Amtrak's California Zephyr
Emeryville to the Great Central Valley
Once dubbed the "most talked about train in America", our journey on the California Zephyr begins in Emeryville, just after the western terminus in San Francisco. On leaving Emeryville, we cross the shallow tidal estuary that forms the northern extension of San Francisco Bay. Across the strait is the California Maritime Academy, and on the Solono County side is the former Mare Island Naval Shipyard - the first such facility on the West Coast. We pass through Martinez, and at Suisun Bay, we can see on the right a 70-ship fleet of decommissioned warships, kept afloat since World War II in case of another war. Travelling through Suisun Marsh, the Montezuma Hills are visible from the northern banks of the river. These are known for their wind energy resource potential; there is a windfarm here which boasts turbines up to 415 feet tall. Our next stop is in Davis, which has a 1913 adobe-style railway station listed as an historic landmark. After this we reach the Great Central Valley - the large, flat valley that dominates the central portion of the state. Outside the windows we can see the Yolo Basin, which produces one billion pounds of rice annually.
Sacramento into Utah
We then reach the capital of California, Sacramento, where we can see the remnants of the Southern Pacific's locomotive shops on approach. We later pass through Auburn, known for being part of the gold rush. On the left we can see a firehouse, which was built in 1888 and housed the first voluntary department west of Boston. We call at Colfax, and then our train begins to cross the Sierra Nevada Range. We see Cape Horn on the right, some 1,500ft above the American River, before we journey over the Long Ravine Bridge, which provides one of the first clear views of the Sierras in the distance to the right. Before too long we cross Interstate 80. There are two cascade lakes actually above the train here, and their runoff flows beneath the tracks under two bridges. The California Zephyr stops in Reno in the evening, and as night falls, the train continues on into Utah and through Salt Lake City. We also pass alongside some of the region's imposing mountains, such as the 11,000ft Mount Timpanagos on the left as we travel through Geneva.
In the morning, we cross over the Utah/Colorado State Line as our train continues eastwards. Here the scenery becomes truly spectacular as we journey over the 12.5-mile gorge at Glenwood Canyon, followed closely by the short Gore Canyon. This particular gorge is 1,000ft above the river, meaning that it can only be crossed by rail. Shortly after this, the California Zephyr travels through Granby and into the stunning Rocky Mountain National Park. We make our way through the 6.2-mile Moffat Tunnel, a feat of engineering that cuts our journey by 176 miles, before we reach Denver. Known as the Mile-High City because of its elevation above sea level, Denver is the final calling point for some of our journeys, and the boarding station for others.
From Denver to Chicago
Leaving Denver behind in the evening, the first main point is the Colorado/Nebraska State Line. Here the clocks go forward one hour. We pass through Lincoln, Nebraska's state capital, after night falls. After this, our train passes alongside a part of the Platte River, which is over 300 miles long. After a stop in Omaha in the morning, we pass Offutt Air Force Base on the right. This was where two B-29 Superfortress bombers were built which were then used to drop atomic bombs on Japan, and shortly after this our train crosses the Nebraska/Iowa State Line. At the same time, we cross the Missouri River. Our next stop is at Creston, so called because it is the highest point on the railway between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. We then make the descent to the Iowa/Illinois State Line, shortly before the enormous Mississippi River appears beneath us. Our train calls at Galesburg and Naperville before arriving at Chicago, Illinois' largest city, and the industrial core of the Midwest.