Colorado '09

Friday, June 12 through Thursday, June 18


Susan and I were determined to get a "real" vacation this summer, and had found an opening in June between meetings and the Physics class I would be teaching during one of Simpson's summer sessions.  The Jeep, at 217,000 miles and with several Colorado trips behind it, was left behind this time in favor of our new Malibu.  We left on Friday morning and drove to North Platte, arriving early enough in the day to visit the new Golden Spike Tower adjoining the UP's Bailey Yard.

The Tower, shaped to resemble a spike, has a lobby and gift shop at the bottom level and observation decks on the 7th and 8th floors.  We went to the seventh, an open air area, first.  I took a set of photos, scanning from west to east, showing the view from the deck:

Yard 1
Yard 2
Yard 3
Yard 4
Yard 5
Yard 6
Yard 7

As you can see, the panorama is pretty impressive!  The portion of the huge yard nearest to the tower includes the UP's engine servicing facility.  On the eighth floor of the tower is an enclosed deck with views identical to those below.  Here, there is a volunteer guide on hand with whom we had a pleasant visit about the yard, and as a bonus, got a great restaurant recommendation!  The eighth floor also had a number of artifacts, photos and diagrams, as well as an HO model of the engine house.  While we were on this level of the tower, we were able to observe (and hear!) both the east and west humps in operation.  These last two images were taken through the glass with a long (350mm) telephoto.

We also visited Cody Park, where there is a small railroad museum housed in the relocated Hershey depot.  Two locomotives are on display outside the museum, Challenger UP 3977 and Centennial UP 6922.  Both locos have stairways to the cabs, allowing visitors a closeup look at the steam and diesel controls and of the Challenger's firebox.

On Saturday morning we first drove west to Cheyenne and spent some time looking around that city.  We checked out the UP depot museum as well as some non-railroad attractions.  Before we started south toward Rocky Mountain Park, I got a picture of Susan in front of "Big Boy" UP 4004.  Unlike the locos in North Platte, this engine is fully surrounded by a high fence.  On Saturday afternoon we checked into a motel in Estes Park and joined the rest of the tourists for the evening.

Sunday began with a trip through Rocky Mountain Park, including a hike up from the visitor's center to reach two miles in elevation.  We really weren't very well equipped for the wind chill!  We stopped in Granby for lunch, drove west along the railroad route to Kremmling, and then over "Trough Road" through Byers Canyon.  We did manage to intercept one train along the way, just a few miles north of State Bridge.  This was a collection of pretty well beaten-up company hoppers with 6 units.  On the head end, UP 6063 and 6859; mid-train 6674, 6565 and ??; and 6904 on the rear.

From State Bridge, Susan and I headed south to the Interstate and then west to our vacation destination, Glenwood Springs.  We were to stay here in the Hotel Denver for three days.  The Denver is located right across the street from the Amtrak station, and is home to one of the Rock Island "Pearl Paintings".  We'd not been there long when Susan spotted a little item in the Glenwood paper saying that there would be a train giving free rides to Dotsero and back on Tuesday.  Runs were to be made at 8:00, 10:00 and 1:30.  All one had to do to ride was go to the Chamber of Commerce office and get tickets.  We checked and the office was to open at 9:00 on Monday.

We were there on time, but learned that even though a fourth run had been added, all the tickets were gone already.  The people at the Chamber office were taking names and phone numbers, so we added ours.  The train itself, an Operation Lifesaver special, arrived and was parked in the depot siding on Monday evening.  Leading the train was UP 1989, the Rio Grande "heritage" unit.  This was followed by 963B, an attractive locomotive-like shell along for the ride and to provide HEP electricity for the passenger cars.  Cars, from the front, were UPP 114, Feather River, 5480 Sunshine Special, 7001 Columbine, and 5486 City of Salina.  On the rear was UP 7250, there so that the train could be easily reversed for the return run from Dotsero.

I was delighted on Tuesday morning when I turned on my phone to find a message from a Chamber representative saying that they had added a fifth run, scheduled for 5:00.  We did not need tickets but should show up at 4:45 to board the last run.  Throughout the day, the special left and returned with a load of 140 riders.  Here it is coming back to Glenwood Springs at 12:45, passing UP's Control Point "RG360".  Once parked at the depot, personnel were busy with local media interviews and with loading the next set of passengers.

Not on the Operation Lifesaver plan originally, with the added runs the special now had to work around both of the Amtrak California Zephyrs, which reach Glenwood Springs early in the afternoon (when on schedule).  The first to arrive was No. 6, at 2:00 PM.  The train was led by units 119 and 25.  Amtrak's consist:  1734, 39044, 32070, 32017, 38028, 33004, 34109, 34052 and 34045.

The special returned, loaded and left as Amtrak No. 5 waited east of the depot at Grizzly.  The westbound Zephyr was in at 4:40, led by AMTK 130 and 100.  This train had the following cars:  1752, 39013, 32077, 38048, 33038, 34055, 34006, 31033 and 32090.  They highballed, but had to make a quick stop for some late passengers just before the last car cleared the platform.

Our ride arrived at 5:50.  We got on the rear car (next to 7250), with Susan on the aisle and yours truly at the window on the north (river) side of the train.  Just in front of us was a TV monitor showing the cab view from 7250.  We were facing and rolling east, with a TV view to the west.  On the return trip we rode backwards in our seats while seeing the forward (west) picture - kind of a strange sensation!  The scenery in Glenwood Canyon was great, of course, with good views of the river and the Interstate on our side.  We arrived shortly at Dotsero and the train quickly reversed.  The OL volunteers put in a very long day.  One said they'd started at 4:30 AM and would be busy with the train until well after 7:30 that night.  I'm not sure where they came up with a rested engineer.

Wednesday and Thursday were reserved for our trip back to Iowa.  We followed the BNSF route through eastern Colorado into Nebraska and stopped overnight in Holdridge.  We did not meet any traffic on the line on Wednesday, though Susan said she heard a train in Holdridge on Wednesday evening.  The next morning we met a couple of trains but generally, traffic was pretty light.

That's It!