Posted by: jsmcfadden | February 23, 2010


Sunday morning we had to be at the train station by 8 so we got up early.

After admiring the beautiful sunrise from our window high on the 18th floor, we got some breakfast, packed up our things, and checked out of the hotel.

It was good to know just where the train station was, but we did worry a bit that we would get turned around depending on which exit from the hotel we took and then wouldn’t head the right direction. The young man at the Bell Desk was very helpful.

Pulling our suitcases behind us, we headed out into the crisp chilly morning and walked the 2 blocks or so to the train station. It was crowded with the dozens of passengers who had enjoyed the same weekend trip that we had — barely enough seats in the downstairs waiting area, surrounding the old Reno drinking fountain that had been transplanted there when the train station was remodeled.

But the train was late. It was more than two hours late. We found out later that there had been a problem with one of the engines all the way back in Salt Lake City. But we had books to read, and there were interesting people to watch and eavesdrop on!

When the train arrived, we felt like veteran travelers; we knew just what to do with our bags, how steep the steps up were going to be, and how they made a sharp turn after the first three. John found us the perfect seats, on the right side this time, so we could enjoy the scenery from the other direction.

Such an amazing experience. Just to imagine the courage, skill and commitment required to build the railroad so long ago through such demanding, unforgiving terrain — it was awe-inspiring. 

All the colors are different on the eastern side of the mountains. The soil, the dormant plants, even the snow had a different, drier look.

The Nevada side of the Sierras doesn’t get nearly as much moisture as the California side, so the rocky, jagged nature of the mountains seems to shout out, loud and clear.

The huge crags of rock and steep inclines made me wonder how anyone could face climbing them.

The late morning sun made some strong shadows, though, and that was beautiful to see.

What a blue sky! We knew it was going to be a beautiful trip back.

And it was. 

For quite a while, we followed the river.

We watched the snow get deeper in the narrow valley.

The sun was clear and bright, the snow was so very white, and the stream so dark and shiny. Beautiful contrasts in texture, too, of the spiky plants and the billowy snow.

There seemed, as we began our climb, to be less and less difference between sky and snow-covered earth.

We got nearer and nearer the summit of the tracks, and the clarity of the sky seemed to expand our views.

It was hard to choose whether to look far into the distance at the sharp range of peaks or to keep my eyes — and lens — focused on what was closer to the train.

Doesn’t it look cold?

I wondered about how far away humans were from this landscape, and how long had it been since a person had walked through this place.

Our across-the-aisle neighbors went to the lounge car, so John hurried over to get some video of the view out the south side of the train.

Here’s a good chance to see how wide the space is between the rows of seats. 

Did you notice the electrical outlets, too? Several people were charging their cell phones or camera batteries as we traveled. Can’t do that in a plane!

We were having our lunch as the train went through the long tunnel near the summit of the route, and we saw Donner Lake far below in the valley as we enjoyed our meal.

Back in our coach car, broad vistas like these filled the windows.

John napped.

From time to time a glacial curve in the mountainside just swooped down into a valley thickly forested with fir and spruce. What amazing riches of space, possibility, and beauty.

We were home before evening, unpacked, and rejoiced to know we still had one day off before going back to school!

A perfect little getaway!


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