Tuesday, December 20, 2016

California Zephyr - rails to snowy trails

Our "almost annual" pilgrimage to Glenwood Springs from Denver on Amtrak #5 started with some unexpected excitement (or inconvenience depending on how you look at it). On the eve of our outbound journey, the snow gods decided to blanket Colorado with a dose of the white stuff and drop the thermometer into the single digits. This fresh snow made navigating the roads at 5.30am on a Saturday morning interesting, and finding the parking garage entrance to the NEW Denver commuter train Westminster station an additional challenge in the dark.
We had to race for the train with luggage laden arms, frozen fingers, and along icy paths, with seconds to spare; most of the drama here was trying to actually figure out how to get from aforesaid parking garage to the platform (not very obvious in the dark).

Snowy Downtown Denver

The "B-Line" train is one of the newest lines in Denver, it whisked us quickly and without any further drama to Denver's Union Station, the city's central transportation hub. The snowy scene that greeted us outside of the station was picture postcard, but the single digit temperatures were only bearable for a few nanoseconds. Denver's Union Station recently re-opened after a major refurb and construction project, the building dates back to 1881, and is worth stopping in even if you do not plan to take a bus or train.

Exterior entrance to Union Station

Interior of Union Station

"All aboard" - that announcement did not come soon enough having stood outside on a COLD platform for 45 mins waiting for the Amtrak train #5 to arrive in Denver, most "sensible" passengers waited in the relative warmth of the stairwell; one thing I have learnt from multiple Amtrak journey's is they are NEVER on time!. The journey we were making was a relatively short one in the overall route of this train, just a mere 6-hour section between Denver and Glenwood Springs.

Amtrak train #5 and #6 Colorado route

The California Zephyr first started service in 1949, running from Chicago to Oakland, covering 2,532 miles in total, and taking 51 hours. This original service ran for 21 years until it ended in 1970 due to dwindling profits, in 1983 Amtrak reinstated the route. The route runs over 2 scenic mountain ranges (Rockies and the Sierra's) and is arguably the most scenic route in the USA. The route over the Rockies includes the 6 miles long Moffat tunnel and several scenic canyons, and follows the Colorado river for much of the mountain route. Deer and Elk graze in meadows and scatter as the train slowly trundles pass, and bald Eagles sit in Cottonwoods with a keen eye on the Colorado River.

Glenwood Canyon & I-70 along the train route

Glenwood Springs

The town of Glenwood Springs dates back to 1883 and was originally named "Defiance". The town is perhaps most famous for the Hot Springs that were built in 1888, and continue to be a top tourist destination. Teddy Roosevelt once spent a summer at the Hotel Colorado, and Doc Holliday came to the town to try and recover from illness, the mountain air did not cure him and his final resting place is the old pioneer cemetery.
The hike up to the old cemetery is not particularly long (1/2 mile one way from the trailhead), but in winter it can be hard work, but well worth the effort. Doc Holliday shares the cemetery with Kid Curry, one of the outlaws from the Wild Bunch Gang of Butch Cassidy fame.

Final resting place of Doc Holliday

View from the Pioneer cemetery

The Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs looms large and proud looking over the town and Hot Springs. This hotel was built in 1893, and is one of the oldest hotels in Colorado, it has had many famous guests, and is reportedly haunted. The hotel will be closed in 2017 for a major refurbishment.

Hotel Colorado Lobby

Hotel Colorado courtyard

View over Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs may not be a huge town, but it is a worthy stop for a night or 2 from Denver. Getting to Glenwood Springs is easy and affordable using Amtrak, and this particular train ride I would argue is about the "journey" and the "destination".

Essential info:
Amtrak tickets are generally cheaper the further out you can book
Denver's Union Station transportation hub, worth stopping and viewing since the refurb
Glenwood Springs area attractions and information
I recommend the Hotel Colorado (will be closed in 2017) or Hotel Denver

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