When I booked my train ticket from Denver to Sacramento, I figured I’d be in for a pretty scenic train ride. I had no idea the California Zephyr would be as glorious as it turned out to be. I also had no idea it would be as long as it turned out to be. The thing about trains is they stop a lot. A handful of towns rely on the trains so regular stops are to be expected. And also a crazy guy might unexpectedly cause delays, running across the track and narrowly getting missed by the Zephyr!
Riding the train requires a relatively flexible schedule and plenty of patience. The west is still wild.
One of the reasons I prefer driving over flying is being able to soak everything in. That and minimal turbulence. Traveling by plane is a guarantee that you’re going to miss out on sights in remote areas of the country that you probably would never have business being in otherwise and will appreciate even if you’re racing across the country on little sleep and a whole lot of coffee.
The Zephyr takes that visual satisfaction of driving and ramps it up by a factor of a thousand and then guess what? You can just chill. And yeah, that means it takes longer to get from CO to CA, but that’s what iPods are for! And if you aren’t traveling with a few solid playlists to begin with, that’s mistake number one.
The California Zephyr from Denver to Sacramento has to be some of the best track ever laid here or abroad. I’ve been on trains in Europe and here in the United States… but I was just a little guy and antsy and didn’t have the same appreciation for getting from A to B (and C, D, E, etc) then that I have now, or I just slept the whole time, because none are very memorable. Taking the Zephyr calls for that appreciation of not being “somewhere” but getting there. And this time I slept very little and remember very much.
With the mountains visible from Denver to begin with, it doesn’t take long on the Zephyr for things to get appealing. Mountains, tunnels, the Colorado River and if you’re lucky snow. The Amtrak employees are awesome, super friendly and will share facts about the Zephyr for those interested, awake or sober enough to listen. One of the towns the Zephyr passes through in Utah is the hometown of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and another the place where the Donner Party got trapped for a winter, ironically one of the more placid portions of the trip.
Ever since my first drive through the west, I’ve been fascinated with the people who first decided to make the trek and the Zephyr was a good way to absorb the significance of that determined push to the Pacific.
I feel like I keep saying it, but this year has been the most spontaneous of my life. However, things have happened in a hurry. My patience hasn’t had time to be tested. I may not be in full control yet, but at least I’ve mostly been in the driver’s seat. It seems simple but taking the California Zephyr was a refreshing break from always trying to anticipate what’s next and instead let someone else take the wheel or in this case, the lever.