July 15-17, 2017
The second leg of our trip has been on my bucket list since before there were bucket lists – late 50’s and early 60’s. As I shared before, my Grandpa Baker lived in Winslow, Arizona and we would travel there from Palmdale, California each summer. At that time Winslow was a major train stop for the Santa Fe Railroad between Los Angeles and Chicago. My grandpa would take me down to the train station to watch the Chief, the Super Chief, and the El Capitan stop for refueling and crew changes. It was just awesome for a young boy to watch those big silver and red Warbonnets come to a stop and release their brake steam and all the other associated train noises. We rode the train over from Pasadena or Barstow a couple of times but I wanted to ride it from start to finish. This year that dream was fulfilled.
After a fun morning and afternoon in old Los Angeles we used the Lyft service to take us from our hotel to Los Angeles Union Station.
We pulled out of Los Angeles just a few minutes behind our scheduled departure of 6:10PM. We watched the Southland drift by as we got settled. We ate dinner as we crested Cajon Pass – the summit of the San Bernardino mountains before we descended into the California Mojave desert. We passed through Victorville and Barstow during the night.
I set my alarm to make sure I’d be up for our all-to-brief stops at Flagstaff and Winslow. The stops were short so I couldn’t get as good of pictures as I wanted.
About an hour later we passed La Posada Hotel – our favorite hotel on the planet where I got a picture from the opposite viewpoint from normal. I’ve posted about this fabulous hotel almost a dozen times. You can get an overview by searching for La Posada using the search box over on the right hand side of the page .. or click here.
Our car attendant told us she couldn’t open the door for us at Winslow because the stop was so short; but she said if I didn’t stick my head out I could open the window for a shot or two. Our sleeper was at the head end of the train so we were pretty well past the station when we stopped
The old station is bot the best condition; but the good news is the owners of the adjacent La Posada Hotel are re-constructing the station. Lots of good memories here. We’ll be back when the work is finished.
A few hours later we reached Albuquerque, New Mexico where we stopped for a while so the locomotives could be refueled. That gave us some time to stretch our legs.
We took the opportunity to get a picture of our awesome car attendant.
Shortly after leaving Albuquerque the Southwest Chief departs from the BNSF southern “Transcon” – the primary route of freight traffic from Los Angeles to Chicago. The Chief heads north along the original route up Raton Pass into Colorado, then Kansas before rejoining the main line in Kansas City, Missouri
The journey up this pass is magnificent – miles and miles of up hill climbing.
Here is an overview of the difference between the Amtrak route and the BNSF Transcon. I found this link to Google Maps on the trusty internet. The blue are Amtrak stations and the green are interesting points on the Transcon. It’s a little busy but you can see how the Southwest Chief veers north in New Mexico. You should be able to zoom and scroll to get a good idea of the differences.
Eventually we reached Raton, New Mexico where we had a chance to get some air and stretch our legs – a common theme on these train-travel blog posts. The train is great but it’s nice to get a new perspective every few hours.
In Kansas City we had some time to catch a glimpse of the city. You can’t get too far from the train, because when it’s time to board you better be ready to hop on or you’ll be left behind.
During our second night we passed through a large storm. As we looked out our window we saw a large broken tree next to the track. The tree was brought part way down by the storm then was finished off by our lead locomotive – which sustained a broken windshield!
We stopped on the mainline for a while so the conductor and engineer could assess the damage. Luckily we were able to proceed. When we arrived in La Plata, Missouri the trainmen disconnected the locomotives from the train and swapped them front and back so the engineer and conductor would have a safer, better view. We pulled out of the station over four hours late.
When you are on a late train, it’s difficult to make up the time. There are many high priority freight trains that have precedence over passenger trains. And, if the dispatcher holds up other trains for you; they become late as well and then you have multiple late trains instead of one. So, when you are late it’s best to assume it will get worse. The moral of the story is: if you travel long distance on Amtrak be prepared for delays. I’d allow a minimum of six hours between transfers. To be safe, spend the night in your transfer city and take the next train. But no worries; we just look at it as more train time for our money!
We had some more stormy weather as we transitioned from the mountain west to the midwest.
We were really pelted by rain and maybe some hail. A double rainbow rewarded our troubles.
Eventually we hit Illinois – the first stop is Galesburg where we were able once again to stretch our legs and get some fresh air.
We finally pulled into Chicago at 10:00 PM – six hours and 45 minutes late.
The only problem for us was that our toddler grandson couldn’t be at the station to pick us up with his Papa. He was delighted to see us the next morning.