Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Nigel Rides The Rails -- A Travelogue

As long as I've known him, Nigel has had a fascination with trains. His affinity for trains actually played a role in which town we chose to live in when we moved to Washington state. He had a co-worker who lived south of Seattle and took the Sounder into work every day, and he decided if it was possible he wanted to do that too. So now he does, and I drive him to the train station every morning. At one point, we considered making a garden railway part of the garden, but that idea got shelved.

A few years ago Nigel read an interesting book called Stranger on a Train by Jenny Diski, the tale of two cross-country trips the author took on Amtrak. He decided he wanted to do that too. He set his sights on taking a train trip that in essence, took him from Seattle to Tacoma by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Unfortunately, his dream wasn't my dream, but I've spent plenty of money on garden touring and Garden Bloggers Fling trips, so I encouraged him to pursue it.

Recently he did.

It didn't start out in a very promising way. He was supposed to take the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago, the first leg of the trip, but 24 hours before he was set to go, Amtrak sent him an email canceling it. A freight train had derailed in Montana on the same tracks that Amtrak used, and the National Transportation Safety Board wouldn't let Amtrak send passenger trains over it until the track had been checked.

Undaunted, Nigel bought a plane ticket to Chicago, and the trip began just a few days later than originally scheduled. After landing in Chicago at about 4 in the afternoon, Nigel headed to his hotel, checked in, and then decided to do a bit of sight-seeing.

Looking for Batman and Superman outside the Chicago Board of Trade Building

He stood in line for a couple of hours to go up the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower)

View of the Chicago canal from the top of the tower

Chicago shoreline

Nigel noticed quite a few green roofs

I'm sure Nigel didn't realize when he took this photo, but this view is looking toward Millenium Park and the Lurie Garden, on the far left

If I'm not mistaken, the Lurie Garden is down there somewhere near that strange metallic structure in the park (The Jay Pritzker Pavilion)

After a good night's sleep Nigel headed to Chicago's Union Station to board the Southwest Chief, for a two-night trip to Los Angeles.

Union Station, Chicago

This staircase leads down to the trains and should be familiar to fans of the movie The Untouchables

The train boards far underground

Nigel's cabin, with a bench that turns into a bed

The lounge car

Cornfields in Illinois

The Mississippi River

In the evening the cabin attendant came in to convert the bench into a bed.

By the next morning the train had reached Colorado, and the landscape and building architecture outside had changed considerably.

By the afternoon, Nigel was in New Mexico.

Raton, NM train station

The RailRunner, painted like a roadrunner, is the New Mexico commuter rail

After another night's sleep in his cozy cabin, Nigel awoke to a California sunrise.

San Bernardino National Forest

San Bernardino Train Station

Looks like wildfire smoke on the horizon

The Southwest Chief pulled in to another Union Station, this one in Los Angeles

Los Angeles City Hall (destroyed by aliens in the 50s movie War of the Worlds)

War of the Worlds

Nigel's hotel in LA had a rooftop garden, which was in the process of being set up for a wedding. He went in and took a few photos, but then got kicked out, unfortunately.

View of the garden from his hotel room


It was hot in LA! After a bit of a rest in his air-conditioned room he decided to go out sight-seeing again. And since he still hadn't had his fill of trains, he went for a ride on Angels Flight, a funicular railroad that takes people up an LA hillside. If you saw the movie La La Land, you saw a scene filmed on Angels Flight.

And if you watch this little movie, you can take the entire ride with Nigel.

Another morning, and it's time to board another train, the Coast Starlight.

Back at LA's Union Station

The train awaits!

Nigel's Coast Starlight cabin looked a lot like the one he had on the Southwest Chief

The Mighty Specific Ocean

Complete with surfer dude

At the station in Santa Barbara, the train stopped for a "fresh air break" aka smoking break for passengers

Sunset in California

The next morning the train was still in California, but traveling through much smokier, dare I say apocalyptic, terrain.

Morning light in Shasta-Trinity National Forest

Shasta-Trinity National Forest, 8:26 a.m.

By the afternoon the train had reached Oregon. When it stopped at Klamath Falls, Nigel got out to inspect the coupling which connects two carriages, which he says is called a knuckle.

A field in Oregon

Crossing one of Portland, OR's many bridges

Yet another Union Station, in Portland, OR

Why do so many cities have a Union Station? Find out here.

Approaching the Tacoma Narrows and home

Hope you enjoyed this travelogue! Throughout his trip, Nigel kept in touch with me via iPhone texts and sent me some of these photos, and I thought it would be fun to share them.