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Mr. Toy's Train Travel Tales

The California Zephyr, August 2000

Page 4

Thursday, August 10, continued

Good Morning!

I woke at 8:10 to the voice of P.J. announcing that our A/C was dead, and we may be "downgraded to coach." I wondered if that meant we would have to move to a coach car.

At about 8:30 I came down from bed to see that we were in a beautiful rocky canyon. This was just the stuff I wanted to see on this trip. Unfortunately, by the time I got my wits about me and grabbed my camera, we were out of the canyon.

Helper (I think)At 8:48 we stopped in Helper, one hour and twenty minutes late. I got myself together slowly before going out to find food. They had just made the last call for breakfast., but I wasn’t very hungry. At 9:30 I found the family most of the way through their breakfast. Their server motioned me in. I sat down by the window, facing backwards, and ordered a bowl of Frosted Flakes and some water. I was very thirsty after the warm night.

After breakfast I returned to our compartment and P.J. was available to fold our beds up. I told her I was really happy with her service, as well as with the entire crew. She thanked me for my compliment. I asked her about the air conditioning situation. She said we wouldn’t have to move unless we wanted to, but there were several coach seats available if we wanted to go use them to cool off, or we could go to the lounge. She said she was going to see if we could get refunds for the sleeper portion of our fare, which apparently was what she meant earlier about being "downgraded to coach." I didn’t think our room was too hot for daytime use, so I said we’d just stay here. Besides, I figured we needed to get accustomed to hot weather because Denver was experiencing a record heat wave. As it turned out, I think it did help us adjust from California’s coastal fog. The air conditioning was working in the vestibule just down the hall, so I took advantage of that on a few occasions.

Transportation Mountain

"Transportation Mountain"

I wanted to walk around a bit so I spent a few minutes in the sightseer lounge. This part of Utah was pretty desolate. The earth here had some interesting land formations, but the overall things were pretty colorless. Around 10:00am the tour guide on board pointed out a rocky ridgeline on the left which the train crews have dubbed "Transportation Mountain." With a little imagination the formation appeared to be sculptures of an ocean liner, a toy choo-choo, an 18-wheeler truck, and an aircraft carrier.

Ruby Canyon At 11:25am we entered Ruby Canyon, which crosses the Utah/Colorado state line. In anticipation of this I took my camera to the Sightseer Lounge car. As per its name, Ruby Canyon had reddish rock walls overlooking the Colorado River. My wife said it looked like we were in Indian territory. Perhaps an ambush lay ahead!

Of course, all of the United States was once "Indian Territory."

At 11:48 we were passing through Fruita, which was peach growing country. Our first stop in Colorado, Grand Junction, was just a few miles beyond.

We were in the lounge car when we arrived in Grand Junction. It was a service stop and we were invited to partake of the offerings at a friut stand at the station. To get off we went to the nearest coach car, which put us out right by the fruit stand. As we exited the car, there was Darrell helping us off. We exchanged hellos before I stepped out.

Oh boy, it was hot outside. It didn’t help that we were between a silver train and a white wall with light grey concrete at our feet. Heat was reflecting off of everything.

The station at Grand Junction was a sorry sight. Next door was the original station, which was beautiful, but badly run-down. The current station was just four walls and tired old benches. The fruit stand was outside, and inside was a so-called gift shop. What a dump! It was dingy and dusty and the gifts looked they had been sitting on the shelves since about 1948. My wife bought some fruit while the others bought some post cards.


Back on board and rolling as lunch time rolled around. I was still not too hungry, and Mrs. Toy didn't want to wait for a seat in the diner, so we decided to get sandwiches from the snack bar. We went down and bought two packaged turkey sandwiches, some chips and sodas. On our way back through the diner car, one of the servers stopped us and said "You didn’t pay for that, did you?" My wife thought he was joking, but he said we shouldn’t have paid for it since we were sleeping car passengers. We thought the complimentary meals only applied to the dining car. He told us to go back and get a refund. But when I did, the line was pretty long and I didn’t want to wait. What the heck, it was a small expense to begin with and I wanted to spend some money on-board to help support Amtrak.

Back in our room we pulled out our little table and laid out our lunch. The sandwiches were simple, but tasted very fresh for pre-packaged material. A pleasant surprise. Heidi supplemented her share with the fruit she bought in Grand Junction.

The tracks were very smooth between Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs, where we stopped at 2:04pm. On the left the Colorado River lay between us and the old stone hotel. I stepped off on the right side and saw the station, which was the prettiest one I’d seen since Davis. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to walk over to it and go inside.

Glenwood Springs Glenwood Springs station

Glenwood Springs, opposite the station

Glenwood Springs station

Just after we left Glenwood Springs we entered the rugged Glenwood canyon, through which Interstate 70 was built. The tour guide directed our attention to a spot high up the cliff on our left, where you could see a window in the rock wall!. Apparently a recluse had made a home in a cave up there.

Later, we stopped in a semi-desert like valley several minutes to let the westbound Zephyr go by. Liz & I went to stand in the vestibule to cool off and see out the windows. We were joined by our neighbor from Maine. We discussed the possibility that we might be getting refunds, as P.J. had mentioned to me earlier. As we stood there a freight went by, followed soon after by Train #5 which passed at 3:45pm. Once it passed we were moving again.

Around this time the heat and my lack of sleep began catching up with me. I went back to our room and closed my eyes for about half an hour.


Our reservation was for 5:00pm. We were seated near the front end of the dining car, on the right side, with all four of us at the same table. Our server introduced himself to four tables at once. He said his name in a slow drawl then added "I’ll be your server this evening and there’s not a thaaang you can do about it."

The "Dinner Through the Rockies" menu was a bit different from the previous evening’s offerings. Liz and I both ordered the vegetarian lasagna, which was light and tasty, and I ate nearly all of it. Mrs Toy ordered glazed chicken, which looked a lot like the barbequed chicken but with a different sauce. Mom had the stuffed trout which she really enjoyed. For dessert we shared two of "Amtrak’s Famous Turtle Pies" between the four of us. It was a yummy and gooey chocolate ice cream thing with whipped cream on top. We ordered only one for all of us, but our server insisted we have two. Good man.

But the best part of our dinner was the view! First we passed through Gore Canyon, a narrow gorge with vertical rock walls towering above us. When we emerged from the canyon, passed through pasture land, and watched lightning in the not too far distance. It began to rain. After a few more minutes we were in yet another magnificent canyon. Had we ever experienced a dinner table with such spectacular scenery? Certainly none where the view changed every minute.

By the time we stopped in Winter Park, at 6:24, we were back in our rooms. We were at 9,000 feet, the highest I had been for a very long time. I said "The air doesn’t feel any thinner up here." A woman behind me responded, "Just try walking a hundred feet. We went from Denver up to an 11,000 foot mountain once and I could hardly breathe after I had gone a few steps."

Winter Park

Winter Park

At 6:38 we entered the Moffatt Tunnel to take us across the continental divide. We were told we could not open the doors between the cars in the tunnel to avoid sucking diesel exhaust into the cars. The trip through was supposed to take 11 minutes. I think it took a bit longer. Now, on the eastern side of the Rockies, our trip wpuld be downhill all the way into Denver.

The man from Maine in the next compartment told me he had gotten a refund slip from the conductor, and he advised me to seek him out. I went to P.J.’s compartment (Room #1) and knocked. She gave me refund vouchers for the sleeping car portion of our fares. It said we could redeem the voucher at any Amtrak ticket office.

We were now on a steady downhill incline through forested canyons. We started gathering our belongings together, and we almost forgot about our garment bag in the little closet. When we were done we just watched out the windows. Since most of the view was on the left side, all four of us sat in Mom & Liz‘s compartment for a time. It was a little tight, but the seats are pretty wide. At 7:25 we got our first glimpse of the plains and passed a dam in the mountains. There were several places where we could see the tracks ahead of us, and soon the plains opened wide before us. As we neared the flatlands we could see a long freight train waiting on an S curve just a short distance below us. The skyline of Denver grew ever larger ans as dusk fell the city lights filled our view.

P.J. announced that our train would be dropping off the freight cars before we would get off at the station. In addition we would be adding one coach and one sleeper, then we will back into the station. It will take about 30 min. total, and will include a lot of switching between tracks. Once that was done we would be backing into the station. The time for all this was built into the schedule, but we are already well over an hour late.

Union Station, Denver

We got off the train, went down a ramp underground, then walked back up a long wide ramp. At the top an attractive young lady was holding a sign that read "Toys." It was one of Debbie's friends who was assigned to meet us.

We entered the grand lobby of the station and stopped by the baggage claim area. I noticed the ticket window was open, so I suggested to Mom that we have them process our refund vouchers while we waited for our bags.

The station was a neat old place, but in the summer heat it was extremely hot and stuffy. It was not a pleasant temperature for being tired and waiting. It took some time, but eventually the baggage claim gates opened and our bags appeared. They looked a little dusty but the light was bad, so I couldn’t tell for sure. Debbie's friend took us to a family gathering at the groom's parent's house. After nearly an hour there we checked into our room at the Holtze Executive Village near the Denver Tech Center. We arrived just five minutes before the hotel's office closed.

Once in our room I could see that our bags were indeed dusty. A damp paper towel took care of that. Now it was time for a shower, and then to bed.

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Eastbound: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | Denver: | 5 | 6 | Westbound: | 7 | 8 | 9 |

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