Amtrak 15-Day Rail Pass Live-Blog – Week One

Week one of our crazy 15-day Amtrak Rail Pass. Chicago to California via Santa Fe.

Ride along with us as we show you the ins-and-outs of train travel, eat in Santa Fe, hang out with Michael Jackson in Hollywood, and get caught in a wicked storm that stopped the train!

Loads of video and interviews, including David’s “tour” of couch seating… CONTINUE READING >>

NEXT DISPATCH: WEEK TWO OF AMTRAK LIVE-BLOG

Getting Ready!

Packing for an Amtrak trip

How we packed

Cooler/Day Pack full of delicious snacks (we did learn later that there are extensive snack choices aboard!)

Briefcases with essentials. Stuff we carry with us at
all times.

Canvas tote with neck and regular pillows, blanket, eye
masks, ear plugs, playing cards, books — and sleep stuff.

Everything attaches to: Rolling carry-on
bags packed with “replaceable items” like clothes, toiletries,
etc.

Learn more about how we pack and our always-adhered-to “One Trip Rule”!

Lockers at the Chicago train station


1:40
PM
They still have lockers at train stations! For three
dollars an hour we purchased some peace of mind and were
able to walk around downtown Chicago without dragging our
luggage behind us.

Weird fact: You have to provide your fingerprints to use.


1:45
PM
We popped out of the train station and this is
what we saw!

First glimpse of Chicago from the train station

Chicago

The Windy City, the one with the broad shoulders,
Second City baby. We were right on the Chicago River across
from the Sears — uh, Willis — Tower.

Romped around,
pointed, oohed and awed, had lunch and
headed back in to catch our overnight train.

Want to see more to do in Chicago? Click here!

Chicago Train Station

Take Off

2:45 PM On the train! We snagged the ONLY seat in our train car
with a power outlet! Shhhh…don’t tell anyone, the
conductor just announced that the ONLY outlets were downstairs
in the lounge. We don’t want to start a riot!

3:10 PM Left Chicago on time!

3:15
PM
No Wifi from Amtrak, but we have an at&t laptop
connect wireless card and so far it’s GREAT (of course we’re
still basically in Chicago). VERY civilized!

Out the train window in Illinois

Day One: Chicago to Kansas City

Out the
Window


5:00
PM
Beautiful
pastoral scenery. Blue skies, rolling green fields — Illinois out the window.

Americana at its best.

Galesburg, Illinois

6:00 PM Galesburg,
Illinois — Birthplace of poet Carl Sandburg and the site of the
Lincoln-Douglas 1858 debate… but most of all, Railroad Days.
Would have loved to stop to take this place in, but alas, only
14 more days to make it to the West Coast and back and so far
we are sticking right to the timetable.

Heavy storm outside our Amtrak Train window - tornado?

Out the
Window

6:45 PM Outside of Fort Madison, Iowa In the dome car
for a cocktail and some fabulous vista watching, when BAM!,
all heck started
breaking loose! The train was halted due to high wind and
flash floods… so much for the old timetable.

The Amtrak staff was wonderful and kept us safe and up-to-date on the situation.

WATCH: Just how hard does the wind need to blow to stop a train?
Pretty dad-blame hard is the correct
answer.

Out the window - the Southwest Chief, Amtrak

Out the
Window

We
neglected to mention the name of this train yesterday. We
are on Amtrak’s train #3, the west bound Southwest Chief.
The name dates back to the golden era of train travel when
the luxury long haul routes all had groovy names.

This
route was the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad’s Super
Chief. I took it a few times as a kid and the main thing that
stuck in my brothers and my mind was how cool it was that you
could stick your shoes in this little box outside your sleeper
and they would magically be shined in the morning. I’ll have to
look into whether that still happens.

Double Rainbow out of our window on Amtrak's Southwest Chief

Day Two: Kansas City to Santa Fe

6:10
AM Get out of Dodge. Woke up looking out the window at Wyatt
Earp Street in Dodge City Kansas.

7:50 AM Going for the second cup of joe as we cross
the Kansas – Colorado state line. What happened to all the
trees?

8:25
AM
Rainbow with wind generators as the pot ‘o gold in
eastern Colorado. Mountains are just coming into view.

Dining Car on Amtrak's Southwest Chief

12:00
PM
Opted to eat in the dining car. Passengers make reservations
a few hours in advance for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is
first come, first serve.

Lunch options
included a Chipotle Black Bean and Corn Veggie Burger, an Angus
Steak Burger, regional sandwich and entree specials and a veggie
salad. Beer, wine and cocktails are served and lunch runs between
$6 and $9, including coffee, tea or milk. Served on linen, quite
civilized!

Folks on the Train

We learned
very quickly that train travel is a very social experience —
trains have club cars, dining cars and dome lounges, all very
conducive to socializing! In our coach seats, we met everyone
around us, shared tourist info, train riding tips and tales, even
books and snacks. We will interview some of the wonderful folks
along the way and share them here.

WATCH: This wonderful gentleman explains to us why he travels ONLY by train!

Antelope playing outside our window on the Southwest Chief!

A cafe car is available throughout the day with the usual downscale microwave
cuisine, cereal, chips and drinks.

Out the
Window

12:10
PM
Antelope! It’s a meal and a show! They are everywhere!
We were starting to wonder if they really did play out
here, not hearing many discouraging words, either.

WATCH: Veronica sneak attacks a sleeping David to get a video
of the coach seating situation. He was an awfully good sport
as we had been on the train for 24 hours straight!

We have decided to do coach all the way (if our backs hold out!)
as a 15-day rail pass cost us $389 and would be significantly more
if we add on a sleeping cabin. (In case you’re curious, here’s a a sleeping car tour on The Empire Builder)

Days Three and Four: Santa Fe

Sante Fe, New Mexico

2:20
PM
Arrive Lamy, New Mexico — on time! We must have made up
the time that we lost in the storm overnight. Catching the shuttle
van into Santa Fe.

Santa Fe is our longest layover — we will be on the train with
just a few overnights after this!

What
a great town! Jam-packed with galleries, adobe and amazing southwestern
food!

“The
Inexplicable Stairs” is a must see in Santa Fe! The
staircase has no supporting pole, has three hundred steps
and makes two full 360-degree turns stumping architects
and engineers to this day.

In 1873 a gothic chapel was built for the nuns of the local
parish. Beautiful as it was, it was stupidly built without
access to the choir loft. The only solution was to either
install ladders (not a great choice for the singing nuns!)
or tear the chapel down and start from scratch.

So the Sisters did what they do best — they prayed for
a miracle.

The legend says that a unknown man showed up on a donkey and offered
to build a staircase with the only tools he had — a hammer, a
saw and a T-square.

Six months later, the staircase was finished
and the man disappeared, never to be heard from again. Much more on Santa Fe and this staircase (with video)

Day Five: Santa Fe

Hoofing around The Plaza in Santa Fe.

Intrigued by the Native American wares hawked on blankets
in front of the Palace of the Governors – the oldest public
building in the US, built in 1610.

Day Six: Albuquerque to Los Angeles

New Mexico Rail Runner

11:20
AM
Leaving Santa Fe (on time!) on the New Mexico Rail
Runner to rejoin the Southwest Chief to Los Angeles. It
adds $7 each to our trip, but well worth it!

The train itself is very whimsical with a speedy looking roadrunner
emblazoned on its cars in the colors of the sun. Instead of an
alarm sounding when the doors close, a fanciful “beep, beep”
is heard. Yes, Santa Fe is where Chuck Jones got the inspiration
for the Road Runner cartoons.

Ironically, even though the classic AT&SF railroad was commonly
referred to as “The Santa Fe,” the mainline never came
to the city because the terrain was too forbidding. That’s why
Amtrak doesn’t actually come into Santa Fe and a shuttle or Rail
Runner ride is required.

12:03 AM Passing
through the Native American pueblo community of the Kewa tribe.
Adobe villages, farms and ranches are nestled into a beautiful
valley. We’d love to post a picture, but the residents respectfully
ask that photos not be taken, as their land is sacred.

Fun Route 66 sign in Albuquerque

12:50
PM
Albuquerque!
We didn’t make a wrong turn. Tossed our stuff into a locker
at the depot and took a walk down Route 66 toward the historical
Old Town Plaza.

The quirky mixture of the adobe and faux-dobe
buildings with retro 66 signs made for a fun, but
sun-beating-down-upon us desert stroll.

Click for more stuff to do in New Mexico!

La Placita at the Hacienda Casa De Armijo in Old Town


1:55
PM
On the prowl for Southwestern food.

Found
green
chile and big, puffy, hollow, pipping-hot sopapillas dripping with
honey at La Placita at the Hacienda Casa De Armijo in Old
Town.

Built in 1706, the courtyard room has a large shade
tree that shoots
straight through the ceiling.

Old Town Albuquerque. The plaza is dominated by San Felipe De Neri

3:00
PM
Took
in Old Town Albuquerque. The plaza is dominated by San Felipe
De Neri, the oldest church in town, founded in 1706.

The
twin spires really stand out among the rest of the squatty
adobe buildings filled with
galleries, restaurants and tourist-centric businesses surrounding
the square.

Arizona desert through the window of The Southwest Chief

Back on the Chief

Out the Window

6:50
PM
Arizona.
The desert is surprisingly green, quite a bit of rain
lately, in fact we just passed through a shower.

Arizona sunset from Amtrak's Southwest Chief


7:30
PM
The remaining clouds make for a spectacular
sunset.

Day Seven: Los Angeles

Our favorite Amtrak attendant - so far!

Folks on the Train

Our
favorite train attendant so far! Meet Francis — a whirlwind
of fun — and train attendant extraordinaire!

Her infectious
smile lights up the coach section and can turn even the
grumpiest morning, not-had-my-coffee-yet person into little
miss sunshine!

Los Angeles Union Station

11:50 AM Arriving
in LA’s Union Station, utterly exhausted.

Need sleep that
doesn’t the involve moving of train cars.
Must have a nap before we attack Hollywood with a vengeance.

More on LA

The Hollywood & Vine subway station

3:00
PM
The
Hollywood and Vine station on the Red Line Subway — more trains, yay! The ceiling is covered
with real movie reels. Just out of our midday comas, this
is vertigo inducing stuff.

Spent the entire
fifteen minute underground trip trying not to think about earthquakes.

5:00
PM
Hollywood,
ba-by! We’re on a quest to find the “real” Hollywood.
The sleep deprivation is manifesting into weirdness, but what
a better place to be than Hollywood shooting a video when you’re
feeling a bit weird?

NEXT DISPATCH: WEEK TWO OF AMTRAK LIVE-BLOG

David &
Veronica, GypsyNester.com



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23 thoughts on “Amtrak 15-Day Rail Pass Live-Blog – Week One”

  1. thanks for data about the rail pass years ago in europe with small back pack but the rails in europe look like many changes so now thinking of seeing the usa on the rail thanks for the data

  2. Hi there Dave and Veronica,
    Hope the snowmobiling is going well. Rhonda and I got home (we still have a physical one) safe and sound two hours ago along with our bottle of wine from Empire Builder wine and cheese festival/contest in Montana. It was great fun to meet you both. But who knows if we will ever run into each other again??!!??

    George Mueller-Warrant

  3. That was really interesting. I've often wondered about traveling across N America by train, and you've got my mind spinning again!

  4. So much fun reading about your travels. Will you ever have an address again? Come back to STX and please change the Sun Self Storage ad. Haha
    Still in Santa Fe? Eat at Maria's!!!
    XOXO
    C & G

  5. Really enjoying the journey – and the weather reports! We complain in the UK when we get a few drops of tepid rain. Trains look fab too comapred to our old bone rattlers!

  6. That sounds like so much fun. I did that 10 years ago, B4 the empty net. Minneapolis MN to Austin TX. Some of the nicest people to ride with.

  7. I have a friend that several years ago took her 3 young boys on a trip cross country and back. They had a ball and a great learning experience. They were able to see several friends along the way. They are now Gypsy nesters!!!

  8. In 2004 we rode the City of New Orleans to Chicago.We then rode the Southwest Chief to LosAngeles and then the Coast train to Santa Barbara. What a beautiful trip!!!!

  9. Oh, I so want to ride the Empire Builder to Seattle. I think it must be a fabulous adventure.

    When I was a kid, our class field trip was a train ride to Minneapolis (about 150 miles from my small hometown). I was hooked. Took that same line many more times until they shut it down. Now there is talk of bringing it back and I am patiently waiting. The MALL OF AMERICA only a short train ride away?! How sophisticated is that? "Honey, I'm taking the train to the City for lunch and shopping. See you tonight."

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