Around the U.S. by Train #2: Capitol Limited (March 2017)

Amtrak Capitol Limited Washington DC

The Capitol Limited left Chicago in early evening for our overnight ride to DC and we had dinner on the train. Daylight had completely evaporated by the time we passed through Southbend, Indiana; Toledo, Ohio was a blur at midnight; and a gloomy, overcast dawn didn’t emerge until we reached Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Snow had started to appear as we approached Chicago but it was thick on the ground in eastern Pennsylvania and western Maryland – this would be the most snow we’d see on the whole trip. We wound our way along the Youghiogheny River, then passed through Martinsburg, West Virgina over to the North Branch of the Potomac River and then followed that to Harpers Ferry, West Virgina – where the Appalachian Trail crosses the Potomac and John Brown made his stand.  From there we paralleled the main Potomac River and the old C&O Canal right in to Washington, DC’s wonderfully restored Union Station for an early afternoon, on-time arrival after 780 rail miles.

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Around the U.S. by Train #1: Southwest Chief (March 2017)

Amtrak Southwest Chief Chicago

Our trip got started with a pleasantly boring flight on Alaska Airlines to Los Angeles International Airport, followed by a taxi ride to Union Station in the heart of downtown. Wayne & Diane wafted in on the Pacific Surfliner around noon, just in time for a nice lunch (from Traxx) in the station’s tree-shaded courtyard.  Then, after a quick walk through Olvera street, we hung-out in the Metropolitan Lounge until our 6:00PM departure on the Southwest Chief.

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Around the U.S. by Train: Overview (March 2017)

Between the buffalo trace and the Interstate Highway System, there were the railroads. The iron rails are what knit the United States into an ocean-to-ocean nation after the Civil War and were the means for long-distance travel until the advent of better roads, cars, and airplanes.  Ambrose’s “Nothing Like It in the World” and Bain’s “Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad” are excellent reads on this topic.  The freight railroads are still an integral and essential part of the U.S. economy but passenger rail service has not fared so well.  That reached its zenith in the 1940s, at which time it was possible to access every major city, and a surprising number of remote hamlets, by rail.

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U.S. Route 20 Across the U.S.: Days 5 & 6 (October 2016)

Chicago, Illinois to Williams, Iowa (~320 miles)

The remnants of a Pacific tropical storm had finally reached the Mid-West and we awoke to a driving rain storm – and then spent the morning driving west through it. We weren’t allowed any respite from the rain until we reached the Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site in Galena, Illinois. We stopped there primarily (OK, they had toilets too) to recognize the U.S. President that, despite a scandal-plagued administration, had the wisdom to create, in 1872, Yellowstone National Park.  We were here years ago to hike the Illinois state highpoint, Charles Mound (1,235 feet), which is northeast of Galena.

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U.S. Route 20 Across the U.S.: Days 3 & 4 (October 2016)

Day 3: Tully, New York to Norwalk, Ohio (~399 miles)

It rained a little overnight but by morning it looked like we’d have another nice day like we’d had in Massachusetts. But patchy clouds had rolled over by the time we got to the Finger Lakes Region, with its prosperous little hamlets of Auburn, Seneca Falls, and Geneva. West of there, US20 alternated between two- and four-lane road and we made good time to Lancaster, New York, just east of Buffalo, New York. The rolling hills, small towns with their classic old houses, and forests in Fall colors made this a particularly attractive stretch of US20. We had lunch at the Broadway Deli (very good soup and salad!) in Lancaster and then followed US20 – slowly – through Buffalo’s eastern and southern suburbs. Then it was along the shore of Lake Erie (which you can’t see from US20) and into Pennsylvania. We entered Erie, Pennsylvania as its schools were letting out and rush hour was beginning, so we crawled through it, hitting stop light after stop light. We’d gotten through Springfield (MA) and Albany (NY) on the weekend, so this was our first experience with regular, weekday urban traffic on US20. The glacial pace we were forced to assume made us question the practicality of going urban on US20.

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