Monday, August 22, 2022

Guiding a Family Through the West

 This has been a summer of considerable adventure for our family.  Layout progress has necessarily slowed accordingly, and while it will start again soon for now we are enjoying memories made on the kid's first trip to the American West.  We decided to take Amtrak and use the Family Bedroom in their sleeper cars for our westward journey, and it was everything we hoped it would be.

And that was just the beginning.  I am still 'unpacking' in a sense the total emotional weight of this trip, what it meant to not only the family but to me as well, and figuring out what that means for us all.  The West is dear to me even if not near, and it has always been a longing in my heart, a calling of sorts.  To have the opportunity and ability to dream, plan, and execute this trip - in effect leading my family through a highlight reel of 'my' West - well, that's a privilege of the highest sort, one only possible because of the sum of so many other things that came together.  

More on that as time comes.  But for now, let's look at the highlights!

We took NJ TRANSIT down to Newark, NJ, and boarded Amtrak #141 to Washington, DC. there.  It set the tone for the trip right away: full of anticipation, but larger-and-life present moment experiences, too.  

A day in Washington, DC awaited us during our 4-hour layover in the Capital.  Just a 1/3-mile walk from Washington Union Station is the US Capital Building itself, which was hosting sessions of Congress as we walked the grounds.   Tangibility: that is an aspect of our government that is overlooked.  You can almost always make a trip and experience some of it firsthand.

Chicago Union Station: always impressive, and wonderfully so after its restoration.  Current maintenance practices are working, too; I was here five or six times now since 1989 and the station still looks great!  Excellent job by Metra, Amtrak, and the City.  

Boarding a westbound Amtrak train at Chicago Union Station is akin to boarding a Boeing 747 bound for another continent.  There is an incredible present-moment excitement and anticipation of things to come, and DemClams - the three happy and zany kids - caught all of it!  Here they are just after dawn nearing Fort Morgan, CO, on a day they'd looked forward to for years.  Today is the first day they will see the Rocky Mountains.

One of my favorite parts of the West is that the anticipation doesn't disappoint: in fact, it just grows and grows, with new natural wonders and vistas around every corner.  Here we descend along the Eagle River west of the Continental Divide in Byers Canyon.  

The West: a place where sun-bleached two lane roads, straight as an arrow, eventually disappear over distant hills that are dwarfed by the mountains on the horizon, which in turn are dwarfed by the magnificence of the blue sky dome above, a sky bounded only by the infinity of space beyond.  

Some American deserts are flatter than others, but all are inhospitable; punctuated by chasms and cliffs, by impassible features.  Here's the open desert near Canyon Diablo, Arizona, with the Arizona Divide and San Francisco Peaks some 40 miles distant, sun setting behind hot clouds to the west.  

A highlight for all of us in different ways this year was Flagstaff, Arizona, a city near 7000' of elevation on the edge of incredible Ponderosa Pine forests and the Arizona Divide.  It's a town along one of the busiest mainline railroads in the world, the famed BNSF Railway's 'Transcon' - the route of the former Santa Fe Railway's main line between Chicago, IL and Los Angeles, CA.  BNSF still maintains the old freight station as a division office in this photo by Teddy Abeles.

Flagstaff is also a gateway to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, and this was a highlight of the trip for all of us, as well.  This is my 7th visit to this incredible area and each time, it's like the first time all over again: totally and incredibly beautiful, overwhelmingly huge, a billion-year exploration and visual treat.

Heading north from Flagstaff we encounter an amazing array of deserts and dry wash canyons, passing near multiple arches near Moab and through Arches National Park, and land after a long day at Green River, UT, home to Rays Tavern:  'The Place for Everyone.'   In this part of Utah, a long history of immigrants has created a really universal atmosphere in the people that remain.  As the fortunes of coal and the railroad come and go people move on, but Ray's remains, and is my favorite tavern in all of Utah.  

I must include a photo with an old friend - Denver & Rio Grande Western SD40T-2 locomotive 5371.  One of 73, the 5371 was the last guy standing on former home rails after the Rio Grande purchased the SP, and was swallowed later by Union Pacific Railroad.  Thankfully good former DRGW heads at UP were able to preserve 5371 which is now at the Ogden Transportation Museum, and surrounded in good company by locomotives that once led trains through town from UP, SP, and Utah Railway.

We are home safe, but this was a trip for the ages, a journey for each of us across this nation but also  into the next era for the family.  

So much more to come!


  1. What a spectacular experience for you and your Family!!! Such a wonderful opportunity for you to share your West w/your Family and enjoy seeing them forming life long memories! Bravo!!!

  2. That sounds like an amazing trip, and I am glad things went well (including, apparently, the weather) during your adventure!