Monday, June 21, 2010

Climbing the Rockies Aboard the California Zephyr

And away we go!

Just starting the climb out of Denver.   One of the really nice things was as we left Denver, Trails to Rails Narrators got on and rode in the Observation Car to Grand Junction, Colorado.  They pointed out the history of building the Moffat Tunnel, showed us what pine beetle kill was, and were very enjoyable.  They added a lot to the trip! At one point we passed a long row of old coal cars filled with dirt and they said they were there as wind-breaks for the trains as in that particular area the wind would gust to 100 mph and blow the train off the track!
Looking back at Denver as we start to climb higher.  This was pretty close to where we encountered the coal car windbreaks.

Getting Higher!!  See the Windmills in the distance?

Slide Wires
As we started into the steeper parts of the mountains we began to notice telegraph-looking wires running along side the train on the uphill side.  Sometimes there was only one, sometimes two like in the picture, and sometimes a whole fence of them with wires even over the top of the train.  The Trails to Rails narrators told us they were slide detection wires.  If an avalanche breaks a wire, or disturbs it, it signals dispatch that there was a possible avalanche (rocks or snow) in the area and the tracks need to be checked before the train goes over them.  That is how they prevent the train from derailing and going over the side of the mountain.  
When the signal is received, dispatch notifies the train and the locomotive stops before they get to that area and the engineer (or somebody) gets off and walks several miles to make sure the railroad track is okay.  And sure enough, we had to stop for a while so they could check the track.  We were okay but in May of 2010 they had a major rockslide and the train had to back all the way to Denver, where the passengers were put on buses and taken to Glenwood Springs to get back on a train.

There were a LOT of tunnels going over the continental divide.  Something like 43 of them with the six mile Moffat Tunnel being the largest at six miles.  Course when you are IN a Tunnel it's DARK so NO PHOTOS. HA  The Moffat Tunnel was built in the late 1800's and before that all the trains had to go through southern Wyoming on the Union Pacific and over the much more gentle grade where I-80 runs now.

Speaking of grades, have you ever wondered how Butch Cassidy and his gang could rob a train from horseback?  It's simple, a train cannot pull a very steep grade and when it encounters one it goes really slow.  REALLY SLOW.  My grandmother could have robbed one.

Snow on the peaks as we approach the Continental Divide.

Another spectacular View!
We rode over the Rockies in the Observation Car and you can really see out from those cars but the view out your own coach window is not bad either.      Next installment, we head down the Rockies to Glenwood Springs Canyon, and on to Grand Junction and the Ruby Valley.


  1. Some day I want to ride the train. I really do.


  2. Oh I am enjoying your train ride..I have taken the train from Minnesota to Seattle and then to Portland OR one time..I love the train and all it's characters. I hope you packed your own snacks! Yes take your own pillow, and a blanket too..especially in the winter it can be very cold.:)

  3. We did have some snacks but mostly we ate in the Dining car. The food was good and I thought not unreasonably priced considering it was on the train. We met a lot of nice people in the dining car. They seat you with other people to get every table full. We also met some really nice people in the observation car. Chestine & I are planning our train trip for next summer already! We had a blast.