California Zephyr- Everything about this journey
So argument – this is one of the world’s great train journeys, sheer heaven for the scenically minded. It covers 3,925 km (2,440 mi) from Chicago to the Pacific coast, traversing Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. In so doing, it crosses the American Midwest before heading over the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas to California. This luxury service was inaugurated in 1949 and has gone through various changes since those early days, though things have stabilized since Amtrak initiated the modern Superliner service (choice of roomy coach seats or private sleepers) in 1983.
Heading westwards from Chicago, the California Zephyr (CZ) crosses the Great Plains, that expanse of corn country where once the buffalo roamed. After reaching Denver, the scenery changes dramatically as the train climbs into the amazing Rocky Mountains.
It crosses the Continental Divide via the 10-km (6-mi) Moffat Tunnel, and then follows the Colorado River for hours as it turns from white-water channel to wide river. After Grand Junction the CZ tarts company with Colorado and enters Utah. There, it travels the Book Cliffs range before entering the Wasatch Mountains on the R :■ekies’ western fringe, crossing at Soldier Summit.
After Salt Lake City the CZ passes along the south shore of the Great Salt Lake, across Bonneville Flats (scene of many a land- speed-record attempt) and into Nevada. It crosses the Pequop ki: untains via the Flower Pass Tunnel, before following the Humboldt River across Nevada until it vanishes in the desert. The Truckee River leads to Reno and California’s Sierra Nevada, which are finally crested at the forbidding Donner Pass. The CZ descends “he lowlands and runs into Emeryville, a suburb of Oakland, from whence there’s a bus transfer for those continuing to San Francisco. Or start at Emeryville and go east, young man!
HOW: By train
DEPART: Chicago, IL
TIME IT TAKES:
Roughly 51 hours and 20 minutes (give or take!).
Plainview above Denver, for a sensational view of the cities of both Denver and Boulder (and the Rocky Flats nuclear arms manufacturing plant!).
Ruby Canyon on the Colorado River, with its towering red sandstone formations – unless you raft in, the only way to see the place is from the Zephyr.
The amazing series of switchback turns the track takes as it descends from Soldier Summit in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.
Cape Horn near Colfax, California – before the CZ crosses a long trestle is Cape Horn, the steepest slope on the entire route (carved out by Chinese labourers lowered in baskets).
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
For those who are hooked on the romance of railways, it’s possible to revisit the Zephyr’s ‘golden age’ – an evocative collection of classic CZ silver rolling stock plus locomotive at
the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola, northeastern California Salt Lake City with the snow capped Wasatch Mountains in the background