Around the U.S. by Train #4: Sunset Limited (March 2017)

Amtrak Sunset Limited Los Angeles California

The Sunset Limited starts in New Orleans and takes the most southerly route in the U.S. all the way to Los Angeles, California. Those who stayed awake during high school history class will remember that this southern route was made possible by the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, not to mention the Mexican-America War of 1846-48.  The train left the station at 9:00AM, so we had the whole day to observe its passage through the wet, coastal plains of Louisiana, into the pine forests of eastern Texas, and on to the clenching humidity of Houston, Texas.  Night fell after we left Houston and the light didn’t return until we’d reached Del Rio, Texas and started into the scrub deserts of West Texas.  We made a stop in Alpine, Texas (which I’d last visited a few years ago enroute to Big Bend National Park) and then pressed on to El Paso, Texas.  Beyond El Paso, the tracks run right up to the Mexican border, right up to pieces of the new (but likely futile) border wall, and soon enter New Mexico.  The Amtrak station in Deming, New Mexico stands out for being a lonely little open shelter with two benches in a gravel parking lot.  Night fell again just as we reached Benson, Arizona and that was it for any more sightseeing on this trip.

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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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