Saturday, April 21, 2012

Amtrak Coast Starlight : Portland to Los Angeles

It is widely regarded as one of the most spectacular of all train routes and on Thursday I had the opportunity to take the Coast Starlight from Portland, OR to Los Angeles, CA.

The scenery along the Coast Starlight route is unsurpassed. The dramatic snow-covered peaks of the Cascade Range and Mount Shasta, lush forests, fertile valleys and long stretches of Pacific Ocean shoreline provided a stunning backdrop for my journey.

Unlike our adventure last November, this trip was without Brian.  Thanks to one of my conductor friends, I was in a nice bedroom with a toilet and shower....more space than I needed, but nice. All meals in the dining car or Pacific Parlor Car are included for sleeping car passengers.

A bonus on this train, the Pacific Parlor Car. This "living room on rails" is a special place for sleeping car passengers to relax, celebrate or socialize. Amenities included a coffee bar, on-board theater and alternative dining venue.

I boarded in Portland, OR at 2PM and settle into my room before checking out the rest of the train.

Highlights of the 35 hour trip included:

Eugene/Springfield: My Pop drove down to the station to wave to me and give me a hug! It was only a 5 minute visit, but it was special.

Known as the “World’s Greatest City of the Arts and Outdoors,” Eugene is also the westernmost city on the Amtrak system. From Springfield, home of the fictional television family the Simpsons, we start our climb into the Cascades, which feature spectacular mountain scenery and the Willamette Pass. While crossing this region our train traverses 22 tunnels.

I enjoyed my first meal in the Parlor Car; Asian glazed short ribs (very good), but dessert was the star....a red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting.

CHEMULT: As we arrive at the Chemult station (an unincorporated community of 300), Diamond Peak, at 8,750 ft., is visible on the right. As we leave Chemult, on the right is Mt. Thielson (9,182 ft.), Mt. Scott (8,929 ft.) and Diamond Lake. Between Chemult and Klamath Falls...darkness decends.

Friday, April 20th:

On the start of my first full day; I awoke just outside of Sacramento, California.  I quickly showered and had a yummy breakfast of fresh fruit and a fresh bacon egg sandwich.

 Sacramento River @ Martinez

MARTINEZ: From a trading post in 1849 to a flourishing town in 1876, Martinez became a hub for the gold and shipping industries. After the gold rush, Martinez boasted much of the lucrative grain trade between California’s Central Valley and international ports-of-call. The town is also the likely site of the martini’s invention; a plaque commemorating the event is on a prominent downtown corner. Growing up in Martinez, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio was a local legend with the Pacific Coast League San Francisco Seals before becoming a New York Yankee.

OAKLAND: The eighth largest city in California, the Port of Oakland is among the largest in the West. Jack London Square is just north of the station, we cross Jack London Square, located next to the Port of Oakland and named after American writer of the same name and author of The Call of the Wild, White Fang and other stories of frontier days.

Lunch service began just outside of Salinas, California

SALINAS: Known as the “Country’s Salad Bowl” because of the many varieties of vegetables
grown here. As we leave Salinas, we pass by the Diablo Range. San Benito Mountain (5,258 ft.) on the left is the highest point on the range. To the right is the Santa Lucia Range. We follow the Salinas River for the next 100 miles.

My Crew - "hog" from San Jose to San Luis Obispo and my "TA", Dana.

Our second wine tasting as we glide into San Luis Obispo.

SAN LUIS OBISPO: Founded as a mission named San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in 1772. After experiencing several fires in the thatched roofs of their missions, Spanish missionaries here developed the technique to manufacture the distinctive red tiles that define mission architecture. The town was the last in the U.S. to have a gas lamp lighter on its payroll after electricity became the standard for street lighting.

Dinner service began as we arrive in Santa Barbara.

SANTA BARBARA: This town was discovered in 1602 and is home to three of the 21 missions established in the state between 1769 and 1823. Mission Santa Barbara, called “The Queen of the Missions,” was established in 1786. A popular international tourism destination,
Santa Barbara is referred to as “The American Rivera” due to its Mediterranean-like climate, spectacular beaches, culinary delights and 130 nearby wineries.

After dinner, I went back to my room to pack.  We arrive in Simi Valley, just before dark.

SIMI VALLEY: Turning east, we leave the coastal plain and climb the narrow Simi Valley. The Santa Susanna Mountains are on the right and the Simi Hills are on our left.

LOS ANGELES: El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de la Reina de Los Angeles, now known simply as Los Angeles, was founded in 1781. The station is a fitting blend of Spanish and Art Deco styles, reflecting both the city’s early heritage and its great film tradition. Opened in 1939, it was the last of the great “union stations” serving multiple railroads. Across from the station is Olvera Street, a colorful historic district that marks the site of the original village.

Historic Union Station

I have a full day planned in Los Angeles today (Saturday) before our conference begins on Sunday.