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Amtrak Desert Wind Travelogue
by David Betowski

I have traveled the Desert Wind three times before--all in different legs. I traveled the Desert Wind from Las Vegas to Denver in 1994 and from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City in`96 and from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in `96 also. However, for your convenience I have consolidated the information from these three trips into one big trip from L.A. to Denver.

I stroll through the foyer of the Union Passenger Terminal in Los Angeles. The station is Spanish Deco with the tones of the Southwest--light red and brown along with many ceramic tiles. The station is probably one of the most beautiful stations in the west coast. Today the train is running half an hour late--it is still in the yard. To save time the conductor designates a separate car for passengers traveling to Las Vegas. Finally the train rolls in and we start boarding. When I traveled the Desert Wind in `94, the train was comprised of one genesis locomotive, an ex-Santa Fe Coach Dorm, a Dining Car which half doubled as a lounge, three or four Superliner Coaches (one of which held the baggage), and a sleeper at the very back. Today the train consists of a Genesis locomotive as the lead engine with one or two F40's as "slave engines," a Heritage Baggage Car, a Transition Sleeper, three Sleepers, a Dining car, Sightseer Lounge, and three to four Coaches at the end.

The Desert Wind pulls out of the station at the normal pulling out speed. We are going through an Amtrak yard which I should say is probably a graveyard for old Superliners and Heritage Cars, many of them have busted windows. We then pass over a graffiti decorated flood canal--the Los Angles River. There is hardly any water in the river. At the same speed that we started with, we arrive in Fullerton. After Fullerton the train picks up speed and passes through the industrial suburbs of L.A. This route runs parallel to I-15 so there is not that much exciting scenery, just houses. After stopping in San Bernardino the trains heads for the Cajon Pass. This is a group of mountains formed by the San Andreas Fault. There is snow on many of the mountains and for about 365 days per year this pass is covered with low lying clouds. Going up the pass is not as exciting as going down. I decided to take a nap. After Victorville we head to Barstow. Barstow is a town probably surviving on the railroads. It is a major hub for freight traffic in Southern California. I was surprised to see that the switching yard is very clean. It is not a graveyard and there is no spilled fuel on the ground. The ground is covered with adobe colored stones. Beyond Barstow you may start to see hundreds of camouflage vehicles. This area is a training area for the Marine Corps. We pass a coal power plant and also a solar power plant.

We passed through some natural canyons, which drivers on I-15 never get to see. To the right is a hole-in-the-ground town named Nipton. This is where Las Vegas residents would drive to to purchase California State Lottery Tickets. Now there is a convenience store on the California/Nevada border. To your left you may start to see some greenery. This is a golf course that is part of one of the hotel-casinos on the California/Nevada border. At the border is a town named Stateline. It consists of three hotel-casinos--one looks like a castle, another like a Southern Mansion, and the other resembles a western town. The latter has a roller coaster that is said to have the highest drop in the world--probably the highest rate of regurgitation among the people who ride it as well. We pass two other hotels. Tourists driving from California at night probably think that that is Las Vegas.

Fifty miles later we are in Las Vegas. The station in Las Vegas is actually a hotel that was built over the old depot by the Union Pacific Railroad. This hotel has seen better days and is known as one of the smokiest casinos in Vegas. In front of that hotel is Fremont Street. The center of Las Vegas, or what was once the center of Las Vegas. The center seems to be "The Strip" instead. (Note that there is no relation in "The Strip" to the function of the removal of clothes for entertainment.) Fremont Street is now a pedestrian mall and is covered with a glass canopy containing two million light bulbs which is used at night to create a light show. After Las Vegas the train passes by a structure that resembles a large concrete bowl. That is actually the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The train passes through an area which resembles a quarry--in fact the passengers in the Sightseer Lounge thought it was an archaeological sight. It is actually Las Vegas's landfill. The tracks run parallel to the Muddy River--the river is semi-dry right now. There has not been a significant rainfall in southern Nevada for quite some time. There Indian writing on the walls surrounding the river and there is quite a few cows which are probably used to make minute steaks. After the movie we are now in Caliente. On the station platform in Caliente is some weird scientific equipment. That is used for monitoring radiation from the Nevada Test Site. The test site is not close by but Caliente is in the path of eastern winds from the test site. However, nuclear testing has been defunct for four years now.

I woke up in the middle of the night when the train stopped in Milford. The schedule says that Milford is the closest to Cedar City. Cedar City is only about four hours away. So I guess that the automobile has the monopoly in transportation from Las Vegas to Cedar City. The train is stopped int the center of town. Milford appears to be a Route 66 type town that has old fashioned soda fountain drug stores. The Philips gas station next door to the depot seconds that. Shortly after Milford we pass our counterpart train--the west bound Desert Wind. When you pass your counterpart, the counterpart does not seem to look like its counterpart. I guess that two short trains going at the same speed do not look alike. The train is passing through what look like oil refineries. You may be puzzled because there is no oil in Salt Lake City. They are actually plants which extract halogens from the lake, such as chlorine.

We have now arrived in Salt Lake City. We are earlier than expected so we must wait for the arrival of the California Zephyr. Outside workers are carrying lanterns and cables and hoses. After the arrival of the California Zephyr a switching engine connects the two trains. There is more that can be said about this trip, however, you can find it under the listing for the Zephyr.

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