I arrived at Chicago’s Union Station with half an hour to spare, to find quite a crowd waiting to board. We all fit into two sleeping cars and four coach cars, with the classes separated by an observation car and a dining car. This time I was in a Superliner sleeper – about the same size as the sleeper on the Lake Shore Limited, but without the upper window and the sink and toilet. The double-decker Superliner carriage was showing its age a little, and the attendant said that it was slated for the scrap heap, but I found it comfortable enough. I slept well, and the water in the shower on the lower level was hot.
As I was a sleeping class passenger, all my meals were included in the fare. The big half-chicken I had enjoyed on the previous leg wasn’t offered, but the crab cakes were excellent and filling. After an experiment with the market special for lunch the first day, I discovered that the veggie burger was quite good.
I met some interesting people at meals, and in the observation car. One couple was getting off at Glenwood Springs, near their previous home, and boarding the next train through. The woman across the corridor from me was taking a train vacation: she would sleep in Emeryville and then board the California Zephyr again in the morning to head back east. One man who lived in California was returning from a a lengthy trip that included a visit to the mining area in South America where he had been born. The only sour note was a dining companion who seemed to attract disasters, including dumping my water all over my roll.
Still, the main attraction wasn’t the people, or the food, or the “roomette”, but the scenery. And the trip delivered. East of the Mississippi the fields were still flat, but as soon as we crossed the river I started seeing more variety. I went to sleep in Iowa, missed Nebraska altogether, and woke up in Denver, where the windows were cleaned. This made photography a bit better, but shooting from a moving train still tends to be an exercise in frustration, as trees and telegraph poles wind up in the middle of otherwise stellar shots, and there’s always a problem with reflections. I camped out in the observation car for most of the morning, but got some great views from my roomette, as well.
The afternoon highlight was Ruby Canyon, bringing back memories of the red rock country I had enjoyed exploring twenty years ago. Darkness fell as we crossed Utah, although I caught sight of the angel Moroni atop the great temple in Salt Lake City before I fell asleep. Next morning I woke up in Nevada, but it was California that delivered the day’s best scenery, including the infamous Donner Pass and some beautiful lakes and mountains, before we hit the flat lands of the Central Valley. Rather to my surprise, the train had mostly run to time, if not ahead of schedule, but the second afternoon we were slowed by a “minor” derailment ahead of us. (By “minor”, it appeared, the railway workers meant that just one car had jumped the tracks, and only one line was blocked.) Still, we pulled into Emeryville only ten minutes late, 2,438 miles and 50 hours after we left Chicago.
The bus ride over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco was a bit of an anticlimax.