We took a trip across the US by train in October and I would like to share some of our experiences with other potential train passengers. The first leg of the journey took us from New York to Chicago on the Lakeshore limited, a journey that began from Penn Station at 3.45 pm on Monday and reached Chicago at 2pm the following day. We stayed two nights in Chicago and left on the California Zephyr on Thursday early afternoon. We reached Denver after eight the following morning and spent an overnight there, rejoining the train at eight the following morning, and reaching San Francisco at 4pm the following day.
The advantages of train travel is its relaxed pace. We had booked roomettes for each leg of the journey and although small, we found them very suited to our needs. At night, with the door closed and both of us tucked up in our bunks I slept like a baby. Mind you a certain ammount of agility is needed to 'roll' into the top bunk. By day we read, played cards and watched the world go by. As the train passes places not normally seen by air or road travellers I felt as if I was getting a peek into America's back yard. The car attendents on each leg were kind and helpful. We swapped stories with them and found that they did their best to answer our queries and were generally helpful. We did find that depending on the location of the roomette it could become cold at night. On our last journey our roomette was at the top of the stairs and was quite draughty so I would advise bringing a fleece as the blankets are thin.
A particularly enjoyable aspect of the journey were the mealtimes. Because of the policy of insisting that diners sit together it is inevitable that you meet a wide range of people, all ages, creeds, ethnicity and points of view. We met some of the most interesting people and got an insight into American life that is more difficult to achieve as a tourist in a hotel.The food on the train was not especially good but given the long distances travelled and the limitations of the space this is not surprising.Service was professional although often brusque and sometimes downright rude. However, again this can be excused by issues of space and time. The waiting staff certainly work very hard.
The views from the windows never became boring. Leaving New York and going up the Hudson valley we went through suburbia, then along by the river and into heavily wooded country. In October the colours of the leaves were so beautiful. Leaving Chicago and crossing the Missisippi we crossed the wheat belt of Iowa and Nebraska, a sea of wheat criss crossed by roads with the occasional farmhouse and barn. This is where we really got a sense of the vastness of America. The fields seem to go on for a thousand miles, a flat ocean as far as the eye could see.From Denver on the scenery became ever more spectacular as we chugged into the Rockies and then through the Colorado canyons.Then Utah, and high desert. This was probably the most beautiful part of the journey as evening was falling and the light on the rocks turned them honey coloured and we half expected to see Clint Eastwood or John Wayne riding the range. We crossed into Nevada in the morning sun, a different landscape again. Finally, California, high hills, conifers, pretty Western towns, red earth and lots of pine trees and then Sacramento and the massive fruit and vegetable agribusiness of the valley and then San Francisco, our first glimpse of the Pacific, Alcatraz and the bridge. A dream come true.
We had a wonderful trip, met friendly interesting people and saw places we couldn't possibly have seen if we travelled by road or air. Most importantly the journey was stress free. The trip of a lifetime.