The purple mountains majesty.

Trains, Trucks, Planes & Automobiles 2015A

Last winter I began thinking about a road trip to Idaho to visit our son Drew and his family. Then when he told us they had decided to move back to Georgia, I knew time was running out to visit Idaho. So I volunteered to help with the move. That resulted in an epic road trip involving 1700 train miles, about 2600 truck miles, 1150 air miles, and 300 car miles for a grand total of about 5750 miles, through 14 states in 12 days.  (For comparison purposes, NY to LA and back is 5600 miles.) This is the first part of that epic adventure, my first long distance train ride since a snowy overnight train trip down the Appennine peninsula in 1985, and before that a 1963 school field trip to Washington DC.

Columbus WI Depot

Columbus WI Depot

Madison hasn’t had a train depot since around the time I went to college, back in the seventies. The nearest depot is about 30 miles away. When I showed up at the Columbus railroad depot, I found a number of other people ready to hop on the west-bound Amtrak Empire Builder.

Looking out the train window

Looking out the train window

The train seemed pretty full but there were a few vacant seats. And the seats were a lot more spacious and comfortable than airline seats.

Verdant Wisconsin

Verdant Wisconsin

It was a beautiful evening and I enjoyed watching the luscious green Wisconsin countryside pass by.

In the observation car

In the observation car

Soon I made my way to the observation car for a better view of the scenery. And where it was easy to make new friends. I was soon getting to know David and Lucy who were traveling to Glacier National Park from their home in Athens, Ohio. Later I heard another couple speaking an unfamiliar language. It turned out they were from Wales, and were speaking Welch. I enjoyed getting to know them as well.

Tomah rail crossing

Tomah rail crossing

There was some interaction with the traffic that we blocked when we stopped in towns like Tomah.

One of Wisconsin's sand mines

One of Wisconsin’s sand mines

Between Tomah and LaCrosse we saw some large sand mining operations that have sprung up in just the past three years. Wisconsin’s sand is in high demand for frac mining in other parts of the country.

Some of the rail passengers

Some of the rail passengers

There were also some Amish on the train.

Bridge tattoo

Bridge tattoo

And a lady with a fascination with bridges.

Mississippi River at LaCrosse, east channel

Mississippi River at LaCrosse, east channel

We crossed the Mississippi River at LaCrosse: east channel.

Mississippi River at LaCrosse, west channel

Mississippi River at La Crosse, west channel

And the west channel.

The mountain whose foot is bathed in water

The mountain whose foot is bathed in water

Farther north we were across the river from Wisconsin’s Perrot State Park and the village of Trempeleau, which takes it’s name from this mountain, the mountain whose foot is bathed in water.

Lake Pepin on the Mississippi

Lake Pepin on the Mississippi

We passed this sailboat and a barge on Lake Pepin as the sunset settled in after a beautiful day.

St. Paul MN

St. Paul MN

The night was was on us as we reached the Twin Cities.

Taking a breather in the Twin Cities

Taking a breather in the Twin Cities

We got a chance to get off and stretch our legs on solid ground for a few minutes.

Fargo Dawn

Fargo Dawn

The next thing I remember was waking up to a bright pre-dawn sky just north of Fargo, ND. As regularly happened, Amtrak was stopped for a few minutes to let a freight pass by.

North Dakota Dawn

North Dakota Dawn

The train crept through several more sleeping towns while the sun rose and then disappeared behind thick clouds.

Dakota windmill

Dakota windmill

Soon the sky cleared up and we were rolling across the Great Plains. There were a few windmills out on the plains, but not as many as I expected.

One of the many lakes and ponds

One of the many lakes and ponds

What I didn’t expect was all of the small ponds, potholes, and mini lakes. I saw quite a few sea gulls and, I think, even a pelican.

Flatness everywhere

Flatness everywhere

I did expect to see a lot of distant horizons.

Grain elevators and railroad cars

Grain elevators and railroad cars

Grain elevators are the perpendiculars of the Great Plains.

Leo

Leo

I had lots of time to talk with and get to know my seat-mate, Leo Machado, a truck driver in the oil fields of North Dakota.

Valleys and streams

Valleys and streams

Not all of North Dakota is flat, such as this area near Minot.

Highway 2 intersection

Highway 2 intersection

But a lot of it is very flat. This is U.S. highway 2, which parallels the Great Northern railroad tracks across much of the Great Plains.

Trailers for sale and rent

Trailers for sale and rent

I noticed lots of temporary housing along the tracks as we neared the North Dakota oil boom town of Williston.

Oil facility

Oil facility

This looks like Williston’s oil refinery

On the lookout

On the lookout

I was surprised to see law enforcement meeting the train at Williston. We never found out what they were looking for, but it gave us a little excitement of the Wild West.

Brand new oil well

Brand new oil well

You couldn’t miss all of the oil wells

Train wreck

Train wreck

We also passed a clean-up operation from a recent rail accident.

More flatness

More flatness

We just continued to roll along across the flat prairie…

Tank cars and elevators

Tank cars and elevators

past oil tankers and grain elevators.

Might steam engine

Might steam engine

This relic of the rails is preserved next to the depot in Havre MT. It’s the only survivor of its class from the steam era, and attracted the attention of the Amish passengers on our train.

Bringing in the sheaves

Bringing in the sheaves

The harvest has begun in western Montana.

Bringing in the sheaves

The purple mountains majesty

The mountains finally started to show up on the horizon, to the south at first, and then to the west.

Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountains

The Rockys in sight

Sunset in the mountains

Sunset in the mountains

We entered the mountains at Glacier National Park just as the sun was going down.

Destination Idaho

Destination Idaho

Glacier National Park in the dark isn’t much to see. At one point several cars were added to the train and the electric system wouldn’t restart so we were sitting in the dark for a half hour or so. We were supposed to be to Idaho around midnight but we had been several hours behind schedule for much of the day. Finally, just before dawn the next morning, as the skies began to brighten, we reached Sandpoint ID. Drew was there to meet me. Fortunately we’d been able to text back and forth and he didn’t miss too much sleep. Part one of the epic road trip was over, what fun!

Advertisements

4 comments

  1. Hey my friend. .very very nice! !! Thank you to ad my picture on your project. ..how is your son doing?? Is he already in Georgia? ? Let me ask you. ..I go to Brazil next year. ..maybe we can go together and make some documentary over there. .. how do you like this idea? ??let me know . … I hope you are alright. ..and God bless you! !!!!! My number is 321-247-1510….take care !!!! You are a good friend! !!!!

  2. Thanks, Gordon. We didn’t take any trips this summer, so I appreciated living yours vicariously while I waited for my morning coffee to brew.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s