Last month I did something that I have been dreaming of doing since I was 17 years old. I took the train from New York to San Francisco. It is a very expensive trip, but worth every penny. I had my own sleeper compartment and so did the rest of my family. All meals were included and we were treated like VIP travelers.
Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited left Albany station in the evening and we arrived in Chicago at 10am the next morning. After our layover in Chicago, we boarded the California Zephyr which took us the rest of our journey to California. The train ride was the most wonderful of my life! It is truly one of the most moving experiences. As the train traveled along from east to west, the song America the Beautiful kept playing in my head, and the words have so much more meaning to me now.
As the terrain changed from flat prairie to Rocky Mountains you cannot help but wonder how the people of the American Frontier period did it in covered wagons. It had to be a very harsh journey for them. Were they even able to appreciate the beauty of the land going through such rough terrain? How beautiful and amazing the land must have been when America’s First Nations People inhabited it by themselves. If I could enter a time machine I would love to go back to see what America looked like then.
After I boarded the train in Albany I travelled through the rest of Upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and finally California. I saw miles and miles of flat prairie for as far as the eyes can see, farmlands, cows and horses running free, beautiful clear skies, magnificent sunrises and sunsets, rivers and streams until we reached Colorado. All of a sudden, the terrain changed. I was not expecting the train to take us up into the Rocky Mountains but that is exactly what it did, and I admit that I was scared because of a fear of heights. It took two cabooses using diesel and coal to pull us up there. There was someone on the train who began to narrate what we were seeing from the time the train pulled out of Denver. The sleeper cars were towards the back of the train. It took a horseshoe turn that was so sharp that I could see the caboose from my sleeper compartment window. Slowly we were lifted up into the Rocky Mountains. From high up in the Rockies I looked down to see what is called The Great Plains. It was such a moving sight to see. Once you are up there you are in the Valley of Tunnels. About 20 minutes up into the Rockies we rode under the Continental Divide through one of the tunnels. We saw more rivers, streams, a bald eagle nest and the most magnificent rock mountains and beautiful clear skies. The train also took us through a canyon in the Rockies that can only be seen by train or if you are rafting on the Colorado river. It took a while to ride through the Rocky Mountains because the train had to move along slowly, but that was fine. You get the chance to really see the and appreciate the beautiful scenery. I sensed an energy in the Rocky Mountains that felt like something beyond this world.
The train also took us through the Nevada desert and 7000 feet up into the Sierra mountains. I was even more scared when the train went up into the Sierras. It is beautiful, but I wanted to get down from there as soon as possible. It took about an hour, at least, to get us through the Sierra mountains. I wondered how humans managed to lay tracks way up there.
On the train I met lots of people in the dining car. There was one Asian couple that me and my mother ate breakfast with one morning. They flew 10 hours from their home in Japan to board the California Zephyr in Denver. They were a delight, and the husband had the brightest smile. His wife was funny and was concerned that her English was horrible. It wasn’t, and I assured her that she speaks better than some Americans…HA! This lovely couple said that they fly from Japan quite often to do train travel in the USA. They have been to many places already over the years and love seeing the land of America.
I met an attorney and his 15-year-old son as we shared dinner together one night. His wife passed away a couple of years ago. This made him realize that he needs to enjoy his life with his son. So, he cut his workload in half to spend more time with his son exploring America on the train, and also Canada. His son said that he loves the train, and he was able to share with us some interesting train history and American history. It is so lovely so meet young people who can appreciate the land early on in their lives. Everyone that I met over meals in the dining car turned out to be serial train travelers. I love riding Amtrak, but these people made me look like a novice.
San Francisco turned out to be beautiful and amazing. I rode through Haight/Ashbury and I could easily see bohemian me living there. Would I move to California? Honestly, I don’t think so only because I do prefer to live in an area that has 4 distinct seasons. Yes, I can do without the harsh Northeast winters, but that can be resolved without losing autumn, spring and summer. I can relocate to a state that typically does not have major snow storms. I do not care for shoveling snow. I also prefer the lushly green mountains of the east. The California mountains that I see are beautiful too, but they look kind of dry and scorched. San Francisco was colder than NY, but I liked it. It also always has a think band of fog throughout which makes the air moist and damp. The houses are gorgeous. The negative side is that San Francisco has a huge homeless population, but homeless people are everywhere. It is so sad to see so many people who are unable to find work and take care of themselves. Car break-ins are also an issue in San Francisco. It is still a beautiful place and I am so glad that I finally got to see and experience it.
Me and my family stayed in an Airbnb house in Oakland for 7 days. The house was so beautiful. It has 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and a huge kitchen. The morning after we arrived my mother and sister went to Whole Foods to but groceries for the 7 days we would be there. Staying in an Airbnb house was more cost effective for us. Six of us travelled to San Francisco.
The train ride back home took the same route in reverse. It was lovely, but by the third day I could not wait to get off the train. I didn’t feel that way going to California. Our layover in Chicago was 6 and a half hours which was double the layover time when we were going to California.
America has a lot of problems right now, but the land itself is beautiful and amazing. A plane will get you across the country in a few hours, but you miss so much. I cannot say enough how absolutely beautiful and vast America is. Seeing it can bring you to tears. I would love to go across country again, but taking the southwest route through Louisiana, Texas and Arizona. I would also love to take the train from east coast of Canada going all across that country through Banff and the Canadian Rockies. Do yourself a favor and take a train ride across America. I will leave you with the beautiful words of the first stanza of America the Beautiful, written by Katherine Lee Bates, 1859–1929
1. Oh, beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.