We admit, taking a train from the East all the way to the West Coast is certainly not the most common way to cross the US. While we spent numerous hours in cars, busses, and planes to discover this country during the last two years, we not once boarded a train - something we wanted to change before returning to Europe! After looking into US train routes and watching an inspiring German TV documentation, we booked our tickets for the California Zephyr - a train that connects Chicago and San Francisco.
The California Zephyr, named after the Greek god of the west wind, departed for its first westbound trip in March 1949. Thanks to its route through the Colorado River Valley, the spectacular Rocky Mountains, and the deserts of the Sierra Nevada, the train soon became popular as a unique combination of train ride and sightseeing tour. In its early years of operation, the train was also known for its exceptional service and its Zephyrettes, the train version of a flight attendant. Zephyrettes, in their distinctive blue uniforms, became the train’s symbol and took on a broad range of roles, including babysitters and tour guides.
Today, the California Zephyr leaves Chicago once a day. Amtrak conductors replaced the Zephyrettes. What has not changed, however, is the fact that you need quite some patience (and tolerance for talkative neighbors) for the journey: The 2,438 miles trip from Chicago to the West Coast takes about 53 hours. The train stops at 33 stations in 7 US states and crosses three different time zones.
To get the full experience, we are taking the train from the first to the last stop. Arriving at Chicago's Union Station, we made our way to the waiting line and were struck by the diversity of people that were about to board the train. The only obvious thing uniting us: we were all willing to spend hours on the train and to ride through what the average American refers to as "flyover land". Surprised by the spacious and comfortable seats, we walked through the coaches and soon discovered our #favoriteplace on the train: the glass dome car with an almost unobstructed view. We are going to watch the sunset from here. Next stop: Boulder, Colorado.