Richmond's Own (but unowned) Website

My second night of sleep on the train wasn’t all that bad. Not the best, but not the worst either. I think I’m getting used to the train! Though it would have been more comfortable if I had been able to get two seats to myself! (Or know the person next to me well enough).

I ate breakfast in the snack car; all the bagels were gone – eaten by the older folks who had all woken up earlier, according to the snack car lady! I settled for a breakfast sandwich – not all that dissimilar to frozen microwaveable breakfast sandwiches at school at Nasties, but I digress.  I spent a lot of time in the observation car that day.  I tried using my laptop for a while, but the train shaking was too much for my hard disk protection message which kept popping up. Across the table from where I was sitting, I met a woman from Minnesota who was on a 30 day rail pass, travelling across the country! 30 states and DC, going on practically every Amrak route! It sounded very exciting, and I’d love to be able to do something like that myself someday! Also at our table was a girl from Kansas who was travelling to LA. I later found out that the woman traveling the whole country was sitting in the seat behind me!

When we got to La Junta, Colorado, National Park Service volunteers came on board to the observation car, to give a commentary about the scenery we were seeing outside. They talked about the Santa Fe Trail, as well as some of the histories of the towns (and ghosttowns) that we passed by!

I felt very sad as we passed by boarded up stations and areas with overgrown tracks – lasting symbols of what used to be a greater age of rail.  It’s a shame that rail travel is not as popular in the US as it is in other countries, and it’s sad seeing the old infrastructure getting lost to time. At the same time, the train trip has given me a greater appreciation of how vast this great country is – and how far I am away from home too.  Air travel is nice, but it belies how far away I am from home – I can be home in just 14 hours.  This trip gave me a greater appreciation of what past Americans had to do to cross the country, by train, and by wagon and horseback before that.

There was a lot of nature to see also – besides cow, there were wild horses too! I think I spied a roadrunner in Arizona as well.  It was also great seeing how the landscape changed – from Kansas farmland, into southern Colorado plains then mountains, and ponderosa forests. We got to go through a tunnel too! But one of the most beautiful views was from the back of the train, watching the tracks run behind us.

Tracks, somewhere in Colorado or New Mexico
As for me, after some time in the observation car, I tried to call into Ithaca for a conference call, but unfortunately cell coverage in the middle of New Mexico isn’t all that great. After that, I went about reading my copy of Wednesday’s New York Times – probably the last chance I had to read a paper version of the Times until I’m back at school in fall. It was nice to be able to read (almost!) the entire paper – a luxury that I usually don’t have time for.

We stopped in Albuquerque, New Mexico later for about an hour (we got in early), and got to walk about. The station was nice, and new – there was an older boarded up building with warning signs for asbestos. There were some stands with locals selling trinkets and souvenirs out on the side of the platform, as well as a place inside to eat. I bought a sandwich to eat later as well. There were also people who found a nearby Burger King, though I didn’t really venture that far outside of the station myself.

Outside of Albuquerque Station
Inside of (what I believe is a new) Albuquerque Station
One thing I noticed about the train was just how great it was for my eyes! School has been straining, especially during finals week – trapped in 20x20 rooms, or even smaller 5x5 rooms, staring at nothing except my computer screen and my books – it was quite stressful on my eyes! It was very relaxing to just look out to the horizon as far as I could see, and look beyond what was right in front of me.
There was a crying, teething baby in the coach, so I decided to walk around the train for a little while. I went into the snackcar and saw the same girl from Kansas who I had met earlier in the day. We sat and talked for a while, which was really nice! As we moved through New Mexico, dark stormclouds came and we passed through some rain, but we got a decent sunset!

As night fell, we entered Arizona, we stopped in Flagstaff, which was slow. There were a lot of people boarding and getting off of the train, but we had to load and unload car by car, so we inched up one at a time. It was a long process for us, but we blocked the road, and I’m sure it felt a lot longer for the cars stuck at the crossing! 

My seatmate got off, but I got a new seatmate too! We talked a lot, he was a cool dude. He’s Malaysian and goes to school in Flagstaff – we talked about schools, some politics, futures, etc. He was off to visit friends in California. We also passed by Williams Junction – probably the saddest station on the line! Though to be honest, it’s a few miles outside of Williams, and as I learned on Wikipedia, there is no public access; the only way to get there is via a shuttle bus, which takes you to a “real” station in Williams, where there is another railroad. When we got there in the middle of the night, there was a concrete pad, a van sitting idle, an Amtrak sign saying Williams Junction, and 2 lights. I was watching from the observation car, and could see the light from the 2 lamps illuminating the sign and concrete, before quickly fading into the blackness.  And, as we pulled away from the stop, the lights turned off, and all that was left were the taillights of the van! Seems like a scary place to me. But I’m sure it looks great in the daytime!

Blocking traffic in Flagstaff
Williams Junction station...light fading into darkness
In the morning, I woke up in San Bernardino, as we made our way toward Los Angeles. As we were pulling into Los Angeles Union Station, I met the man sitting across the aisle from me – who I had noticed during the trip had insightfully brought a blindfold for sleeping. It turns out that he teaches at Colgate! Nearby in New York – a friendly acquaintance! It was nice meeting him, though I wish I had met him earlier! He might have even been on the first train too! 

We finally pulled into Union Station – I forgot that Los Angeles has outdoor platforms! Most other large big city stations are underground. I found my parents, claimed my luggage (after a long wait!) and climbed into the car to go home!

LA Union Station
It was a great trip, and I had a wonderful time on Amtrak. If anyone has the time, it’s a pretty affordable option, and provides an incredible experience!

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