We were both looking forward to the trip. My sister had flown in from Washington State. We were going to travel across the country by train on Amtrak’s ‘Southwest Chief,’ a train that winds Southwest from Chicago through Missouri, Kansas, the edge of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and through the Mojave Desert to California.
After spending a few days with family, we departed early one afternoon from Penn Central station in Baltimore. After a short trip to Washington D.C., we boarded the train to take us out to Chicago. By the first evening, we had traveled through West Virginia and into Ohio about the time we decided to settle down. We had figured on sleeping in the coach but soon found out that a dozen squealing kids and seats not made for sleeping wouldn’t make for a fun trip. Fortunately, there was one available, and we were quite relieved to spend the rest of the evening in our compact sleeping car watching the snow-covered passing towns.
The next day we arrived in Chicago in the early afternoon. We had a three-hour layover there, so we decided to venture out and explore the Windy City. That plan was soon changed after walking out into some of the coldest weather I’ve ever experienced. Walking the streets and sidestepping piles of snow, we quickly determined that hanging out in the nearest bar made a lot more sense than climbing over these miniature Mount Everest’s. After several drinks and a bit of good food, and a few more drinks, we staggered back to the train to continue our journey.
After the first night, my sister and I decided that a sleeper was necessary, so after making arrangements for one, we settled in for a long trip. One of the attendants named James fixed us up with sleeping arrangements and mentioned that he would take good care of us and do everything possible so that we ‘lovebirds’ would have a great trip. I told James that, Nah, we weren’t from West Virginia, just a sister and brother traveling across the country. I’m not sure he understood what I meant, but we had fun with it for the rest of the trip. Between him and Hambone, our other attendant, they indeed took care of our needs and were quite helpful.
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The next day took us through Missouri and Kansas. Although watching the passing landscape is enjoyable, after a while, you start to need something to break up the monotony of sitting, and we soon started looking forward to the meals provided with the sleeper. Train food is surprisingly good. In dining cars, space is at a premium, so they will match you up with another couple if there are two of you. We were matched up with a couple that had a sleeper across from us. We called them Edith and Mumbles. During the meal, Edith would talk pretty much non-stop. On the other hand, her husband was solemn, and whenever he did offer any conversation, it was always so low that you couldn’t understand what he was saying. After a time or two, whenever Mumbles would speak, we would nod our head and say something like, “Is that right?” and continue with our meal.
The next day was a beautiful day and perfect for viewing the passing landscape. I was amazed at the open space and ranges that make up New Mexico. It’s hard to appreciate the vastness of this country until you’ve traveled across it. I’ve done it several times, and each time, I’m blown away at the size and scope of the land. Traveling by train enables you to sit back and really take it all in.
While traveling through New Mexico, we had some unscheduled R&R as one of the engines failed as we were climbing up the hill, so while waiting for a replacement, we embarked and wandered into the nearby town for a bit. It seemed more like a town in Mexico than the U.S. Lots of little bars and Mexican restaurants. After a bit, we wandered back to the train and on with our trip. That night we traveled through New Mexico and into Arizona. Along the way, we had decided to embark in Flagstaff, Arizona, as there were a couple of places that we wanted to see, such as the Grand Canyon. The next day we went there and drove on down to Phoenix. We missed the last part of the journey, that being the trip on to L.A. Maybe next time-NOT!
A couple of tips; if you’re going to be on the train for more than a day, get a sleeper! They come in two basic packages, the economy version and the deluxe. The economy is a no-frills and a sleeper. The seats fold down for sleeping and up during daily use. On the other hand, the deluxe is roomier and comes with a shower and a steeper price. Another thing to keep in mind is last time I checked, Amtrak would allow you three overnight departures meaning that you can get off the train, stay in a hotel and pick up the train the next evening. Since the train only comes through once a day, you’ll have to make sure you’re there on time, or else you’ll be spending another day at that location.