Friday, June 11, 2010

Amtrak Adventure-Day Two

Our second day of our Amtrak Adventure was from Glenwood Springs to Denver. We were supposed to depart Glenwood Springs at 12:50 PM, but due to a broken down freight train on a single-track section, the train came about an hour late. I've heard many stories of delayed trains, so we were prepared for much worse. We were entertained while waiting by watching big logs and even entire trees float down the Colorado River. Some locals also gathered to watch the train, and it was entertaining talking to them, as they were a bit on the colorful side, to put it mildly.

As soon as we got on board, we went to the observation car. We wanted the full experience of seeing Glenwood Canyon with the big windows and skylights. We also went because National Park Service volunteers with the Trails and Rails program provide commentary from Grand Junction to Denver (and back) on weekends in summer. I really liked listening to the extra information they provided.

The volunteers were excited about the new technology they had to share information: an iPad. It was loaded with the Audubon apps with birds, wildflowers, mammals, and more so if any passengers wanted to learn more about a particular species, it would be easy to pull up.

(If you're planning on taking the train at a different time and still want to learn some information, their are some great books by Eva Hoffman that cover the entire California Zephyr route. I actually bought one in Grand Junction before I knew about the NPS volunteers coming on the train, and it is full of wonderful info and photos.)

Glenwood Canyon is one of the most spectacular sections of the Interstate system in the entire country. The scenic canyon has the Colorado River charging down it, the train tracks perched on the side, and the Interstate weaving its way over the river, through the cliffs, and along the edges. It was started in 1980 and completed in 1992.

During drier parts of the year, some of the river goes nearly dry due to diversions for water power. However, this section was a massive whitewater section--Class VI rapids, too dangerous for anyone to run. Three people tried a number of years ago and their raft flipped instantly. Two were saved by people watching close by, while the body of the third was found weeks later downstream.

In one place the canyon is so narrow that the Interstate goes double decker. Along with the river, the train tracks, and the road, there is also a bike trail. Someone please drop me off on the uphill side and let me ride down the 16 miles! Much of it was submerged by the flooded river during this trip, though. When it's dry, the bike path must be a fantastic way to see the sights at a slower pace.

The train eventually veered away from the Interstate at Dotsero and heads north. We passed a water wheel, and only when I looked at this photo at home did I realize I also had a photo of a horse stranded on a little island.

This section of the river is quite a bit calmer, with rapids interspersed. It has become known as Moon River, due to a frequent action performed by river rafters. As one of the volunteers said, we saw plenty of white-rumped rafters and bare-breasted rafters. (Click on the photo if you want a larger version.)

We continued north with some spectacular scenery.

As we entered Gore Canyon, we could see a highway high above us on the west. A couple wrecks are located on the steep slope below Inspiration Point, also known as Dead Man's Curve, but fortunately no one was injured.

Gore Canyon was steep and narrow, and this terrain made the Interstate planners choose another route.

Middle Park is crossed next. In Colorado, the term "park" means "valley." You can see the snow-capped Rockies in the distance.

Then it was time for Byers Canyon. Many places along the canyon have wires hanging just above the train. These detect falling rocks and can send signals to the train if there is any disturbance.

Then it was time for dinner. I had enjoyed breakfast in the dining car so much that I decided we would also do dinner there. We were seated with Grandma Pat, who has a plethora of children, grandchildren, and great-grand children. She has a friend in Grand Junction and travels by train to see her several times a year. I asked her what was her favorite season to travel, and she said she enjoyed them all, and that they all look quite different. Hmm, another reason to take the train again!

Here are the three of us! Hopefully next time my husband can come, he would really enjoy the trip, too.

We started going through a lot of tunnels as we got closer to the edge of the mountains. There are 42 tunnels between Denver and Grand Junction, and Desert Boy enjoyed seeing how long they were by counting in each of them. We knew we were in a long tunnel when we counted more than 15. And then of course there is the Moffat Tunnel, 6.2 miles long. We were busy eating dinner then so we didn't have to count. (Thank goodness)

The sun was shining on the distant skyscrapers of Denver. A group of teachers helped me entertain Desert Boy and took turns holding Desert Girl in the observation car. The train is a good way to meet people. We enjoyed the sunset arrival into Denver.

We arrived in Union Station in Denver, happy to have had such a grand train adventure.


jhami said...

I've always wanted to do a train trip - that looks like a lot of fun (especially the freedom to move around)
Cool pictures!

Annette said...

Wow, looks like a beautiful ride! I've never thought about taking a train, but it looks really cool. I'm impressed you braved a trip by yourself with two kids! Kudos. ☺

jendoop said...

I would love to do that train ride. We've driven through Glenwood canyon many times. I miss Colorado (I tell you that a lot don't I?).

For an interesting side story about trains- An older man that we know is a conductor on the NJ trains that depart from NYC. On 9-11 he saw all the terrified people coming from the city (a story we've never gotten him to tell). He and his wife always travel by train. A few months ago they went all around the US on trains - from PA to AZ, CA, OR, MO, and back home to PA. What a trip that would be! They would be one of those colorful people you'd meet on a train.

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