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Newark to Oceanside, Cardinal, California Zephyr and Coast Starlight

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vinceg723

Train Attendant
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Jun 12, 2009
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After much indecision, I will be traveling cross country starting tomorrow, Newark to Oceanside, on the Cardinal, California Zephyr, Coast Starlight and Pacific Surfliner, with stops in Chicago (1 night), Glenwood Springs (2 nights) and Emeryville (or Martinez, 1 night). Thank you to all who answered my questions about this trip earlier in the summer. Now it is finally happening, right before Amtrak guts its service!

Two questions before I board tomorrow:
  • Any recommendations for which side of the train for the Cardinal and the CZ (assuming I have a choice)?
  • And, any specific recommendations regarding COVID, besides the usual adhering to mask rules, not touching my face, using sanitizer, etc.?

I have some work and class work to do while on the road, but I do hope to be adding to this thread with some pics and stories.
 

PVD

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Some might disagree with me, but Newark to Washington really doesn't do much for me, the Cardinal after Washington gets quite a bit more scenic.....CZ from Chicago to Denver has a couple of moments, but again not my taste. Denver/Glenwood out is lounge territory, I would guess CS would favor the ocean side, which I would assume is the right side heading South. I'm sure others may have different thoughts.
 

vinceg723

Train Attendant
Joined
Jun 12, 2009
Messages
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I am rolling into Dyer, Indiana, now, on a very on-time Cardinal. Wow, this is a gorgeous route.

I got a seat on the left side, which turned out to be a good move. I've done the Northeast Corridor several times, so I used that time to get some reading and work done. Virginia and West Virginia just got more and more interesting, as rolling farmland turned into totally undeveloped hills with dense tree cover. I am used to trains running parallel to a road or a river, but in some portions of West Virginia, it seemed there was nothing but the train tracks cutting though the trees alongside some hills.

Our train was so ahead of schedule, we had an expected smoke/stretch stop at Clifton Forge, VA.

New River Gorge was impressive, though the skies were grey, darkness was beginning to set in, and trees kept me from getting good photos of the gorge. This route must be amazing at the peak of fall color, but I would want to do it Eastbound to ensure daylight. I'd also be curious to see it in late winter/early spring.

COVID-wise, I see too many passengers flouting the mask rules. The staff talks a good talk on the intercom about throwing people off the train who don't comply, and I've seen them ask people to put their masks on fully, but the reality is that they cannot enforce among every passenger 24/7. As I am typing this, the conductor walked by, not noticing that the man across the aisle from me has no mask on. At least he is not coughing or talking.

For the New River Gorge portion of the trip, there is no phone service or Wifi. As I would check my phone for service, I tried to remind myself that there is serenity in being cut off from the outside world, and I tried to enjoy it. I had a few beers, listened to some music and tried to take it all in -- and then service came back and I saw the new that RGB had died. What a shock.

I stepped off briefly in Cincinnati, slept decently in my coach row until Indianapolis. I then fell asleep again and woke up to sunrise in Indiana farmland.

Now we're less than an hour out of Chicago. Tomorrow, the Zephyr!

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PVD

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I don't know what is and isn't open in Chicago now, or where you are staying, but if available, there is an endless array of interesting things. Should be cool and pleasant light jacket weather. CTA can get you to most places, last time I got to the Museum of Science and Industry (U-505, cool train and plane stuff, lots more) with one bus and a short walk. Museum Campus with Field Museum, Planetarium and Aquarium is a good one, and closer in to Downtown, boat tours are cool.......
 

Ollie12

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Melbourne, Australia
Have an amazing trip.
From what I've heard trains aren't running too full with COVID so it's not too big a deal to jump to the other side of the carriage for a scenic section.

We did the Cardinal and the Zephyr - both spectacular.
If there are no seats my tip is standing at the back or front doorway (i.e. at the very back or very front of the train so there is no foot traffic through) - that way you can walk across and with a mask on I doubt the Amtrak team will mind.
 

WWW

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MSP
Have an amazing trip.
From what I've heard trains aren't running too full with COVID so it's not too big a deal to jump to the other side of the carriage for a scenic section.

We did the Cardinal and the Zephyr - both spectacular.
If there are no seats my tip is standing at the back or front doorway (i.e. at the very back or very front of the train so there is no foot traffic through) - that way you can walk across and with a mask on I doubt the Amtrak team will mind.
There is NO Stay Seated with Seat Belt Fastened requirement - that noted as previously posted -

If there are no seats my tip is standing at the back or front doorway (i.e. at the very back or very front of the train so there is no foot traffic through) - that way you can walk across -

Find seating at either end of the car so you have a primary view and then get up out of your seat and move standing to the other side for that view.
Only hazards in viewing is the occasional siding with freight cars blocking the view on that side - mile long train siding 60 mph one minute of time
viewing restriction.

In advance of booking (selecting a point of view) go to Google Map LINK: Google Maps
and click on the Satellite mode in lower left corner - then zoom in finding the railroad tracks and seeing the features panning the mouse along the
route of track travel to see what is of interest on one side or the other -

Cardinal info provided in previous post -

Zephyr - awaiting commentary from riders familiar with that route - - - - -

The Coast Starlight train - from Oakland to San Luis Obispo open fields interior country - at SLO ocean viewing starts
and at Ventura/Oxnard resume interior routing to the LAX Union Station.
The Ocean Viewing is on the right side of the train otherwise viewing is of the interior of the landscape -

i.e. that Surf Rider train from LAX to SAN the ocean is on the right side southbound
This should give you a good idea of what side to sit and select seating
Beware the ocean view is not exclusive to this route -
From LAX Union Station to Dana Point (I5 San Clemente) is non-ocean and the portion from Torrey Pines (Del Mar) to the SAN train station.
In between the view of the ocean is obstructed by beach front property residential area -
The portion at Camp Pendleton is free view (much like the Coast Starlight near Vandenberg)
On this segment not all that big a deal on this trip you have planned.

Take at look at all the travel materials available (including the Google LINK) to have the best view possible.
A travel agency (AAA) may have route maps guides for roads but take a gander if the railroad is right next to the road.
And then you have this internet thingy at your finger tips right now - go try and find the end of it ! LOL !
 

vinceg723

Train Attendant
Joined
Jun 12, 2009
Messages
23
Delayed report, but here is Part 2 of my trip (I'm sure many of you know the history and details of the route -- this is taken from what I posted to my own social media):

I have traveled thousands of miles on Amtrak, and nothing I have seen compares to the beauty of the Rockies by rail. The 2,438-mile California Zephyr runs from Chicago, through Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah and Nevada before snaking through the Sierras down the the Bay Area. The train takes its name from a pre-Amtrak line that ran between 1949 and 1970.

After a 2pm departure from Chicago, city turns to suburbs, followed by small towns and rolling cornfields. The farmland is interrupted only by a crossing of the half-mile-long Mississippi River. Dusk falls over western Iowa, in this case, a very hazy dusk — and by morning, the train arrives in Denver for an hourlong stop. There, I checked out the newly renovated century-old Union Station, stocked up on some provisions at Whole Foods (though no alcohol can be purchased there before 830 am
😞
), and walked around downtown.

After Denver, the fun begins. The Zephyr climbs into the Rockies, entering 29 tunnels, including the 6.2-mile-long Moffat Tunnel. Before the tunnel was completed in 1928, this stretch took hours to traverse, rising to an elevation of 11,000 feet. Today, it takes about 10 minutes to go through the tunnel, at 9,239 feet above sea level. Before we entered the tunnel, we were alongside the South Boulder Creek, which eventually empties to the Atlantic, and afterward, we paralled the Fraser River, which eventually empties into the Pacific — we had crossed the Continental Divide.

Soon, we were cutting through a series of steep canyons — Byers, Gore, Red and Glenwood — alongside the Colorado River. For at least an hour, we ran through a stretch of land that can only be traversed by this train, or by raft. No roads. No WiFi. No phone service. Just soaring red rocks and a winding, rushing Colorado River.

I hopped off in Glenwood Springs for an overnight stay, 24 hours after leaving Chicago. Pics from there to come later. In the meantime, stop what you’re doing right now, and figure out a way to make the trip between Denver and Glenwood Springs by train sometime soon. To my friends and family in a Chicago, this trip and back would just take a few days. Do it!

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Bob Dylan

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Austin Texas
Question: Did the Zephyr have an extra long stop in Denver that allowed you to go to Whole Foods with permission from your attendant?

I've seen people left behind in Denver that left Union Station during the Zephyrs stop!

Great idea to do your Layover in Glenwood Springs, my favorite Colorado town!!🥰
 

vinceg723

Train Attendant
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Jun 12, 2009
Messages
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The stop in Denver was 45 mins to an hour (and on some days, it's three hours). We rolled in around 7 am, and attendants told us to be back by 8, so I had plenty of time for Whole Foods, a look at the station, and a quick walk around downtown. I am paranoid about being left behind (!) so I was back on board with plenty of time to spare.

I LOVED Glenwood Springs! I will share a post about that next!
 

MARC Rider

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Baltimore. MD
I don't know what is and isn't open in Chicago now, or where you are staying, but if available, there is an endless array of interesting things. Should be cool and pleasant light jacket weather. CTA can get you to most places, last time I got to the Museum of Science and Industry (U-505, cool train and plane stuff, lots more) with one bus and a short walk. Museum Campus with Field Museum, Planetarium and Aquarium is a good one, and closer in to Downtown, boat tours are cool.......
The Museum of Science and Industry also has the Pioneer Zephyr trainset, which I believe you can board and look around inside, at least I was able to when I visited in 2013.
 

PVD

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Absolutely. That was part of what I included under "cool train and plane stuff"......
 

vinceg723

Train Attendant
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Jun 12, 2009
Messages
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Belated trip update -- a highlight from my 27 hours in Glenwood Springs:

🐏
My next stopover was Glenwood Springs, a few hours west of Denver, elevation 5,761, at the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers. It has a cute downtown, with lots of restaurants and shops, a popular stopover for Amtrak passengers. I wanted to bike the Glenwood Canyon trail, which runs along the Colorado River and along the same route my train took into town, but much of the trail is closed due to recent fires.

🚲
Still, I rented a bike and pedaled through the tiny portion of the trail that is open — four times over 24 hours. The canyon is steep and narrow, with a bike path on one side and train tracks on the other, and Interstate 70 nearby. I was able to hop off my bike and walk a few steps down to the smooth round rocks of the riverbank.

On my first ride, two families of bighorn sheep were grazing along the side of the trail. I’m so used to being told animals are more afraid of us than we of them, but when I asked a couple taking pictures if it was safe for me to pass, they gave me a less-than-reassuring, “yes, but just go slow.”

On my way back, I found that one of the mama sheep was on the opposite side of the trail, meaning I would have to bike between her and her babies. I was petrified, and there wasn’t a soul in sight, except for people speeding along the nearby highway. I couldn’t wait it out indefinitely, because the bike shop was closing shortly. So I called them and explained the situation, hoping for some solid advice.

Instead, the woman who answered said “hmmmmmm, let me put you on hold and ask my colleague.” She came back to tell me that the bighorn sheep are used to people and that I *should* be ok, and that she would stay on the line as I passed, if I wanted to.

Thankfully, as she was telling me that, the mama sheep crossed the path, back to her babies, and I sped past them, still on the phone and not shooting video. She told me later it was a rare treat for me to see them so close, and I never saw them again on my subsequent rides the next day.

Finally, I highly recommend the Hotel Denver and the adjacent Glenwood Brewpub, right across from the train station120065577_10158905948774673_7965775948736328910_n.jpg120111990_10158905948499673_2503892131771980039_n.jpg120139589_10158905948639673_2563473717661685615_n.jpg.
 

v v

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May I ask where the bend in the river is in the 3rd photo? Can you walk there?

Enjoying your report, many thanks
 

Willbridge

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Denver
It's been a few years since I stayed at the Hotel Denver but besides being a great location the mattress was wonderful. Whatever it was I slept well.

I've also stayed for a couple of nights at The Antlers Best Western and was pleased with it. It's away from the train station but handy to the aerial tramway. The attached photos are from the top of the tramway. Coloradans of all people have asked me where in Europe did I take these photos! Then I show them this first photo at the flag stop near the hotel.

2011 Colorado 009.jpg

2011 Colorado 021k.jpg

2011 Colorado 022k.jpg
 

vinceg723

Train Attendant
Joined
Jun 12, 2009
Messages
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May I ask where the bend in the river is in the 3rd photo? Can you walk there?

Enjoying your report, many thanks
Yes -- it's a horseshoe bend in the Colorado River at the very beginning of the Glenwood Canyon Trail. It's a very short bike ride from town. The beginning of the trail runs along I-70, and then the trail crosses over I-70. This photo is right after that crossover. It would be possible on foot, but a bit of a hike (maybe a couple miles?).
 
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jiml

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Toronto area
Great report. Love Glenwood Springs - have been there twice and through many times on Zephyr. We like the Hotel Colorado on the other side of the tracks, but would prefer a shorter walk.
 

Bob Dylan

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Austin Texas
It's been a few years since I stayed at the Hotel Denver but besides being a great location the mattress was wonderful. Whatever it was I slept well.

I've also stayed for a couple of nights at The Antlers Best Western and was pleased with it. It's away from the train station but handy to the aerial tramway. The attached photos are from the top of the tramway. Coloradans of all people have asked me where in Europe did I take these photos! Then I show them this first photo at the flag stop near the hotel.

View attachment 19222

View attachment 19223

View attachment 19225
Great pics! Thanks for sharing! :cool:
 

vinceg723

Train Attendant
Joined
Jun 12, 2009
Messages
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Part 3: From Glenwood Springs, the California Zephyr continues westward along the Colorado River, though the ride is not as majestic as it is to the east of Glenwood. I missed all of Utah — including the buttes and mesas of Ruby canyon, the Great Salt Lake and the Great Salt Lake Desert — as darkness descended while we were still in Colorado. I awoke briefly for a stop in Salt Lake City at 3 am.
😴


At 630 am, I opened my eyes from a NyQuil-induced sleep to find a scene from another planet. We were cruising along a mesa over a massive, rocky desert plain, with mountains in the distance. The entire landscape took on the pink hues of the almost-rising sun, as the train navigated switchbacks through this high-altitude desert. I had no idea where I was. Google maps told me we had just crossed from Utah into Nevada, but the view was other-worldly, like the surface of Mars.

As twilight turned to daylight, the landscape shifted a bit, more lunar than martian, not unlike that of the drive between Southern California and Las Vegas. For more than 100 miles, we paralleled the Humboldt River and Interstate 80. Grazing cattle lined either side of the river, some eating vegetation, some drinking the water, some wading in the water and others chasing their calves.
We passed through Elko, Winnemuca and several smaller towns — settled in part by Basques, I just learned (!) — and I had a difficult time imagining what it would be like to live in this part of the country.

After Reno, the Biggest Little City in the World, the Zephyr runs along the Truckee River as it snakes through the Sierra Nevada mountains. For those building the Transcontinental Railroad 150 years ago, this was some of the most difficult track to lay. We went through a series of tunnels and switchbacks some 7,000 feet above sea level, and at one point looked down over the 1.3-square-mile Donner Lake, named after the party of pioneers forced to winter there in 1846. The lake is as blue as I imagine Tahoe to be.

This portion of the ride, between Reno and Emeryville, I have completed twice before, in 2000 and 2001 — before smartphones and digital photography.

The Zephyr moves especially slow through the Sierras, and it was the only time in this whole trip that I ever felt a little impatient. Would it be possible to cross the *entire* state of California at just 30 mph? Thankfully, after Sacramento, the train picked up speed, pulling into Emeryville only about four hours late, not five, as I had feared.

I stepped off tired but smiling, grateful for the opportunity to have seen and experienced 3,585 miles of this country, from East Coast to West Coast. Part of me wanted to continue with a late-night bus to San Jose, but I decided to save that for morning, and instead checked into a hotel a few minutes from the station, with a view of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco skyline in the distance.120109288_10158910804959673_2198756968975194401_n.jpg120142550_10158910811819673_7335060995545316364_n.jpg120269395_10158910811914673_2592123603821114488_n.jpg120345820_10158910804719673_3884236018957891942_n.jpg
 
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