Sort of a Hobbit adventure, our just over two thousand mile Amtrak trek through five states in seven days: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. At a cost of about a dollar a mile for a private room with meals.
No dragons encountered, however. Just occasional problems, some more annoying than others, like the empty soda bottle that rolled out from under our bench seat, and worse the delay in trying to get the lowered upper berth put back because Bar was feeling claustrophobic and breathless in the lower double one.
Or the broken WiFi and broken electrical outlets on the Amtrak-subsidized Greyhound bus (which advertises leg room but doesn’t provide it for six-footers) from Albuquerque to El Paso (nevertheless with an excellant 50ish black male driver) to spend the night and catch the Sunset Limited the next day back to Austin. No WiFi on our trains but convenient working electrical outlets. And Bar said Albuquerque’s spectacular Andaluz Hotel had a soothing vibe.
Basically, the trip was a lot of fun, though we might next time stretch out the 566-mile Austin to Newton, KS, portion. Spending the night in Oklahoma City, for instance, but with the problem of where to go/what to do (a good public library perchance?) after checkout at noon—with fourteen hours to go four hours to Newton for a 2 a.m. departure west.
As it was we were exhausted by the time we got to Newton but enjoyed the 424-mile Newton to Trinidad stretch in our bedroom (a four-hour nap) and breakfast in the dining car. Scrambled eggs and orange juice (and fellow Amish passengers with blond triplet boys) approaching destination Trinidad, Colorado, with snow-capped twin peaks of the Rocky Mountains in the distance. Trinidad was a surprise as there was no station to admire, no covered shelter at all, just dumped on the paved siding. The city’s negotiations with Amtrak for a station not going well they say. Fortunately, it wasn’t precipitating. We drew a blank on a call for a taxi, to the number on the Amtrak sign, and finally decided to walk the two blocks to McDonalds where the manager knew who to call: Monica!
The lovely Monica became our taxi, in between taking care of her three children and husband, in her family’s white mini-SUV. Otherwise there are no taxis in Trinidad. None. It’s a tiny, antique tourist town built in the 1850s. There are however numerous motels to choose from (a few welcoming potheads but most not) and more than twenty “dispensaries” of marijuana. So I guess it evens out for those with what the heads call “couch-lock” (where “you actually become the couch” and don’t feel like moving). We enjoyed some of that, chewing watermelon-flavored gummies from Freedom Road.
Take an ounce of good bud home with you, someone suggested. Oh no, I don’t want to go to prison. Locals said the cops of New Mexico watch for cars with out-of-state plates leaving Trinidad, and find reasons to stop them. And the DEA has been known to search bedrooms on trains not leaving Colorado. So we just enjoyed it while we were there and took peace-of-mind home with us.
Trinidad gets lots of pot tourists, the locals told us, mostly from Texas. But its monopoly will be gone when the New Mexico legislature gets around to also legalizing weed. Texas may take a lot longer, I think.
For now the Austin to Trinidad trek is worth it. The stations are clean (some, like El Paso’s Union Depot (circa 1904) and Oklahoma City’s old Santa Fe station are spectacular marbled monuments to rail) and all have conspicuous security guards to keep the peace.
The Texas Eagle, Southwest Chief, and Sunset Limited trains were clean but a bit shabby from all the deferred maintenance imposed by Congress. And the freight-dinged tracks are very bumpy in spots. The federal pols spend money on the Northeast coast trains and rails for themselves while imposing cuts, and otherwise neglecting passengers in flyover country. The bedroom attendants (mostly black women for us) and dining car waiters (mostly black men for us) were overworked.
Could be, however, we’re on the cusp of a passenger train renaissance, judging from all the passengers who packed the Sunset Limited’s cheaper coach seats from L.A. to New Orleans. Our private room segment (that dollar-a-miler) was 576 miles of Texas, mostly in the dark—seeing the sunset over the Davis Mountains (old Apache country) but missing the views on the 300-foot trestle over the Pecos River.
But we’ll do it all again. Of course we will. It was fun.