Fourteen States and Five Steaks on Amtrak
Fourteen States on Amtrak
I’ve been riding trains since I was 2 years old. Although these journeys were short and on scenic railways, my love for trains grew with age. From watching Acela and Northeast Regional high-speed trains fly by while touring the Northeast Corridor to watching videos of the breathtaking views seen from long-distance routes, I was hooked. After visiting some Amtrak rolling stock on National Train Day in Toledo, Ohio, I thought to myself that one day I would take a trip across the United States with Amtrak.
For several years, my friend Luke and I discussed taking a trip together. We wanted to see two things: trains and landscapes. We decided to take Amtrak’s “north loop”. From Chicago we would take the empire builder in Seattle, take the starry coast to Emeryville, and return to Chicago on the Californian Zephyr.
The day begins
We left Chicago’s Union Station on time and quickly looped the Canadian Pacific main line through Wisconsin’s American Dairyland, passing numerous railroad operating sites. Soon we were eating a steak dinner – one of many we chose throughout the trip – while riding along the Mississippi River as the sun set. Amtrak Community Dining has allowed us to meet new people while enjoying amazing food and some of the best views in America. The next day we drove through North Dakota and stopped in Minot for an hour of fresh air. “Why not Minot? we thought we really enjoyed our stay there. Later in the day we entered Glacier National Park. For hours our journey was filled with breathtaking views. After another steak dinner with new friends, we spent some time in the lounge car playing cards. A passenger even softly played his guitar in the corner. It was a perfect end to a great day of travel.
The next morning we woke up meandering along Puget Sound. The train had separated overnight in Spokane. Half of them drove to Portland, taking the lounge car with them. We were okay with that. The small room next to us was empty, allowing us to see both sides of the train, and we had the dining car for a nice hot breakfast. Soon we were arriving at Seattle’s impressive King Street Station, a welcome sight for travelers making the 2,205 mile journey from Chicago.
After spending a day in the city and a snowy day in Mount Rainier National Park, it was time to head south. We left King Street Station on the starry coast. From Seattle to Portland, we sat in the lounge car to listen to two National Park Service volunteers recount the trip. Soon it was time for dinner, which was steak again. This time we were seated with a couple close to our age on their way to college. We shared lots of laughs and stories, and by the time we returned to our respective rooms, we realized our dinner had lasted over three hours. After a break of fresh air at Klamath Falls, we fell asleep. A short night later, we woke up in the California countryside rapidly approaching our destination of Emeryville.
Life is Beautiful
Emeryville was our favorite stop on the trip. We were there less than 24 hours, but it was 24 hours well spent. After the starry coast arrived, we familiarized ourselves with our surroundings and confirmed what we had thought from the start – the station was a perfect place for rail fans. We spent most of the day watching the many commuter trains arrive and leave the station with a few Union Pacific freight trains added to the mix. When checking in to the hotel opposite the train station, we chose a room overlooking the tracks. From this room we ate dinner and watched the trains from the balcony. Life was good.
Early the next morning we were back at the station, beginning the longest leg of our journey, the Californian Zephyr from Emeryville to Chicago. Soon we passed through Sacramento and began climbing the Sierra Nevada mountains. Ironically, while on the train, I received an email from Kalmbach Media inviting me to interview for the position of Associate Editor at Railroader Magazine Model. It was a nice touch to an amazing day.
Our train lost time overnight, but it allowed us to stop in Salt Lake City around six in the morning, and those who got off for the fresh air break were treated to a beautiful sunrise over the mountains. . We took our time going through Glenwood Canyon, riding along the Colorado River and climbing the Rockies. Since it was so hot outside, our train had speed restrictions from Grand Junction almost to Denver. We didn’t mind; it was the best part of the trip. The more time we spent taking it all in, the better. We made some friends in the lounge car, including Mike, a retired Amtrak conductor who was heading to the N Scale National Convention. We also met Johnny, a travel photographer who has recently found an old camera. He used it as much as possible, capturing not only the stunning views outside the train, but also the friendships made inside.
Back at home
Soon we were in familiar territory. In March, we took the Californian Zephyr to Denver and the Winter Park Express to Winter Park, but now we were seeing the mountains with a lot more color and less snow. Some of our favorite parts of the trip were the tunnels. The Cascades Tunnel on the empire builder and the Moffat tunnel on the Zephyr are impressive feats of engineering. Coming to Denver, we had one thing in mind: the Terminal Bar. We spent some time in March enjoying drinks at the Terminal Bar, but this time it would be quick. The second our train stopped, we were off, rushing down the platform and into the station. A quick drink order later and we were sipping the best Denver had to offer. We got back to the train just in time to leave, and after another steak, a chocolate pie and a glass of cider, we fell into a deep sleep, but not for long.
The BNSF trail east of Denver is the roughest we’ve been on. We woke up in Lincoln to start a long day on flat ground. After fresh air stops in Nebraska and Iowa, we arrived in Galesburg and said goodbye to Mike. Shortly after, we arrived at Union Station in Chicago, where the trip had started 8 days ago. In those eight days, I enjoyed over 5,500 miles of America’s best scenery, 15 delicious meals, and several new friends. I look forward to my next Amtrak trip.
WATCH | Video highlights of another Trains.com staff member’s similar ride on Amtrak’s long-distance trains