2014 Amtrak-VIA Circle Trip: Day 3

Where did the mountains go? I’m looking out the window of my roomette aboard Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder and all I can see are rocks and sagebrush in eastern Washington.

It is Day 3 (Satureday, May 24, 2014) of my Amtrak-VIA circle trip and I had awakened about the time that we left Spokane, Washington, where we departed 41 minutes late at 4:26 a.m. The skies were clear. Gradually, the landscape became more rugged and it was fun to see the terrain turning.

I showered – remembering to push the button to turn off the water this time – got dressed and made my way to the dining car where I was seated with Edward, a guy from Indianapolis who was riding in the coaches.

I had lived in Indianapolis between 1988 and 1991, but that didn’t seem to help in helping us find common ground and things to talk about. That was OK because there was much to see out the windows.

There was another railroad track in the distance below us. Barlow, our server, explained that we were about to go around a giant horseshoe curve. In a few minutes we would be on that track.

In the distance an eastbound BNSF intermodal train waiting for us on a passing siding.

At the apex of the horseshoe we got our first glimpse of the Columbia River, which we would follow for several miles.

It would be some of the most spectacular scenery of the trip. I was so enthralled with it that my breakfast almost became cold because I was preoccupied with photographing the sites along the gorge.

Breakfast was French toast, sausage and orange juice. It was good.

I was able to get off the train at Wenatchee, Washington. The Great Northern station in Wenatchee still stands, but Amtrak no longer uses it. The Amtrak station, if you can call it that, is a shelter, although a visually interesting one.

Mountains surround Wenatchee and the area lies in the fruit-growing region of Washington. There were numerous fruit sorting and packing facilities next to the tracks.

I spent quite a bit of time standing at the rear of the last car on the train, a coach, photographing the receding countryside. What I hoped to get was an image of the train exiting Cascade Tunnel.

It took us 14 minutes to traverse the 7.8 mile tunnel. I stood by the rear door the entire time. I was surprised that the crew had not announced that it would “go dark” for nearly 15 minutes.

On the west side of the tunnel the weather was dramatically different than it had had been on the east side.

On the east side had been sunshine and blue skies. On the west side, it was cloudy, foggy and rainy.

The vegetation was also more lush than it had been on the east side. It just goes to show how a mountain range can influence weather patterns.

It must have been a fun experience to sit in the observation lounge of the original Empire Builder and watch this appealing scenery roll unfold behind you.

I had been looking forward to seeing this section of the route and I was not disappointed.  BNSF calls this the Scenic Subdivision and that name is quite apt.

* * * * *

The Sounder commuter trains must not operate on weekends because it seemed that much of the equipment was stored at the station in Everett, Washington.

This was our last chance to get off the train before Seattle. It still was mostly cloudy when we departed and soon we were hugging the Puget Sound.

I had forgotten how scenic this portion of the trip is as we hugged the rugged shoreline. It must be fun to photograph trains here from one of the many beaches.

Soon, the iconic Space Needle loomed and the end of our journey was just minutes away. No. 7 halted at King Street Station at 11:38 a.m. We were 17 minutes early and Jeff said over the PA that it had been a long time since an Empire Builder that he worked had arrived in Seattle in such good shape.

I got my first look at the renovated station. What a lovely job they did with the restoration. This place is a gem.

I got a cab outside the station to head for my hotel. The two Las Vegas ladies I had eaten with twice were also catching a cab for the airport.

Because No. 7 had arrived in Seattle early, they would be able to make their connection to their flight home after all. I bid them farewell and a pleasant flight home.

When you look at the Empire Builder schedule it seems like a long trip. It’s 2,205 miles and takes three days.

Given what happened with Nos. 7 and 8 during 2014, it also must seem taking that train was a roll of the dice. In actuality, the elapsed travel time including the en route service stops is less than 48 hours. Breakfast and dinner are served twice and lunch just once.

If riding the Empire Builder is a gamble, then I got lucky. Despite the late start, locomotive problems en route and timekeeping that fell to almost three hours behind at one point, we had arrived in Seattle early.

Had we still been following the original schedule, we would have been an hour and 13 minutes late. I would have been all right with that because I would still have the afternoon to explore Seattle.

My hotel room was not ready when I arrived, but I was able stow my stuff at the front counter. I walked over to the waterfront, spending some time at Pike Place Market and had a pleasant lunch at a nearby café.

I also managed to find the fish market where the guys throw the fish, much to the delight of the large crowds that gather to watch.

It was Memorial Day weekend and Seattle was a hopping place. The crowds at Pike Place were so thick that it was hard to walk from one end of the market to the other.

I had not been in Seattle since 2000 and had forgotten how steep some of those hills are. At times it was an exhausting walk back to my hotel.

My room was ready when I got back so I settled in. Sunday would begin early for me so I elected to order take out from a hotel restaurant and eat in my room while watching a baseball game. The Mariners were playing in town but I couldn’t find the broadcast of that game on the TV.

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