Arizona Trip 2020 – Trains!

January 19-20, 2020

No trip to Arizona is complete without a trip up to the northern part of the state to watch some trains running on the BNSF Transcon. A good bit of this post is a railfan nerd fest post.

Most of my photos along the BNSF transcontinental route are in Flagstaff and Winslow – so of course after brunch of chilaquiles at Martanne’s in Flagstaff we headed over to the depot. Carla shopped for a t-shirt for our railfan grandson while I waited for a train.

Eastbound BNSF container train passing by the Flagstaff depot.

The picture above shows the problem shooting trains in my two usual sites: deep shadows. The best available viewing spots are on the north side of the tracks. This is an especially tough vantage point in winter; at worst I’m shooting almost directly into the sun and at best I’m getting lots of shadows on the subject. This can be remedied in Flagstaff by hanging on the other side of the tracks, but in Winslow there is no access to the south side of the tracks where the sun is at your back.

So before we left I researched places where I could get a view of trains from the south side. I found the very helpful Arizona and New Mexico Rails Places to Railfan. If I was out on my own I would have stopped at most of the spots; Carla is a good sport but I didn’t want her to have to sit in the car while I waited for trains. So, I picked a grade crossing just east of Flagstaff off I-40 Exit 207 ON Cosnino Road.

Cosnino Road on Google Maps
Cosnino Road grade crossing east of Flagstaff. (Image from Google Maps)

This is a great spot to railfan; there is a wide open area allowing us to get nice shots while being back from the tracks. It didn’t take long before an eastbound autorack glided through the west half of the S curve and into view.

Autoracks heading east outside of Flagstaff, Arizona

After this train passed, I heard the sound of a westbound laboring up the hill. It rumbled up for a few minutes before it came into view exiting the eastern half of the S curve. What a treat: a BNSF freight with two Norfolk Southern GE locomotives in the lead. While it isn’t unusual to have NS locos on BNSF trains, it is rare to have them in the lead.

Norfolk Southern locomotives leading the charge of a BNSF heading uphill toward Flagstaff, Arizona

Trains were running pretty regularly. It was a cold clear day and the San Francisco Peaks made a beautiful backdrop for the eastbound trains.

San Francisco Peaks looming over eastbound container train.
East of Flagstaff on Cosnino Road – I40

Another view of the same train as it got closer to my position.

Another view of the container train dropping down the grade toward Winslow, Arizona

As I said, the trains are pretty constant along the Transcon. I grabbed the first picture at 2:30 and the last at 2:47 – Three trains in 17 minutes. Railfan heaven.

I got back in the car and we headed to Winslow for our stay at La Posada hotel. The next day we prepared to drive outside of Holbrook to hike a bit in the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. But first we stopped at a rest stop on the west side of Holbrook – another spot listed on the web site linked at the top of the post. The bad news was that I was again on the north side shooting into the low winter sun. The good news was a beautiful wide open vista. I get intoxicated driving this stretch of road: the world stretches out in all directions.

Eastbound container BNSF slowing its roll for its stop in Winslow.

Container trains are the norm on the Transcon. About 15 minutes later another one appeared on the horizon.

Another westbound container train near Holbrook, Arizona

I was heading back to the car so we could get to the national parks but there was an eastbound coming so I hustled back to my vantage point.

Eastbound BNSF picking up speed leaving Winslow about 20 miles to the west.

The Cosnino Road grade crossing will be in my future railfanning adventures. Even though the reason for our Arizona trip was sad – my Uncle Jake’s memorial service – there were good times too. The memorial service was beautiful and moving; I saw my younger sister for the first time in ages; we had beautiful walks along the Verde River in Cottonwood as well as the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert; we visited La Posada hotel; we took in the Musical Instrument Museum; and I got pictures from new spots on the Transcon.

Good times.

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