California Zephyr: Emeryville to Denver

Day 1

We took an Uber across the Oakland Bay Bridge to Oakland, where is located Emeryville railway station. We’d allowed plenty of time, and so once we were confident of arrangements, we took a short walk to a local diner for breakfast of pancakes and crispy bacon, before returning to the station.

Almost all of the photos on this trip are taken through the train glass window, of a landscape that was in motion, and so the quality is often not great, but nevertheless they illustrate a really great journey through some gorgeous scenery, and so are worth including to help narrate our experience.

Amtrak train 6, arrives at Emeryville for its 2438 miles to Chicago
The double-decker train towers over us from the low platform.
Our comfortable bedroom. This sofa converts to a comfortable bed, and opposite me is an armchair, with private toilet and shower room. We are on the upper level, well placed for the views. The only downside was the air-conditioning, which was far too cold – staff didn’t seem able to address it, and we stuffed towels into the vents to reduce airflow, and wrapped Lucy in particular in everything we had including the bath-towels to keep her warm.
Our two locomotives working hard to gain height as we pass a freight train heading west
Donner Lake. It was here that the Donner Party, led by George and Jacob Donner, was stranded. These 89 Illinois settlers were en route to California when they were trapped in a snow storm near the western shore of the lake. After many attempts to escape, 42 of the pioneers died of starvation. Those who did survive had resorted to cannibalism.
Remnants of snow
We followed the Truckee River for a long while
There are many miles of these “chutes”, originally wood as here, that carry water from the Truckee for hydropower
A hydropower station on the Truckee
Very unproductive looking land being used for cattle
A pause at Reno gives chance for a stretch of legs and some 34 degree warmth to escape the enthusiastic air-conditioning in the train. Our bedroom is above the door with Lucy looking out
Beyond Fernley we leave the Truckee River
As the light fades we leave the tracks of the South Pacific railroad and join the Union Pacific tracks here.

Day 2

A pre-breakfast view of Utah
Utah from a moving bedroom
Colours in the rocks
Suddenly the desert has turned green with irrigation
Elsewhere we are treated to some wonderful canyons, some going on for many miles
At Grand Junction there were huge numbers of locomotives, most presumably mothballed
In places the valley is broad and agriculturally productive
The source of the irrigation water is the Colorado River, to be our companion more or less for over two hundred miles as we gain height again towards the Rockies
The river was thick with rafts, canoes, fishing boats and other small craft.
Most salute the train, with a wave, a raised paddle or, in a large number of cases in what is clearly a tradition or fashion, by mooning or flashing.
The valley opens briefly after a canyon…
The end of first lunch sitting in the dining car – those with sleeping car berths get three full-service meals a day included in the price. It’s also an opportunity to spend an hour or more chatting with the strangers sharing the table.
…then closed in again
Then suddenly all is peaceful again
The train conductor described this afternoon as one of the most impressive train journeys in the world and it certainly is very impressive
We’ve said goodbye to the Colorado River, now following the Fraser River as we continue our ascent
A stop at Fraser for a stretch of legs and the warm 8575ft air
A ski resort, the last view before the 6.2 mile tunnel which takes us under the Continental Divide
The view on the Atlantic side is initially placid but there is a long, long descent to Denver with dozens of tunnels
We have steep drops to glimpse between tunnels
A last look back at the Rockies before a curve in a tunnel reveals the view the other way…
By comparison with the mountains we are leaving, this is flatness, all the way to the Appalachians
Continuing the 2% grade descent to Denver
After reversing into Denver Union station, it is time to say goodbye to the California Zephyr. A fabulous journey, thoroughly recommended.

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