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


Day 8 Los Angeles to Oakland

We’re leaving Los Angeles on the northbound Coast
Starlight bound for the bay area. The Coast Starlight is one
of Amtrak’s most popular trains because the scenery along the
Pacific coastline is simply bloody awesome! The route follows
the shore from San Diego up to Morro Bay then moves inland as
it rolls up to San Jose and finally, Seattle.

Los Angeles from the window of Amtrak's Coast Starlight

The first hour or so of the trip is within metropolitan
LA, no ocean views here, but we did snag seats on the coast
view side of the train so scenic vistas await.

Amtrak's Silver Splendor

along on the end of our train is the private charter car
“Silver Splendor.” Built in 1956 for the Zephyrs
(our next train) of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy,
it has been revamped as a combination
diner, dome and lounge car available for private excursions on
any of Amtrak’s routes. Old number 4735 has logged over 4.5 million
miles in her 50 plus years of service.

The Coast Starlight by Amtrak

old Southern Pacific Railroad originally ran passenger service
on California‘s coastal route between Los Angeles and San Francisco as The Coast Daylight.

When Amtrak took over in 1971, they
expanded the service to San Diego and Seattle and, in a nod
to the old name, christened it The Coast Starlight.

the Window

12:15 PM First view of the Pacific! Caught a glimpse of the pier where
we first met almost thirty years ago. (Yeah, we stole a kiss as
we sped by!)

Folks on the Train
We asked
a wonderful lady — traveling with a group of Red Hatters —
what happened when she was five hours late getting into Chicago.
Did they have to sleep on the train station floor?

Day Nine – Oakland to Reno

Pulling out of Oakland (Emeryville) California on
the eastbound Zephyr right on time. Amtrak’s California
Zephyr runs the route of the famous Zephyrs of the Burlington
Route, Denver & Rio Grande Western
and Western Pacific lines streamliners of yesteryear.

When service
began in 1949 it was known as “The Most Talked About Train
in America.” We will be crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains
over Donner Pass. Sure hope nobody gets too hungry. San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge are fading into the distance across
the bay.

Just past Martinez California we see “The Mothball
Fleet” in Suisun Bay. Seventy decommissioned warships
have been harbored here since World War II, just in case
of another war.

Out the

Sacramento from Amtrak's California Zephyr

Sacramento California, the state capitol. We’re keeping
our eyes peeled for The Governator, but not really expecting
to catch a glimpse. Perhaps it would take more than blowing
through town on a train… I’ll be back.

WATCH: Veronica Gives a Bathroom Amenity Tour (coach)

Entering Gold Rush Territory. There’s gold in these thar
hills! It’s estimated that one third of California’s gold came
from these parts.

the Window

Donner Lake, California. Yup, THOSE Donners. This lake
is where they got stranded and unlike today, there were no restaurants
in sight. Why not let our onboard guide tell the story?

Reno, Nevada. Known as “The Biggest Little City
in the World.” We’re here for 24 hours — more on Reno

Day Ten – Reno to The Rocky Mountains

Reno Nevada

Reno, Nevada. Known as “The Biggest Little City
in the World” but “Closed for Renovation?”
Not really, we stayed overnight and found some open establishments,
one even had $3 Single Deck Blackjack. Lots of fun without risking
a trip to the poorhouse.

Back on the train headed for Colorado. We will travel
across Utah during the night, passing through Promotory, the
sight of The Golden Spike. The spike marks the spot where on
May 10,1869 the Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines, laying
tracks westward from Chicago and east from San Francisco, met
to form the first transcontinental railroad route.

on the train

Ellis, “The Cafe Guy,” Amtrak’s coolest employee,
shows us around his domain. The Zephyr, like all of Amtrak’s
long haul runs, has both a dining car for complete sit down
meals and a cafe / lounge / dome car for quick snacks.

Day Eleven – The Rocky Mountains

The Rockies from the Dome Car on the Califonia Zephyr

Sunrise in The Rockies. High in Eastern Utah approaching
Helper near the Colorado border. Helper takes its names
from the steam days when “helper” locomotives
were added to trains to help pull them over the mountains.

This will be the most scenic day of our entire 5000 + mile
journey. Many mountains, canyons, rivers, tunnels and
other various vistas to come today.

Castle Gate in The Rockies from the Dome Car on the Califonia Zephyr

Castle Gate.

Out the

Ruby Canyon in The Rockies from the Dome Car on the Califonia Zephyr

10:10 AM Entering Colorful Colorado via Ruby Canyon, one of the
many canyons formed by the Colorado River. There are no
roads here, so these spectacular views are only available
by train or by raft.

Glenwood Canyon, still following the Colorado River as
we climb up toward the continental divide. Since we are stopping
for the night at Winter Park, we will cross the great divide
tomorrow minutes after re-boarding the Zephyr.

The Dome
moved in to the Dome Car and set up camp for this leg of the
trip. The sides and ceiling of the car are covered in ginormous
windows, providing the best sightseeing on the train. Add in
the stacked rocks of the Colorado canyons – bliss.

River Canyon in the Rockies from the California Zephyr Dome Car

Gore Canyon. The last of the Colorado River canyons
on the trip. This remote one thousand-foot deep gorge is another
that can only be seen from the train or the river.

Fraser Canyon. The Fraser River carved out this
canyon and left behind some of the best trout fishing
in all of Colorado.

Day Twelve – Winter Park to Omaha

Winter Park Colorado

having an excellent Italian dinner at Alberto’s and spending
the night in Winter Park, we are ready to climb back aboard
The California Zephyr for our trek down The Rockies and
across The Great Plains.

“washes” her hair with oatmeal
on the train requires some ingenuity. Here’s a hygiene idea!

Out the Window

The California Zephyr in The Colorado Rockies

guide for the day just informed us that we will pass through
forty-two tunnels on our trip across The Rockies. The longest being
the Moffat tunnel at over six miles long.

By digging through
the mountains instead of going over and around, nearly two
hundred miles were cut off of the trip between Denver
and the west coast.

The Front Range of The Colorado Rockies from the California Zephyr

The train running about an hour late is in our favor
today. The late afternoon sun on the Front Range is spectacular.

Even the deer came out for a little train spotting… but
we were too
excited to snap a photo of the big buck watching us go by.

Denver from Amtrak's California Zephyr

Denver, the Mile-High City, is exactly 5,280 feet
above sea level, as measured at the 13th step of the state
capitol building. The other day we were wondering where
the train would refuel, the answer for The Zephyr is…

in Denver.

Day Thirteen – Omaha to Chicago

Out the

Sunrise in Nebraska on the California Zephyr

Sunrise in Nebraska. A little fog hovers over the
corn. Back behind us in Lincoln, the husking has begun.

Omaha Nebraska's Haunted Depot

Omaha, Nebraska. Railroading roots run deep here.
This has been the home of The Union Pacific Railroad, the
largest in the country, since it began back in the mid 1862.

Rumors are floating around the train that the old station
here is haunted, we go in for a first hand look but decide
the stairs up to the depot might
make ghosts of us.

Omaha Nebraska's Haunted Depot

or mortal, we won’t be busting any windows here.

2:50 PM Crossing
the mighty Mississippi at Burlington Iowa. This puts us back into
Illinois and closing in on the end of our odyssey. Just a couple
hundred miles to go, which will put us over five thousand for
the trip. We are feeling them all today. Need. Shower.

Out the Window

Pulling into Chicago on the California Zephyr

Pulling into The Windy City to wrap it up.

states (those big western ones and several twice) in two
weeks equals a couple of fried GypsyNesters. Need. Sleep.


David &

Did you enjoy what you just read? Then you'll LOVE our book!
Going Gypsy: One Couple's Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All Going Gypsy One Couple's Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All - See how it all began!
ORDER NOW - Wherever Books Are Sold!
Amazon - Barnes & Noble - IndieBound - Books-a-Million
Also available as an audiobook from

7 thoughts on “Amtrak 15-Day Rail Pass Live-Blog – Week Two”

  1. Interesting. Seems like it would be VERY useful on, say, a camping trip where water is scarce. Was it just a huge mess of oat flakes everywhere after the brushing process? I think I would be feeling like I had the worst case of dandruff EVER!


    1. Chana
      It wasn’t that big of a mess because we had ground the oatmeal very fine and laid paper down. It brushed out easily, but did leave a “dusty”, but not terrible, trace behind! Lightened my hair for the day, but was WAY better than the stuck-to-my-head grease mess I had going! -Veronica

  2. Fantastic! I could really use a rail trip like this. Would love to have no real destination, but let the journey be the reward.

  3. No restaurants in Donner Pass? Talk about missing an opportunity! One could give names to the various items. Why buy a hamburger, for example, when I could have a "Russell," or why buy pot roast when "James Reed" is on the menu? "Margret Reed Chops": the other other white meat? It would appeal to both cannibals and travelers alike. Genius!

    As for sleeping on the floor of train stations, while I haven't done that I have slept on many a European airport floor. Never did have good timing.

    Glad you two are having an Amtrak-y good time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *