Posted by: jsmcfadden | February 20, 2010

First leg of the Reno Train Trip.

We climbed aboard our train — #5 California Zephyr — on Friday morning along with the other 10 or so passengers who were headed east. We stashed our carry-on bags in the handy shelves to the left & right of the open doorway and then climbed up the steep set of steps into the passenger area of the car.

We found lots of coach seats available, and John had learned we wanted to sit on the left side for the most beautiful views of the snow-covered mountain vistas. So he found us the best two seats on the left. We put our coats in the overhead shelf, settled our camera bags on the floor beside our feet, and got settled in our seats.

The large windows and the seats are wonderfully paired up: each pair of seats had a wide window in front of it. There was a broad stretch of foot space between the rows, too, and legrests to pull up from under the seat as well as footrests ready to pull down from the seat ahead. The seats were wider than airplane seats by half a foot at least, too. We looked forward to a comfortable trip.

It didn’t seem to matter anymore that we were on the train more than an hour after we thought we would be on the train. It was really fun to just look out the window to see what we don’t usually see, despite the fact that we’ve driven from Davis to Sacramento hundreds of times and on up into the mountains at least half a dozen times. Seeing things from a train is different.

We were seated for lunch in the dining car before we were even at the Yolo Causeway, and our lunch was nice. John had an Angus burger and I had a salad — too much spinach and not enough other stuff to be really a great salad, by the way — and met a couple celebrating their 41st anniversary with the same train trip they had enjoyed 20 years earlier.

Then back to our coach seats — the lounge car with swiveling seats & benches for two which pointed straight at the larger windows was all filled up — for more of the wonderful scenery.

The train stopped at Rocklin and Roseville, then a longer stretch up into the Sierra foothills. From time to time a voice came over the system to offer interesting historical tidbits about the railroad in California. We learned later that from time to time a volunteer from the California Railway Museum in Old Sac gets onboard to provide these little interpretive comments on this leg of the trip.

Though it was cloudy, we didn’t have more rain. It did make for some good photography light! A stop in Colfax was long enough to get a photo of the town.

A couple of people got off the train in Colfax, and then we continued on up into the mountains where there would be snow.

The Reno Snow Train is a pretty famous & popular tourist-y activity for people who live in the Sacramento valley. It was easy to see why as we began the climb up into the Sierras.

Being IN the mountains, and often in a narrow spot just wide enough for two sets of train tracks, is a different experience than driving on a wide interstate. We crossed over the highway several times, we ran parallel to it from time to time, but the experience in the train is different. It’s not just the view that’s different. I think because I wasn’t aware of the roadway — it’s impossible to see the rails we were rolling on from inside the car — I felt somehow detached from it. The train didn’t sway much; it was quieter than I expected, too. It was more like gliding than rolling.

Around this curve we could see the engine of our train as well as the old trestle several yards away. The higher we went up, the more forested the terrain was, and the more crisp and clear the air seemed to be.

Finally we were into the snow.

The first snow was in patches, of course, on the forest floor where little sun could get through. But it wasn’t long before the snow was deep and extended as far as the eye could see. How does the railroad plow the tracks? We could see big piles of snow on either side which reminded us both of snowplowed roads in Indiana, but even the piles of snow were below the window level, so our view wasn’t of chunks of snow but of drifts of snow. Lovely!

Can you see the highway across the valley? That’s I-80, which would have been what we drove all the other times toward Lake Tahoe or Reno.

Though it took a lot longer than driving, the train sure afforded much better views, as well as the joy of not having to stay focused only on where the car is pointing! Not having to worry about other drivers! Not wondering about gas! Not having to sit in one place for hours!

I was fascinated by the specks of snow in the distant trees. Finally we got closer and I could see it wasn’t specks but giant drifts of snow in the branches. Globs of snow, 2-3 feet across, rested on boughs of the huge evergreens.  Many of them were as high as they were wide. I imagined the snow falling down from the tree and smothering the mans’ fire in Jack London’s story “To Build a Fire.” It must have been a glob at least as big as the ones we saw.

Breath-taking vistas like this one presented themselves after we had been inside tunnels or what felt like deep within a canyon. It was an astonishing experience, and everyone in the car would gasp or begin their camera-clicking in unison, it seemed. What is the wonderful feeling of experiencing something with other people? Why is it such a different experience?

Amazing skies and mountains and trees. What did the early settlers think when they saw these huge mountains and trees? How did they continue their journey? Was it keep going or die? What did they think was on the other side, and how far away was it to their tired eyes? Though we were traveling the opposite direction than they would have, I kept wondering if I would have the perseverance and gumption to keep going.

Even in the far, far distance, there seemed to be range after range of mountains.

Oh, I did want to mention something more about tunnels. There were several tunnels, and John and I decided that the proper response to a tunnel was to kiss one another until the light from the other end was beginning to brighten up the car again. Hope the people behind us didn’t mind too much! One of the tunnels, by the way, was more than a couple of minutes long. Nice!

Truckee Meadows, the broad, much flatter part of the terrain, was a great place for pictures of drifted snow and again getting a sense of the vastness of the landscape.  This pair of rocks must have been  20 feet high, and it looks as if they were near a stream bed that had frozen over and was piled with snow.

The train came across this little stream several times, and each time I tried to get just the right angle out the window to show the trees and the snow as well as the contrast between the snow and the dark streambed.

Finally we got to the Reno station and walked the three blocks to our hotel. The day in Reno is next!

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