around lunch time. It's a very charming little town with lots of public art. We were lucky enough to get tickets this afternoon for a performance of the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra featuring solo and duet performances by a fine mezzo soprano and her husband on the French Horn, Nina and Jeff Nelsen. Entire program was a surprise treat! Capped off a great day with a superb dinner at Bin 707, #1 rated GJ restaurant on Trip Advisor. It did not disappoint.
First ones into the dining car for breakfast. Sat with a nice Scottish couple who were on a 7-week tour of the U.S. Sunrise happened while we were eating breakfast. (BTW, reservation of a Superliner bedroom includes 3 meals.) The terrain has changed considerably. Went from wide, flat, plains to rocky, mountainous Utah. Stratification of rocks is on vivid display. Lots of buttes in this area. We're about 3 hours from Grand Junction.
Rock formations in Utah are spectacular! Train tracks skirted rock walls that went beyond the picture windows of the observation car. Couldn't decide if I should look straight ahead or up above. Rocks here are very layered and sedimentary. Sped past an area of the Colorado river popular with kayakers. The rock formations along the river are ancient--dating to the Paleozoic era. We passed a cargo train with multiple ore cars hauling coal. Someone commented that the coal was of very high quality. Please consider that THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CLEAN COAL. Among the dirty fossil fuels, coal is the dirtiest.
We went to bed laughing uncontrollably trying to maneuver inside the Superliner bedroom which was designed for midgets!! Actually, even midgets wouldn't have fit. I need to back up a bit to cover our activities on Day 2 of our trip. I had intended to write last night after dinner but that was not physically possible. We returned from dinner to find that our beds had been brought down and the only thing we could do was crawl (literally) into bed. If you've ever had an MRI you will be able to visualize lying in the top bunk with the ceiling just inches from your head! We laughed for 10 minutes straight watching each other do contortions. Sitting in bed to type out a blog was not going to happen so we turned out the lights and tried to go to sleep--at 8:30 p.m. 10 hours later--after a bone-jarring ride on the world's hardest mattress--I was still awake. I listened to 10 hours of Ken Follet's new book, A Column of Fire, thinking it would put me to sleep within 30 minutes. NOT.

23 September 2017

Car 632 Room D. View from the top bunk which necessitated hanging on for dear life climbing the ladder while the train was swaying wildly. As I said before--imagine yourself in an MRI tube. Strap attached to ceiling is the support for a "basket" meant to prevent you from crashing to the floor in the middle of the night (assuming you are actually able to sleep).
Overnight trip from Reno to Grand Junction, CO. Spectacular sunset. Pretty flat terrain with lots of sand indicating a prehistoric inland sea.
After the art museum we spent two more hours at the local Historical Museum on the University of Nevada Reno campus. (BTW, UNR has 4000 incoming freshmen this year!) For some reason, I only took one photo of the displays, which included lots of old photos and collections from the early days of gaming in Nevada. There were even explanations of common con games used by magicians (pea under 3 walnut shells) and how to fool the audience, and examples of loaded dice and contraptions used to hide playing cards up long sleeves. Still think you can gamble and beat the house?
Walked from our hotel over the Truckee River (which, by the way, eventually flows NORTH into Pyramid Lake) to the Nevada Museum of Art, a delightful little art museum displaying works of local and regional artists. Second photo depicts the total number of submarines in the U.S. Naval fleet. The theme of the current exhibits--Unsettled--refers to shifting relationships among present and past cultures, collisions among physical boundaries (tectonic plates), cultures, social customs, and geopolitical events like the nuclear testing in Nevada and reactions to Cold War threats. Especially like the totem created from backpacks.
After sushi on the River Walk we went back to the hotel, picked up our stored luggage, and walked to the train station to resume our odyssey to Denver.
Burning Man originated on Baker Beach in San Francisco but moved to the Nevada desert after its popularity drew crowds that could not be accommodated on the beach. A symbolic man, made of wood, is burned at the end of each session. The first one was 40 feet tall. From the early, free-for-all, chaotic days to today, organizers have had to impose structures (camp sites) and processes (guidelines for behavior, navigation, parking, etc.) that, to me, belie its free-spirited origins.
More from the Nevada Museum of Art. Loved the display of pigments, herbs, and spices depicting Native Americans' deep connections with the earth. The mask was one of about 16 made of stretched and dried goat skins. Videos of faces of living tribe members chanting and speaking were superimposed on each mask making for a very eerie display. Large, odd-shaped painting by Ed Ruscha called "Charles Atlas Landscape" depicts steel pipes pushing the boundaries of the canvas. The Native American ceremonial robe reminds me of clothing worn by Japanese Samurai warriors.

22 September 2017

We traveled in Europe by train and wanted to compare that experience with US train travel. Left home at the crack of dawn to park our car at the Oakland Airport. We'll be flying home from Denver into Oakland and our car will be ready when we land. Took a Lyft car to the Amtrak station in Emeryville where our 5-day odyssey began. Boarded Train No. 6 bound for Reno and claimed our reserved coach seats in a nearly empty car. Moved to the observation car for most of the trip and were treated to some gorgeous scenery that went from sea level along the northern part of San Francisco Bay up into the Sierras to our first stop, Reno NV. Spent the night at The Eldorado Resort and Casino and had dinner at La Strada. Early to bed to compensate for 5:15 a.m. wake-up time this morning. This blog, like the trip, is getting off to a slow start.
Engineer made up the time we spent waiting on the tracks allowing us to arrived on time in Reno, NV, our first stop. Spent the night at the Eldorado Hotel and Casino. Walked around Reno's "Strip" before dinner. Streets were EMPTY! Not sure if people were just in the casinos or if tourism was really down. True confession: I'm not a big fan of casinos, especially the lingering smell of cigarette smoke and the disgusting air freshener they use to mask the smoke smell. Yuck!
Annie and Izzie (aka The Girls) went to The Cats' Inn (aka "Camp") yesterday where they will not-so-good-naturedly wait for us to return from our rail adventure to Denver. Check out the pictures we got from Camp.
Had front row seats in Observation Car.
Hard to leave the Observation Car with so much gorgeous scenery flashing by.
Left Emeryville right on time and rolled past northern SF Bay. Spent about an hour total waiting for other trains to pass us.
Pulling out of Emeryville station.
Boarding and settling in on Train No. 6 of the California Zephyr.