Traveling into the past

We took the California Zephyr from San Francisco to Denver, arriving last night at Union Station, which is in the midst of a complete overhaul.  It will be beautiful when completed.

The trip took about 33 hours of our time.  But you can’t travel this route and not think of the years and lives it took to make our journey possible.  For much of the trip, our train was on the original path of the Transcontinental Railroad, that miracle of engineering and sheer will that united the country, spelled the beginnings of a new world order, and definitely signaled the end to the Indians’ hope to return to the old world order.

The Sierra Nevada range was our first real introduction to the perils the pioneers faced, most notably those of the Donner party.  On a beautiful spring day, what is now Donner Lake and the area of the Donner Pass near Truckee are just lovely moments of passing scenery.

We also saw our share of desert, which must have been a weird kind of relief from the mountains if you were in a wagon.

Sitting in our little bedroom, watching the vistas pass from the observation car, gazing out of the windows of the dining car while enjoying a glass of wine with our meal – everything was there to make it comfortable and visually exciting.  But any small inconveniences paled beside the miracle of the trip itself.

Once we entered the Rockies, the views became extraordinary.  Traveling along the Colorado River was a thrill, particularly when we were going through areas that are only accessible by train.  For us, sheer drama and amazing vistas.  For those earlier travelers trying to reach California before winter, it must have been sheer hell, wondering when the last mountain would be conquered.

There are still terrors there.  The river is often calm, and then suddenly it’s not. We saw a group of kayakers at a point after what they call Washing Machine Falls.  Our conductor said that meant they must have been among the best in the world, as there is a considerable mortality rate among those less expert. (I had enough trouble just trying to catch them on film.  The last guy couldn’t escape me.)

Sit back, enjoy the ride, and think of what it took to get us there.  If you were on the side of progress in the 1860’s, you saw the railroad cross the Rockies and would have needed no more proof that you were also on the side of the angels.


4 thoughts on “Traveling into the past

  1. What incredible beauty. It must have been a thrilling ride.

    Just the other day I was reading an article in the May/June issue of “Archaeology”. Here is a little blurb. “Though Chinese immigrants worked in other professions, at the peak of railroad construction in the 1860s, up to 90 percent of the labor force was Chinese. They dug trenches and tunnels, built grades, and laid track from Utah to California, through the same country that had famously claimed the lives of the pioneer Donner Party just 20 years earlier.”

    1. Quite true. And they were treated the worst of all the workers. They stayed completely segregated, and did all the worst jobs. Tells you how bad things were in China then…

  2. We met you on the train — you are lucky you got off when you did. At 2:00 a.m on Wednesday morning, the train hit an empty horse trailer. We were there until 10:00 a.m. while a new freight engine was brought in. More delays for freight traffic and crew changes — we got to our stop at 3:30 a.m. Thursday morning — the train was supposed to get to Chicago at 5:00 a.m. It did not bother us but there was a lot of grumbling going on — none of this was Amtrak’s fault — it was an accident — one guy thought everyone should write to Amtrak — and say what?? He didn’t care for our remark and couldn’t believe we were defending Amtrak. Unreal. Anyway, you have some lovely photos and we will look forward to checking in with you. Glad to have met you both.

    1. Wow! So glad we missed that! The worst part would have been those reactions. I can just see some of our fellow travelers now…and hear them. That would have required a lot more wine.

      It was great meeting you too, and it’s so nice to have new visitors on the blog. Hope to keep you entertained as we discover the West.

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