- 25 Elko (ELK)
- 26 Winnemucca (WNN)
- 27 Reno (RNO)
- 28 Truckee (TRU)
- 29 Colfax (COX)
- 30 Roseville (RSV)
- 31 Sacramento (SAC)
- 32 Davis (DAV)
- 33 Martinez (MTZ)
- 34 Emeryville (EMY)
Starting in Chicago, at 580 feet above sea level, westbound passengers first journey through the fertile countryside of Illinois, Iowa and eastern Nebraska known as “America’s Breadbasket”. Somewhere in the middle of the night in central Nebraska, this bucolic scenery changes to the high plains cattle country vistas that will greet you at breakfast time in eastern Colorado. Take a periodic glance to the west and watch for the Rocky Mountains to appear on the horizon. At the very base of the Rockies, at 5,280 feet above sea level, is the capitol city of Colorado, Denver.
Just west of the Mile High City you’ll begin your ascent up the “Big Ten Curve” into the Rocky Mountains. Take a look back down at Denver when you get to Plainview just past Tunnel No. 1. This is as close as you’ll come to flying on this trip! In the next 6 or 7 miles, you’ll pass through 25 more tunnels in the 28-tunnel “Tunnel District” on your way to the Moffat Tunnel. When you pass beneath the Continental Divide in this 6.2 mile long tunnel, you will have reached the highest elevation on the route at the tunnel’s apex which is about 9,270 feet above sea level. As you pass through the tunnel note that the highest railroad ever constructed in the US is somewhere up above you on Rollins pass at over 11,000 feet in elevation.
Just after exiting the Moffat Tunnel, look off to the left (facing the direction of train travel… “port side” for you midshipmen) for a view of the Winter Park ski area. If Winter Park is your destination, you’ll get off at Fraser just a few miles up the track. If you’re staying on board with us, we’ll join up with the Colorado River just west of Granby, CO in about 1/2 hour and travel along side of it for the next 260+ miles for one of the most storied portions of the route. You’ll travel through the Gore Canyon (where only trains, wildlife, and the craziest of kayakers travel), the “Moon River” portion of the Colorado River in Eagle County, Glenwood Canyon, Glenwood Springs (the closest stop to Aspen), Grand Junction, and the gorgeous Ruby Canyon where the Colorado River says goodby as we enter Utah.
The first westbound stop in Utah is Green River where you can deboard if Arches National Park is your destination. From there, the Zephyr heads north past Transportation Mountain to Helper, Utah, crosses the Wasatch (without help) on its way to Provo and reaches Salt Lake City around midnight. At many times of the year it’s better to take the eastbound Zephyr that heads south through the Wasatch during daylight hours if you’d like to see that scenery. The trip in both directions across the Bonneville Salt Flats between Salt Lake City and Winnemucca, Nevada is at night. If you wake up in the middle of the night going really slow, you may be traversing Arnold Loop near Silver Zone Pass a few miles northeast of Wendover, Utah in Nevada. High desert lovers will enjoy the trip between Winnemucca and Reno. Ray always seems to miss the “all aboard” call in Reno and needs to wait until the next day to get to where he’s going. They will leave without you!
The next jewel you’ll encounter is the portion of the route between Reno and Sacramento through the High Sierra. From Reno, you’ll follow the Truckee River to Truckee, CA, which is a short hop, skip and jump from Lake Tahoe and the numerous outdoor activities and resorts in the area. Get out your camera for the trip up and down “The Hill” (Donner Pass) through many snowsheds and tunnels. You will likely be treated to an informative dissertation on the history of the area by volunteers from the California State Railroad Museum as you ascend over the pass. You’ll get some great shots of Donner Lake below on the way. Heading down the western slope of the Sierra between Donner and Sacramento, make sure to get a good view of the American River Canyon which is more than 1500 feet below the track. You’ll meet up with the American River again in Sacramento on your way into town.
You’re sure to enjoy the lush California greenery on your trip down into the Sacramento Valley through California Gold Rush country after spending a couple of days in the desert, mountains and plains. Once you get to Sacramento, make sure to stop off at the California State Railroad Museum which is one of the best in the country. It’s only a block or so from the depot. In Sacramento, you may catch the Coast Starlight or one of the many California Regional trains that service the State or stay on board and head into the San Francisco Bay Area… an adventure in itself! By the way, the elevation of San Francisco varies between 0 and 925 feet above sea level.
The rail travel distance from Chicago to Emeryville is about 2,440 miles and takes over 2 full calendar days to complete… the rail travel time is a little over 52 hours.