First Trans Continental--Richmond to LA via Washington and Chicago.


From Richmond, I traveled to Washington, DC, where one can explore Union Station during the wait time, or, walk over to the Mall to visit the Capital and the White House as well as visit the premier monuments to our greatest Presidents. I always take time to visit the Vietnam War Memorial as well as the great bronze statue of Einstein on the grounds of the National Science Foundation.

From Washinton, the Capital Limited wound its way to the Windy City for an early morning arrival. The Limited traverses the Applachians through numerous historical sites, e.g., Harpers Ferry. With nightfall, the train plows through the industrial states to Chicago the next morning. Adept at sleeping anywhere, the rocking of train is disturbing to some but a lullaby to others who can sleep anywhere. After a morning and afternoon walking around Chicago, I boarded the Southwest Chief for Los Angeles.

It is important to note that most train stations in major cities are downtown, not major distance and dollars away in the boonies like airports. If traveling, I'd rather leave a day or two earlier to take a train which is less hazzle than flying. One can work and relax as well as see America and a whole range of humanity from the states and from abroad. As a tourist with a Rail, you can store your limited luggage for a few dollars at the rail station's baggage claim. If you take more than one rollalong then you are over-luggaged.

The Chief rolls through the evening and night with morning bringing views of the Southwest. With regard to the Grand Canyon, what would seem a inconvenience actually is a plus. Westerly, the Chief passes the Grand Canyons at 8pm, too late for a viewing. What is the cost-conscious traveler to do so as to make pilgrimage to this geological wonder without comparison anywhere else on the earth--ten miles across, a mile deep? Simple. Be a boomerrang.

  1. Sleep on the Chief as it barrels into Los Angeles for an early morning arrival.
  2. Spend the day investigating Los Angeles. First visit City Hall with its panoramic view of the LA basin--couldn't see Jed Clampet anywhere in the distance. Take a high speed express bus to the Santa Monica pier where you can beat up on your computer for a few hours looking at the Pacific Ocean.
  3. On the return to the train station, visit China Town which is only a few blocks away. Food was great. Ambience less than expected--just the opposite of the visit to Vancouver's China Town later on the pass.
  4. Board the eastbound Chief for a night of work, discussion and sleep for an 8am arrival at the Grand Canyon. A day of daylight hours with a sunset view of the Grand Canyon was thoroughly enjoyed before returning to the train station to repeat the westbound to LA on 8pm Chief. At the Grand Canyon, the free shuttle bus was taken from which one can see different vistas of the Canyon. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes. A great chili lunch was had at a lodge with a great view during which the laptop was subjected to its obligatory beating and abuse. From the rim of the canyon, one can see the people walking or riding the paths into the depths. Even from a mile above, one can hear the roar of the Colorado River as it continues its six million year erosion of the geological strata that dates backs billions of years.
  5. Adding pleasure to the Grand Canyon boomerrang was a mother with two children about seven and nine who were visiting from Tahiti. The general pleasanties began after a initial bump when the chattering bilingual "brats" were too lively when the announcement system came on. Remembering one of only two French phrases from decades ago, I sternly said, "Fermez la bouche." Quizzical and rapid repeats of "Fermez la bouche" was cackling out of the kids which then made the public announcement no longer important. The mother's stern glaze exceeded my precipitating stern comment.
  6. Unfortunately, the enjoyment of the Grand Canyon was marred by two forest fires, one to the northwest and one to the southeast. A park ranger said that they were more common than they used to be. Global warming is also global drying creating tinder boxes that further reverse the natural ratio of CO2 sequestering while increasing  greenhouse gases. Every forest fire puts massive amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere while reducing vegetation that converts CO2 to biomass.

    The trip from the terminus of the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, to was also marred by an event at the end. Detailed more completely in the column on Amtrak employees, safety and service concerns were voiced to the conductor. As I was packing my luggage to leave the train at the station, a tap on my shoulder provided a shock. A LAPD officer was standing with his hand on his gun saying that he wanted me to come with him and saying not to make any sudden moves. Upon the train platform were two other officers, one from Homeland Security and the other from the Transportation Safety Adminstration. Both had their hands on their holstered guns. The sequence of events was ludicrous. All I had done was convey, as a quiet rail passenger, concerns about safety and service to the conductor who called ahead to say that he maybe had a terrorist on his train--me, a fat, old passenger! As an honorably discharged veteran, this passenger resents safety officers being put on wild goose chases because a conductor was not doing his job. Nonetheless, I spent some more time in LA visiting Hollywood before beginning the second trans-continental leg on the Sunset Limited to New Orleans.

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