Amtrak Experience : California Zephyr #1

An experience aboard the California Zephyr

California Zephyr
Chicago, IL -> Denver, CO
aug. 2015

The big departure

My first thought when the train left Union Station, alone in the big California Zephyr was “what the hell am I doing this for? I should’ve stayed with Shannon (my best friend), and her friends instead of jumping on my own in Big Great America, so big and scary for my tiny French self”. Everything was so new, and big, and I was realising I was gonna be on my own from now on. Getting out of your comfort zone is always scary. But that’s the whole point! So yeah, I was really scared about what was going to happen next. But so excited! I was on my way to Colorado, how cool was that? I had never thought I would end up in Colorado one day !!!

amtrak experience, california zephyr, train, train station, iowa, people

So, being in that state of mind, I was pretty much excited about anything I would see, which helped a lot making the trip interesting. Everyone told me I would eventually get bored to death from seeing so many corn fields but I was not. First of all, it wasn’t just corn fields. It was a lot of very various things and towns I had never seen before.

But let’s be honest, trains in the US are not exactly fast. If it is annoying when you really wanna go from A to B in as little time as possible, it is perfect for weirdos like me who like to take their time and appreciate what they see around. So I wasn’t so bummed about the 17 hours long trip. Because I knew I was gonna be able to capture a lot of things with my camera.

Living in a train for a few hours

You only get a few smoke stops on the way, so getting to see stuff outside the train is complicated. I only had less than 10 minutes to smoke my cigarette and see around. I decided the train would be my main interest. Trains in America are much bigger than in Europe (just like everything else really), and the platforms are smaller. So trains look even bigger than they actually are. Also, coming from France, a country that uses trains are their main means of transportation, it was amazing to see how much room I had!

For the first time, I was happy I am so tiny because I had exactly the space I needed to survive without moving for the next 17 hours. So I spent most of this time with my camera against the window (and also, sleeping. night sadly happened at some point).I loved all the fields, all the little farms, all of it looked like some old movie, it was fun. I get why people think it’s boring tho. While I admit that it made the journey funny and captivating, living there is a whole other story. Cities (or even towns) are miles and miles away from each other. And, this is America. So whatever you think big is, it’s actually bigger.

From sunset to sunrise

amtrak experience, california zephyr, train, inside, sunset, windows,

I got to see the sunset above the fields of Iowa, all green and Midwestern-like, and crossed Nebraska during the night, so sadly I have no idea what it looks like. But I found out, call me stupid all you want, that there is a city called Omaha. All I knew was Omaha Beach. I guess it makes sense it has been named after an American city, I just never thought of it! Omaha was also the last night smoke stop before the morning. We left the green of Iowa to wake up in the very bright and yellow Colorado. I saw the sunrise over the desert and it was quite magical for me!

amtrak experience, california zephyr, colorado, sunrise, morning, fields, sky, blue, train

I also found out that in the land of free that is America, even the cows don’t have fences around them, even tho there is a railway next door. But I noticed that American cows are scared of the train, so I guess they are smart enough to save their asses away when a train shows up! Unlike French cows, who manage to escape their closed fields to wander to their deaths. Apparently, even animals are more obedient in the rest of the world than in my home country. Hahaha! Anyway, I realised soon enough Colorado was going to be a fun and bright place, and I was more than right! This was enough to help me forget the uncomfortable sleep and bad food from the last twenty hours.
If you want to see random places in the country and have some time to see around, I definitely recommend traveling by train. No one will do that in America, but it is worth it. And that is just the first part of the trip aboard the California Zephyr 😉

amtrak experience, california zephyr, colorado, morning, fields, sun, blue sky

Where to board the California Zephyr :

Stops at all main cities :

  • †† Chicago
  • Omaha
  • Denver
  • Salt Lake City
  • Oakland (San Francisco)

Plus a bunch of smaller towns on the way. Check out for more info.
The total trip from Chicago to Emeryville is about 52hours. There is a restaurant you can book a table on the train, as well as a bar. But I recommend, to save money, to bring snacks with you. Sometimes you can buy some stuff at the stations the trains stop at, but not much!
You can purchase tickets for a seat, the cheapest ones, or get the “sleeper” ones where you get a bed. All details are on their website 😉
In both Denver and Chicago, you get right into the city when arriving at the station. From Emeryville there is a shuttle that takes you straight to San Francisco! It stops at the Greyhound station in the city and at the Embarcadero. You can get tickets at the desk when you get off the train. The shuttle usually waits for everyone to leave the train.

amtrak experience, california zephyr, map, trip, station, united state map

You can find the part 2 about the California Zephyr trip right here.
Check my portfolios for more photos of my trip with Amtrak ! 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Go Top
Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial

Like the blog? Spread the love!