Bob Burns Summer 2002 Rail Travelogue - Part 3
American Orient Express
Awoke a bit late around 7:00 a.m. and had the continental breakfast which was included in the cost of the room. This is an older hotel that has been renovated to modern standards, but you can tell it is different by the very high ceilings and hallways. Even the stair case is huge and can easily accommodate four persons abreast. Afterwards Ray and I went to FedEx so that he could send his photo diskettes to his office.
From here we went to Pike Place Market, a large open market with a wide variety of products for sale. I purchased a bottle of blueberry vinegar to bring home. A popular place, if the size of the crowd was any indicator. I stayed for about 20 minutes and then left Ray at the market as I wanted to take the Underground Tour.
This fascinating tour is taken in the lower level of the city, as it was left, at the turn of the century. When the city burned in 1900, it was decided to build the city at least 10 feet higher to compensate for the tidal waters and the sewage problems. Several artifacts still remain from this time period including the original sidewalk. It almost feels as if you have stepped back in time.
After the tour, Ray and I went to our next hotel, the Westin. I always enjoy my stays at Westin Hotels.
At 7:00 p.m. we attended a reception and meal for the tour group, passengers of the American Oriental Express (AOE), where we received our name tags and we chatted with some of the other guests.
Awoke at 6:00 a.m. and had our breakfast buffet in the same conference room we met in the previous evening. After meeting more passengers for this trip we returned to our room to have our bags ready. AOE ensured that our bags would be taken from our room and placed on our bus. AOE had arranged for the passengers to be taken on a tour of the city by bus and then a dinner boat for lunch. Following this they would be brought to the train. Unfortunately, Ray and I were unable to join the other passengers as we had to get to the train early in order to allow Ray sufficient time and lighting to take the virtual reality photos of the interior of the train.
When we arrived at the rail yard, we were greeted by the Train Master, Ken Ward, who let us on the train. My first impression of the train was the luxury with its fine wood paneling and furniture, from a bygone era in which people knew how to travel in style and comfort.
Later we met Marvin Melson, the Hotel Manager and senior crew chief on board the train. By the end of this trip, considering the manner in which he dealt with all the details and issues that came up while attending to the wants and needs of all the passengers, I felt he should be named Marvelous Melson. The professionalism he demonstrated throughout the trip made me realize the degree to which AOE is serious of their passengers' enjoyment in their rail experience.
After the passengers boarded after lunch, Ray and I found our room, room D in the Vienna car, and stowed our luggage. Afterwards I went to the observation car and chatted with some of the passengers and watched as the train slowly left the city and traveled up the coast to Everett, Washington.
From here the train traveled east through the green forests, farmlands and by a river. Approximately forty miles later the train entered a mountainous region and then through the longest train tunnel in the U.S. (Cascade Tunnel, at 7.9 miles). During the 20-minute trip through the tunnel, passengers were requested to not pass between cars, as this would allow diesel fumes to enter the train.
Once inside the mountain range the scenery changed. No more green forests, just bare ground and sage brush. However, there were large orchards there that are watered by irrigation.
Later I sat with Alex Fisher, a trucker from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada who would be taking three AOE trips, this one and two more in the fall. Besides being a rail fan, Alex is also an amateur photographer carrying two 35 mm cameras and a box of film rolls almost all the time. We often shared the open doors to take pictures of the passing scenery. Later, Alex was my dinning companion for supper, when he spoke of his interesting past.
That night, when the train was parked in Spokane, WA, the passengers ended the evening by watching Fourth of July fireworks. Tomorrow we would be entering the Mountain Time Zone so we were informed to turn our watches ahead one hour.
Woke up around 7:00 a.m. and prepared myself as best I could in a moving train and then went for a delicious breakfast.
Today we are going to the Glacier National Park with a deboarding time of 8:45 a.m. With a predicted high of 78 degrees, in an elevated area, and with my limited knowledge of glaciers, I decided to dress as warm as possible by wearing a thick Irish sweater with a wind breaker. One can always remove excess clothing if it is too warm, but if it is too cold, you can't add clothes you didn't bring. Needless to say I didn't need all that much, perhaps I'm a bit more used to this temperature than my fellow passengers.
When the train stopped at West Glacier, Montana, we got onto the two tour buses provided. Our driver, a member of the nearby Black Feet Reservation, claimed his name his native name translated into "Sweet Heart" in English. Whether that is true or not, I didn't know, however, I felt it represented his personality. His dry humor and knowledge of the terrain added significantly to our enjoyment of the trip.
Our first stop was at Lake MacDonald where passengers had an opportunity to stretch their legs, and if they so desired, take a photo of this very long, narrow and picturesque lake. When our bus started again it followed the Going to the Sun Road to the Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail. From the parking lot, visitors followed the trail by walking on a wooden sidewalk that is raised to protect the flora. The air is noticeably cooler and more humid, which may be caused by the high canopy of the trees. The trail leads to several scenic places including a large snow-covered mountain and swift moving rapids. It felt like one was in the deep forest totally absorbed in the many faces of Mother Nature. The path eventually leads back to the parking lot where I was one of the last to return.
Our next leg of the journey was to Logan Pass where we left the dark forest green to travel up into the open sunny mountain sides. While the road was very steep and not very wide, I had complete trust in the driver. Traveling higher and higher increased the distance that we could see and it was truly beautiful in the bright cloudless sky. After a certain height, it seemed unusual to see snow on both sides of the road, especially in July. Sitting in a window seat on the bus, one gets a very good vertical view of the mountain slope; basically, one is at the edge. However, if you are busy with a camera or the view, you don't take notice of it.
Just before entering the Logan Pass Visitor Center, the bus stopped to allow us to see and photograph a family of white mountain goats resting beside the road. Then the bus pulled into the Visitor Center and everyone got out for a well-deserved stretch and use of the comfort station if necessary. The area is white with either snow or an ice field. The view, on this sunny day, is excellent, especially when it is over 6,600 feet. My mind's eye still retains the deep blue of the sky, the green of the mountain slopes and valleys, and the white peaks.
After 30 minutes we left the Center and started down the narrow road to Green Lake, which on this day I thought would have been more accurate to call it Windy Lake. There was quite a breeze, however, that didn't deter several passengers from taking pictures of this lovely spot surrounded by mountains. We then resumed our trip down to Saint Mary Lake, a very long and wide lake surrounded by much smaller mountains,ending at a place called Saint Mary.
Today's lunch would be served at the Snowgoose Grille in Saint Mary in a structure built of logs. The dining room was large enough to seat all AOE passengers as well as other visitors at the same time. I had the pleasure of sitting with Lonnie and Kathleen Harpool from Sebring, Florida. From our conversation, it turns out that Lonnie and I have a similar working background which is buying for the government. After the lovely lunch, passengers had an opportunity of touring the adjacent souvenir shop before boarding the bus for the return trip to the train.
Our trip to East Glacier, Montana brought a change of scenery again, back to the dry prairie landscape and scrub brush. We arrived at the train shortly before supper and I went to my room to put my things away before joining the others for another superb evening meal.
The train proceeded to Sandpoint, Idaho where it would be parked overnight.
Today would be a day of rail travel only. In the morning I attended Jim Porter's lecture on "Romance of the Rails - Why People Love Trains". I was very impressed by his encyclopedic knowledge of the railway and sharing his insights with the audience. Jim later held a "Great American Orient Express Trivia Contest", however, my knowledge in this area is insufficient to compete with the other passengers so I didn't attend.
Later in the day, the souvenir shop opened for those interested passengers and judging by the crowd present, there was a strong interest. At the same time, Bonnie, the pianist, was present to autograph her CDs. I spent part of the day in the observation car located at the end of the train where I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of two charming ladies, a southern belle by the name of Beverly Ryland from Alexandria, VA, and her friend, Jean Wong, from Riverside, CA. Fortunately for me, our paths were to cross on other occasions during the trip, as they made interesting traveling companions.
In addition, I had the opportunity of meeting Daniel Calvez and his charming wife Odette. This couple, originally from France, have been living in the States for many years and I used this opportunity to use my limited French. Monsieur Calvez was most diplomatic in my attempt to communicate to him in his mother tongue. Oh well, practice makes perfect.
In addition, I also had the pleasure of meeting Walter Erley, with whom I chatted on different subjects including his time spent at Pearl Habor during the war.
I took the later seating for supper and sat with Walter, Jim Porterfield and my brother Ray. While the dinner table conversation was lively, at times it did slow down, testimony to the excellence of the meal, but then who could complain about that.
I would also want to mention my admiration for the staff on board that took care of all our needs. I was impressed with their deportment while under such trying conditions. I didn't see an instance where the train would make a sudden swerve and the dining car staff would drop anything or hit anyone. Whereas for myself not being used to this movement, I found myself doing a quick twist or bend to counter a sudden movement by the train and thereby giving the appearance of an inebriated person. The staff always had a smile and a pleasant disposition, whether it was a regular day or under trying conditions. They even presented a cake to Mr. and Mrs. Calvez to celebrate their wedding anniversary. They are an important part of this rail experience.
That evening the train parked in Helena, Montana for the night and the passengers enjoyed a quiet and restful sleep.
After an early rise and a shave, I went for another wonderful breakfast. Our bus left at 9:45 a.m. and it started with a short tour of Helena, Montana, the capital city of this state.
When the bus left the city limits, the countryside was basically flatlands interspersed with rock formations that the highway cut through. Just before lunch our buses pulled into the Collins Mansion, a Victorian mansion that had been renovated a couple of years ago. A very impressive structure where the owners went through a lot of effort to bring out the original beauty of this home. After I finished lunch I tried to capture in pictures the bright and attractive upstair rooms.
From here our group headed by bus to Rainbow Falls, which the Lewis and Clark expedition had passed. We then continued to the Lewis and Clark Interpretation Center. The exhibits are so extensive that I could have spent the whole day there. There is an introductory film about their expedition, after which I attended one of the most interesting history lectures I have ever heard. It truly is an education to spend time there. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and we then headed off to the C.M. Russell Museum Complex.
Charlie Russell was a turn of the century western cowboy artist, who is unique not only for his talent as an artist, but also by the fact that he had lived the cowboy life that he painted and loved. This can be seen in the detail he put into each painting. My visit here was enhanced by our guide, Dorothy Jane McKay. Her enthusiasm and love of this artist's work came through when she spoke about Charlie's life and in describing his paintings. Charlie's log structure studio is part of the museum and visitors can view some of the props he used in many of his paintings. Again, time was short before we found ourselves on the road again returning to the train.
Arriving around supper time, I went to the observation car to relax for a while and chat with the other passengers. This evening passengers tended to favor the other dining car since the temperature control was not responding accurately, which meant the meal seatings lasted later than usual. However, this was all taken in stride.
The train departed that evening for St. Anthony, ID, for arrival the next morning. I went to the dome car to view the passing country side before I retired for the evening.
An early rise because we would have an early departure. We were to pack for an overnight stay for our tour of Yellowstone National Park. The buses left around 9:00 a.m. And by mid morning we had arrived at the west entrance of the park.
Our first stop was at the Fountain Paint Pots where there are dozens of examples of hot mud and water bubbling to the surface. The area has a humid and sometimes sulfurous aroma. Access to this area is by an elevated boardwalk, although this time the walk is used for the protection of the visitors. Some people are deceived into thinking that they can walk on the hard surface, not realizing that it is impossible to tell which areas have a thin crust which will not even support the weight of a child. Unfortunately, tragedy has occurred here, so safety is very important. Viewing these steaming water holes, it is hard to believe that they are so hot when looking down into the clear blue water.
Continuing on our journey through the park, one can see the results of the devastating forest fire the park had several years ago, with just small trees remaining. Our trip stopped at The Old Faithful Hotel at noon where we ate our lunches provided by AOE. This beautiful three-story log structure with its magnificent four-sided fireplace reminded me of the lovely Chateau Montebello in Quebec, Canada.
The Old Faithful geyser is located near to the hotel, surrounded by many eager tourists to see if this geyser would live up to its reputation for accuracy, and sure enough it did blow on time! What did surprise me was how quiet the geyser is, unless I was too far away to hear it. But considering the height of the geyser, I would have expected to hear something.
Before leaving this location, I wanted to photograph a live bison that had decided to rest behind the hotel. I was surprised to see it there as I did not think they would become "domesticated". However, I approached it as close as possible, ever respectful of their normal "wild" nature and was able to get a couple of pictures.
Boarding the buses again we took the scenic route, in this park which isn't a scenic route, and eventually made our way to the Jackson Lake Lodge in the Grand Teton Mountains. At our destination, we picked up our luggage and made our way to our assigned lodgings which are comfortable, with air conditioning and a large shower in the bathroom. It felt very nice to cool down in a cold shower in the warm temperature.
Later I made my way to the main lodge where this structure is made to impress its visitors because of the grand view of the mountains that the floor to ceiling windows frame. Truly a memorable sight. Everything about the lodge is large in an attempt to capture the grandeur of the beautiful Grand Teton Mountains. I later had supper with Art Morgan and his charming wife Sherry, from the AOE tour, in the dining room, where we enjoyed the vista of these splendid mountains during our meal. When I had finished my wonderful repas, I visited the shop in the main lodge where I met a fellow Canadian working there. Unfortunately, I had a difficult time trying to convince her of my nationality until I showed her my driver's license.
I decided to call it an evening and I returned to our cabin to relax and listen to Ray type his travelogue long into the evening.
Awoke early to the sounds of the birds awakening the coming morn. The open window allowed the cool morning breeze to carry in the scent of the large pine trees outside the cabin. After another enjoyable shower I packed my bags and brought them to the bus, after which I headed to the main lodge for breakfast. I must confess I was not prepared for what lay ahead for me for this meal. Before me stretched a plethora of breakfast dishes that made it difficult for me to make a choice in the time I had left, before the bus would leave. I decided on the house specialty, which is waffles that have the signature moose head designed in them. This was topped with what I thought was a blueberry sauce, but in fact was logan berry. Even still , it was delicious.
To help work off this memorable meal, I joined some of the other guests outside to view the morning sunlight illuminating those beautiful mountains. I tried to capture this with many photos but it is difficult to achieve this after seeing it yourself. I also photographed my southern belle friend, Beverly and her traveling companion Jean.
After 9:00 we boarded the buses to continue our journey to the next destination, the National Museum of Wildlife Art. The structure itself is not obvious when we arrived, from the highway it appears to be built up into the hillside. At the outside entrance of the building, visitors are greeted with several bronze statues of wildlife. Entering the museum, a winding stairway on the left takes you down to the main entrance where several more pieces, some suspended from the ceiling, are on exhibit. Here in the main foyer an art class was in progress while the other visitors strolled through the various galleries at their own leisure. One could join, if they felt so inclined, some of the guided tours which helped visitors obtain a deeper understanding of what the painter was trying to portray in his work.
As always AOE took very good care of their guests by arranging lunch at the museum's "Wapiti" room. After lunch I went outside to take some pictures of the museum's exterior, which I found intriguing. From the highway I found the structure was not imposing, it was as if it was built into the side of the hill to create as small an impact on its surroundings as possible, as if to say we want to see more of nature and not man-made structures.
After we left the museum, we drove to Jackson, WY, a unique upscale cowboy town where the main type of vehicle seems to be the SUV. The town is surrounded by hills and on one side is the Jackson Hole ski hill. It is difficult to imagine in this summer time heat in the high 90s how it could ever be cool enough to have snow here for this ski slope. Our bus stopped in front of a "western saloon" where in lieu of stools at the bar, patrons sat on saddles. I asked Beverly if she would mind sitting on one of these saddles to pose for a photo. This trendy town has mostly high end market stores with nary a convenience store in sight (believe me, I tried locating one). The traffic is heavy, with tourists driving through, and as a novelty, a stage coach takes passengers for a ride in the downtown area.
When the bus departed on the return trip to the train, we followed the highway up the mountains to around 8,000 feet high before crossing to the other side. I don't think I've seen a road grade that steep before and I'm very glad of the excellent mechanical condition of our bus. Once through the mountains we came out onto rolling hills and plains where farmers planted hundreds of acres of potatoes. Due to the arid climate, farmers require large water sprinkler systems to keep these fields green.
The bus arrived at the train around supper time and after putting our luggage away we proceeded to the dining car for our last supper on the train. After supper I was passing through the other dining car when some of the diners requested I take a photo of a cake that had been provided by the staff to celebrate the wedding anniversary of Daniel Calvez and his lovely wife Odette.
As the evening wore on the coach car started to fill with passengers to listen and sing along with Bonnie Hackett playing requests on the grand piano. I was impressed with Bonnie, who played long into the night because of the guests enthusiasm with her playing. People were genuinely enjoying themselves knowing the trip would end the next day and they tried to extend this period of merriment. Even Richard, our tour guide, joined in the festivities. He has a very good singing voice. I tried to catch the evening with photographs but I guess it is one of those things where you had to be there. My thanks to Bonnie for providing the magic for that evening.
The train continued on to Salt Lake City, UT where we remained for the night.
I started the day early with a final breakfast on board the train and afterwards bade my farewell to those passengers I got to know and whose company I enjoyed.
The porters ensured that our luggage was removed and had them outside for the driver to put them on his bus. While I can handle my own luggage, this is an excellent service for those passengers that may find their luggage a bit cumbersome. I took a couple more pictures of the train and of others that made the trip special for me.
Passengers and staff waved to each other as the bus departed the rail yard and traveled to Salt Lake City.
After several stops to let passengers off at different hotels, Ray and I finally got off at our destination at the Best Western Salt Lake Plaza Hotel which is located very near Mormon Temple Square. What a change from the air conditioned bus to the 100 degree heat outside. I don't know if I had ever experienced such heat and blazing sun in my life. I kept my trips outside to a bare minimum and kept as much as possible to the cool hotel room.
After checking into our hotel room, Ray wanted to check out the Mormon Church complex and take lots of photos at the same time. The Church was only a block away from the hotel where Ray took many outside pictures and later he obtained permission to take Virtual Reality pictures inside these buildings. Along the way we met Lonnie and Kathleen Harpool at the Assembly Hall and I convinced them to let me take their photo.
At the Tabernacle, a half hour concert was provided free to visitors passing through. With the special construction of the building to enhance the acoustics and the magnificent organ music, it was a very enjoyable time.
Other than the Mormon Church I didn't do very much touring in the city because of the heat. If there is one thing I'll remember about Salt Lake City it is the unbelievable sun and heat. I kept the air conditioning on high the whole time I was in the hotel room.
Next morning Ray left early to continue his photos of the Mormon Temple Square complex. I didn't go with him as I was still recuperating from the sun from yesterday. I didn't want to arrive home in a weakened condition.
Check out time was at noon but Ray managed to negotiate with the hotel to let us stay until 3:00 p.m., as we were flying out that evening.
We went to the airport around supper time, which was when Ray's flight was leaving. Since my flight didn't leave until 11:00 that evening, I had extra time to read newspapers and talk to some of the employees.
The airport security check was uneventful and I settled in for the red eye flight to New York. Arriving in New York at 6:15 a.m. I waited for my connecting flight to Syracuse, NY which departed at 11:00 a.m. This left me some time to look around the airport and an opportunity to purchase some New York souvenirs for my daughters, everything has to be purchased in doubles. At the appointed hour my flight was called and I boarded the flight. It seems I hardly settled in when we were landing again at Syracuse. After collecting my luggage I bumped into my brother- in-law, Doug, at the airport lobby, who had driven from Brockville, Canada to give me a drive back.
It was a pleasant three hour drive where I reminisced about my trip on the American Orient Express. After crossing into Canada, we drove to his home and waited for the arrival of my wife and daughters, whom I hadn't seen in a month since starting this journey. I had missed them so much that I agreed I wouldn't go on another trip without them.
This is Part 3 of a 3-part travelogue.
Thank you for reading.