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
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
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.
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Sleep on the Chief as it barrels into Los Angeles for an early morning
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.
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.
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
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.
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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