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Blog #1035

Colorado and Utah - 9/12/2021

We woke up to the morning sun as we approached Denver.


Our train rolled into Union Station at about 7:00am.  Then we had about an hour to step off of the train to explore the station and catch a glimpse of downtown Denver.

Unions Station

Unions Station

At 8:05am the California Zephyr departed the station to continue our long journey.

Just outside Denver and to the west, the Rocky Mountains sore high above the Great Plains.  Our climb up the mountains began with a winding pass through Big Ten Curve.  From here we had our final view of Denver.  The tracks make a 270 degree turn on itself, and goes by a line of about two dozen Hopper cars permanently set on a siding to block the wind that comes off the mountains.

Big Ten Curve

For about the next 40 miles we twist our way through the Tunnel District.  There are 28 tunnels total and the train gained over 3,000 feet of elevation.

Tunnel District

Tunnel District

Tunnel District

With the Tunnel District behind us we were still climbing towards the highest point on all of the Amtrak system.  Curiously enough, that point is inside a tunnel and underneath the Continental Divide.  The train reached a maximum altitude of 9,239 feet above sea level as it passed through the 6.2-mile-long Moffat Tunnel.

Just at the exit from Moffat Tunnel we emerged in Winter Park.  During the winter months, Amtrak operates weekend service from Denver to this resort for ski enthusiasts.  But we didn’t stop here.  We continued on and stopped at Fraser for a brief respite.



Just past Granby we met up with the Colorado River.  At this point the river isn’t much bigger than the Hocking or Muskingum Rivers back home.  But we would see it grow in size and grandeur as we would spend most of the day following alongside.

Colorado River

Near Kremling I noticed the valley and the river itself had widened out and was quite peaceful.

Colorado River

But just a few moments later we had entered Gore Canyon.  The river had quickly narrowed and was now full of rapids.  I soon spotted kayakers and rafters in the water.

Gore Canyon

Throughout the rest of our journey along the Colorado River there were plenty of people taking advantage of the river’s recreational activities.  We saw campers, tubing, pleasure boats, rafters, canoes, swimming and fly fishing.  Amtrak had been giving audio tour guides over the PA during the trip and at this point they offered passengers a warning that it had become a custom for boaters song the river to moon the train as it passed by.  And sure enough, we saw plenty of moons and even some breasts.


At Dotsero the train line met with Interstate 70.  From here we would travel through Glenwood Canyon to Glenwood Springs.  Our train moved slowly through this canyon and for good reason.  The narrow canyon barely has enough room to fit the railroad tracks, river and the highway.  In fact, the highway was originally two-lanes.  When the road was improved to include four lanes, the new additions were built using elevated structures and tunnels.  This was the final portion of the original Interstate High System to be completed and is said to be one of the most expensive rural highways per mile built in the United States.

Interstate 70

We watched from the observation car, as the canyon walls tower above us.  I sat back in my chair, looked through the windows at the top of the train car nearly straight up at the jagged rock cliffs high above.  The walls climb as high as 1,300 feet above the Colorado River.

Glenwood Canyon

Glenwood Canyon

This was by far the most spectacular part of our trip.

We arrived in Glenwood Springs around two o'clock and were held up here for a short delay.  While we waited on the tracks, I spotted an amusement park at the top of one of the mountains above the town.  It turns out that this is Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.  The small park has a reputation for unique placement of rides for those that are not faint of heart.

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park

Our journey continued on following the Colorado river and through Grand Junction.  Throughout the afternoon, I noticed the rock of the valley walls were glowing slightly more red as the miles rolled by.

Colorado River Valley

By late afternoon we crossed into Utah and a short time later the railway gradually parted ways with the river.  Our train rumbled westward, while the Colorado meandered to the southwest.

Sarah had told me to keep an eye out for the beautiful red and orange rock of southeast Utah.  As we passed along the beautiful emptiness I viewed off into the distance towards Arches National Park.  I couldn’t make out any detail of the beauty of the park that Sarah had spoken so highly of.  But even from this distance it makes me want to come back someday and visit Arches firsthand.

Arches National Park

At Green River we turned towards the north and parted ways with Interstate 70.  As we traveled through the Price River Valley, it was slowly beginning to appear that we were coming to the most scenic parts of the route in Utah.  Unfortunately, the sun was slowly setting and we weren’t able to see much of it.  But we did see some beautiful sunsets peeking in and out of the passing mountains.


Helper, Utah caught my eye as a picturesque and quaint railroad town with an old-west and mid-century vibe.

I posted a FaceBook 'hello' to Jalyn as we passed through Provo, as Sarah's friend lives just a few blocks from the train station.

As Shawn and I drifted off to sleep with the astounding beauty of the Rocky Mountains behind us we were looking forward to tomorrow with California and it’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.

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