Train 2011: Around Mt. Shasta

After a decent night’s sleep, those of us on the Coast Starlight today awoke to blue skies as we looped around Mt. Shasta. The big rock is covered with snow and glistened in the morning sun. I popped into the dining car to enjoy an early breakfast (not one of Amtrak’s best) while we twisted through the forest. No snow on the ground where the train goes, but still a beautiful ride around the curves.

After negotiating the curves, the train’s next stop is in Klamath Falls, a dusty burg that’s one of hundreds of railroad towns around the country. Not much here, but it’s good to see that the old Southern Pacific depot is still functioning — positively a beehive when our train came in. Not only were folks leaving the Starlight, the ticket window was busy getting passengers their northbound seats for the day-long trip to Portland or beyond.

North of Klamath Falls the train heads up into the mountains again and the most spectacular part of the trip. Snow dusted trees, canyons with flowing streams, lots of curves where we could see the front and the back of the train at the same time.

There are several tunnels, some featuring snow sheds on either end.

Curving through the snow.

Curving through the snow.

Lakes… Crater Lake, Diamond Lake, all beautiful on this clear winter day.

Once the train descends, it’s the rolling farmland of agricultural Oregon. The train skirts the huge Diamond Lake, which framed snowcapped mountains. Towns along the way are small and smaller — Chemult, Eugene, Albany — before the capitol, Salem, and the big city, Portland.

One of those train things… we were stuck on a siding for about 40 minutes waiting for a freight train to pass (after all, they own the tracks) which put us behind schedule. But the engineer cranked up the two engines hauling us and the conductor cut the time we sat in Portland, so we arrived in Seattle 25 minutes early. That’s right… early.

Food in the diner was not gourmet, but was not bad. The breakfast was a bit cold, but lunch (a burger) and dinner (baked chicken) were today in the diner. I opted for the diner with its larger selection, rather than the Parlour Car that’s a bit fancier. A nice thing is that the fare is served on glassware (Corelle) rather than the high grade plastic that they used on the Southwest Chief last year.

The staff was motivated and friendly, making two of my three recent trips with decent folks; the bad was the trip back from Santa Fe last year.

My hotel was just a couple of blocks from Seattle’s King Street station; I ignored advice and walked over in the cold.

Overall, a great experience. Not for everybody but easier than driving and more interesting than on a plane. I’m looking forward to my trip back down the coast next week.

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