November 26, 2011

Amtrak, Raccoons, and the California Zephyr

The California Zephyr climbs the Big 10 curve west of Denver
M. and I are home from a week-long trip to San Francisco -- mostly business for me, but she got to spend time with family.

We took the California Zephyr west from Denver, "mountains and rivers without end."

And we got where we needed to go, although there was one rough patch at the beginning.

As usual, click the photos to enlarge them.

You usually end up dining with strangers but can always talk about the trains.



We woke up at dawn in our Denver hotel, checked the Amtrak train-status page, and oh no, the westbound train was six hours behind schedule. Later we would learn that it had been held up waiting for work crews to repair some damaged track somewhere in Iowa or Nebraska.

So we went out to breakfast, read exotic magazines at the Tattered Cover's LoDo store, and eventually got a lift in the hotel's town car to the temporary station that Amtrak is using while Denver Union Station is being renovated.

In the photo, two guys who just met through the dining steward's command to "Sit there" are getting acquainted.

Passengers ("Pax" in train-speak) on the platform at Fraser, Colo.
The first "fresh air stop" after Denver is Fraser/Winter Park, immediately after you come out of the long darkness of the Moffat Tunnel through the Continental Divide.
The station in Glenwood Springs, Colo., right in the center of town.
After Fraser, the railroad follows a roadless area of the Fraser River Canyon, breaks out into Middle Park, and then enters roadless Gore Canyon, where the river is already freezing over in spots. It then passes a few isolated spots like Radium, State Bridge, and Bond, before rejoining I-70 at Dotsero and continuing on down Glenwood Canyon.

Western terminus of the Zephyr: Emeryville, Calif.
And a bus ride over the Bay Bridge, a taxi to the hotel, and we're there, only three hours late at the end.

We left Wednesday the 23rd for home. Everything started well: up through the across the Delta, up through the eucalyptus, cypresses, and palms of Roseville, then into the Sierras, with cedar, manazanita, firs, and other conifers.

Into Reno on time. Through basin and range -- Winnemucca in the late afternoon, Ely after dark, then salt flats and Salt Lake City. The "gray desert" around Green River, Utah. Into Grand Junction on time, and we saw a bald eagle sitting in a snag along the Colorado River somewhere between Dotsero and State Bridge.

Through Middle Park and the Moffat Tunnel, everything tickety-tock, running even a bit ahead of schedule.

Then Conductor RenĂ©e comes on the p.a. system: the westbound Zephyr hit a "herd of raccoons" in Iowa the previous evening, had to wait for a replacement locomotive, and has now limped into Denver many hours late. We must wait for it to clear the wye at the station before we in turn can back in. So we wait, somewhere in Arvada, and eventually arrive an hour behind schedule. No problem. 

But a "herd of raccoons"? Since when do coons come in herds, as opposed to small family groups? And how big a herd does it take to damage (air hoses, etc., she said) a full-size locomotive?

You know Amtrak does not put out news releases about such incidents, so it must remain a mystery of rail travel.

UPDATE: Here is a posting on a train-fan web site, which gives a location and speaks of a "pack of raccoons."

2 comments:

poval clark said...

Excellent work,,Search the web for videos on train horn sound effect you'll crack up are exactly what they say. They are air conditioned and horns that were made ​​for trains. You have heard of it. Stand on your car as you roll through your hood. Massive blast there.

Serge said...

I would have loved to see a picture of the herd of raccoon that you mentioned! I usually see these little critters either in pairs or perhaps alone.