Travel log April 22nd, 2024

My First Day on the California Zephyr

Our California Zephyr train left Emeryville (just outside San Francisco, a 15 minute Uber from my hotel) a few minutes late. The train attendant, Mike, that will look after our train car for the entire journey was extremely friendly and personable.

Within 10 minutes of leaving the station, there were already beautiful views. The train wasn't just going along the coast, it was on the coast, just a few feet away from the water of the bay.


I immediately made my way to the observation deck car. It was around 9am, and I hadn't really had breakfast yet, so I got a tasty egg and cheese sandwich from the cafe, which is just below the observation deck. I was already enjoying this so much, and this was just hour one of 52!


After passing the bay, we went through some marshes and hills, all whilst the sun was shining down on us, a lovely 22℃, as we made our way up to upstate California.


As we came closer to Sacramento, the state capitol, the fact that California has a homelessness problem was very visible, with several tent camps near the tracks. On a positive note, Sacramento seems like it has a lot of street art, with some really nice murals visible from the train.

Lunch was the first time going into the dining car of the train, where I had a lovely chat with some people I was seated together with. Whilst having some grilled cheese, we started to see some (melting) snow on the hills we rode past.

Image Image Image

It was still 20℃ outside, but you could feel the cold radiate from the melting snow. Water was flowing down from the hills and forming into little waterfalls in many places.

A few hours and a lot of snowy mountains later (including a pass through the Donner ski resort area, with a ski lift that went over the train tracks), we were close to making our way into the state of Nevada.

The train conductor mentioned the area being named after George Donner, and dropped the phrase 'Donner dinner party'. A quick Google:

The party (Donner and the other settlers) was trapped by exceptionally heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada, and, when food ran out, some members of the group reportedly resorted to cannibalism of those already dead.

I can see how being a settler here must have been very hard, it looks like a harsh environment. Bizarre how less than 200 years later there's a daily train full of pensioners and tourists in comfortable sleeping bunks going through this area.


At around 4pm we arrived in Reno, Nevada, one of a few 'fresh air stops', where you can get out for a few minutes to stretch your legs. Reno station is below street level, and the train arrives in what is known as 'the trench'.

Image Image

This is the last stop in a major city for today, with the next one being tomorrow morning at 3am in Salt Lake City.

As we got deeper into Nevada, the landscape became flatter and increasingly desert-like, with the Rocky Mountains just barely visible at the horizon. Even late in the afternoon, the temperature outside here was around 27℃.


Ending the day with this beautiful view:


By the time I wake up tomorrow morning, we'll have completed about a third of our trip, starting the journey into the Rockies.


Continues here: My Second Day on the California Zephyr