Home About Me Not Me Blog Links Pictures Coasters

Blog #1036

Nevada and California - 9/13/2021

Shawn and I began our day around 6:30am with the sun rising on us in northern Nevada as we continued our journey aboard the California Zephyr.  Throughout today we will be generally traveling around the same route as Interstate 80, all the way to San Francisco Bay.


Most of this morning was spent crossing the vast open space of the Great Basin as we headed westward towards Reno.  Some of the views on the mountains to the north were obscured by a haze of smoke from the California wildfires.


Around 11:00am we made a short stop in Reno.  The rail lines into the station at Reno descend into a trench and the station is virtually underground.  There isn’t much to see here.


Soon after leaving Reno, the tracks begin their snaking climb up the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Sierra Nevada Mountains

About an hour from Reno we passed through Truckee after crossing into California. This is a beautiful mountain town.

We could see Donner Lake below us and Interstate 80 beyond.

Donner Lake

The trains continued to zig zag up the sides of the mountains. We passed through a tunnel called The Big Hole. It cuts underneath Mount Judah and is the third-longest rail tunnel in the United States at 10,325 feet. It is from this altitude of 6,887 feet that we began our gradual descent down into the Sacramento Valley.

It was noon and time for your lunch reservations in the dinner car. I found it amusing that we were eating lunch as we traveled through Donner Pass. My sense of humor made me make a post about it on FaceBook and throughout the afternoon it received several great responses. One of the best was from Sarah, who had not heard the story of the Donner Party.

As we trekked across the tops of the ridges of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, there was a time when I looked down the side of the mountain and said to myself, “If this train comes off the track, we’re all dead... just dead”.

Sierra Nevada Mountain Range

This was quite different from yesterday when we were nearly always at the bottom of the valley looking up at the cliffs and mountains.

The shear mountainsides slowly gave way to rolling hills and finally the wide open valley floor of and vast Sacramento Valley.

Sacramento Valley

At 3:45pm the train made a quick stop at Sacramento. It was 97 degrees and I suddenly thought that we might have a miserable trip ahead of us if these are the temperatures we are going to have to deal with for the upcoming week.


We left the California capital city and continued across the valley. The farmland and ranches rolled past our window.


The longest water crossing of our trip was at the Carquinez Strait, which connects Suisun Bay to San Francisco Bay.

Carquinez Strait

During this final stretch of today’s excursion, there were times the railroad tracks were literally just feet from San Francisco Bay. The sun and waves were there to welcome us to the west coast.

San Francisco Bay

After 2,438 miles and nearly 54 hours our journey aboard the California Zephyr came to a close as we pulled into the station at Emeryville, California at 5:30pm. Shawn and I both had a great experience on our trip from Chicago. With many thanks to sleeping car attendant, Lisa and especially dining car attendant, Lee, who gave us extra attention.

As soon as we exited the train we were greeted with a much milder temperature which made my outlook for the week ahead much better. We waved goodbye to the Zephyr and walked to our nearby hotel.

California Zephyr

We checked into the Hyatt House Emeryville/San Francisco Bay Area, dropped our things in our room and headed back out to explore the neighborhood, do some window shopping and get a bite to eat. After a little while, redecided to take a rideshare over to Berkeley.

We walked for several blocks along Telegraph Avenue checking out the shops and restaurants. This area felt like a more expansive version of Court Street, Athens with its eclectic college vibe with just a bit of grittiness.

Just around the corner, Shawn found an impressive game store called Games of Berkeley. Their inventory was more than spectacular. A few doors down, we grabbed a pair of hot dogs from Top Dog.

Top Dog

As amazing as our railroad adventure has been so far, we aren't finished yet. Tomorrow we set off on the final leg which will take us from here in Emeryville through the Coyote and Salinas Valleys, over the Santa Lucia Mountains, and along the Pacific Coast to Los Angeles.

Previous | Blog list | Next

Copyright James Whitmore