Seeing America the Beautiful by Train

dad and me

My dad and I took an eight-day trip across America. It crossed nine states and covered over 5,000 miles. And we did it, mostly, by train.

Sure, there are much faster ways to get across America, but there was something beckoning us to take this train trip. We both wanted to see the spacious skies and amber waves of grain. We wanted to travel through the majestic purple mountains and speed our way across the fruited plain.

To paraphrase John (Cougar) Mellencamp: “Ain’t that America…something to see.”


In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning


The trip started in my hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah at about 3:30 a.m. We boarded Amtrak’s California Zephyr and were on our way.

It was dark and I was asleep for the first few hours of the trip, so I didn’t get to see the ghost town of Thistle, Utah or snap a picture of Soldier Summit, which was discovered by Franciscan priests Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante in about 1776. (Sorry, the history teacher in me shows sometimes. Since we’re on the subject, the pass takes its name from a group of soldiers who were on their way to join the Confederate Army, but got caught in an unexpected snowstorm in July 1861.)

Green River, Utah

We arrived in the booming Metropolis of Green River, Utah at about 8:00 a.m. (Cue Creedence Clearwater Revival on the trip playlist.)

Located on the banks of the Green River, the city was originally a river crossing for the U.S. mail. However, in the late 1800s, a ferry and railway station was set up on the east side of the river, making the city a popular stop for travelers. With an elevation of 4,078 feet, this is the lowest point between Salt Lake City and Denver.

For the record, I did not see any barefoot girls dancing in the moonlight.

Green River
The Green River

In God’s Country

The closer you get to the Utah/Colorado border, the further you get from I-70. This is also the point where the train begins to follow the Colorado River into beautiful Ruby Canyon. The only way you can see this part of the country is either by train or by raft.

Ruby Canyon

As a side note, one must be careful while taking photos of the Colorado River in this area because the aforementioned rafters feel the need to moon the train as it goes by. (Ask me how I know.)

Our first major stop was Grand Junction, Colorado, which gets it name from the historical Grand River (Colorado River) and the junction where the Colorado and Gunnison rivers meet.

Grand Junction Train StationFrom Grand Junction, we headed through De Beque and Palisade (“Peach Capital of Colorado”) and then entered the Grand Valley.

My pictures do not do justice to the grand scale of beauty in this area of Colorado. To call it beautiful doesn’t even come close. I kept thinking of that Merle Haggard song:

Have you ever been down to Colorado?
I spend a lot of time there in my mind
And if God doesn’t live in Colorado
I’ll bet that’s where He spends most of His time


Mt. Garfield, Colorado
Mt. Garfield

Rocky Mountain High

Hotel Colorado, Glenwood Springs, CO

Our next stop was Glenwood Springs, where John “Doc” Holliday, of O.K. Corral fame, spent the final months of his life and is buried. (As is Kid Curry from Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.) Glenwood Springs is also famous – or infamous – because it was there, on the night of December 30, 1977, that serial killer Ted Bundy escaped jail and went undetected for 17 hours.

Photo from

After a quick stop in Fraser, Colorado – which is the coldest incorporated town in the lower 48 states – we went through the Moffat Tunnel. The tunnel is 24 feet high, 18 feet wide, and 6.2 miles long. It sits at 9,239 feet above sea level. (1.75 miles above sea level.) During the ride through Colorado, there were many tunnels, but this was the longest.

Denver, CO
Mile High City

While the mountains of Colorado are gorgeous, I have to admit, it was nice to see the city of Denver in the distance. Due to the train running late, we did not get to spend any time in the “Mile High City”. However, it was nice to be off the train for a bit and spend some time in Union Station. (Which is supposedly haunted.)

Next leg of the trip: Denver to Chicago.

Song Lyrics

“Pink Houses” (1983): Written and recorded by John Mellencamp. Album: Uh-Huh. Riva Records.
“In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” (1955): Written by Bob Hilliard; Recorded by Frank Sinatra. Album: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. Capitol Records.
“Green River” (1969): Written by John Fogerty; Recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Album: Green River. Fantasy Records.
“In God’s Country” (1987): Written by Bono; Recorded by U2. Album: The Joshua Tree. Island Records.
“Colorado” (1976): Written by Dave Kirby; Recorded by Merle Haggard. Album: The Roots of My Raising. Capitol Records.
“Rocky Mountain High” (1972): Written and recorded by John Denver. Album: Rocky Mountain High. RCA Records.

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