As I detailed in my recent review of Amtrak's California Zephyr service, the absolute best thing about my journey was the opportunity to see some amazingly beautiful vistas and landscapes as I road the rails through the American West. I was truly stunned by many of the sights that passed by my window as I slowly made my way from the coast of California back to my home in Chicago. Whether it was the desert landscapes of western Utah or the snowy mountain tops of the Rockies of Colorado, there really wasn't a dull moment along the route. Even the endless farm fields of Nebraska and Iowa were a delight in the early morning twilight of soft sun and misty dew.
The journey runs a staggering 52 hours. It's really a testament to the beauty of the route that during my time on board I never once looked out my window and regretted my decision to take the slow route back home. Of course I spent time reading books (I finished three!) and listening to podcasts along the way, but any time I took a break from a narrative or gazed out the window while listening to banter on my earbuds there was something that tickled my traveler's delight. While the charm of slow travel that is inherent to a rail journey with Amtrak is reason enough to consider a trip, I think the real gem provided by these long distance routes is the stunning scenery you get along the way. These trains plow through some of America's most out of the way and stunningly gorgeous landscape. Boston, Los Angeles, and Miami are great but let's not forget that places like Montana, Idaho, and North Dakota are less visited but hold some true gems of Americana.
The following is a picture essay detailing my trek along the California Zephyr's entire length - from the outskirts of San Francisco all the way up to the terminus at Chicago's Union Station. I was traveling light due to warnings about the amount of space available for baggage so these were all taken with my iPhone as I made the decision to leave my DSLR at home. Also, these were snapped from a moving train through thick window glass that wasn't exactly the cleanest. Some of the photos have rain drops dotting the frame or blurry foregrounds due to the speed of the train. If those are issues for you - meh, sorry?
I'm going to do my best to present each photo chronologically, but I didn't exactly take copious notes as I traveled because that's not really the type of person I am and also it would interfere with the enjoyable, relaxing slow travel vibe I was cultivating.
So here we go folks - all aboard and take your seats. Let's ramble down some of America's rails!
Later afternoon sunlight glow over farmland while riding through California's Central Valley.
Sunset arrives over a big rig truck making it's way through the Nevada desert.
Sunrise over the flat mesa tops near Crescent Junction, Utah.
Storm clouds gathering as we enter into Colorado and start moving toward the start of the Rocky Mountains.
Bright yellow and red Union Pacific train cars against a gloomy sky in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Rafters make their way down the Colorado River while fishing.
The Colorado River cutting through the mighty Rocky Mountains as we head into the peaks of Colorado.
Sunset arriving on the snowcapped peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
Industrial work being done on the way down the Rocky Mountains toward Denver. Factories and large business operations were some of the most common rights other than stunning landscapes along the route and while it seems a bit odd, I actually thought the contrast between nature and humanity's industrial might was strangely complimentary and quite beautiful at times.
Red rock cliffsides along a river as we get closer to Denver, Colorado.
Sunset over the city of Denver on our way out toward Nebraska.
If you follow me on Instagram you'll know I'm a big fan of graffiti art. The trip on the California Zephyr had quite a bit of it along the route and also on various rail cars we passed throughout the journey.
Sunrise early in the morning in the western half of Iowa.
The staircase exit I took from Chicago's Union to meet my Uber for the short trip back to my house.