The Amtrak Experience

Posted: Monday, September 6, 2010 at 10:43 am
By: Doug Lund
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Okay, I admit to having a few reservations about Amtrak before we began this latest Keloland/Holiday Vacations tour west; I’d heard I might find it  boring, cramped, noisy and uncomfortable. But over the past few days, those apprehensions have melted into an affection for trains and an appreciation for the nostalgic experience we’ve just been through.    It began with the Union Station in Denver. It looks exactly how you’d expect a big city train depot to look from watching those old movies starring Humphry Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet or Loretta Young; tall decorative ceilings, high-back wooden benches for waiting passengers and train dispatchers making arrival and departure announcements that are impossible to understand because of the echo in that huge building.amtrak station

amtrak benches

amtrak in reno

Boarding the train we made our way up a tight spiral staircase to the second level through a narrow aluminum hallway and our compartment.

amtrakk cooridor

amtrak compartment Yes, it was tiny compared to the roomy hotels we’ve become accustomed to on these trips but it was very comfortable and the views outside our big private picture window, as we rolled through the Rocky Mountains, were nothing short of spectacular. This view of Linda taking in the amazing sights ain’t bad either.

amtrak linda

amtrak canyonWe were surprised at how quiet and smooth the ride was..very little clickity clacking. I was told that’s because modern rails have fewer splices for the steel wheels to roll over plus the California Zephyr’s suspension is far superior to those trains that first chugged along this route.  Even though our train was pretty full, we always found room in the lounge for a cocktail and the observation car for even better panoramas. The waits in the dining car for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner weren’t long at all. The staff was fast and friendly…the food was fair to middlin’.

amtrak dining car

 It’s not the Orient Express..but our Amtrak adventure was great fun and highly recommended. Oh, if you ever do make this trip..I forgot to mention one of the more memorable sights as you journey along the Colorado River. There’s a stretch known as “Moon” River where rafters and Kayakers feel compelled to drop their drawers and give everybody on the train a good view of their bare backsides.

amtrak mooners

When Grouse reads this he’s sure to wonder why I didn’t use a telephoto lens but believe me, from what I could see, you do NOT want a close-up view of these cracked  white porcelain posteriors.     Well, we’re off  now for a paddleboat ride on beautiful Lake Tahoe then down to San Francisco for a couple days.

As always, wish you were here.


  1. JP says:

    It would be nice if you could see Dale Schornack, a former KELO alum while on Tahoe. He has a place up there and lives and works in Sacramento. Have fun, Doug and Linda.

  2. grouse says:

    BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP HAVE YOU ANY WOOL. I thought you might be lonesome for a familiar phrase from local television back home. We both know you took close ups of those immodest non-Lutherans far away from home, but just ran the wide shot to cover your own butt.
    I’m glad the room was comfortable, and you didn’t need to use that can of Crisco to gain admittance. I see Amtrak used the same interior decorator the airlines use for their restrooms.
    Did you ever learn to make the train whistle sounds that Ralph Lundquist used to use to the delight of his fans? Have you asked the engineer or the conductor if you could blow the whistle? Who was the first person on the tour to yell “All Board”?
    Well, have a good time. I’m in charge back here at the White House. And, if you’re going to San Francisco be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. (You might be able to panic a few of the guys on the tour by assuring them it’s the only way to survive in that town).

  3. Sweeps says:

    I’ve taken Amtrak twice in the last few years. First it was the California Zephyr heading east to my brother’s in Michigan. It was my first experience, and I was hooked. A couple years later I took the northern route via the Empire Builder to a family reunion in Washington. Oh my gosh! It’s the best time, not having to worry about overheating cars through the mountains, navigating the mountains themselves, or worrying about traffic. My only recommendation, if you’re on an overnight trip, is to spring for the few extra bucks and get a sleeping car. There are several perks for sleeping car passengers that help offset the cost. Otherwise, it’s an outstanding way to travel!! Thanks, Doug!

  4. GMAX9 says:

    The Empire Builder may not have Moon River but the folks at the Teddy Roosevelt Hotel stand on the porch and wave to the train as it goes by – it’s tradition. More mundane than ‘moon’ river but it’s colder up there and folks keep their pants up and their dresses down!

    If you don’t want to spend the extra $$ for a sleeper, the chairs are extra comfy to sleep in – 5 reclining positions if I remember right and another 5 for your footrest. Being of a “certain” age – I can doze off anywhere so didn’t miss a sleeper at all. (On my last trip several years ago, there was a $1000 difference for 2 of us to get a sleeper over just our coach – didn’t even check price for upcoming trip.)

    Doug, you check out the wineries at your end and I’ll check out the ones at my end and we’ll compare notes.

  5. fsl says:

    Glad to hear you are enjoying Amtrak travel. When we went 20 yrs ago it wasn’t easy to hear the ‘dinner bell’ announcement over PA. Maybe they’ve improved that. We had sleeper car, kids & hubby enjoyed that, & we saw ‘mooners’ as well on our trip west.
    Viewing car is nice. The bathroom was a shared one & not as clean as it should of been, but it was overall good. We couldn’t believe how fast we were flying through Neb middle of night ! ~FSL.

  6. Give'em Hell Harry says:

    Now that sounds like fun! I’d rather take a train than fly anyday!

  7. Chuck says:

    Loved Amtrak out to the east coast this year. Our train kept having power issues, but other than that the Empire Builder was great. The Capitol Limited – was exactly that, limited power, but the dining car was great! We were on full load trains, everyone has discovered one of the nations greatest secret ways to travel. If you have the time take the train, otherwise your stuck like crammed cattle on planes!

  8. Russ says:

    The California Zephyr must have floated on the hot air you just published. I took that ride from Chicago to Reno and I would compare it to riding a bull in a rodeo. Railroad travel on Amtrak is a National Tragedy. Three people stabbed their faces in the dining car at dinner as the train lurched. The cars were old, dirty and cramped. Don’t be fooled by this hype Doug got a free ride and has to say nice things. Russ

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