Crossing the Sierras on No. 6
It doesn’t matter how many times you do it: crossing this magnificent Sierra Nevada range on the California Zephyr is a special experience every time. I wish I’d kept track of all my Amtrak trips. It would be fun to know how many miles I’ve rung up … how many times I’ve stared down at Donner Lake as the train descends through numberless curves, ducking in and out of the snow sheds.
The infamous Donner Party, heading to Sacramento in the late Fall of 1846, started over the mountains despite advice to remain in Truckee for the winter. Very good advice, as it turned out. They became snowbound when unusually heavy snows fell and half the party died before a rescue party could reach them.
Some years ago, my wife and I visited the site of their encampment. I remember reading a marker there noting that when Spring came and the snow melted, the stumps of trees they had cut down for firewood were twelve feet high.
Leaving Truckee, the Zephyr twists and turns following the course of the Truckee River, mostly white water this time of year. It does widen and smooth out in spots, which is where we pass an occasional fly fisherman.
Now just 20 miles up ahead is Reno, Nevada. Not that long ago, when the Zephyr stopped there, passengers could look right down the main street of the town. No more. Rather than have the Zephyr stop traffic while it passed through giving its passengers a brief look at the town’s casinos and other hot spots, the city fathers elected instead to construct what is a 2.1-mile long ditch, lined with concrete, which takes the Zephyr below street level to discharge passengers. Hardly an inducement to potential visitors.
The ride over the Sierras is truly memorable, but tomorrow will bring a 125-mile ride following the Colorado River through a series of canyons and, immediately following that, the magnificent descent from the Flatirons down into Denver.
Trying to catch up after several days with no wifi. Here are two photos taken from our sleeper on Friday after the Zephyr left Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
By the time we reached Winter Park and began our descent into Denver, it was snowing heavily and there was at least eight inches of new snow on the ground.