California Zephyr – train log

7.35am Arrived to an Amtrack signpost on the sidewalk outside the Ferry Building, sweating (the heat is still hanging around the city) from rushing with our cabin bags and coats, expecting it to be cooler in Denver. Amtrack bus pulled up just as we did. It was with some disgust I left my beautiful orange cabin bag on the side walk to be hurled under the bus for the first leg of the trip, bus ride to the Amtrack station in Emeryville.

7.45am Bus is filling up, I realize we might not’ve brought the right train clothes, is a felt hat really necessary for the dining car?

floppy train hat

Wondering now if Amtrack will in fact be like the Orient Express … also, we’re the youngest on the bus so far.

8.10am Arrive Emeryville Amtrack station where I find out it’s another hour wait until the train leaves! Railway waiting room mm-mmm. Absolutely stunning view of San Francisco, the bay, Ferry Building, Alcatraz and a little bit of the Golden Gate bridge from the bus going over the Bay Bridge. AmtrackConnect poster in the waiting room advertising wi-fi on board other train services, but not the Zephyr. Thank goodness we brought the mi-fi.

8.50am Met the very cheerful conductor who knew who we were by the time we got to him – looking on his list I think he figured, young couple with greyer-haired couple following, heading to car 31 – must be the Walker family!

All aboard the Zephyr

9.10am Thought I was fainting standing there looking into my phone but it was the training creeping into motion while I was facing the wrong way! Sat down to look out the window. Room is not too bad – pokey and The Mister will have to pick up after himself and learn where everything goes!

Our room

9.20am Mi-fi success! Yaaay we have our own in-room internet! Devices all connected. How long will it last? C’mon AT&T 4G keep on working right into the mountains.

9.30am Arrrrgh, wondering if I can cope with 36 hours of this, I’m sure I’m feeling motion sick. Wandered down through the dining car to the observation car and sat sideways looking at the view for a while.

Dining car

Realized we were passing through Hercules and thought of Eileen so tweeted her to see if the baby was on his way.

10.10am Out the window yellow California desert.

California desert

Morning tea time! Out comes the travel coffee kit and precious Supreme beans recent visitors have couriered across for us. Hunted down Johnny the purser for some hot water “for a cup of tea” – turns out there’s an urn in the dining car so I know where it is for next time. Set up a coffee making station on the table.

Morning tea on the Zephyr

How the simple things make my heart swell – sounds naff but I was SO excited sitting there grinding the coffee, moving the cups and packets of sugar around to make us a morning tea.

Morning tea on the Zephyr

News that the baby is not yet coming. Computer time.

10.50am Puss! Just pulling into Sacramento spotted a kitty sunning itself out the back of a warehouse.

11.05am After 10 minutes standing on the hot Sacramento platform it’s back onto the train. As we were pulling in we saw the yellow bridge and old steam train by the river that we’d seen when we had our first visit to Sacramento a couple of weeks back. Attempted the train toilet – yikes it’s small. And a bit off-putting that The Mister didn’t close the main cabin door like I asked him do and the parents-in-law came in for a chat! The ‘bathroom’ is the size of the toilet  and according to the helpful signs you can stand or sit on the toilet to use the shower attachment! Toilet paper is behind perspex as I guess it gets mighty wet in there when it’s shower time. Running water and a basin is in the main cabin.

Tiny toilet/shower

11.10am Special guest on board introduces himself over the loud speakers – a curator and train enthusiast from the California Historical Train museum or some such a place is riding on the train as far as Reno and will be doing a train talk in the observation car for anyone who wants to join. A few keen train folk scuttle passed our door. Computer time.

11.30am Getting used to this. Don’t feel sick any more and feel extremely productive using my computer as the world goes by outside jammed right up next to The Mister using his computer as well. People don’t know how we can live and work together, tiny train cabin or not. That’s love. Except he’s got his ear phones in and every now and then sings/moans a few words, rather too loudly and people walking passed our room (door’s always open) think I’m with a special person. Sigh. That’s love 😉

Working on the train

12.15pm Lunch time! Have had a few tunnels and a minor blip with the mi-fi but going good for now. Out the window now – high sided ditch with not too much view, sometimes opening out into forest and suburbs. Ordered from the menu of 4 or 5 items ranging from a sandwich to special meatloaf with scary looking mushroom sauce and one drink choice, white wine, red wine or soda. I had the sandwich (picked out the chicken because with the nausea barely at bay I didn’t want to be worrying about food poisoning) and ice-cream and a table with white table cloths and railways condiments.

Lunch time on the Zephyr

The dining car is communal, so they keep announcing, so that you’re not surprised when you get sat next to another couple. I listened in on the table next door where a woman who’s left her husband behind because he doesn’t like train trips and cruises tells the couple she’s been sat with about all her train trips and cruises and how thankful she is to be seated with such a lovely couple not like the couple on the last trip who’d left their teeth in their room and gummed their way through their meal! Suffice to say the couple today weren’t saying much and gobbled down their food trying not to engage in a conversation about his job at Walmart so they could get back to their cabin. Lunchtime scenery was a quaint town and so much forest. Winding up through the hills now.

Tahoe National Forest

2pm Freight train has broken down in front of us somewhere in the Tahoe National Forest. Might be here some time. Thank god the mi-fi is hanging on to its one bar of reception!

2.20pm We’re off again.

2.30pm Starting to see ski resorts in the Tahoe area. And some pretty lakes.

Donner Lake - Tahoe California

3.20pm Wow, been traveling along side a pretty river for a while. Somewhere after Truckee in Tahoe.

Tahoe area California

4.10pm Every train smoker out on the Reno platform sucking down as many cigarettes as they can in 5 mins after the conductor told them the next break long enough for a cigarette was Denver – that’s like 25 hours away! Think we spotted the casino district – not as big as we thought. One golden building.

Reno Nevada

Getting into lots of flat dry brown country now in the lead up to dinner. More computer time, catching up on some blogs.

6pm The middle dinner sitting. Nevada desert out the window.


Oh dear. My “vegetarian pasta, robed in pesto with an alfredo sauce and vegetable medley” was inedible. The alfredo seemed to have separated and curdled, looked and tasted awful. So 2 bread rolls, a ginger ale and half a caramel ice-cream was my dinner. This evening’s communal dining drama was a family of 3 who refused to share a table with one chap “if we have to share then just forget it” and they stalked off – not sure how the one guy felt. They sat the family at the other end of the dining car. Dinner conversations at surrounding tables were again about the various train trips people had done. I think you’d feel pretty stink if you were the ‘poor’ people who’d never done a trip before! Service was pretty slow and we were in the dining car until almost 8pm.

8pm Purser turned our seat into a very tiny double bed – we opted to try that instead of the top bunk bottom bunk scenario. We wound our watches forward an hour in anticipation of waking up in Mountain Time. After wrestling with the vicious squirting tap to clean teeth and faces we crammed into bed to sit and watch a couple of downloaded shows on the laptop. Lights out 9.30/10.30pm, train is lurching everywhere.

11.25pm Woke feeling absolutely wretched. The lurching train and diesel fumes were making me feel very ill. After a bit of a panicked cry because I felt suddenly terribly claustrophobic we opened the door to the corridor to get some airflow and I lay the wrong way on top of the bed to have my head by the draft.

5.15am Must’ve slept! 6 hours have gone somewhere! Had woken several times and felt the train not moving, thought we were at the Salt Lake City stop (25 mins) but that was scheduled for 2.45am … confused about whether we’re moving or not … dozed off again.

6.30am First breakfast seating announcement over the intercom. Groan, 5.30am PST. Was the right way up in the bed now.

7.30am The Mister won’t wake up.

Sleepy head - Utah

Time for me to attempt the shower. Not too bad! Very strange to have water pouring all over the toilet but it was warm and thankfully I was small enough not to have elbows banging into the walls. Also the cubby was well enough designed that water didn’t flow out onto the carpet in the room. And no, I didn’t sit on the toilet – have my train legs now.

8am Breakfast sitting. Took the coffee making equipment and chose hot water as my drink.

Breakfast - Utah

Breakfast was some strange looking anemic cornflakes, a wilted grapefruit half and a croissant. Coffee was the highlight! Breakfast scenery was Utah barren land (apparently the not-moving in the night was not Salt Lake City but a 2.5 hour delay caused by another broken down freight train so all this grey was supposed to be over by the morning) however some fall colors starting to show in the trees which was lovely.


9.15am Helper Utah, I can almost see the saloon over the top of the railway buildings, apparently this is where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids hit out. Settled back in the room. Computer time. Mi-fi is very weak – have received an email in the night to publish a Xero blog post … that’s going to be tricky. And late.


10.15am Antelope! (Or some other small brown deer-like animal.) No internet, have been looking out the window for a while. Endless barren brown lands with some impressive stratified cliffs in the distance. Have read the trip pamphlet. Apparently we might get to see “herds of apocryphal jackalope, hare-like antlered creatures’. Nothing yet.



10.40am Green River. Economy based on convenience stores, motels and gas stations. Although they do grow water melons and cantaloupes. Time to find the snack car for a granola bar and make another cup of coffee.


11.45am No internet so have spent the last we while looking out the window at the Utah plateau. Haven’t seen a jackalope but did see the town of Cisco, population 3. The guy on the intercom to us where to look to see a couple of houses with satellite dishes, that’s where the town’s inhabitants live and everything, even their water is trucked in. No power. No internets. The last business to close up shop was the United Postal Service in 1997, when the post master retired they didn’t bother keeping it open.


12.15pm Colorado River is pretty impressive! Not as big as I thought but certainly creates a green landscape. Ruby Canyon has some impressive red rocks.


The Mister managed to get a photo of the actual dotted line border between Utah & Colorado out the other window – thought the dots were only on maps.

Utah Colorado border

12.30pm Allowed to de-train at Grand Junction and visit the convenience and souvenir store for one-of-a-kind jewelry and crafts made by the store owners. Hmmm, good job by the 2 emphysemic women on oxygen who were very flustered by the influx of train folk shopping for 2-minute noodles and to finger the trinkets without buying anything – who knew they were so crafty – the conductor will be disappointed he missed out on commission from no sales to this lot despite his enthusiastic FOUR mentions of the store prior to pulling into the station!! I enjoyed a regular sized toilet and a handbasin big enough to get 2 hands under running water instead of the angry squeaking spurting tap in our room. We were treated to a fashion parade by a rather large local woman, bellowing down a cell phone in a slip dress, no bra and no teeth. Shudder. We managed a fast walk up and down to the end of the platform to stretch legs and get the blood pumping and to take in gulps of fresh air.

Grand Junction Colorado

12.50pm Lunch. Topic for discussion – train is going to be so late into Denver that we’ll have to dine on the train again tonight, that’s met with a luke warm reception but we’re learning what to avoid now, and I’ve discovered the kids menu. Had an orange grilled cheese sandwich for lunch.

Grand Junction Colorado

The dining car is becoming a bit of a comedy of entitlement, people who (I’m shallow to say) look like this is their one-in-10-year holiday, not quite fitting in, vying to be the one person at the table who knows everything. Today we were seated next to a chap who knew all about the problem with the freight train that’d held us up in the night and all about New Yorkers even though he could only stand that place for a day. Scenery was mostly the train station, another delay, then fruit crops fed by the Colorado with an impressive rock face in the background.

Grand Junction Colorado

2.30pm Just had half an hour through the really spectacular 12.5 mile Glenwood Canyon – rusty rocks rising straight up out of the river with a road strapped to the side of it.

Glenwood Canyon Colorado

Rock crops dotted with aspens and other trees starting to turn fall colors.

Glenwood Canyon Colorado

2.45pm About sick of being on this train now. 30 hours. Noticing all the stains on the carpet and seats, raggedy curtains and trying not to imagine who’s been in the ‘bathroom’ before us and what they did there. Made our dinner reservation. There are a lot of people on this train with breathing difficulties – the number who grunt and weaze passed our door is alarming – you can hear them coming from the minute they enter the carriage. And there’s no stairs between any of the cars that they’re walking between which I assume is the observation lounge, dining car and sleeper car. A good reminder to keep walking to work.

3pm Wow, the scenery is like a chocolate box lid or one of those hard scenery jigsaws – blue river, yellow trees, orange rocks. I think we’re in the Rocky Mountains foothills.

Rockies Colorado

4pm Still sitting here with no internet. Time to watch some downloaded shows.

4.40pm Got mooned from the Colorado River!! A couple of guys dropped their pants on their raft and bent over at the train. Lovely. It’s even mentioned on Wikipedia as some of the ‘scenery’ you’ll see on the journey!

5.05pm Antelope!

5.30pm Wow, entered a fairly impressive gorge. I think this is the gorge in the pamphlet only accessible by train or river craft.

Rockies Colorado

5.45pm “Folks, no smoking on the train. That’s upstairs, downstairs anywhere on the train.” Uh-oh, someone obviously couldn’t wait until the next smoko stop. Almost time for dinner.

6pm Dinner number 2 on the train – more hacking phelmy coughing coming from neighboring tables – man the age and health of people on this train seems to be in a certain bracket! Thank god for the parents-in-law to share a table with! Had the kids cheese pizza & caramel ice-cream. Scenery during dinner, quickly fading light over a growing number of small ski towns and the start of the Rockies. Such a shame we’re going to miss seeing most of them – the stop of Granby during dinner is in the Rocky Mountains National Park but it’s dark already.

7pm Quick check for belongings in the room and final pack of bags – only 2 hours left on the train. Time to catch up on Dexter.

9pm Pitch black and freeing in Denver. While we waited for a taxi we were treated to shouting and arguing between a very staunch police woman and a cranky woman removed from the train and arrested for smoking on board (so that’s what that random announcement was about.) The police didn’t care how stressed the woman was or how much she justified it being just one cigarette, “Ma’am, there are rules on the train, you broke the rules, in fact you broke Federal law now put out that cigarette and put your hands on the bonnet of the car. Now.”

We’re now deposited in the hotel, still feel myself dipping and swaying. So cold in the hotel we’ve got the heat cranked up blowing and ticking and rattling so all in all I feel like I’m still on the train. A great experience, some great scenery, thanks M&F-I-L, but I’m not really cut out to be a train person so I think that’s it for now.

Our day in Denver posted here.

1 comment so far ↓

#1 Jif on 10.13.12 at 10:27 pm

“every now and then sings/moans a few word” so funny!

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