Around the U.S. By Train – Part 14

The Empire Builder is in the Wenatchee Valley when I awaken in the morning. It’s still early, but the sun is just up and casting a yellow-orange glow over apple trees … many, many thousands of apple trees! When you buy apples in your local supermarket, chances are this is where they came from. In the Wenatchee Valley, apples rule. In fact, the local baseball team, playing in the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League, is called the Apple Sox.

This is beautiful country – fertile, green and bisected by the Columbia River – so I’m up, dressed, and in the dining car enjoying the scenery soon after they open for business at 6:30. I’m joined at my table by an interesting couple, a husband and wife on their way to visit a son in Seattle. Both are from Mexico originally, but have long since become citizens. She has just retired as an English teacher; he was “in management,” retired from that and now teaches math and geometry in a small Illinois town up near the Wisconsin border.

An hour later we have left the Wenatchee Valley and are in the Cascade Mountains, sheer cliffs on either side of the tracks. This country is wild, raw, and – at least where we are now – appears to be a near-wilderness, with giant evergreens growing within feet of each other to form a wall of forest on either side of the train. There’s still a lot of snow on the peaks, with the melt running down the steep flanks to feed rushing streams that are a hundred feet or more just below us, churning along on their way to the Pacific. There’s water everywhere here and in fact this watershed area supplies much of the water for Seattle and many of its suburban areas.

Soon a few scattered houses begin to appear and in another hour we’re passing through small communities. Then comes Everett, Washington, and we’ve reached Puget Sound where the train swings due south, running along the shore all the way into Seattle.

Across the sound, we can see the Cascades again, shimmering in the distance and disappearing down the Pacific Coast into Oregon. It’s a clear, sunny day and there are people strolling along the narrow beach. There is one guy, however, lying on his back stark naked, who doesn’t look up, but lifts one hand in a lazy wave as we roll by. I snap off a shot, but the photo turns out blurry. Just as well.

Twenty minutes later, the Empire Builder rolls to a stop at Seattle’s King Street station. I’ll have one night here, then the final leg on the trip: the Coast Starlight overnight to Los Angeles.