Leg 4: Southwest Chief, Sept 7-9

Posted by Mike Merritt in Travelogue on

Not long after getting to Union Station, we boarded the final train trip of this vacation, the Southwest Chief. As its name implies, it goes through Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, in the Southwest particularly, then up into a sliver of Colorado, into Missouri, a sliver of Iowa, and into Illinois.

I have to say that I think I liked the California Zephyr better. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a good mountain range, but there was definitely greater range of landscape to see, including desert, mountains, rivers, plateaus, and yes, grassland. The Chief mostly goes through miles of desert then miles of grassland. Also, I slept through the one trip through high elevation we had.

There were some highlights, though. The people, for one. I had dinner on the first night with an elderly man, a Korean War veteran with loads of stories of his time in the Navy. There was also a guy starting his first semester of college in Arizona. His stop was during the early morning and his classes started just a few hours later. I wished him luck with that! There was also a breakfast with a guy going to play a gig in Kansas City but who felt flight too much of of hassle these days. And the couple taking the Chief to Chicago connecting to the northerly Empire Builder en route to Glacier National Park.

The second highlight was stars. Didn’t get a chance to see any the first night, but the second night was clear skies. It wasn’t perhaps the best view, given that we were moving, and we were often still pretty close to some light source, but it was the kind of star display we just don’t get in Connecticut.

The last highlight was my sleeper car’s attendant, Tom. Before taking this trip, I’d read that the car attendant could make or break a trip. I never had a bad one the three train rides, but Tom was definitely the best. He seemed to be a veteran of Amtrak, but was still quite personable, willing to get to know his passengers, and had a wealth of knowledge about the route.

At one point, during the mountain climb I missed, he was sure to point out that there might be animals to see and a ghost town from years ago. His second bit of knowledge was during the trip across Missouri, pointing out an old bridge and fort used during the Civil War. He showed an enthusiasm for these things and made the journey that much better.

I opted for the larger bedroom during this trip, and though I didn’t mind the roomette, the bedroom was better in many ways. I didn’t have to decide which thing to do first in the morning – medicine or brush my teeth – and having a shower and larger bed was very nice.

There wasn’t anything really new to report about food here, since I mostly had the same meals as last time, though I did try their salmon dinner, which was excellent.

That is it. The last entry will cover my couple days in Chicago.

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