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Southwest Chief LAX-CHI Live-ish Blog


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#1 D.P. Roberts

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Posted 09 June 2018 - 09:29 PM

I usually forget to write trip reports, and now that we have decent wifi on the train, I figured I'd use this opportunity to write one as it happens. Also, this trip may be a bit more of an adventure than most of our trips - and by "adventure" I mean we may miss our connection in Chicago, but more on that later.

 

We took the Southwest Chief westward from Chicago to LAX last weekend, spent the week in southern California, and are now on the way back. I'll probably throw in a few comparisons to the last trip, which was largely uneventful. 

 

Our main concerns for this trip would be the two derailments on the SWC's route during the past week. On Tuesday, two BNSF trains collided in Arizona, causing a large derailment with one fatality. Yesterday (Friday, June 8th), another BNSF train derailed near Medill, Missouri. Fortunately, no one was killed in that second derailment, but numerous UPS truck shipments spilled over two tracks, causing a big mess.

 

As of right now (Saturday evening), both spills are mostly cleaned up. The Arizona mess was allegedly cleaned up a few days ago, but the new derailment is still a work in progress. One track was cleared this morning, but the other track is still closed - BNSF says they'll reopen the other track within the next hour. So, although it looks like we won't be detoured or experience a "bustitution", there might be a large backlog of freight.

 

This might mess up our schedule, as we only have a three hour window in Chicago to make our connecting train back home to Michigan. On the other hand, we're in no hurry to get back - as long as the delays don't leave us on a bus at 4:00 am we don't mind spending more time on the train. So, we'll see! 


  • Tony in Ann Arbor likes this

Amtrak miles: 23,182
Routes traveled: Capitol Limited, California Zephyr, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Pacific Surfliner, and Silver Meteor.
 


#2 seat38a

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Posted 09 June 2018 - 09:32 PM

I usually forget to write trip reports, and now that we have decent wifi on the train, I figured I'd use this opportunity to write one as it happens. Also, this trip may be a bit more of an adventure than most of our trips - and by "adventure" I mean we may miss our connection in Chicago, but more on that later.

 

We took the Southwest Chief westward from Chicago to LAX last weekend, spent the week in southern California, and are now on the way back. I'll probably throw in a few comparisons to the last trip, which was largely uneventful. 

 

Our main concerns for this trip would be the two derailments on the SWC's route during the past week. On Tuesday, two BNSF trains collided in Arizona, causing a large derailment with one fatality. Yesterday (Friday, June 8th), another BNSF train derailed near Medill, Missouri. Fortunately, no one was killed in that second derailment, but numerous UPS truck shipments spilled over two tracks, causing a big mess.

 

As of right now (Saturday evening), both spills are mostly cleaned up. The Arizona mess was allegedly cleaned up a few days ago, but the new derailment is still a work in progress. One track was cleared this morning, but the other track is still closed - BNSF says they'll reopen the other track within the next hour. So, although it looks like we won't be detoured or experience a "bustitution", there might be a large backlog of freight.

 

This might mess up our schedule, as we only have a three hour window in Chicago to make our connecting train back home to Michigan. On the other hand, we're in no hurry to get back - as long as the delays don't leave us on a bus at 4:00 am we don't mind spending more time on the train. So, we'll see! 

How is the onboard MiFi based internet? In 2016 when I tried to use it, it was unusable.



#3 D.P. Roberts

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Posted 09 June 2018 - 10:38 PM

 

I usually forget to write trip reports, and now that we have decent wifi on the train, I figured I'd use this opportunity to write one as it happens. Also, this trip may be a bit more of an adventure than most of our trips - and by "adventure" I mean we may miss our connection in Chicago, but more on that later.

 

We took the Southwest Chief westward from Chicago to LAX last weekend, spent the week in southern California, and are now on the way back. I'll probably throw in a few comparisons to the last trip, which was largely uneventful. 

 

Our main concerns for this trip would be the two derailments on the SWC's route during the past week. On Tuesday, two BNSF trains collided in Arizona, causing a large derailment with one fatality. Yesterday (Friday, June 8th), another BNSF train derailed near Medill, Missouri. Fortunately, no one was killed in that second derailment, but numerous UPS truck shipments spilled over two tracks, causing a big mess.

 

As of right now (Saturday evening), both spills are mostly cleaned up. The Arizona mess was allegedly cleaned up a few days ago, but the new derailment is still a work in progress. One track was cleared this morning, but the other track is still closed - BNSF says they'll reopen the other track within the next hour. So, although it looks like we won't be detoured or experience a "bustitution", there might be a large backlog of freight.

 

This might mess up our schedule, as we only have a three hour window in Chicago to make our connecting train back home to Michigan. On the other hand, we're in no hurry to get back - as long as the delays don't leave us on a bus at 4:00 am we don't mind spending more time on the train. So, we'll see! 

How is the onboard MiFi based internet? In 2016 when I tried to use it, it was unusable.

 

It's much better than when we tried to use it 2 years ago - it never worked for us then. It's fine for email and general web surfing, but it buffers/freezes quite a lot when trying to stream video.

 

I checked out a wifi hotspot from my local library before we left, and it's faster than the onboard wifi so I've mostly been using that instead. Service along the Chief's route has been very good. I can't stream high def everywhere, and it dropped out completely a few times, but in general I've had access 90% of the time I've tried to use it.

 

I don't know if they were doing this before, but they handed out business cards that had the wifi name and password on it, as well as the dining car times. I think that's a good idea. 


Amtrak miles: 23,182
Routes traveled: Capitol Limited, California Zephyr, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Pacific Surfliner, and Silver Meteor.
 


#4 seat38a

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Posted 09 June 2018 - 10:55 PM

I think its up to the SCA how to give out the info. On the CS it was taped near the coffee pot in my sleeper. When I was on the SWC, it was already in each room written on a seat check. I think Amtrak Seat Checks get the most value for the money. They seem to get used for everything from dinner reservations, boarding passes etc.

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#5 D.P. Roberts

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Posted 09 June 2018 - 11:45 PM

Okay, back to the beginning...
 
We arrived at LAUS at around 4:30 pm & returned our rental car (conveniently located right next to the Metropolitan Lounge). We took the elevator up one floor to the Metropolitan Lounge, where we were informed that the SWC would be boarding around 5:30. I had some unhealthy snacks (they had chips, cookies, muffins, and soda) & tried out the wifi (our hotspot is a touch faster) At about 5:20 pm, an Amtrak employee gave a schpiel about boarding, Redcaps, etc. The most interesting thing to me was that he took time to point out Amtrak's magazine, "The National." Apparently, Amtrak's trying to get everyone to read their magazine - it has feature articles about destinations around the country, & the idea is that you read the magazine & get ideas for your next Amtrak trip. Sound marketing advice, but I dislike how they no longer put printed timetables in the rooms on the trains. 
 
After the boarding speech, most of the passengers availed themselves of Redcap service to the platform at about 5:30 pm. They had already told us where to find the train (platform 11), so we were planning on walking out there at about 5:45. However, we definitely got a "closing time" vibe from the Metropolitan Lounge staff (i.e. they kept shouting "Four passengers left... three passengers left..." out the door to the Redcaps. So, we strolled down to the platform - only to find that the train wasn't even there yet.
 
The train arrived at the platform at about 5:50, but somehow we all managed to make it onboard & depart on time at 6:10 pm. I was disappointed to find that we had another Superliner II for this trip - I much prefer the refurbished Superliner I cars. The other sleeper was a Superliner I, which makes it more frustrating. We're in roomettes so it's not that much of a difference (as compared to a bedroom), but it still would have been nice. 
 
My wife and I had booked roomettes across the aisle from each other, which is definitely our favorite way of experiencing Amtrak. We usually share a roomette, but neither of us like that cramped upper bunk. Sharing a roomette also means that someone has to sit facing backwards. We've tried having a bedroom, but neither of us wants to used the cramped shower/toilet (shoilet?), and there's really only one good seat by the window. By booking two roomettes across from each other, we each get a lower bed, a front facing seat, and our own personal space when we need it. We also keep the curtains open most of the time, enabling us to see out each other's windows, or even share a roomette if the view is great out of one side. Having 2 roomettes can be prohibitively expensive, but we had a surplus of AGR points after not traveling via Amtrak for 2 years now, and our balance just covered it. 
 
I somehow thought SWC passengers had dinner immediately after departing LAUS, but that is not the case. We were offered times of 7:00, 7:30, and 8:20. We chose 7:30. As for the food itself - one of my biggest disappointments on this trip is Amtrak's lack of a new menu. For as long as I've been taking Amtrak, they've updated their menus every spring and fall. I've always liked the "summer" menu - aside from having Railroad French Toast (my favorite breakfast item) instead of pancakes, I've always thought the summer menu specials were better. No luck, as we're still on the menu from September 2017.
 
I ordered the steak & mashed potatoes, which is always one of my favorite dinners. I asked for medium rare, but received a very rare steak. On last week's trip my wife ordered a medium, which ended up being well done at one end and completely rare at the other (we joked that it avergaged out to a medium, so maybe they got it right). Tonight they were also temporarily out of steak knives, making the meal a little more difficult. For dessert I got the chocolate raspberry tart. My wife likes raspberries, and says the tart tastes very strongly of them. I don't like raspberries, and only taste them a little in this dessert - it mostly tastes like chocolate to me. I think I have weird taste buds. Still, it's a good dessert. My wife ordered the thyme chicken, which she said was very dry - she had to ask for a steak knife just to cut it. She ordered the cheesecake for dessert, and they presented it to her on a plate - upside down. Seriously, the chefs downstairs & our dining car attendant didn't notice/care that the dessert was upside down?
 
Leaving the dining car was unusually difficult. We were leaving just as the 8:20 shift was arriving, so a whole lot of people were cloggging up the entrance to the dining car. Also, they had put the first sleeper with the roomettes toward the dining car. They really should not do that - the bedroom end has enough of a vestibule that people can pass each other on the way in or out of the dining car. I know sleepers are oriented randomly, but you'd think they could pay attention to that ONE connection. Anyway, we were also camped out at the San Bernardino station, which was clearly a popular place for entraining. The SCAs must have told new passengers to head straight down the dining car, so the 8:20 people & San Bernardinoans all arrived & clogged up half of the first sleeper. I barely made it through, and my wife ducked down the first stairwell to let some people through. I think she's still down there.
 
We just left Victorville, and it looks like we're running a little late. I don't mind if that continues, as I've never seen Flagstaff or Winslow in the daylight. Just in case I'm going to set my alarm to make sure I'm awake early enough to see them tomorrow morning.

Please enjoy this lovely photo of beautiful downtown Los Angeles.

Attached Files


Edited by D.P. Roberts, 10 June 2018 - 12:08 AM.

  • cpotisch likes this

Amtrak miles: 23,182
Routes traveled: Capitol Limited, California Zephyr, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Pacific Surfliner, and Silver Meteor.
 


#6 railiner

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 12:12 AM

Thanks for taking us along...enjoying your detailed commentary. :)


metroblue?

okay on the blue!

#7 Lonestar648

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 02:36 AM

Thanks for the details on dining going east out of LA.  It has been a while since I made this trip to Chicago, so your info was great to have.  Agree with you about having the 8:20 seating blocking the corridor.  Thanks again for the report.



#8 Bob Dylan

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 08:46 AM

Perhaps the fact that a New Menu wasn't available is,a hint that the " Fresh Choices" scheme will be migrating to the other LD Trains soon?🤔

How exciting! NOT!
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Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,No matter where its going!.." -Edna St. Vincent Millay

#9 cpotisch

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 09:31 AM

The train arrived at the platform at about 5:50, but somehow we all managed to make it onboard & depart on time at 6:10 pm. I was disappointed to find that we had another Superliner II for this trip - I much prefer the refurbished Superliner I cars. The other sleeper was a Superliner I, which makes it more frustrating. We're in roomettes so it's not that much of a difference (as compared to a bedroom), but it still would have been nice. 

I completely agree about the Superlnier Is vs IIs. I've only taken Superliners twice in my life; the first time in a roomette on the CZ, and the other time in a Family Bedroom on the Sunset/Eagle. On the CZ, we were the only SL-I sleeper, and while it doesn't show up that much in the roomette itself, the whole car just felt vastly older and less premium, courtesy of the fiberglass and brown carpet on the walls, as well as smaller bathrooms and blockier sinks. Whereas on the SL/TE, the faux-wood panelling and better repair made our room (and car) feel high-end and cozy. It's surprising how big a difference those little details make on a three night trip.


Routes Traveled: Silver Meteor, Silver Star, CrescentLake Shore LimitedCalifornia Zephyr, Sunset Limited, Texas EagleEthan Allen Express, Empire Service, Maple Leaf, AdirondackAcela Express, Northeast RegionalKeystone Service
 
Wish List: Auto Train, Cardinal, CONO, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Crescent (overnight), Adirondack w/ Great Dome, Downeaster


#10 Manny T

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 10:36 AM

Thanks for the great trip report. Since I mostly travel from Chi east (LSL, CL), I am beginning to get vicarious enjoyment from reading all reports of Amtrak dining car experiences, no matter how good, bad or indifferent.



#11 D.P. Roberts

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 10:50 AM

I think its up to the SCA how to give out the info. On the CS it was taped near the coffee pot in my sleeper. When I was on the SWC, it was already in each room written on a seat check. I think Amtrak Seat Checks get the most value for the money. They seem to get used for everything from dinner reservations, boarding passes etc.
28006852882_8197b29374_c.jpg


Here's the card they handed out (front and back) as well as the signs posted in the hallway. Based on the network name & password, I assume they use the same cards on the Coast Starlight & Southwest Chief. I'm tempted to ask the service attendant if I can add AU to the handwritten sign :)

Attached Files


  • Ryan likes this

Amtrak miles: 23,182
Routes traveled: Capitol Limited, California Zephyr, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Pacific Surfliner, and Silver Meteor.
 


#12 D.P. Roberts

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 10:53 AM

 

The train arrived at the platform at about 5:50, but somehow we all managed to make it onboard & depart on time at 6:10 pm. I was disappointed to find that we had another Superliner II for this trip - I much prefer the refurbished Superliner I cars. The other sleeper was a Superliner I, which makes it more frustrating. We're in roomettes so it's not that much of a difference (as compared to a bedroom), but it still would have been nice. 

I completely agree about the Superlnier Is vs IIs. I've only taken Superliners twice in my life; the first time in a roomette on the CZ, and the other time in a Family Bedroom on the Sunset/Eagle. On the CZ, we were the only SL-I sleeper, and while it doesn't show up that much in the roomette itself, the whole car just felt vastly older and less premium, courtesy of the fiberglass and brown carpet on the walls, as well as smaller bathrooms and blockier sinks. Whereas on the SL/TE, the faux-wood panelling and better repair made our room (and car) feel high-end and cozy. It's surprising how big a difference those little details make on a three night trip.

 

 

The more I look around, the more problems I see on the Superliner IIs. For example, when you lock the bathroom door a little sign is supposed to read "Occupied" (or some such). On this train, they're all worn off, so there's no way to know whether there's someone in there or not. Furthermore, one of the latches & broken and often sticks - it looks like it's locked, but it isn't. That's going to lead to an unpleasant encounter at some point.


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Amtrak miles: 23,182
Routes traveled: Capitol Limited, California Zephyr, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Pacific Surfliner, and Silver Meteor.
 


#13 D.P. Roberts

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 11:09 AM

Back to the blog...

 

I really wanted to see Flagstaff & Winslow this morning, so I set my alarm to wake up early. I knew we were running a little late the night before, so the first thing I did was to check our location on my phone. The printed schedule said we were scheduled to arrive in Flagstaff at 5:30 am, but Amtrak.com said we were running an hour late and would be arriving at... 5:30 am? I had forgotten that even though we were now on Mountain Time, Arizona doesn't observe Daylight Savings Time, we were still on Pacific time, sort of. It's way too early in the morning to do math, so I was still staring at my phone when I realized we had pulled into a station - Flagstaff!

 

I've heard lots of good stories about Flagstaff. It's a beautiful place - we'll have to come back for a much longer visit some time.   

 

I've always wanted to take a photo of myself somewhere in the vicinity of a corner in Winslow, Arizona. However, this was not to be - apparently we stopped on a middle track (the second of at least four) in Winslow, and I never even saw a platform, let alone a corner. Bummer.

 

Photos of Flagstaff:

 

 

Attached Files


Edited by D.P. Roberts, 10 June 2018 - 11:20 AM.

Amtrak miles: 23,182
Routes traveled: Capitol Limited, California Zephyr, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Pacific Surfliner, and Silver Meteor.
 


#14 D.P. Roberts

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 11:36 AM

After departing Winslow we headed to breakfast. As with dinner last night, the dining car crew is not running smoothly. IMHO, the dining car staff isn't doing its job, and the LSA is trying to do both jobs. For example, the LSA brought over one table's breakfast (like he did last night) saying "I saw your order was ready so I thought I'd bring it over to you." And where was our server? Seated at an empty table, on his cell phone. I saw the LSA do that again later while the server was standing in the galley area chatting with some other employees.

 

Since he's busy serving people, the LSA often misses seeing other people come in, which leads to lines at the door. Passengers usually stand at the door for a few minutes, but when nobody approaches them they just head to an open table, which means the server has to reseat them when he finally notices them.

 

Worst of all, in my opinion, is that the LSA then forgets where the tables are in terms of their meals. I understand that Amtrak must have community seating, but I really think the whole table should be seated at the same time. Otherwise, different diners get their food at different times, leading to awkward moments where some people are eating while others are still waiting for their food. This happened today at our breakfast - three of us were seated at the same time, but the fourth seat was empty. We got our drinks, placed our orders, and were just about to receive our food when they seated a fourth diner with us. You'd think the dining car attendant would at least take his order quickly & see if it could be rushed so we could all eat together. Nope. He let that guy sit for a while (after he had already put his menu down) and didn't come back to take his order until our food was ready. So, we all ate our food while he sat there staring at us. Fortunately, when his food arrived he ate it quickly, or we all would have been staring at him while he finished. Meanwhile,  only half the tables at our end of the dining car were in use - I heard several other passengers complain about that. What's the point of smushing people together and then leaving tables empty? It's not like they have to rewash tablecloths - at worst, they go through one more sheet of "table paper". 

 

Anyway, breakfast itself wasn't bad. I still miss the French Toast. I think tomorrow I'll try the quesedilla special.


Amtrak miles: 23,182
Routes traveled: Capitol Limited, California Zephyr, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Pacific Surfliner, and Silver Meteor.
 


#15 D.P. Roberts

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 11:49 AM

After breakfast we went through Gallup & a lot of pretty scenery. I finally got some photos of the cave-like holes in the rock that some Native American people used to live in - I saw them on the way out, but didn't have my camera handy at the time. That's one of the things I love/hate about the train; you see so many interesting and unusual sights that you otherwise would have missed, but you never get to stop and take a good look.  We'll definitely have to come back and take a closer look some time.

 

Attached Files


Amtrak miles: 23,182
Routes traveled: Capitol Limited, California Zephyr, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Pacific Surfliner, and Silver Meteor.
 


#16 cpotisch

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 11:55 AM

After breakfast we went through Gallup & a lot of pretty scenery. I finally got some photos of the cave-like holes in the rock that some Native American people used to live in - I saw them on the way out, but didn't have my camera handy at the time. That's one of the things I love/hate about the train; you see so many interesting and unusual sights that you otherwise would have missed, but you never get to stop and take a good look.  We'll definitely have to come back and take a closer look some time.

 

Wow. That's quite beautiful. I love that kind of southern towns and rock formations. Keep posting!


Routes Traveled: Silver Meteor, Silver Star, CrescentLake Shore LimitedCalifornia Zephyr, Sunset Limited, Texas EagleEthan Allen Express, Empire Service, Maple Leaf, AdirondackAcela Express, Northeast RegionalKeystone Service
 
Wish List: Auto Train, Cardinal, CONO, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Crescent (overnight), Adirondack w/ Great Dome, Downeaster


#17 D.P. Roberts

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 11:57 AM

We left Gallup about an hour late. I'm not sure what to make of the schedule at this point: of the Southwest Chiefs en route, yesterday's #3 is basically on time, we're an hour late, but the #3 and #4 trains that departed on Friday are 4.5 hours and 2 hours late respectively. It could be that the mess is getting cleared up, or it could be that we're still earlier in the journey. We'll see.

 

  

Attached Files


Edited by D.P. Roberts, 10 June 2018 - 11:57 AM.

Amtrak miles: 23,182
Routes traveled: Capitol Limited, California Zephyr, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Pacific Surfliner, and Silver Meteor.
 


#18 caravanman

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 12:26 PM

Nice trip report/blog.

 

"I dislike how they no longer put printed timetables in the rooms on the trains."

 

Due to delays, I heard they were going to leave calendars in the rooms rather than timetables?

 

Ed.


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#19 SarahZ

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 01:22 PM

They had the little "business cards" on my SWC trip last October.

 

Sadly, we were late heading westbound, so I missed Albuquerque, Gallup, and all of Arizona, but I did get to see the Cajon Pass in the daylight.

 

Even though it was dark, however, I DID catch that truck stop with the teepee on the NM/AZ border. I'm glad you took a picture of it. :) I tried, but it was too dark.


Amtrak Miles: 48,312
 
Amtrak Routes: Blue Water, California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Carl Sandburg, City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Empire Builder, Hiawatha, Illinois Zephyr, Lincoln Service, Southwest Chief, Texas Eagle, Wolverine
 
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#20 railiner

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Posted 10 June 2018 - 02:24 PM

After breakfast we went through Gallup & a lot of pretty scenery. I finally got some photos of the cave-like holes in the rock that some Native American people used to live in - I saw them on the way out, but didn't have my camera handy at the time. That's one of the things I love/hate about the train; you see so many interesting and unusual sights that you otherwise would have missed, but you never get to stop and take a good look.  We'll definitely have to come back and take a closer look some time.

 

So...next time, you'll...  "get your flicks, on Route 66"? :giggle:


Edited by railiner, 10 June 2018 - 02:43 PM.

  • D.P. Roberts likes this
metroblue?

okay on the blue!




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