Amtrak California Zephyr Part 2 San Francisco

It’s amazing the wildlife you see from the train.  In Colorado we saw antelope, a big antelope with big antlers just sitting near the tracks.  In Nevada we saw a herd of wild mustangs, 3 adults and a foal.  Also along the way we saw a few Mule Deer.  We even arrived early into Emeryville.  From there we took a bus, provided by Amtrak, into San Francisco,  The bus driver was so nice, he took us right to our hotel.  The next day we did a tour of San Francisco, the usual places like Fishermen’s Wharf and rode the trolley.  Now, I’m not a big fan of San Francisco.  I’ve been there several times when I was a stockbroker, with someone else paying.  What I didn’t like about the city was I always expected it to be warm, and no matter what time of year I went, even in the summer, I was always cold.  Dan’s been there too for work and isn’t a big fan.  Plus it’s very expensive.  This time we were paying, so we kept in low key.  The kids had a great time,  with the seal lions and the trolley being their favorite.







saa  One of the things we really got a laugh at was these toilets.  They are totally automatic.  You press a button, the door opens automatically.  When you finish using the toilet, it flushes automatically.  You go to the sink and the water and soap are automatically dispensed.  The water stops and air comes out to dry your hands.  The door then opens automatically and closes behind you.  Then the whole thing is locked up for about 2 minutes while it washes itself down and dries itself.  It’s incredible.  I had read about them before but never seen them.  I loved the warning signs inside.  They warn you only have 20 minutes, then apparently the doors will burst open and expose you to the world!  No dilly dallying here!

The Amtrak California Zephyr

At 1:30pm we found the line forming to board our train, the Amtrak California Zephyr.   It was a very mixed group of passengers.  There was, of course, the long haired, flowing beard, poncho wearing, Jesus look alike, whom I’m sure is mandatory on every Greyhound bus and train in America. He contrasted nicely with the Amish, with their old fashioned trousers and vests, hats and beards. I thought Amish shunned the modern world, but this family must have needed to travel far.  The final destination of our train was San Francisco.  Dan and I really couldn’t see the Amish in San Francisco and figured they would be exiting somewhere around Nebraska. Another oddity were two people who for some reason couldn’t stop high fiving each other.  Over and over again, without saying a word, they would slap their palms together, high overhead.  We couldn’t tell what prompted this, it just seemed to happen for no reason.  Strange.  The senior citizens formed a majority of the group. No children, but several twenty somethings and a few international travellers. Finally there seemed to be an unusually high number of musicians, or people carrying guitars or other instruments. They didn’t seem to be together, but maybe train travel brings out the musician in all of us.

Closer to boarding time, the senior citizens were allowed to move into the inner waiting room first. They let us in with them as we had “small children”. I don’t consider our kids small but we’ll take it. The attendant in the inner waiting room kept telling us to sit down, but there was no place left to sit. All the seats were full and there were still about 25 of us standing. She complained to the other attendant, “I don’t know why they are all standing. We aren’t boarding yet. They need to sit down!” The other attendant must have clued her into the fact there were no more seats as the other section was roped off. Finally she got it, opened up the other section and STRONGLY encouraged us to sit down. Within moments of our sitting down, she called on us to head to the train.

We have coach seats, and there are no reserved seats in coach.  I wanted to board as soon as possible to make sure we had seats together. Dan wanted to board as late as possible to make sure we had seats NOT near the poncho guy or the high fivers. I thought it might be fun to sit next to the older Latino gentleman with the guitar. The fact that the guitar was not in a case signalled to me he was ready to play and ready to play often. Unfortunately it signalled the same thing to Dan who didn’t have quite the same romantic notion of a Spanish serenade. We didn’t have to choice though. We walked up to the agent located by the train car, and she assigned us a car and seat by our destination. Our seat assignment put us in the second to last car, in front of a senior citizen travel group headed to Reno Nevada.

To say we were overwhelmed by our seats would be an understatement. There was so much room! The seats were wide and extremely comfortable, reclining not as far as our “semi cama” bus seats in Peru but enough to be comfortable. A footrest came out and turned your seat into a “LazyBoy”. Even when the seat in front of you was fully reclined, you had plenty of room. A huge window allowed an uninterrupted view.  It was a far cry from cramped airline seating.  The takeoff was on time and so smooth we only knew we were moving by the changing scenery outside our window. The high rises and lofts of Chicago were gradually replaced by small urban neighborhoods and towns with brightly painted, old fashioned depots. The train glided past large green lawns, main streets, and parks with children, through people’s backyards and behind businesses.  It seemed as if every small town was having some type of festival, with small crowds gathered near tents in the middle of town, and children riding on small carnival rides. It was a nice glimpse into Midwestern end of summer days.  Some people ignored the passing train completely, while others waved enthusiastically.  After years of waving to people on passing trains, I was excited to be the one waving back.

The train rolled on further gathering speed, and gradually the chic towns were replaced further west by working class, down on their luck towns, until these too were replaced by endless rows of corn and soybeans. It was then that Debbie, our car attendant, introduced herself and encouraged us to get out of our seat and explore the observation car, the snack car and in general move around the train. We took her advice and headed to the observation car. Dan got us drinks from the snack bar, located the floor below the Observation car, and we relaxed and watched the world go by. As we were enjoying ourselves, two women came into the car, and sat next to a couple who apparently they had met earlier on the train.  Some of the people on board had actually started on the east coast.  One of the women said she had gotten on in Charlotte.  Then she thought again and was sure it was Charlottesville. The women were very outgoing, with heavy Southern accents which we heard when one of them commented said she had gotten on in Charlotte.  Then she thought again and was sure it was Charlottesville.  Anyway she was sure it was someplace in Virginia.  Her and her friend travelled a lot.  ”I always travel, even when I’m hungover.”  They were funny and seemed nice, but hard partiers and it was fun listening to them talk.  We dubbed them the ”Mount Pilot” girls (to understand you needed to watch the  Andy Griffith show).  Even the Amish weren’t immune to the Mount Pilot girls charm as later I was a bit surprised to find one of the men, enjoying a Root Beer and the ladies company.  You can take the man out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the man!

A side note here.  I don’t want to seem judgemental of my fellow passengers, just looking at them through a humorous lens.  The amazing thing to me was how everyone, even from such different backgrounds, got along.  Everyone was so relaxed, friendly and really tried to get to know the other passengers.  It  was very reminiscent of a sailing community.  It will be hard returning to airline travel.

The next morning, we pulled into Denver early. We got off the train to look around, but everything was closed, so we enjoyed a snackbar breakfast in the Observation car. We had been told to make sure we had a seat in the Observation car for the leg from Denver, across the Rockies. I’m glad we had seats as the car filled up quickly. Dan, Tessa and I sat at a table.  Tristan sat in a seat on the left side of the train, next to an elderly gentleman who was a veteran train traveller, giving Tristan a bit of history about the route. The view was impressive, switchbacks snaking their way up the mountain, peaks in the distance still clinging to a bit of snow from last winter, and if you looked close you would see a few Mule Deers grazing near the tracks. We passed ski resorts, then for a long time we followed the Colorado River. The river was in heavy use with rafters and fly fisherman, surprising for this late in the summer. The colors were incredible, the glistening river lined with red rocks, giving way to green grasses and bushes just hinting at turning brown. I couldn’t leave my seat,  afraid I would miss something.  Even after Dan went back to coach seat to take a nap, I stayed wrote in my journal, talking to other passengers and just enjoying the myself.

The Observation car became my permanent home the rest of the trip. With the glass windows overhead and the huge side windows, going back to my seat, except to sleep, seemed a little gloomy. In the mornings, I woke up early and headed straight to the Observation car to get table for all of us. The seating was a choice of chairs which faced out either side, or tables (like dinette tables). To me, the tables gave you a better view, so that’s was where I was from sun up to sundown.  I only left to use the restroom and twice we left the table to eat lunch in the dining car.  I’m ashamed to say that I selfishly left our things on our table so it would be there when we got back.  I couldn’t help myself.     I couldn’t get enough of the changing scenery passing the window.  Tristan and Tessa joined me most of the time, and Dan, when he wasn’t napping, would join whatever game we were playing.  One elderly lady didn’t like it that we sat at the table so much and kept walking by making snide remarks like “Are you leaving soon? There’s a time limit on the tables.”  That really made me mad.  Are we doing this Grandma???  First there was no such thing as a time limit on the tables, second, I was sacrificing naps to reserve my seat and third, she only complained to us and not the other table sitters who had been sitting there all day. In fact she had been sitting in one of the side seats the same amount of time we had been at the table.  I woke up extremely early in the morning to get my spot and I was staying.  “It’s on Grandma!”

Observation car  Observation car


observation car 2 Dan napping in the Observation car

observation car 3


view 5 Amtrak  Coach seating

We loved the Amtrak train!

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