21 Dec Join the California Zephyr
The journey follows the historic trail of gold prospectors and carpetbaggers in the frenetic Gold Rush days. Day 1 passes through charming Illinois farming country, interspersed with quaint rural townships, across the mighty Mississippi River into Iowa. The river winds off in its imposing passage as the Zephyr chugs serenely along. Time seems to stand still along this mid-west stretch.
On Day 2 the Zephyr arrives in booming Denver. The skyscrapers of this modern metropolis are dramatically etched against a backdrop of the massive Rockies in the distance. For a big city, the air is remarkably clear and refreshing. You get a chance to stretch your legs at the station here, while the train is refueled and cleaned. After Denver, the Zephyr begins a long upward pull into the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies where the rocky foothills jut from sweeping plains. Pine trees dot the ochre-coloured hillsides, which often plunge down into deep river valleys, with bubbling, fast-running streams.
The views from the train windows, especially those of the Sightseer Lounge Car, are stunning and generally uninterrupted by man-made obstacles. The only intrusion appears to be the train itself, glimpsed from its own window, becoming part of the immaculate scenery as it wends its way along the river courses and valleys. The Zephyr passes through Moffett tunnel, a nine-mile long tube of darkness which takes around 10 minutes to pass through. On the other side, the rivers, mountains and pines continue to dominate the view. The yellow and red rock become the canvas upon which rushing waters and thick pine forests are drawn.
By Day 3, the Zephyr is in the Nevada flatlands, well into California. In the High Sierras you are treated to a never-ending procession of dramatically beautiful views, broken only by the occasional bridge, or by the mountain sides themselves. Alpine Donner Lake passes, serene in the valley of sweeping ranges.
Finally, at the Emeryville terminus, shuttle buses to San Francisco wait for you trainside. You’ll feel relaxed by the no-rush feel of the journey, and inspired by the unparalleled scenery and the breath-taking vastness and variety of the North American continent.