My 7000-mile train journey across America brought me to places where distant cousins settled over 100 years ago when the west was still young. And I visited places where 90 years ago, my mother and great grandmother took 2 ½ months to visit and sightsee. I followed their path, but in 29 days.
On day 5, I left Colorado Springs for Grand Junction, via Denver, Colorado.
First, I waited for hours for the Amtrak-ticketed bus to Denver, then went off through the Rockies on the California Zephyr to Grand Junction, Colorado. There I tried to imagine what that place was like in 1923 when it was nothing but orchards. One of the family there worked as an inspector in the orchard shipping plant back then and another farmed but for extra work took his mules up into the mountains and helped with dam construction.
While visiting the Millers there, Kathryn and Rebecca were taken to the still-active Avalon theatre to see “The Shawl.” Most of the orchards have given way to housing and the downtown streets to art shops and coffee houses. However, you can glimpse the past at the Museum of Western Colorado.
From the Museum roof there is a 360 degree view of the landscape, and in the distance see the bookcliffs much as they were in the 1880s when the first homesteaders arrived.
I found an Eldon Miller and thought I’d found a relative, but though he was interested in genealogy, he didn’t think he was connected to our family; I found a Miller Homestead, too, but that wasn’t in the family either. I left Grand Junction liking the town but not having made a personal connection except to know that the Millers and their visitors saw the same “bookcliffs” I did.
I shared the Grand Junction Amtrak waiting room with a train-focused tourist group from Germany. Some of us took a little walk outside where you could see the classic old train station abandoned behind a chain link fence; quite a sad contrast.
I’m sure the German tourists enjoyed our vintage railroads but I wonder what they thought of Amtrak, given the efficient railroads of Europe.
Kathryn and Rebecca left on the Denver & Rio Grand for what was apparently a “cindery” all day ride to Salt Lake City, arriving only 15 minutes off schedule. My California Zephyr was already 2 ½ hours late when it got to Grand Junction.
Next stop, Salt Lake City, where I stayed in the same hotel Kathryn and Rebecca had stayed in – the Peery Hotel. The reservationist couldn’t put me in the same room they had stayed in because it was now part of the Macaroni Restaurant; however, she did put me in a room just above it.
In the morning I followed the same tourist route they did, finding Mormon Square probably much like it was in 1923. Relatives from the Stober family line met me and took me to the site of the Saltair Resort by the Great Salt Lake.
The fabulous Saltair Resort was destroyed by fire (several times) but we found a gift shop that had photos of its former glory. Back in 1923, Kathryn rode the “Giant Racer,” a roller coaster out over the lake. We could only look at the lake in the distance, for over time it has shrunk considerably. The modern show venue now on site has a few architectural touches reflecting the extravagant architecture that once was the “Coney Island of the West.”
When Kathryn and Rebecca left Salt Lake City, they boarded a Southern Pacific train, which arrived in San Francisco’s Embarcadero via ferries. My California Zephyr, on the other hand, dropped us in Emeryville, California, where a bus took us across the bridges into the city and dropped us off by the curb on the Embarcadero near both the current small Amtrak waiting room and the dock where the old ferries arrived.
And by this time I was learning the tricks for riding Amtrak – if your train is coming in the late evening (as it was in Salt Lake City), don’t head out to the tracks, watch the app, and keep your hotel room for at least a partial night’s sleep. We left 5 hours late that night because the Zephyr clipped a man on the tracks back in Oswego, Illinois. Any incident like that adds hours of investigation and crew change to a trip.
I knew I’d miss the Zephyr. After all it felt like home after 2,438 miles – some bumpy some smooth, but with grand vistas of vast ranches, dramatic Rockies, and Sierras. Next stop, California