Southwest Chief Travelogue
Part I Westbound Train #3
Kansas City to Los Angeles and Return
By Edward Pentis (Epentis@aol.com)
Monday, August 12, 2002 11:45 P.M. - Kansas City, MO - 1:04 late
I parked my car in the parking garage beneath the station, usually $10 day, but with an Amtrak validation it's $6. This month, the train has been between :36 and 5:30 late, averaging about 2 hours late. The agent had explained that it's because of the freight cars added to the train in Chicago. Sure enough, this one was hauling 14 extra cars. Arrival into the station was 11:20pm, departing 25 minutes later. An announcement was made for sleeping car passengers and boy scouts (a group of 24 bound for Camping Headquarters outside Raton, N.M.) to assemble on the platform, and that a separate announcement would be made later for other passengers. Shortly after the first group went out, everyone else trickled on out trackside and I was the only one left awaiting the announcement that never came. Outside, you couldn't hear what the conductor was saying to those trying to board. I was finally told to which car to proceed, and the attendant put me in a seat near the front of the car, saying I may have to share a seat later, but for now I had two to myself. The car was dark and quiet, and I hauled out my pillow and blanket and soon fell asleep.
Tuesday, August 13, 2002 4:50 A.M. - Newton, KS - 1:11 late
Tuesday, August 13, 2002 5:35 A.M. - Hutchinson, KS - 1:18 late
There was still no light outside at 6:30, being black and rainy outside. At 6:40 I made my way to the dining car, and was seated by myself since it was nearly empty. I had the famous French Toast, of course. But I don't think they soak it in egg and cream for a half hour like the Santa Fe used to for the Superchief French Toast. It was good nonetheless, although it is a la carte, so the $1.50 milk and $2.50 bacon raised the tab to $10.50. But, the linens were on the tables, each adorned with a fresh carnation. I was disappointed that the menu had no "Southwest Chief" theme as the one I remembered from my short trip in '99. It wasn't until I got home and looked at one of Steve's new travelogues that I found out that Amtrak menus are now standardized.
Passed Stafford, KS (identified by a grain elevator on the south side of the tracks) at 6:45. an elevator to the south reading "Gano" at 7, and Kinsley at 7:15. A giant feedlot and grain elevator also appeared on the south side.
On the north side of the tracks, coming into Dodge City, was graffiti on a metal building reading "kill tramps." Must be a big railroad town.
Tuesday, August 13, 2002 7:53 A.M. -Dodge City, KS - 1:57 late
Arriving in Dodge for a 5 minute stop, the depot is boarded up and is being refurbished, just like at the next stop. I got off to join a wagon train here in '99. The station didn't seem to be in too bad a shape back then.
Only by having read the guidebooks would you recognize the two sundials, denoting Central & Mountain Time zones, to the right of the station. (although time change doesn't come until west of Garden City.) Actually, we were at the station for a couple minutes and I didn't immediately recognize the two white pipes sticking in the ground and the stones placed around each one in a circle as sundials. They have plastic orange construction fence around them, so perhaps they, too, are being refurbished. Departing 5 minutes later, we passed the recreation of Front Street, now lined with a picket fence instead of the eight foot high privacy fence which stood for many years. In the '70's there was no fence at all.
8:03 A.M. Santa Fe Trail wagon ruts monument, entrance at stone entryway very visible on north side of tracks.
8:10 A.M. City of Cimarron, identified by grain elevator
8:11 A.M. Warner feedlot on north side.
8:13 A.M. Ingalls, identified by water tower to the north.
8:15 A.M. Ingalls feedlot
8:18 A.M. Charleston (unincorporated) City Limit sign (north.)
8:23 A.M. Pierceville grain elevator (north.)
Tuesday, August13, 2002 8:36 AM - Garden City, KS - 1:56 late
Three minutes for this stop. It is at the same point of refurbishment as the Dodge City depot: the windows are boarded up. In '99 I spent four hours waiting here at Garden City for the eastbound, and the depot was in rather fine shape for a classic old structure…plenty of homey wooden benches you could sleep on, a creaky wooden floor, and a station agent who kept his dog with him overnight in the office area. It's a desolate landscape from here west to Trinidad, the third stop from here.
8:42 A.M. Holcomb water tower. New home development east of town, south side of tracks.
8:48 A.M. Massive feedlot, then Deerfield, KS
8:53 A.M... Very rough track through unidentified, lifeless town. Should be Lakin. Then, another unknown town 14 minutes later. Should have been Kendall.
8:14 A.M. MOUNTAIN DAYLIGHT TIME. Syracuse, KS
8:25 A.M. Coolidge, KS, identified by city limits sign & grain elevator.
8:26:30 Colorado state line, shown by small highway sign to the north.
8:29 A.M. Zip past old depot in Holly, Colorado.
8:34 A.M. Cross Arkansas River. Not much to it.
8:37 A.M. Granada, CO
Tuesday, August 13, 2002 8:52 A.M. MDT - Lamar, CO - 1:55 late.
A one min. stop! West of the depot, as the track crossed the road to the north, there was an antique windmill, "Dempster Mill Mfg. Co., Beatrice, Nebraska 1908."
9:07 A.M. John Martin Dam. A dirt road is the only access to the town in the distance to the north. Must be Caddoa.
9:16 A.M. Ft. Lyon, CO
9:19 A.M. Prison
9:20 A.M. Lifeless Las Animas, identified by water tower.
9:26 A.M. Could be famous Bent's Fort. I'm not sure what it is. Guidebooks say it's supposed to be hard to see. It certainly is.
Tuesday, August 13, 2002 9:38 - 9:54 A.M. MDT - La Junta, CO - :41 late
We take just 16 minutes at this service stop. We've made up more than an hour since the last station due to schedule padding!
10:28 A.M. Farm with airplane in shed, north of tracks.
10:43 Model, CO. Ramshackle building (north), including white adobe-like station aways off.
Tuesday August 13, 2002 11:09 A.M. MDT - Trinidad, CO - :42 late
Approaching Trinidad is like coming to an oasis, with hills, buttes, and vegetation...even trees. Plenty of undisturbed historic buildings, vintage 1900 or so, are everywhere. So many hills it's evident it was a mining town. This is the one thing missed if it's dark on the eastbound run. I could live here. Wyatt Earp even stayed here awhile.
11:20 A.M. Ed's Tavern (north)
11:37A.M. Spanish mission ruins
11:42 A.M. Wooten Ranch (north), with corral built 6 feet high entirely of old car tires; also a restored Santa Fe sign describing to train passengers what they're seeing. Tunnel comes right after the sign.
11:48 A.M. Tunnel
Tuesday, August 13, 2002 12:13 P.M. - Raton, NM - :45 late
We're six minutes in Raton, with its mission style white depot with a three story tower over the main section. Just to the east of the station is the La Castenada Hotel (boarded up except for the saloon), a former Harvey House.
At noon I went into the dining car to have the Reuben sandwich with fruit for $8.50. As Tonto would have said, it was plenty good, Kemosabe. I skipped any extras to keep the tab more reasonable than breakfast.
12:53 P.M. Springer, NM
1:14 P.M. Should be Wagon Mound, the rock formation that looks like horses pulling a wagon. Pioneers going west were able to make this out. I have another passenger help me look, but we just don't recognize it.
1:42 P.M. Watrous, NM On the east end of town are the ruins of Ft. Union. What's left is only 2 stones high, just an outline of the foundation.
Tuesday, August 13, 2002 2:04 P.M. - Las Vegas, NM - :56 late
Some woman remarks, "THIS is Las Vegas?" Another tells her it's Las Vegas, NEW
MEXICO. We're here just two minutes.
2:13 P.M. K.O.A. Kampground just north of tracks.
2:40 P.M. Famous S Curve
2:50 P.M. Pecos River & Mission San Miguel to the north of tracks and down the creek.
Tuesday, August 13, 2002 3:52 P.M. - Lamy, NM - :55 late
It's pronounced LAME-ee, as I found out. We're 3 minutes by a church and a saloon, both boarded-up.
4:05 P.M. Right on the edge of nowhere are two crazily shaped homes, to the north, not too far off. I wasn't even looking for them. Being so outlandish, they jumped out at me on the way back, too.
4:22 P.M Santo Domingo Pueblo: all-adobe homes on the east end of town; beehive shaped ovens (hornos) closest to tracks on west end, along with another Santa Fe tourist information sign.
4:27 San Felipe: church on west end of town. Town features crumbling pueblos and many hornos (those outside ovens.)
4:47 P.M. Sandia Peak comes into view.
Tuesday, August 13, 2002 4:54-5:31 P.M. - Albuquerque, NM - :11 late
As the train pulled up to the platform, there was an Indian playing a flute at a jewelry table. I found out later this was to be our Indian guide from here to Gallup. Detraining, I asked the attendant to point the way to the Burrito Wagon, and I hightailed it over there. The menu board outside the catering truck was exactly the same as it is on the Crew 10 Webpage, which is linked from Trainweb. Mmmmmmm. Delicious, reasonable, real burritos. The $3.50 carne asada was a bit salty, but I really enjoyed the fat chunks of meat. Also got the $3 beef, potato, cheese and chili burrito. Added to that a can of pop and a small pack of pistachios for only an extra $1.75! This Burrito Wagon is the passenger's best friend! (And they take credit cards for orders over $10.) Went and sat down by the bus station, which I understand was built to be the train station but the train never got in there. I was stuffed silly before I got done with the second burrito, and had it later back on the train. .
At some point in the afternoon before Albuquerque it was Happy Hour in the lounge car, when the attendant offered 2 kinds of cocktails. I sucked down a couple $2 pina coladas. It's amazing what they can put in cans these days.
The conductor made the "all aboard" call, and we were back on the train by 5:25, and left 6 minutes later. They always scare you that they're trying to make up time and will leave the station as soon as they can. We were here 37 minutes, although it's scheduled for: 33.
5:47 P.M. Rio Puerco is evident only if you've followed a guide book. Never did notice the Rio Grande River, and I was watching for it. There is actually nothing notable that you can pick out on your own while leaving Albuquerque, and this remains so for an hour. It's a good idea the Indian guide is in the lounge car from Albuquerque to Gallup.
6:22 P.M. Route 66 wooden bridge over the tracks is evident only because there is nothing else around. Didn't see the Kneeling Nuns rock formation that's supposed to be two minutes east of here. Nobody else around me did, either..just the Indian guide. It must be like the constellations. The only one you're sure of is the Big Dipper.
6:42 P.M. Paraje mission, an adobe church, is on the left. I have finished off my bargain pistachios, pop, and 2nd burrito, and have gone ahead to the lounge, to join the Indian guide's narrative. Luckily, there are still some open seats. Fernando is the guide, and he is downstairs on the microphone.
6:46 P.M. Acomita
6:49 P.M. McCarty's Pueblo, with a church high on a bluff to the left, but it is the closest one to the tracks yet. It's so close it goes by too fast for a picture.
6:53 P.M. Now we're gliding by the lava field that's pictured in the Amtrak 2002 Vacation Planner. This you cannot miss.
7:00 P.M. Grants, NM
7:25 P.M. Thoreau, NM Identified by 2 blue & white buildings on the highway by the bridge.
Now our Indian guide has his best story. A lot of Westerns were filmed around here, one of the most notable being the movie that made John Wayne famous, "Stagecoach," in 1939. Navajo Indians were usually used in the movies, and they were expert horsemen. In one scene, John Wayne is shooting at the Indians. But when the director, John Ford, tried to film it, the Indians were not falling off their horses. John Wayne called the Indians to a meeting, and told them there would be a 25 cent bonus to whichever Indians fell off their horses when fired upon. Then the scene was shot again. When John Wayne fired his first shot, all the Indians fell off their horses! That was their little joke on him. And, no, that take of the scene was not used.
7:44 P.M. Pyramid Rock, north of tracks
Tuesday, August 13, 2002 7:55 P.M. - Gallup, NM - :12 late
The sun sets as we're in town. Only 3 minutes are spent here in the Indian capital of the country. In the middle of town on the main street is the El Rancho Hotel, the place all the old movie stars (John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, etc.) stayed while filming in the area. I've had lunch in the modest dining room, but it's the main lobby that is the glorious centerpiece of this hotel. It is the epitome of Southwest atmosphere. If ever you go through town on Route 66, you have to just sit in one of the chairs in the lobby and languish in the surroundings.
7:05 P.M MOUNTAIN STANDARD TIME (Arizona doesn't observe Daylight Savings Time.) With the departure of our Indian Guide, I am guessing this must be the New Mexico/Arizona state line. A truck weigh station is up on the highway.
8:15 P.M MST Holbrook, AZ Approaching town, we crawl through a siding as a freight train passes. We lose 8 minutes. It's pitch dark by now. I pick up a local radio station on the AM dial and hear the live broadcast of a city council meeting.
8:22 P.M. Massive power plant (north)
Tuesday, August 13, 2002 8:44 P.M MST - Winslow, AZ - :20 late
The only activity here is a family of 3 that detrains. There are only some dim lights inside the porch of the depot. You'd think it was the middle of the night.
Tuesday, August 13, 2002 9:44-9:51 P.M. MST - Flagstaff, AZ - :25 late
Certainly a hub of civilization. Lights blaze at this busy depot. I really want to see if I can pick out Grand Canyon Caverns and the giant T-Rex outside (if it's the same thing as Dinosaur City Caverns) between Seligman and Kingman on old Route 66. However, I need sleep and root around until I find a comfortable position in my chair. Even though our door to next car is broken and does not shut, I sleep for 6 ½ hours.
Wednesday, August 14, 2002 4:30 A.M. PDT, same as MST - somewhere in California
Woke up, as have a lot in this car, and went down to the bathrooms to wash. I carry a travel pack of those Wet Ones moist towels. And I make sure I use only a little shampoo on my hair, or it takes forever to get all the suds out. And I always take time to leave the bathroom better than I found it. I'm up only because I'm ready to do so. The passengers have been quiet.
Wednesday, August 14, 2002 5:12 A.M. PDT - Victorville, CA - :54 late
Shortly after leaving the station, a female voice comes over the speaker system. "Conductor, there are still people on the train." Later, a male attendant is heard from behind the vestibule door, ¾ car away in the back, "Why didn't you come down?" This is in answer to some loud protests from a female passenger.
5:15 A.M It is getting faintly light, with desert vegetation becoming visible.
6:00 A.M It's light enough to finally read. It is misty in the pre-dawn.
6:05 A.M. Grain elevator.
Wednesday, August 14, 2002 6:17-6:27 A.M. - San Bernardino, CA - :55 late
San Bernardino depot is boarded up for renovation.
6:30 A.M. SUNRISE
Going through the San Bernardino freight yards, a local man points out all the sea/land containers on the freight cars. Among them is COSCO. There are certainly at lot of them. And then I am told why. It's the Chinese Overseas Shipping Company.
6:37 A.M. Colton depot to the west.
6:38 A.M. Old Riverside depot with iron bars on the windows.
Wednesday, August 14, 2002 6:40-6:53 A.M. - Riverside, CA - :61 late
New Riverside depot, recently opened.
7:18 A.M West Corona, CA transit station.
7:37 A.M. Anaheim, CA at the intersection of Miller & Orangethorpe.
7:37:30 Placentia, CA
Wednesday, August 14, 2002 7:40-7:52 A.M. - Fullerton, CA - 1:13 late
There are all the Trainweb umbrellas outside the depot.
8:13 A.M Crossing a concrete channel.
8:20 A.M. Giant railyard: West Hobart. Sign says "Begin CTC." Central Traffic Control.
8:23 A.M. Los Angeles River cement canal
Wednesday, August 14, 2002 8:31 A.M. -Los Angeles, CA - :09 EARLY
39015 Transition Sleeper
34093 Coach (ours)
14 freight cars