Amtrak Experience : California Zephyr #2

Train trip across the United State part II

California Zephyr
Denver, CO -> Emeryville, CA
Aug. 2015
river, sky, trees, nature, landscape, colorado, rocky mountains

The second part of my trip aboard the California Zephyr was definitely the best and most scenic one, as you go all across both the Rocky Mountains and the Nevada Desert.

Sleeping in Denver

I embarked on a 33 hours long trip to California, after spending half a night in a Greyhound station, and the other half in the train station.
Union Station is a pretty cool station to wait for a train, though. It’s all in the open. It looks a bit like a skeleton, with its spine going over the tracks. I’ve found it original! The inside is like, to me, a train station from a movie, with old benches and a bar!
The train was late, so I got time to get a tea from Starbucks and I got to watch the sunrise over Union Station, which was a pretty comforting time, after the long night I’ve just been through, of not sleeping and roaming around the empty station.

Denver Union Station, morning, sunrise, city, people, station, buildings, sky, trees

Colorado’s weird sleep policy

Oh yeah, because in Colorado, you are not allowed to sleep in public spaces. So, to prevent this to happen, security and police make sure you are not lying down. No matter what, at all times and costs. Apparently lying down = sleeping. Yes, even when you are clearly looking at your phone. If you’re lying down, then you sleep. And it’s forbidden. Even at 4 am in a train station with only 6 people in it. I don’t get it. I spent around 8 hours in the (closed) train station fighting against sleep and witnessing the night guard go wake up anyone that dared to fall asleep on the uncomfortable wood benches of the station. Somehow he took pity on me I think, because I was allowed to lay down for two hours. Which ended up being the best two hours of that night.

station, lights, black and white, seats, night

But hey, Colorado might be a weird state but at least they have nice weed !! That was a pretty cool help to get through the night. I would sit there listening to my music, and when sleep started to take over me again, just walk outside and smoke some weed, so I could be so focused on whatever was in my mind that I would forget about sleep. Until I wasn’t high anymore and falling asleep again. Then I would get up, and start again. That was quite a long yet weird and funny night!

Nature is amazingly perfect

So basically, I left Denver at 9 in the morning, high, tired and excited for more. My very first big trip outside of France was a one month stay in California. I had loved it, obviously. So, needless to say, 7 years and lots of traveling later, I couldn’t wait to see what beautiful California was gonna show me! But before that, I had a very long trip ahead of me. But I was glad the train was so slow. Because, trust me, you need time to appreciate what you see. The beauty of nature.
I had never been in the mountains before, or I was way too young to remember, so seeing such massive things of rock was amazing! And the train made it possible to photograph it all !!

rocky mountains, sky, clouds, mountains, rocks, river, boat, bushes, trees, cliffs

I knew this was gonna be the prettiest part of the journey on the California Zephyr, but still, I wasn’t ready for this! Hahaha,I love nature, I think this is the escape we need to be brought back to what we essentially are, as human beings. And many people tend to forget how important nature is to us – but we need it to breathe!!
Anyway, my point is, being surrounded by such beautiful landscapes made me realize how tiny I am – not just literally, but, as a human being.

Slow trains and photography

But the best part is, as a photographer, landscapes like these are basically porn. And the train made it so easy ! It’s very slow, so it gives you time to catch anything you want out the window. I only realised that months later, when I tried to take a photo through a window in a train in France, and failed completely.
Trains in the US are really reaaaaally slow, but for a good reason !!
Also, 33 hours is a long time. You get to see a lot of different lights throughout the day !! Capturing such different lights and colours was absolutely amazing! I have so many photos I have the hardest time editing because I just love them all!

rocky mountains, sky, clouds, mountains, rocks, river, bushes, trees, cliffs, nature

California, i’m coming for ya !

train station, martinez CA, building, summer, sun, sky
Californian train station

I woke up the next day in bright and sunny Nevada and, well, the landscape was a lot more different than Colorado and Utah !! Meet the desert and the civilisation ! lol
But at least the sun was shining bright, and I was getting closer to my final destination, which was good. To be honest, I was just super excited about reaching California, and Reno, NV, was the last stop until we got there. The train stopped in a lot of very Californian towns on the way. I was mostly excited about stopping in Sacramento, and see what I was gonna be able to catch from the train. My very first trip outside Europe was a month stay in a host family in Sacramento, when i was 18 years old. I really wanted to use the California Zephyr trip to try and catch a glimpse of Sacramento now! Spoiler alert: I didn’t get to see that much of it lol!

desert, mountain, sky, bushes, summer, heat, landscape

From then the journey kept getting brighter and more yellow. I love California! This is one of the very few places where I could see myself live in, honestly. But then again I have so much more to see hahaha. So this part of the California Zephyr journey is definitely a must see if you wanna visit the U.S. It’s also not so touristy, because no one really travels with trains in America, and it’s also pretty cheap!

How to perfectly end a long train trip

desert, mountain, sky, bushes, summer, heat, landscape, nevada


As if the trip wasn’t beautiful enough, we ended up getting to Emeryville 30 minutes earlier than expected!! People actually cheered when we got off the train. I was confused, as I wasn’t too sure about the time (I still get confused when traveling in a country so big they have different time-zones for the same country haha) so I thought they were just people being happy to be reunited with their loved ones. I know Americans can be very loud and show their happiness in very big and loud ways. But it turns out they were really just cheering the driver! Cause we left Denver with a three hours delay. Which is not even that much for trains over there.
Anyone who’s ever been on an Amtrak train will probably agree. You’ll never get there on time! Well, I am proud to say I was once on an Amtrak train that arrived EARLIER.
Welcome to California, girl !!

desert, mountain, sky, bushes, summer, heat, landscape, nevada

Where to board the California Zephyr :

Stops at all main cities

  • Chicago
  • Omaha
  • Denver
  • Salt Lake City
  • Oakland

Plus a bunch of smaller towns on the way. Check out amtrak.com 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 california zephyr route map chicago to emeryville

You can find the part 1 about the California Zephyr trip right here.
To read more about the USA click here and you can check my portfolio for more photos!

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