A couple of years ago, Eric, who has a luck with raffles that defies statistical reasoning, won tickets to Santa Barbara on Amtrak's Coast Starlight. He enjoyed the train ride so much that he wanted to take the train to Denver for WorldCon, and convinced me to do it. He convinced me to pay extra for the sleeper car so we could have our own private compartment. It costs a lot, but it isn't as bad a deal as it sounds because it includes all your meals. Here's a picture of our little "roomette," as Amtrak calls it. In this photo, you can see its entire width. There's a symmetrical seat just like this one opposite it, except that instead of having that armrest next to it, it has a closet the width of the armrest. For one person, it would be a pretty luxurious amount of space. For two, it's cozy, especially with all of our electronic equipment. We left our suitcases on a rack on the lower level, but obviously wanted to keep computers and camera with us. We felt like we were on top of each other quite a bit, although obviously there's much more room than on an airplane.
While you are at dinner, a steward sets up your roomette for sleeping. An upper bunk bed folds down from above. Here you can see the nighttime configuration. We found out that that armrest is really a step for getting up to the top bunk. I must admit that at first I found the upper bunk rather claustrophobic, as I don't care for low clearances. I kept having to look down over the side to see how much room I had around me.
For a whole lot more money, you can get yourself a "room" on the train rather than a "roomette." The room comes with a much larger lower bed, a lot more floor space, and its own private toilet/shower stall.
Although it takes about 36 hours to get from the Bay Area to Denver, the train ride is actually pretty nice. The staff is fun and friendly. There's a lounge car with big windows where you can enjoy the scenery, and, of course, it really is all about the scenery. Why else would you take 36 hours to get from the Bay Area to Denver? But the scenery is truly spectacular. As a matter of fact, the scenery was so amazing that we were so busy looking at it that we only played one game the whole trip! It's a beautiful country we live in, and this is one of the easiest and most comfortable ways to see a whole lot of it all at once. It's a bit difficult to take good pictures, what with the hazards of dirt on the windows, reflections of yourself on the windows (I recommend wearing black and black only), telephone lines and poles in the way, and the movement of the train. But I did get some decent ones I'd like to share.
When you get on the train, you are given a schedule and a route guide that shows all the stops and has all the scenic spots marked with a little camera icon. I found this extremely helpful. The first point of interest comes before we leave the Bay Area, a view of the Carquinez Strait. I never think of the Carquinez Strait as being especially pretty, but from the train tracks, it was fairly nice.
A few hours later, we passed right by Donner Lake. This is one of the ten most scenic recreational waterways in California, according to outdoors writer Tom Stienstra. We had put our canoe, the Weeble, in it a few years ago, and it was spectacularly pretty.
A little while later, we came to Truckee, and ran along the Truckee River watching the rafters for awhile. I can't imagine anything more relaxing that a lazy float down the Truckee River in an innertube.
When the conductor announced the Truckee stop, I looked at my watch, and was surprised to find it had taken about six hours to get there! You can usually haul yourself up the mountain on I-80 in only about four.
Utah? Colorado? I'm not actually sure, because the captain was announcing that we were crossing the state line right about this time.
It only got better as we made our way through the Ruby Canyon. We met up with the Colorado River and followed it all the way up through the mountains to Granby, Colorado.
In Grand Junction, we got off the train to pick up a souvenir guidebook that the captain said would describe the route in detail. After lunch, we went to the lounge car, which often features volunteer guides who point out various sights. Our guide for the afternoon was Eva Hoffman Lee, the very knowledegable woman who wrote the book and took the photographs in it. We learned quite a bit about the history of the area, both human and geologic, and in particular the history of the railroad. And if you had a question, Eva had the answer. She was like an offline wikipedia for the area.
Glenwood Canyon was beautiful. (Glenwood Canyon photos by Eric.)
Here you can see the nifty "sky-view" windows in the top of the lounge car. The cliffs in Glenwood Canyon were so high here, you really needed them!
Next, we went through the (very) Red Canyon. Right here, just as we were coming into some of the prettiest scenery on the trip, meteorological conditions took a turn for the worse, dimming the light and making capturing the beauty of the scenery more difficult. So, I can't quite do it justice, but it was wonderful.
Fortunately, the skies cleared a bit by the time we got to the next canyon, beautiful Gore Canyon. That's still the Colorado River running through here. (Photos by Eric)
I think El Dorado Canyon was one of the prettiest. We were enjoying dinner when we went through it. The Fraser River runs through the El Dorado Canyon. Photos of El Dorado Canyon by Eric.
The river has been dammed by the Gross Reservoir Dam.
We were graced by the presence of an amazing rainbow! (Photos by Eric)
Eric got a picture of the entire arc of the rainbow.
It was a double rainbow. Really an amazing sight that made our dinner extra-special.
I'm going to end with a couple of relatively gratuitous pictures of the train itself, the second by Eric.
All in all, the ride was an enjoyable experience. I generally enjoyed the communal meals and met some nice people. The train actually has showers, hot ones, even, so we were able to maintain a reasonable semblance of cleanliness. But as experiences go, it was definitely a sedentary one. You could easily pack on the pounds while riding the train. Yes, you have much more opportunity to get up and walk around than you would on an airplane, but a day on the train is still much more sedentary than my usual day. And there's lots of food. You don't go hungry. And dessert. The deserts are very good. I thought about it, and it seems that whether you go by air, train or car, travel is just going to entail a lot of sitting around on your butt. I've decided that next time I cross the Continental Divide, in order to get some exercise, I should do it on horseback.